Mauryan | Mauryan Administration | Decline of the Mauryan Empire

Extent of Ashoka's empire in 250 B.C Ashok  was at Ujjain when Bindusara fell sick.  Ashoka came to Patilaputra seizes the sovereignty of the city and put his elder brother to death. After a reign of some twenty five years Bindusara was succeeded by Ashoka in 273 BC. also know as Devanampriya Priyadarsin. Buddhist traditions  gives us accounts of Ashoka's accession. It is said that his claim to the throne was disputed and it is also a tale  that Ashoka had massacred ninety nine of his brothers . Ashoka was transformed into a Dharmasoka as said by the monks . 

The most important event of Ashokas reign was the conquest of Kalinga was the country on the coast of the Bay of Bengal between the rivers Godavari and Mahanadi. This was the 13th year of his reign. The rock edict XIII gives a clue that Kalinga was a country previously unconquered, thus Ashoka's declaration of war was that of unprovoked aggression. The Kalinga war witnessed terrible manslaughter and destruction. The  sufferings and  atrocities of the battlefield  lacerated the heart of Ashoka. He made the solemn resolve to never unsheath the sword to expand his empire. He realised the wickedness of worldly conquest and the beauty of moral and spiritual triumph. He was drawn to the teachings of Buddha and devoted his life to the conquest of men's heart by the law of duty or piety. He evolved a policy of Dharma Vijaya, 'conquest by Piety'.

Religious Policy of Ashoka

Ashoka became a upasaka of Buddha, He established  an intimate relation with the Buddhist Sangha and is said to have become a monk. He undertook Dharma yatra instructing Dharma to the people. He took up pilgrimages to the  birth place of the Sakyamuni. To spread the message of Dharma to the vast extent of his empire. He appointed officers in charge of religious propagation. They were called Dharma Mahamatras. His doctrine of Dharma was expanded out side India. He sent a mission to the Ceylon headed by prince Mahendra and also to Burma  and  Sumatra.  During Ashoka's reign  a general Buddhist council was convened  at Pataliputra. Though Ashoka embraced Buddhism  he was very tolerant  towards all region and sects, and prescribed a code of conduct for living. Ashoka conceived idea of the Universal religion. He practiced what he preached and inculcated  the virtues of co-operation  and toleration. His love for the living kind extended to the animals and he abolished slaughter of animals for sacrifices and  in the royal kitchen. He provided hospitals for treating ailing animals. Construction of reservoirs of water, planting trees and groves for the comfort of the travelers  were also undertaken .

Ashoka was one of the greatest patron of Buddhism. The doctrines of Buddhism were spread far and wide beyond the boundaries of his territories. His well planned and organised propagation of Buddhist Dharma were through the following methods. 

  • Rock and stone edicts:-

The main doctrines of Dharma were engraved on rocks and stone pillars through the expanse of his dominion

  • Appointed Dharma Mahamantras :-

 These were officers  to enforce  obedience to the moral regulations  enforcing imperial commands 

  • Official propaganda:- 

State officials were instructed to convoke assemblies and  instruct people in the law of piety . This helped in the spread of Buddhist doctrine.

  • Foreign Buddhist Missions :- 

Ashoka organised  series of missions to the kingdoms of south Ceylon, Syria, Egypt, Macedonia and Burma. The mission to Ceylon was led by Mahendra and sister Sangamitra. The foreign mission took up welfare works among the people.

Besides all these he took up measures to promote welfare of the  people. He built rest houses, dug wells, planted trees for shade along public roads. He was concerned about the life of animals and set up hospitals. As ruler Ashoka was very hard working and ruled his kingdom with a zeal of enlightenment. His empire extended to Hindukush on the North west. He retained the four satrapies of Asia, Kandhar, Baluchistan and Kabul valley. Southern Afganistan, the frontier regions, Kashmir, Saurashtra and South western India. To the north his empire extended to the Himalayas. To the east Bengal comprised a part of his empire.

The society during Ashoka's rule was a liberal and sympathetic one. Ascetic life was common and comprised of Brahmanas, Buddhist sramans, Jains or Nirgranthas and Ajivikas. Slavery was prevalent. Women folks participated in the social activities.

Ashoka died in about 232BC, after 40 years of reign.