third emperor of India's Mauryan
dynasty and the first powerful monarch to embrace Buddhism.
Asoka was born in about 304 BC and came to the throne
in 270 BC after a short power struggle in which at least
one of his brothers was killed. In 260 his armies attacked
Kalinga (modern Orissa) in an attempt to expand the
already huge Mauryan empire. The campaign was militarily
successful but it lead to horrific losses of both civilian
and military lives and, moved by remorse, Asoka decided
to renounce war forever. He converted to Buddhism and
launched a campaign to bring about a moral, spiritual
and social renewal within his empire. The administrative
and judicial systems were reformed, useful public works
were initiated, the previously aggressive foreign policy
was replaced by one of peaceful co-existence and wildlife
reserves were established.
a part of this renaissance all religions were protected
and promoted, especially Buddhism. The Sangha
was purified and unified, the third Council
was convened and Buddhist missionaries were sent throughout
India to Sri Lanka and South-East
Asia and to as far west as Cyrene, Egypt, Syria, and
Macedonia. Asoka died after a rule of 38 years in the
year 232 BC although his memory was kept alive for centuries
amongst Buddhists by many works of literature containing
legends about his life and good deeds. Asoka's importance
is due to his role in spreading Buddhism throughout
India and beyond. He also had a profound influence on
polity in Buddhist countries as monarchs throughout
Asia were encouraged to look to his tolerant humane
style of government as an ideal to be followed.
Mookeyi, Asoka. Delhi, 1962; S. Dhammika,
The Edicts of King Asoka. Kandy, 1993.