Ashoka, The Not So Great

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by asingh10, Nov 22, 2015.

  1. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Ashoka is commonly eulogized in Indian history textbooks as a great emperor and a pacifist. A current television serial is adding to the legend. The problem is that this is all based on very thin evidence and, even a little bit of probing, suggests a very different story.

    In 274BC, Bindusara suddenly fell ill and died. The crown prince Sushima was away fending off incursions on the north-western frontiers and rushed back to Pataliputra, the royal capital. However, on arrival he found that Ashoka, one of his half-brothers, had taken control of the city with the help of Greek mercenaries [1]. It appears that Ashoka had Sushima killed at the eastern gates. This was followed by four years of a bloody civil war in which Ashoka seems to have killed all male rivals in his family. Buddhist texts mention that he killed ninety-nine half-brothers and only spared his full brother Tissa. Hundreds of loyalist officials were also killed. Having consolidated his power, he was finally crowned emperor in 270BC.

    All accounts agree that Ashoka’s early rule was brutal and unpopular, and that he was known as “Chandashoka” or Ashoka the Cruel. In the popular imagination, however, Ashoka would invade Kalinga a few years later and, shocked by the death and destruction, would convert to Buddhism and become a pacifist. The reader will be surprised to discover that the narrative about this conversion is almost certainly false. Ashoka would invade Kalinga in 262BC whereas we know from minor rock edicts that Asoka had converted to Buddhism more than two years earlier. Even Ashoka’s eulogists like Charles Allen agree that his conversion predated the Kalinga war. Moreover, he seems to have had links with Buddhists for a decade before his conversion. The evidence suggests that his conversion to Buddhism was more to do with the politics of succession than with any regret he felt for sufferings of war.

    [​IMG]

    The Mauryans likely followed Vedic court rituals (certainly many of their top officials were Brahmins) but had eclectic religious affiliations in personal life. The founder of the line, Chandragupta seems to have had links to the Jains in old age while his son Bindusara seems to have been partial to a heterodox sect called the Ajivikas. This is not an unusual arrangement in the Dharmic family of religions. This eclectic approach remains alive to this day and lay followers of Dharmic religions think nothing of praying at each-other’s shrines.

    It is likely that when Ashoka usurped the throne, he was opposed by family members who had links to the Jains and the Ajivikas. He may have responded by reaching out to their rivals, the Buddhists, for support. This may explain his later treatment of Jains and Ajivikas. The power struggle may even explain his invasion of Kalinga. The mainstream view is that Kalinga was an independent kingdom that was invaded by Ashoka but there is some reason to believe that it was either a rebellious province or a vassal that was no longer trusted.

    We know that the Nandas, who preceeded the Mauryas, had already conquered Kalinga and, therefore, it is likely that it became part of the Mauryan empire when Chandragupta took over the Nanda kingdom. In any case, it seems odd that a large and expansionist empire like that of the Mauryas would have tolerated an independent state so close to its capital Pataliputra and its main port at Tamralipti. In other words, Kalinga would not have been an entirely independent kingdom under Bindusara – it was either a province or a close vassal. Something obviously changed during the early years of Ashoka’s reign and my guess is that it had either sided with Ashoka’s rivals during the battle for succession and/or declared itself independent in the confusion.

    Whatever the real reasons for the attracting Ashoka’s ire, a large Mauryan army marched into Kalinga around 262BC. The Kalingans never had a chance. Ashoka’s own inscriptions tell us that a 100,000 died in the war and an even larger number died from wounds and hunger. A further 150,000 were taken away as captives.

    According to the official narrative, Ashoka was horrified by his own brutality and became a Buddhist and a pacifist. However, as we have seen, he was already a practicing Buddhist when he invaded Kalinga. Moreover, from what we know of his early rule, he was hardly a man to be easily shocked by the sight of blood. The main evidence of his repentance comes from his own inscriptions. However, it is very curious that this “regret” is mentioned only in locations far away from Odisha (such as in Shahbazgarhi in north-western Pakistan). None of the inscriptions in Odisha express any remorse; any hint of regret is deliberately left out.

    Surely, if Ashoka was genuinely remorseful, he would have bothered to apologize to the people whom he had wronged. Far from it, he does not even offer to free the captives. Even the inscriptions where he expresses regret include a clear threat of violence against other groups like the forest tribes who are unequivocally “told of the power to punish them that Devanampriya possesses in spite of his repentance, in order that they may be ashamed of their crimes and may not be killed”[2]. This is no pacifist.

    It appears that Ashoka was using his inscriptions as a tool of political propaganda to counter his reputation for cruelty. As with the words of any politician, this does not mean he changed his behavior. Indeed, given that several of his inscriptions are deliberately placed in locations that are difficult to reach, it is quite possible that some of the propaganda was meant for us rather than his contemporaries. The Pali text Ashoka-vadana, moreover, tells us of more acts of genocide perpetrated by the emperor many years after he supposedly turned pacifist [3]. These were directed particularly at followers of the Jain and Ajivika sects; by all accounts he avoided conflicts with mainstream Hindus and was respectful towards Brahmins. The Ashokavadana clearly tells us how an enraged Ashoka had 18,000 Ajivikas in Bengal put to death in a single episode. This is the first known instance of large-scale religious persecution in Indian history and sadly, would not be the last.

    [​IMG]

    1st century BCE/CE Indian relief from Amaravathi village, Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh (India).The figure in the centre may represent Ashoka.

    This is not the only incident mentioned in the text. A Jain devotee was found in Pataliputra drawing a picture showing Buddha bowing to a Jain tirthankara. Ashoka ordered him and his family to be locked inside their home and for the building to set alight. He then ordered that he would pay a gold coin in exchange for every decapitated head of a Jain. The carnage only ended when someone mistakenly killed his only surviving brother, the Buddhist monk Vitashoka (also called Tissa). The story suggests frightening parallels with modern-day fundamentalists who kill cartoonists whom they accuse of insulting their religion.

    Supporters of Ashoka will claim that these acts of genocide are untrue and that they were inserted into the story by fundamentalist Buddhist writers in much later times. This is indeed a possibility but let me remind readers that my alternative narrative is based on exactly the same texts and inscriptions used to praise the emperor. Perhaps the same skepticism should be evenly applied to all the evidence and not just to portions of the text that do not suit the mainstream narrative.

    In addition to the evidence of his continued cruelty, we also have proof that he was not a successful administrator. In his later years, an increasingly unwell Ashoka watched his empire disintegrate from rebellion, internal family squabbles and fiscal stress. While he was still alive, the empire had probably lost some of the north-western territories that had been acquired from Seleucus. Within a few years of Ashoka’s death in 232BC, the Satvahanas had taken over most of the territories in southern India and Kalinga had seceded.

    As one can see, Ashoka does not look like such a great king on closer inspection but as a cruel and unpopular usurper who presided over the disintegration of a large and well-functioning empire. This fits with the fact that he is not remembered as a great monarch in the Indian tradition but in hagiographic Buddhist texts written in countries that did not experience his reign. He was “rediscovered” in the 19th century by colonial era orientalists like James Princep. His elevation to being “Ashoka the Great” is an even more recent and is the result of political developments of the first half of the twentieth century.

    [​IMG]

    Bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) inscriptions by king Ashoka at Kandahar (Shar-i-kuna). (3rd century BC).

    When it became clear that it was only a matter of time before India would become free of British rule, some leaders of the freedom movement such as Jawarharlal Nehru decided to create a lineage for their socialist leanings. The problem was that India’s ancient political texts did not easily lend themselves to this. For instance, the Arthashastra, the treatise written by Chandragupta’s mentor Chanakya, advocates the main role of the State as ensuring defense, internal security and the rule-of-law; a strong but limited state. It is clearly not a manifesto for the weak but all-pervasive Nehruvian state.

    This is when the emerging class of socialist Indian politicians stumbled upon Ashoka’s inscriptions. Ashoka clearly speaks of government intervention in the day-to-day lives of his subjects. Indeed, he literally speaks of a nanny State in one of his inscriptions: “Just as a person feels confident having entrusted his child to an expert nurse thinking ‘the nurse will keep my child well’; even so the Rajjukas have been appointed by me for the welfare and happiness of the people…..”. [4]

    After independence, academic historians were encouraged to further build up the legend of Ashoka the Great in order to provide a lineage to Nehru’s socialist project and inconvenient evidence about him was simply swept under the carpet. However, a post-socialist reading of Ashoka’s inscriptions gives us a very different view of his supposedly welfarist policies. For instance, he created a large cadre of “dhamma mahamatas” who were supposed to ensure that all subjects adhered to a code of conduct, including several stipulations on what people should eat. We have a modern term for such officials – religious police. It is no surprise that Ashoka’s empire collapsed around him.

    Western writers like Charles Allen have patronizingly written how ancient Indians were somehow foolish to have had little regard for a great king such as Ashoka. On a closer look, it appears that they knew what they were doing. I’m much more concerned that modern Indians have been so easily taken in by a narrative that is almost certainly false.

    (Sanjeev Sanyal is an economist, urban theorist and the best-selling author of Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography)

    1 Ashoka, Charles Allen, Little Brown 2012.

    2 A History of Ancient & Medieval India, Upinder Singh, Pearson Longman 2009

    3 The Legend of King Asoka: The Study and Translation of Asoka-vadana, by John Strong, Princeton University Press 2003

    4 Ashoka, Charles Allen, Little Brown, 2012

    http://swarajyamag.com/culture/ashoka-the-not-so-great/
     
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  3. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Around the same era as Ashoka, China had a great king named Shi Huang who unified and forged the Han nation. The different paths chosen by Shi-huang & Ashoka still impact the 2 civilizations. Some have remarked that Mao truly was his manasaputra where as chacha Nehru fancied himself to be Ashoka's, the results were seen in 62.

     
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  4. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    In Ashoka's India, drawing a picture of the Buddha bowing down to Nirgrantha (Mahavira, 24th Jain Tirthankara) was to invite death .

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    It's interesting how the mainstream narrative set by Indologists never considered Chandragupta Maurya 'great'. Son of a humble maid who created the largest empire in Indian history.
     
  6. Mad Indian

    Mad Indian Proud Bigot Veteran Member Senior Member

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    you are awesome sir. where do you find these links.
     
  7. Sakal Gharelu Ustad

    Sakal Gharelu Ustad Detests Jholawalas Moderator

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    I read the article in the morning and it got me thinking on murders based on religion.

    Were Jains/Buddhists/Hindus engaged in these murders were religious in nature or political. The way it is presented in the article it seemed more politically oriented.
     
  8. saty

    saty Tihar Jail Banned

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  9. Peter

    Peter Senior Member Senior Member

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    I gave a quick glance at the OP. My main concern with the article is that the author points out that there are certain records which prove that Ashoka did this and that but he never mentions his sources clearly. It could well be an attempt at historical revisionism by the author. The article writer Mr. Sanyal should back up his claims before he makes any assertions about Ashoka.

    Edit: It seems this article and the article writer do not approve of socialism. That is why he has written such an article about the socialist Ashoka.

    From the article itself:
    After independence, academic historians were encouraged to further build up the legend of Ashoka the Great in order to provide a lineage to Nehru’s socialist project and inconvenient evidence about him was simply swept under the carpet. However, a post-socialist reading of Ashoka’s inscriptions gives us a very different view of his supposedly welfarist policies.


    I personally believe that a biased person cannot write a proper history be that of Asoka or of any other ruler.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
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  10. Peter

    Peter Senior Member Senior Member

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    So Shi Huang was a great king. Well wiki says something quite contrary to this sir.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qin_Shi_Huang

    This process also led to the banning and burning of many books and the execution of recalcitrant scholars.
    In traditional Chinese historiography, the First Emperor of the Chinese unified states was almost always portrayed as a brutal tyrant who had an obsessive fear of assassination. Ideological antipathy towards the Legalist State of Qin was established as early as 266 BC, when Confucian philosopher Xunzi disparaged it.[citation needed] Later Confucian historians condemned the emperor who had burned the classics and buried Confucian scholars alive. They eventually compiled a list of the Ten Crimes of Qin to highlight his tyrannical actions.
     
  11. punjab47

    punjab47 महाबलामहावीर्यामहासत्यपराक्रमासर्वाग्रेक्षत्रियाजट Banned

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    @Mad Indian Arthashastra, the treatise written by Chandragupta’s mentor Chanakya, advocates the main role of the State as ensuring defense, internal security and the rule-of-law; a strong but limited state.

    That's why I'm against reservation & pratilom. Fact is, only kings really had more than one wife & anulom marriage.

    Everyone should preserve their culture,
    --
    State should govern natural resources, but otherwise you have Panchayat.

    Even then, it's obvious we have way too much 'government' in India & it's keeping us poor & backwards as shit.
     
  12. Sakal Gharelu Ustad

    Sakal Gharelu Ustad Detests Jholawalas Moderator

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    Everyone is biased in this world. Question is degree of bias. Btw, he has given sources at the end of his article.
     
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  13. Srinivas_K

    Srinivas_K Senior Member Senior Member

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    You are completely wrong here, the emperor of China killed many people and destroyed many cultures, artifacts and literature to unify China.

    The article is also wrong about Ashoka.

    When Bindusara died the empire is at a weak state, There will always be infighting between the kins in those days for power and Ashoka won and slayed his competitors, some thing which is very common.

    To bring order to the empire every emperor puts fear in his enemies and common folk and this is what Ashoka did. May be the "Chandashoka" is a ploy by him to stamp his authority through fear.

    Imagine millions of people living in a peaceful kingdom after Bindusara's death under Ashoka.

    Emperors are supposed to use violence to bring law and order in those times. They have to stamp the authority through fear, propaganda and good administration.

    Which Ashoka did, during Chandra Gupta period Kalinga is a separate kingdom and Ashoka unified it through Kalinga war.

    The reason for more causalities in this war is because the ordinary folk of Kalinga also took part in this war in large numbers.

    Nanda empire before Chandra Gupta Maurya, No Kalinga as their territory.

    [​IMG]

    Mauryan empire under Chandra Gupta Maurya, No Kalinga in this also as the part of empire
    [​IMG]

    this points to the fact that the author is twisting the facts and he do not know the historic facts.

     
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  14. punjab47

    punjab47 महाबलामहावीर्यामहासत्यपराक्रमासर्वाग्रेक्षत्रियाजट Banned

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    The TV serial shows Shushima Ji as some 'oppressive' older brother promoting anti authoritarian ideas in our youth.

    Ashoka is shown as some nice kid protecting chankya ji & his maid mother.

    On top of that Helena has prominent role despite dying 4 years after marriage. She has a son 'justin' who is married to a ksytrani.

    Whoever made this serial needs to feel wrath of 4 varna.
    --
    Songs which encourage kids to run away today, are like Ashoka going against dharam by killing his brothers & persecuting other panths.

    He basically started downward fall of 'modern' india.

    Don't mean to derail thread, so will say no more.
     
  15. Srinivas_K

    Srinivas_K Senior Member Senior Member

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    Yes Ashoka started the downward fall of India by unifying the territories ?
     
  16. ezsasa

    ezsasa Senior Member Senior Member

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    Let me give a spin to this OP.

    Is it possible that since the legacy of gandhi family is being questioned, Mrs. Maino is doing Psy-op by making the indians question their own national emblem.

    If Ashoka's legacy is questioned again and again, can we really look at Ashoka Chakra and Three lions the same way as before?
     
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  17. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    What territories he unified ? He was handed down a massive empire by his grandfather Chandragupta and father Bindusara. Kalinga is the only kingdom he added :-

    [​IMG]


    Truth is Ashoka lost the greatest opportunity to expand outwards especially when India was at the zenith of their power. Instead he chose to shove his pacifistic idealism down everyone's throat in India. What was the result ? Yavanas (Greek) who had been pushed back into Bactria came back for us.
     
  18. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    You just contradicted yourself with those two statements.

    I'm arguing that Ashoka was hardly the pacifist or great king he's made out to be. If he was a true pacifist, for what reason did Ashoka ban Vedic sacrifices, rituals performed by Indian women ? Or the persecution of Nirgranthas and Ajivikas ? Kalinga was his personal guilt, he had no right to push it on others.

    And I'm not suggesting that Shi Huang was tolerant saint, he was tyrant too but unlike Ashoka he had a vision for his empire. He based his state policies on Han legalism not pacifistic idealism which is suicidal for any state. He did not undo Han defenses or force ahimsa on his people. He set out to unify the procedures and customs and policies of all the states. When Shi Huang united China he also reunited the script & written language by force, in India the Prakrits were allowed to grow endlessly with no control.

    Mao admired & looked up to Shi huang as a high school boy, he boasted that he surpassed Shi 100x. You can sees parallels with today's China, it is his ideas of China (expansionism, strong state, political realism) that still survives. Like Qin Shi Huang, the Communist Party tolerates debate about tactics - but not about the general direction of the country. Indians can sit here and revel in their pacifism, non violence, freedom of speech and other high sounding ideas but they keep loosing while Hans keep winning.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2015
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  19. asingh10

    asingh10 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Vir Savarkar on Ashoka.......

    [​IMG]
     

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