Dhamma: Ashoka’s Inclination to Peace or a Political Ploy?


Ashoka was one of the greatest emperors of India. He hailed from the Maurya Dynasty and succeeded Bindusara. He was a ruthless ruler, who had been bloodthirsty even before he ascended the throne of Magadha. In the historical accounts it is stated that he had killed 99 brothers to succeed to the throne. Only one brother named Tissa was spared. After the death of Bindusara his son Sushim had been nominated to become the king. But according to legends Ashoka tricked him into entering into a pit filled with burning coals causing his death. As a king Ashoka was wicked and bad tempered. He subjected his ministers to tests and had 500 of them killed. He also indulged in women and had about 500 women in his harem to please him whenever he wanted.

Portrait of Ashoka

As the legend goes once a woman from the harem insulted, in rage he had the entire harem burned killing about 500 women. Many claim he had a torture room which was a hell on earth. Some scholars of the time defined him as Chand Ashoka (or Ashoka the ruthless). Under him the Maurya Empire underwent massive expansion. From regions of Burma, Bangladesh, state of Assam to Iran or Persia, Afghanistan in the west, Pamir Knots in the North to peninsular South India. All his early military campaigns were marked by bloodshed. He did not stop shedding blood of innocents and enemy until they submitted.

Ashoka was a bloodthirsty king and fought many bloody battles

Then came the famous Kalinga war in 250 BC. The rulers of Kalinga believed in the principles of Kshatriyas and refused to submit. So the armies of Ashoka killed nearly 100,000 people in one of most gruesome massacres recorded in history. Though he won the battle but most historical records claim that he was so deeply hurt by bloodshed that he changed to non-violence and followed the doctrines of Buddhism. He preached Dhamma a religion started by him preaching peace and non-violence. But was Ashoka really moved?

Ashoka is Said to have preached Dhamma after the Kalinga War

  • Many historical texts claim that Ashoka was a shrewd tactician in the art of war. He must have been a shrewd politician too as he had to contend with the powerful ministers all the while. So the change of Ashoka was more of a political decision. His early days were marked by glory. Expanding the Maurya empire was a fervour among all the subjects. So he obliged by waging one after the other. But his cruel acts soon started coming to the limelight. People of Magadha became wary of his figure. He lost public popularity. Bloodshed was not earning him any rewards in public eyes. So he started a new philosophy which was preaching his new religion. Even when he preached among his countrymen many times they were forced to take up Buddhism by the soldiers. This was not non-violence in truest essence.
  • Ashoka Built the Sanchi Stupa as a Monument of Peace

  • When the Kalinga war was fought Ashoka had already spent the best years of his life. He was 54 years old. He did not have the adequate strength to wage further battles or participate in it. As many people do, he followed the similar trend. He took up religion as his weapon. He looked to win but with a different approach.
  • In the Kalinga War his army was also depleted significantly in the battle and the following plague. With the military strength he had no further expeditions were possible.
  • If he had not preached Dhamma his name would remain etched as a cruel ruler solely. So this move would resurrect his image and provide him immortality.

As you can see that Dhamma was a brainchild of Ashoka’s shrewd thoughts and not of repentance!

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One thought on “Dhamma: Ashoka’s Inclination to Peace or a Political Ploy?

  1. Jeesus Kerist… that was actually a great read.
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