Emperor Ashoka was a fierce warrior-king who killed anyone who stood in his way. However, his greatest feat was conquering himself. Some people think changing one’s mind is a sign of weakness. But, turning over a new leaf like Ashoka did can require great courage – and can make the world a better place.
Ashoka was the ruler of the Mauryan Empire from 273 B.C. to 232 B.C. His territory included most of India and parts of what is today Afghanistan and Iran.
He was a brutal and bloodthirsty king, and frequently warred against other countries to expand his empire. People called him Chandashoka, or “the cruel Ashoka”.
The battle of Kalinga in 250 B.C. changed everything. Ashoka was standing on the field after the fighting had ended. Surrounded by the dead bodies, he realized that more than 100,000 people had died because of his war. Horrified, he decided to change. He embraced the Buddhist belief of ahimsa, or non-violence. From that day on, he became known as Dharmashoka, or “the pious Ashoka”.
He changed into a kinder ruler, and built many temples and hospitals to help people. Ashoka even built hospitals for animals, which was unheard of back then. No longer interested in war, he started sending missions of goodwill to other countries.
He also sent Buddhist missionaries to spread the message of peace. Many Buddhists today believe that it was probably because of Ashoka that their faith spread so widely.
Within his empire, Ashoka promoted peaceful debate and discussion as the way to solve problems. He also made sure that all religions were respected.
More than 2,000 years later, Indians still look up to Ashoka.
When the modern Republic of India was formed, it chose as its national symbol the lions on top of a pillar he had built.