Samrat Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, is regarded as one of the greatest emperor in Indian History. He was the son of Bindusara Maurya and grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. He was born on 304 B.C.
The ascession of Samrat Ashoka Maurya to the throne of Magadha Empire marks the beginning of a new epoch of India’s history. He ruled over an empire extending from the Hindukush to South India. He established peace and order within his kingdom with the help of highly organized administrative machinery.
Samrat Ashoka followed a conception of enlightened kingly duties according to which the king had to effortlessly work for the welfare of his subjects just as a father works for that of the children.
Ashoka the Great introduced a spirit of pacifism and cosmopolitanism in international relation which is strikingly modern in character. Personally, he was a man of great imagination, abounding energy and strong personality. He left an imperishable mark on India’s history.
The edicts of Emperor Ashoka are the important, direct and reliable source of history of Emperor Asoka and his Empire. The edicts of Ashoka are a class by themselves. The inscriptions are compared with those of the Persian emperor Darius.
Early life and career of Samrat Ashoka: The Mahavamsa and Divyavadana tell the story that after the death of Bindusara Maurya, there was a severe fight for the throne among the sons of Bindusara for a period of four years. Ashoka was involved in it. Ashoka waded through the blood of his brothers to the throne. But this story regarding early struggle of Samrat Ashoka is not credible and no clear evidence is available. Further, Samrat Ashoka has shown care for his family and brothers in the rock edicts.
However, it is likely that had been a contest among the sons of Bindusara in which Ashoka managed to ascend to the throne.
Asoka’s career before coronation: When Samrat Ashoka Maurya was a prince, he served the position of viceroy of Ujjaini and governor of Taxila. He successfully suppressed a rebellion of the Taxilan people. He ascended the throne after the death of his father.
The family of Asoka: The mother of Ashoka Maurya is believed to the daughter of a Brahmin of Champa. She became a favorite of her husband Bindusara.
Samrat Ashoka Maurya had several wives and children. Traditonal sources mentions the names of Kaurwaki, Devi, Padmavati, Tishyaraksha, etc. Kaurwaki was the mother of Prince Tivala.
Religious Tolerance: Samrat Ashoka was tolerant to other creeds during the major part of his reign. Asoka knew that religious partiality would weaken the social basis and unity of the Mauryan Empire. Hence he practiced toleration to all creeds during the major part of his reign. He warned his officials against exaltation of one’s own religion and condemnation of others
Asoka as a ruler before embracing of Buddhism: We shall now see how Samrat Ashoka Maurya behaved himself as a king before he embraced Buddhism. It is generally believed by scholars that Samrat Ashoka was a follower of Brahmanism before his conversion to Buddhism after the Kalinga war. Asoka was a devotee of Siva. The Ceylonese chronicles and the Samantapasadika state how Asoka became gradually attached to Buddhism and paid visits to the Buddhist community.
In subsequent years, when Ashoka Maurya became an advocate of non-violence, he abolished the first type of celebration. In order to win the loyalty of the people he introduced many administrative reforms including the release of prisoners from jails on every anniversary of his coronation.
Conclusion: Samrat Ashoka was the greatest among the rulers of Magadha. His policy of conquest as well as his religious belief is equally important.