King Ashoka (also Ashoka the Great) till his conversion into Buddhism had the traditional devotion of the Hindu kings to gods and goddesses. The Kashmir Chronicler Kalhana identifies his favorite deity as Siva.
Born and brought up in the splendor of the Maurya imperial atmosphere, King Ashoka took pleasure in hunting, gambling and war. He had no reluctance in slaughter of men and animals. Like other Princes of royal blood he had no hesitation in defeating the claim of his eldest brother to the throne. Even if we reject the claim of the Buddhist texts and Ceylonese traditions that he had killed his ninety-nine brothers except the youngest as a fabrication, his struggle for the throne with the help of the Chief Minister cannot be brushed aside. All this shows him in the true color of the section of an imperial house. Even his war of conquest of Kalinga, was in complete conformity with his imperial ambition.
But the Kalinga War which took place in the ninth year of his coronation and terrible carnage that it resulted in, and the untold miseries that it brought in its train appalled Ashoka. The sight of miseries and bloodshed in the sanguinary campaign touched him too deep in his heart and roused in him a deep feeling of remorse and sorrow.
Acting up to his feelings of remorse and sorrow, Ashoka abstained from aggressive war for the rest of his life. To seethe the sword at the moment of success which would have definitely led to further success by way conquest of the Tamil countries which his father had attempted but failed, is a unique experience in history of imperialism. It was at this time that Ashoka came under the influence of Buddhism which stood for peace and non-violence. The teachings of Buddhism had deep impact on Ashoka.
For about two years and a half Ashoka remained a lay disciple after which he formally joined the Buddhist Order and became a Bhikshu. The then began to exert himself strenuously for the propagation of Buddhism in which he found solace and peace of mind.
As a monk he visited the holy places connected with the life of Buddha. He first visited Sambodhi, i.e. Bodhgaya the place where Buddha became Sambuddha or enlightened one. Later he visited Lumbini Park, the Bethlehem of Buddhism, the birth place of Buddha, where in inscribed pillar still stands to commemorate the emperor’s visit. In these visits he was led by his preceptor Saint Upagupta. In due course Upagupta led his royal disciple to Kapilavastu, Sravasti and Kushinagar.
Ashoka combined the functions of an emperor and a Buddhist zealot. He even dressed himself in the robe of a monk and at times retired to a monastery after making suitable arrangement for the administration of his empire.
Almost like Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire of Europe. Ashoka also adopted the position of the head of both Church and State during the last twenty years of his reign.