“The Righteous” and “The Fierce”. Benevolent and cruel. These are completely opposite descriptions of a person, so how can someone be both at the same time? One man in history supposedly did it and he is the man we are going to talk about, King Ashoka. In this light-hearted poem we have created, we aim to showcase the highlights of his life and the impact he has made in history as well. So read on to find out more about our ode to Ashoka!
There was once a boy named Ashoka
With a face that blinded the whole Maurya
But if you cringed and shunned when he comes near
He’ll just behead you I’m sorry dear
Oh, I’ll advise no questions asked and don’t ponder
He has no mercy for disloyal people whatsoever
I’m sure he’ll spare his family right?
Let’s ask his only brother left out of the 99
He’ll say that Ashoka’s really hella fine.
Yet conveniently in 272 BC,
Ashoka was the only one left to be King,
I’ll say it worked out well didn’t it?
He even got himself a reputation, a name
Called Chandashoka, “Ashoka the Fierce”
Whereby even his one look pierces,
Definitely not someone to hassle.
Some may claim all these to be fake,
To exaggerate his awe and make him well-deserving “Great”.
Yet his legacy was more than just that,
As he ruled almost the whole India without his dad.
The first 8 years being king it was war after war.
It got him a vast empire
But that wasn’t enough for his desire.
As Kalinga of the east coast was still free from his rule,
And to Ashoka that’s not cool.
So he decided to make a move.
Hence came the legendary brutal fight,
And oh did it show his might.
With his massive army made up of
And accompanied by 9000 war elephants.
But the people of Kalinga were not to be messed with,
For their country they fought back hard with swift.
This was something Ashoka has never seen,
A fight so gruesome and so ferine.
Still he managed to achieve his long anticipated victory,
Because causing 300,000 casualties was nothing to him.
However the Pali text revealed,
That Ashoka was shaken by the ordeal.
He could not stand the sight of the remains,
And cried out loud, “What have I done?” to his men.
For the first time he was sick of fighting,
He was sick of all the draining wars.
He knew he had to fix things starting right from the core.
So with that he made a dramatic change.
He packed up all hard feelings,
To create a future that’s much more appealing.
Another version of his change,
Probably may sound more insane.
Legend has it that a survivor of Ashoka’s entrancing gaol.
Who happened to be a Buddhist monk,
Enlightened Ashoka to embrace Buddhism and stop being a punk.
What better way to convey his new found religion,
To the large geographical region,
By erecting pillars that rose into the heavens.
These 33 edicts sure has given him a lot of credit.
He carved them on rocks and pillars,
Also on boulders and cave walls,
Which later served as one of the first evidence that Buddhism hasn’t fall.
His edicts told people to:
Help the poor and help the elderly,
Help the ill and their families.
Don’t forget the animals and plants for they matter too,
Obey your parents and don’t ever be rude.
Religious tolerance, religious freedom,
It all helped to build a peaceful kingdom.
He spread the teachings of Buddha to his people and made it state religion.
His role in helping to spread Buddhism cannot be underestimated in our opinion.
As it made a significant mark in history regarding Buddhism,
And we’ll forever have him to thank for his wisdom.
His acts have proven to people that human personality was not set in stone,
And the desire for power can be overcomed with goodwill alone.
He stopped conquering lands to fulfil his thirst and
Ruled his empire in accordance with love.
Yet critics have said his conversion was to propagate
The idea that he was not a cruel and heartless man innate.
Although many in the past revered King Ashoka,
For his policy of Dharma and conquest of Kalinga,
He eventually reached the end of his reign,
Concluding his vision to bind all cultures and faith.
There are vast number of unconfirmed stories about Ashoka’s death
But at least we acknowledge that at his very last breath
He was King Ashoka, “The Righteous”.
His legacy would remain timeless,
As his record of trials are constant reminders,
Of his lofty ambitions and great desires.
The Righteous & The Fierce
- Ashoka was portrayed differently by different authors, earning several names for himself like “The Righteous” & “The Fierce” due to his actions as well as rule.
It was rare for a ruler to be portrayed as both good and evil. Hence, Ashoka having drastically different names was unusual throughout history and suggests his capability of being both brutal and benevolent.
Controversy-Chamber of Hell
Ashoka’s chamber of hell (gaol) was a constant topic for debate because many have questioned its existence. It is often wondered if it was real or just a pure myth of the era. With very little proof or evidence of its existence and just a few recounts made by Xuanzang, it was hard to say if Ashoka’s hell was a reality or not. Nonetheless, the fact that people are still debating about its existence today shows the importance of how the spread of word and stories played a huge and significant part in the spread of religion as well as history during that period of time. Due to the limited channels of mass communication, this was their only source of communication that people could rely on, making these stories more believable during the period of time. Thus, it leads to the lack of proof behind those stories, eventually causing the controversy today.
Controversy-Conversion to Buddhism
There has been some controversy regarding his conversion to Buddhism-many cited the remorse he had after the Kalinga war for his spiritual transformation to Buddhism, whereas some claimed that he was already a Buddhist before the Kalinga war, voiding the “spiritual transformation” explanation. Yet, Ashoka’s significance in spreading Buddhism is undeniable. Ashoka's conversion led to the conversion of many of his subjects. This is especially significant because Buddhism had previously appealed primarily to upper-class, well-educated people. Once the Emperor became a Buddhist, it became a religion of the common people as well.
Significance of edicts
These edicts and pillars serve as an important primary source for historians today. They provide information about the Mauryan dynasty, giving insight into Ashoka’s inner feelings and ideals. This information is transmitted through the very words of the Emperor across the centuries, and these stone work reflected the culture of Mauryan art as well.
Ashoka's greatest significance to history was his contribution to the spread of Buddhism, be it due to the remorse he had after the war or political propaganda to counter his reputation for cruelty. His inscriptions have left historians with important primary sources to explain the political and social situation back then, shedding light on Mauryan culture.
BY: PHYLLIS LIM AND SHERRY TAN
Photos taken from Wikimedia Commons at: