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Ashoka, The Not So Great – SwarajyaSanjeev Sanyal22 Nov, 2015
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 . 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.
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.
sent from samsung galaxy note3 neo, so please excuse brevity