Was Ashoka Really Great? - Kaushiki Shukla
According to mainstream history books, Ashoka was initially a ruthless ruler but after the Battle of Kalinga, he became a proponent of peace. He was deeply disturbed with the thousands of bodies lying dismantled in the battlefield. He couldn’t bear the pain of the soldiers and their loved ones. He took refuge to Buddhism to quench his thirst for peace. He accepted the ahimsa and tolerance as a trait and propagated dharma rest of his life. He was called as Ashoka “the great” by historians and promoted as one of the most powerful emperors of ancient India.
Is this all true? Do the primary sources tell the same? Are they verified? Sanjeev Sanyal tries to answer the same in his book, ‘Ocean of Churn’. He has taken the help of inscriptions and accounts of contemporary people instead of books of modern historians to reach the conclusion.
It is evident from the inscriptions that Ashoka had accepted Buddhism way before the Battle of Kalinga. Even Buddhist books don’t mention Kalinga War to relate with Ashoka. The reasons were not spiritual but political. The royal family of Chandragupta was under influence of Jains. Bindusara was influenced by Ajeevakas. Brahmins were part of administration team. But, the Buddhists were gaining influence in society.
After the death of Bindusara, Jains, Brahmin or Ajeevakas were not in support of Ashoka. He took the help of Buddhist monks to get to power. He promised to help them in increasing influence of Buddhism in return. He gave them state protection and killed all his brothers.
There are few inscriptions in which Ashoka regrets the Indianattle of Kalinga. But, these are near Magadh, hundreds of kms. away from Odisha. In Kalinga, there is no inscription stating the same. Though there are many inscriptions of Ashoka in Kalinga too. It seems that he never returned Kalinga to the local people even after the war. The inscriptions of Magadh seem a disguise to improve the perception of citizens about him.
Ashoka never ended death sentence. He maintained a huge army till the end of his life. He has put out intimidating inscriptions for neighboring states as well as other religious communities. Buddhist texts say that he had ordered killing of thousands of Ajeevakas in Bengal. He beheaded a Jain just because the latter had painted Buddha in namaskara position in front of Mahaveer. Ashoka had even put out prize on Jain head counts. Thousands of Jains were killed to get gold coins from Ashoka.
From the study we come to know that neither Ashoka became peace loving or tolerant after Kalinga, nor did India declined due to Ashoka accepting Buddhism and resorting to peace.
Reference: ‘The Ocean of Churn’ by Sanjeev Sanyal.