“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowds the columns of history…the name of Ashoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star.” ~ H.G. Wells
Emperor Ashoka, the third Samrat of the Maurya dynasty is regarded as one of the most exemplary monarchs in history. Here we bring you some interesting facts about this great king not just from the epics such as Ashokavadana, Mahavamsa and Divyavadana which narrates his cruelty as a king, but also from his edicts deciphered by James Prinsep which gives a complete picture of Ashoka, the Great Indian Emperor.
His Given Name Was Ashoka Vardhana Maurya, but He Assumed the Title of Devanampiya Piyadasi
Although, the Emperor’s name was Ashoka Vardhana Maurya or simply Ashoka meaning without sorrow, he assumed the title of Devanampiya Piyadasi which means ‘Beloved of the Gods’ and ‘He who looks one with affection’. He was also given the name of Chanda Ashoka meaning merciless Ashoka or heartless Ashoka during a phase where he killed all his brothers including crown prince Sushima Maurya.
Ashoka Killed His 6 Brothers, Not 99
According to the Ceylonese chronicles, Ashoka in his war of succession killed his 99 brothers to ascend the throne of Magadh – sparring only one of his younger brother Tishya. However, such elaboration of Ashoka as Chanda Ashoka (cruel Ashoka) was just an exaggeration by Buddhist writers who wanted to show how the Chanda Ashoka was modified into Dharma Ashoka. According to a Tibetian writer Taranatha, Ashoka killed his six brothers to capture the throne of Magadh.
Ashoka Made His Youngest Brother His Deputy
Though he killed his brothers, he sparred his youngest brother Tishya. Ashoka made Tishya his deputy king or Uparaja. In addition, evidences from the inscriptions mentions the fact that some of Ashoka’s brothers were made viceroys in various provinces of the Magadh Kingdom including Ujjaini, Suvarnagiri, Tosali and Taxila. They were addressed as Aryaputras and Kumaras.
At the age of 18, Ashoka was made Viceroy of Avanti
Ashoka was born in 304 BCE during Chandragupta Maurya’s time (Chandragupta Maurya died in 298 BCE when he was 6). At the age of 18, he was made Viceroy of Avanti, a province in Ujjaini. It is said that he married his first wife here, and became a father of his first son was born in 284 BCE when he was 20. Two years later, his daughter Sanghamitra was born.
Ashoka’s First Wife Was a Buddhist
Ashoka’s first wife Devi was a Buddhist nurse and a daughter of a merchant. Devi was also the mother of his children Mahendra and Sanghamitra. However, Devi never went to Pataliputra when Ashoka was called back in the capital. It would have been rather unfitting for a merchant’s daughter to be the chief queen. So, she never became his chief queen. Some people even believe she belong to the sakya clan as that of the Buddha .
His Mere Presence Ended an Uprising which Sushim couldn’t Even Manage With An Army
The province of Taxila was highly volatile during the age of Samrat Bindusara mainly because it had the population of the India-Greek warriors. If that was less, there was mismanagement of his elder son Sushim who was the governor of Taxila. However, when Ashoka went to Taxila to surpass the uprising of Taxila on Sushim’s insistence, he was welcomed with open hearts. Surprisingly, the war ended without any fight just by the presence of Ashoka.
Ashoka Was Sent to Exile by Bindusara for a period of 2 years
A pressurized Bindusara sent his son Ashoka into exile when Ashoka’s brothers especially Sushim feared that Ashoka could become the next emperor. According to the chronicles, this happened after the uprising of Taxila was tamed successfully by Ashoka. According to historian M.N Das, Ashoka who went incognito also met a fisherwoman called Karuvaki (also Kaurwaki or Kaurubaki or Charuvaki). She was Ashoka’s second or third queen and mother of his second son Tivala. She is the only queen who finds her name in the edicts.
Ashoka’s Chief Queen Was Asandhimitra
Since Devi did not belong to the royal patronage, Asandhimitra, Ashoka’s another wife and a princess of the royal family became the chief queen of Ashoka. She did not bore any child. However, she remained his chief consort for 30 years till she died her own death in 240 BCE.
Ashoka Ruled For 40 Years
While Chandragupta Maurya ruled for 24 years, Bindusara his scuccessor for 25 years, Emperor Ashoka, the third Samrat of the Mauryan Empire ruled for 40 years. He remained a Chakravartin with absolute power. Unlike other kings and emperors, he neither faced any external war, nor an invasion threat from the Greeks with whom he had diplomatic relations.
Samrat Ashoka was a Devotee of Shiva
Everybody knows that Ashoka, the Great converted into Buddhism after the Kalinga War. However, Samrat Ashoka is believed to be a Shiva devotee prior to his inclination towards Dhamma and Buddhism. No wonder, the Mauryan clan were Shaivas.
By: Deepti Verma