Propagation of Dhamma:
Within his Dominions:
History bears testimony to the propagation of religion by kings and emperors, and the method almost invariably followed by them was the use of the sword.
Wars have been fought for propagation of religion, untold numbers died by the sword of proselytising monarchs. Constantine and Charlemagne forced Christianity on their unwilling subjects.
But Asoka’s Dhamma taught him to seathe his sword for all time and made him a combination of a saint and a ruler. Whatever might have been the true character of his Dhama Asoka propagated for the loftiest end in view. He began with a feeling of indebtedness to his subjects, nay, to the entire living world, and whatever effort he made, he says in his 6th Rock Edict, he made in order to be free from his debt to the creatures and in order that he might render some happy in this world and they might gain heaven in the next world.
Such were the lofty ideas he had set as his ideal and purpose of the propagation of Dhamma. Non-violence to life as such was the basic principle of his Dhamma and was in fullest conformity with his ideal of service to all living creatures.
He took certain (practical steps that ensured application of the principle of non-violence in a practical, though in a limited way:
(i) He stopped Viharajatra, i.e., pleasure tours which involving killing of animals by way of hunting, feasting, etc. Instead he instituted Dharnma-Yatra that is pilgrimage to Buddhist holy places on which occasions gifts were given to the brahmanas and sramanas.
(ii) He also stopped killing of animals and fowls in the royal kitchen restricting the killing to two peacocks and one deer, but these were also to be given up within a short time as he announced.
(iii) The offensive Samajas where public feasts and entertainment were held and which involved killing of animals for meat were ordered to be discontinued and instead Dhamma-Samajas in which the Law of Piety was practiced.
(iv) Asoka substituted the ordinary mangalas in which superstitious and worthless rites were performed, by Dhamma-mangalas which comprised practice and fulfillment of Dhamma.
(v) Asoka in his 7th Rock Edict confesses that he was not the first king to think of propagating Dhamma, there were many others, who tried to do so but with no success. He therefore gave this matter most serious and anxious thought. He clearly understood, whatever effort he might put for diffusing his Dhamma far and wide his mission was not likely to succeed if the missionary work was limited to himself. He, therefore, in the twelfth year of his reign commanded the district officials, the Yutus, the Rajukas and the Pradesikas wherever they would go on circuit every five years, to deliver instruction in Dhamma to people in the discharge of their official duties. Obviously, it was a novel and ingenious method of reaching all people of his realm.
(vi) Preaching by the royal officials would not have gone very far if Asoka did not devise another method of impressing upon the people his religious instruction. He took his cue from the Buddhist work called Vima-navathu. In this work the rewards for virtuous men in the life hereafter were described. These rewards were Viman—column supported palace, hast in, a celestial elephant, all white and well-caparisoned. Agikhandani, Gods with resplendent complexion compared to fire, lighting, star etc. Asoka devised to show these spectacles to the people in the Dhamma-Samaja in order to impress upon them the heavenly reward that awaited the virtuous. Such spectacles must have had much influence upon the common people.
(vii) Asoka appointed a new class of officials whom he called Dhamma-Mahamatras, appointed among all classes of people even including his brother’s families to see to the establishment, inculcation and increase of the Dhamma, i.e., the Law of Piety as well as for the welfare and happiness of those devoted to Dhamma. In the 8th Pillar Edict Asoka says The same (object) being in view, I have set up Dhamma-Stambhas, appointed Dhamma-Mahamatras and made Dhamma-Sravanas, i.e., proclamation of Dhamma and Dhammanusati, i.e., instruction in Dhamma. K. N. Sastri points out that Dhamma-Stambhas are not pillars in the material sense, it meant public utility work.
(viii) The ideal of his Dhamma having been making the life of men and animals happy in the world, Asoka planted trees by the road sides, dug wells and set up inns for the benefits of both men and animals. He also made healing arrangements for both men and beasts.
(ix) Asoka had much respect for the monkish Buddhism and in order to preserve the Samgha and to prevent Schism in the Buddhist Church he summoned a Council at Pataliputra and the decisions arrived at that Councils Were embodied in his Sarnath Edict. Heresy was suppressed as a result of the Pataliputra Council. Asoka’s missionary zeal did not make him inattentive to the growth of hereby in the Buddhist Church.
(x) One of the most unique methods ever followed for propagation of Dhamma was Asoka’s inscribing Edicts with Dhamma-lipi on rocks and pillars so that people might read them and follow the qualities and virtues enumerated there. The edicts were placed in such places that, as Asoka mentions, even foreigners might see them and inculcate the doctrines laid down therein.
Outside his Dominion:
Asoka did not rest content by propagating his Dhamma within his dominions. He maintained friendly relations with his frontagers as also with countries beyond taking advantage of the friendliness with those countries. Asoka sent his envoys there for the purpose of propagating his Dhamma.
He also established charitable institutions in the countries of his frontagers. The Ceylonese Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa refer to Asoka’s sending as many as nine missions for the propagation of Dhamma. Of these nine, seven were sent to the countries lying between the Himalayas and Peshawar in the north and southern portion of the Mysore State in the south.
Two remaining missions are said to have been sent to countries outside India, one to Suvarnabhumi or lower Burma and the other to Lanka or Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka). The mission to Ceylon was a complete success. King Tissa of Ceylon was a friend of Asoka and the mission was sent on his initiative either in 251 or 250 B.C. Mahendra who has been variously described as a brother and son of Asoka was the leader of the mission. Mahendra was aided by his sister Sangha-mitra.
The conquest through Dhamma that is Law of Piety was according to Asoka was considered by him to be the chiefest of conquests. The 13th Rock Edict says with confidence that this has been achieved by the Beloved of the Gods here and in the bordering dominions even as far as six hundred Yojanas where dwell the Yavana King Amtiyoka, and beyond this Amtiyoka, the four kings called Turamaya, down below, where we the Chodas, the Pandyas, as far as Tamraparniyas— likewise here in the king’s dominions among the Yavanas, Kambojas, the Nabhakas and Nabhapamtis, the hereditary Bhoja rulers, Andhras and Parimdas—every where they follow the teaching of the Beloved of the Gods in respect of Dhamma. Asoka also mentions that the conquest he achieved everywhere was a conquest flavoured with love.
It goes without saying that Asoka’s sending of missions to the countries enumerated in the 13th Rock Edict attained much success and although the effects on the Greek countries were less permanent than elsewhere.
Prof. Rhys Davids, however, regards Asoka’s claims of success of him Dhamma over whole of India, Ceylon, independent Greek States of Western Asia, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa were a mere royal rodomontade. But when we consider certain important features in Christianity which are common with Buddhism such as confession, fasting, rosaries etc. and remember Asoka’s sending of his envoys (dutas) in the Courts of the contemporary rulers we realise that Asoka’s missions contributed in some measures in shaping the tenets of Christianity when infant Christianity met the full-grown Buddhism in those countries later.
On Pre-Christian Judaism there was definite and noticeable influence on Christianity. According to J. K. Sauirers The mission of King Asoka are amongst the greatest entered countries for the most part barbarous and full of superstition and among these animistic peoples Buddhism spread as a wholesome heaven.
In the 6th. Rock Edict Asoka’s declaration that there was no higher duty than welfare of the whole world and his efforts were all for freeing him from debt to the creatures seem to have been a well fulfilled duty. He obviously had taken his ideal from the Buddhist. Pali-Sutta which mentions the ideal to be followed by one who is aspiring to become a Chakravarti Dharmika Dharmaraj and Asoka had certainly become one such ruler by his righteousness, humani-tarianism and his conquest through Dhamma of the world known to him.
Effects of Asoka’s Missionary Activity:
The Maurya empire even under’ the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta extended from the Hindukush to the frontiers of the Dravidian kingdoms of the extreme south of the Indian peninsula. Under Asoka it received further extension by inclusion of the kingdom of Kalinga.
Had not Asoka been influenced by the ideal of Chakraborty Dharmika Dharmaraja, the centripetal force that had been organised from the time of Bimbisara would have absorbed the entire Indian sub-continent within the Magadhan empire under the Mauryas making whole of India one nation and even making Pataliputra, like Rome, the Capital of a world power.
Here Asoka’s policy of conquest through Dhamma stood in the way and India was lost to nationalism and political greatness. If India, due to the missionary activity of Asoka, gained in cosmopolitanism and humanitarianism which have become characteristic of the Hindu Society, India lost politically.
We have already noticed how Asoka’s missionary efforts, his sending out of missionaries to countries like Suvarnabhumi and how through these countries Buddhism spread into China, Korea, Japan etc. in subsequent periods of history.
In the West Asian countries under the Greeks the influence of the Dhamma did not leave much permanent marks, yet the infant Christianity when came in contact with the mature Buddhism in those countries after two more centuries it came to be influenced in some of its aspects. Particularly, the gnostic Christianity was deeply influenced by Buddhism. The Pre-Christian Judaism, namely, the Essenes and Therapeutal sects had been influenced by Buddhism.
But one of the most important effects of the missionary activity of Asoka was the immense stimulus it imparted to Indian art. Indian architectural material till the time of Asoka was wood, but it was he that made it lithic. The art of stone-cutter was not unknown before the time of Asoka, in fact, it was already at a developed stage.
Asoka’s rock-cut inscriptions also was not altogether a novel thing, for the Persian monarch Darius had done so long time before Asoka. What Asoka’s workmen did in a novel way was to bring stone columns for his inscriptions with artistically sculptured capitals. Asoka was responsible for the construction of 84,000 Chaityas. The Sarnath Lion capital and the Dharma Chakra are excellent specimens, of the lithic art of Asoka’s time.
The walls of the hall within the rock-cut caves in the Barabai and Nagarjuni hills have a mirror-like glass even today. Asoka’s pillars are specimens of the perfection in the cutting, dressing, chiseling and shaping stones at the time of Asoka. Travellers like Tom Coryate and Whittaker mistook them as brass pillars and Chaplin Terry thought them to be marble pillars, and Heber took them to be cast metal. Sir John Marshall remarks that Asokan pillars, with figures of bulls and lions on the Crown are masterpices in point of both style and technique, examples of finest carving.
The Pillars of Asoka which were on an average 30 feet in height weighing 50 tons must have been an engineering problem with regard to their transportation from the quarries where they were shaped to distances of five to six hundred miles which the people of the time must have solved easily.
As late as the second half of the fourteenth century A.D., Sultan Firuz Tughlaq transported one Asoka pillar to Delhi. First 4,800 men and a 42-wheeled cart were engaged to carry the Pillar to the bank of the Jamuna where 20,000 men were needed to place it on boats. The re-erection of the Pillar at Delhi was another strenuous job. One more Pillar from Meerut was also shifted by Firuz Tughlaq to Delhi.
The engineers of Asoka’s time transported them by some other easier method obviously. The Fabrication, conveyance and erection of these pillars bear eloquent testimony to the skill and resources of the stone-cutter and engineers of the Maurya age. Another remarkable act of the Maurya engineers was the construction of the Sudarsana lake by artificially damming up some of the streams of the mountains Raivatak and Urjayat.
One of the most noteworthy effects of Asoka’s missionary activity as Saunders remarks was the humanising and civilizing influence his missions had spread in countries outside India. Within India the contribution of Asoka’s missionary activity was the abiding influence of non-violence and humanitarianism which remain even today as the basic principles of Hindu Society.
What Asoka achieved by his missionary activity was to turn a local sect into a world religion and More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne.
Two other boons that India enjoyed were :
(1) the communication between the Indian provinces became more frequent and brisk. This led to
(2) the universal desire for a common language—a language that would be studied and understood in all provinces far both religions and secular purposes. This led to the acceptance of Pali or monumental Prakrit as the lingua franca of India, and both secular and religious scriptures came to be written in Pali. Buddhist scriptures which were originally written in Magodhi dialect were now translated into Pali. This effected a sort of a cultural integration of India under Asoka.
Character and Estimate of Asoka:
Our knowledge about the early life and character of Asoka is derived from Buddhist texts like Divyavadana and the Ceylonese chronicles such as Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa. But for his later life we have excellent sources, namely, his Rock Edicts, Minor Rock Edicts, Pillar Edicts and other minor inscriptions from which we can form a clear idea about his personality and character.
Difficulty about the Buddhist sources of information about his early life and character is that there has been deliberate fabrication in order to portray Asoka as an Ogre transformed into a saint by the magical effect of his conversion to Buddhism. We may easily ignore such exaggeration.
Asoka was born in an imperial family and imbibed all its traditional characteristics. His love of hunting, love of feasting and merry-making, skill in fighting battles, quelling rebellion and administering provinces as viceroy and all that were but normal predilections one may expect in a progeny of an illustrious imperial house. He did not hesitate to put to death his brothers who were opposed to his aspiration to ascend the throne.
He superseded the claims of his elder brother to the throne and in doing so he enlisted the support of his father’s ministers. He had the normal princely weakness of marrying more than one wife, to have some left-handed wives in different points of the realm. His taste was no less royal and dishes were prepared for his table as suited to his palate.
But the real man in Asoka was awakened by the shock of the Kalinga War. What more nobility did any of the great monarchs of the world demonstrate than Asoka’s sheathing of his sword at the moment of his great victory? There are innumerable instances in history of monarchs who had been feeding their sword with blood and more blood and one victory leading them to another. Asoka is the solitary instance of an emperor who shrank from war after victory which opened up opportunity for more victories.
What was most peculiar about his character is that he was great both at war and peace. He knew how to field his men in) a battle and to wrest victory from his most determined and powerful enemy, Kalinga, he knew no less how to follow the policy of peace and love, humanitarianism and non-violence.
An able administrator, an impartial judge, a ruler solicitous of the well-being of his subjects, nay of all men, and animals both in this world and the world hereafter, a stateman par excellence, Asoka sought to gather the treasures of wisdom not the trash after which thousands and thousands of rulers ran.
Whether as a man or a ruler Asoka stands pre-eminently first among the myriads of rulers of the world that crowd the pages of history. Scholars have compared him with other rulers, ancient, medieval and modern, Hindu, Moslem, Christian and Pagan and have most ungrudgingly given him the highest place of honour.
To estimate the achievements of such a monarch is bound to be of absorbing interest and no uniformity of opinions can reasonably be expected.
Asoka’s achievements, divide themselves into two parts, viz., before his conversion, i.e., upto the Kalinga War and after his conversion to Buddhism.
As a Prince Asoka assisted his father in the administration of the country as the viceroy at Ujjain and for a time at Taxila where he was sent to quell a rebellion and proved his worth both as an administrator and a general. He succeeded against his eldest brother’s claim to the throne on the death of his father. But there can be no doubt that he was the ablest of the sons of Bindusara to ascend the throne.
As a monarch he began his career with all the traditions of Maurya imperialism, taking pleasure in hunting, waging war and loving all the royal paraphernalia and liking royal delicates. It is not a little curious that such a monarch was transformed into an apostle of non-violence, peace and common well-being.
It was as if by a magic that he was metamorphosed into a new man and a new soul. The diabolism of the Kalinga War in which hundred thousands of people were done to death, many left wounded and many more carried away as prisoners changed monarch Asoka into Saint Asoka. The horrors of one war of conquest were enough to touch him at the very core of his heart, and the change came upon it, marked a new chapter in the history of the Maurya Empire and of India.
The prospect of becoming a world conqueror which would have lured any other monarch and would have possibly turn Pataliputra into Rome of the East did not have any appeal to him. He turned to the service of his people, nay all men, and not only men again, but of all living creatures. The ideal that he wanted to sub-serve was to make them happy both in this world and the world hereafter.
He himself practised what he professed and through administrative changes as (well as by sending of missions both to countries within the Indian peninsula and to outside countries of Western Asia, South East Asia etc., he preached the Law of Piety, i.e., his Dhamma. It was no religion in the metaphysical sense of the term, but a code of love, righteousness and humanitarianism. Quinquennial and Triennial circuit of officials, appointment of Dhamma-mahamatras, Dhamma-Yutas, etc., for the establishment, inculcation and increase of Dhamma were the steps that he took within his dominions for the spread of his Dhamma.
Both in the material and spiritual aspects of the human life, Asoka brought about a change that transformed the whole concept of Kingship and the Maurya government was converted into a theocracy, tolerant of all lives and beliefs. In his personal life he practised what he professed and he became an ardent devotee of Buddhism and practised the most rigorous injunctions of a Saint’s life avoiding the least transgression from what he believed and sought to preach.
With regard to foreign countries he pursued the policy of love and friendliness. He transformed the reverberation of the war-drum into the reverberation of the drum of peace and he issued injunction to his future generations against territorial conquests. He assured his frontagers not to be afraid of him, for they would receive nothing but love and peace from him. He made healing arrangements for both men and beasts within his own countries as also in the realms of his frontagers.
He revolutionised the concept of the kingly duties by declaring Sabe munise paja mama, i.e., all men are my children and thinking that the king is indebted to his people and could be free from the debt by doing their welfare.
If Europe could produce enlightened despots only in the eighteenth century, India produced one and the very best ever produced who placed the welfare of his subjects above everything, and it was Asoka.
All the same Asoka has been held responsible for the rapid decline and fall of the Maurya Empire. The martial ardour of imperial Magadha had vanished with the last cries of agony uttered in the battle fields of Kalinga. Asoka had given up the aggressive (militarism of his forefathers and had evolved a policy of Dhamma-vijaya which must have seriously impaired the military efficiency of his empire.
The military weakness of India in the post-Asokan period is also testified by the Yuga Purana section of the Gargi Samhita. In pursuance of his policy of propagation of Dhamma and total withdrawal from the path of militarism and war he turned his civil administration into religious propagandists and entrusted the (fierce tribesmen of the North-Western Frontier and in the wilds of the Deccan to the tender care of the Superintendents of piety and did not rest till the sound of the war-drum was completely hushed.
Dr. Bhandarkar also holds the same view when he says:
Asoka’s new angle of vision, however, sounded a death-knell to the Indian aspiration of a centralised national State and World-wide empire. The effects of his policy became manifest soon after his death.
Religiocity of Asoka was, of course, responsible for the total loss of martial spirit of the Indians and the consequent loss of independence to the foreign invaders, yet it is time that we judged the intrinsic merit of his policy in the political set up of the present world and realised the great success the monarch achieved not only in the contemporary world of the third century B.C., but in the direction left for the posterity to follow in the war-torn; intolerant, selfish and irreligious world of today.
But, the question is whether the Maurya Empire would have survived even if Asoka pursued the policy of aggressive militarism. It would perhaps been possible to bring the Tamil Kingdoms of the south within his empire after the victory at Kalinga, knowing as we do that Bindusara’s attempt to conquer the Tamil countries of the south was frustrated by the support rendered to those countries by Kalinga.
Asoka’s assurance to the frontagers that they had nothing to fear from him also bears out the position of strength that Asoka had in relation to the frontagers. If we hold for argument’s sake that Asoka conquered the remaining independent Kingdoms and tribes within the Indian sub-continent would it have ensured permanence to his empire?
Had his successors been not those capable of keeping the reigns of such an empire in their grip, the empire would have definitely fallen into pieces sooner or latter. But the moral ascendancy which Asoka was mainly instrumental in bringing about remained for centuries as monument to his glory and has not altogether vanished even now after a lapse of more than two thousand years.
History is replete with instances of mighty empires dwindling into nothingness, thrones eaten up by moths, sceptre kissing the dust, swords consumed by rust and monarchs forgotten in the moth-eaten chapters of history, but in India there was a monarch, Asoka, who instead of all earthly treasures, gathered the treasures of wisdom, peace, love and non-violence which have ever since been the proud heritage of India.
Asoka and Akbar:
It has been customary to compare Asoka with great monarchs of history, particularly Akbar the Great. True both Asoka and Akbar are the most conspicuous in the long roll of Indian monarchs, yet there are more things to be contrasted than compared between them. If one war was sufficient to change the heart of Asoka, Akbar remained all throughout his life a man of inordinate ambition eager to earn the fame of a conqueror.
Again while Akbar conquered by the sword, Asoka conquered by love and humanitarianism. Akbar was a diplomat but Asoka was peculiarly and obviously sincere. While both were zealous in the discharge of kingly duties, yet their concept of kingly duties and ideals were different. Both were men of good taste and both spared no pains to choose the best of men for their services and both did honest work.
Both were also preachers of religion, but while Asoka’s success as a preacher turned a local sect into a world religion, Akbar’s Din-Ilahi, a political religion, proved a total failure. But above all both were solicitous of the well-being of their subjects, both were Catholic in their views and tolerant of others’ religions and both left their impress indelibly on the canvass of history and deserve the epithet ‘Great’.
His Place in History:
To determine Asoka’s place in history, it is necessary to remember the ideals that guided him and the motives that impelled him. From his different edicts it is possible to get a clear idea of the ideals that he had set before him. Prof. Charpentier’s contention that Asoka’s inscriptions concealed rather than expressed his own personality and his ideas, and ideals, are not accepted by scholars.
Welfare of the whole world was his ideal and he thought himself indebted to the creatures and what little effort he made was to make them happy in this world and that they might gain heaven in the next world. (R. E. VI). Such were his ideals. His idea of welfare of the creatures comprised men, animals and creatures.
The temporal as well as the spiritual well-being of the whole animate world were his concern. Again his welfare measures for the happiness of the men and beasts were not confined within his own empire but were spread to the countries of his frontagers. He declared “All men are my children”—Saba munise paja mama.
Asoka’s motive was to become Chakkavatti Dhammika Dhamma-raja. It was through spiritual conquest, that is through love and humanism and not through terrestrial conquests that one might become a Chakravarti Dharmika Dharmaraja. He, therefore, eschewed war for good, geared his entire administrative machinery to the propagation of Dhamma, i.e., Law of Love and Piety.
He set up edicts so that people might inculcate the moral virtues set forth therein. He sent envoys to foreign countries for the spread of his message of love and humanism. For temporal happiness of men and beasts he constructed roads flanked by trees, dug wells and rest-houses for the travellers, made curative arrangements for both men and beasts.
Curative arrangements were made by him even in the countries of his frontagers. By this policy of Dhamma Vijaya he seemed to have attained what he had in his mind and the Buddhist Text Divyavadana actually calls him Chaturbhaga Chakravarti Dharmiko Dharmarajo.
Now what place could Asoka be assigned in history? According to Prof. Rhys David Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism and his munificent endowments to the Samgha were the first step towards on the downward path of Buddhism, the first step to its expulsion from India, just as the religious benefactions of Constantine were the cause of the spiritual decay of the Christian Church.
But Dr. Bhandarkar points out that decay of Buddhism at a remote subsequent period of time could not be due to Asoka and also asks where is the proof of Asoka’s. misdirected endowments to the Buddhist Church. We must not forget that Constantine spread Christianity with the help of the sword, Asoka spread his Dhamma through love and humanism. If Constantine tolerated other religions, it was for political reasons but Asoka’s toleration was inherent in his Dhamma.
Asoka has also been compared to Marcus Aurelius, Charlemagne, Omar Kaliff I, etc. There were others who might have been great warriors or administrators like Asoka. Some might as well have been superior to Asoka in mental culture (e.g. Marcus Aurelius) but in the totality of temporal and spiritual good done to the animate world, in humanism and toleration no prince is worthy of being compared to Asoka. In the estimation of the European Scholars Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon are world’s greatest monarchs.
But H. C. Wells pertinently questions what were their permanent contribution to humanity—these three who have appropriated to themselves so many of the pages of our history? But Mr. Wells gives Asoka the first place of honour when he says “amidst the tens and thousands of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousness and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name Of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone a star. From the Volga to Japan his name is still honoured. China, Tibet and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne”.
Dr. Copleston says, “Asoka was not merely the Constantine of Buddhism, he was Alexander with Buddhism for Hellas, an unselfish Napoleon…” Dr. Macabhail thinks that Saint Paul is the only historical Character that can be rightly compared to Asoka.
Successors of Asoka:
The vast empire of Asoka extending from the foot of the Hindu-kush to the borders of the Tamil countries in the extreme South was incapable of being ruled over by any weaker kings. When after an eventful reign of thirty years Asoka died in 236 B.C. his sceptre which was the bow of Ulysses could not be drawn by any weaker hands.
Unfortunately, after the wealth of historical materials for the period of the earlier Mauryas, particularly for that of Asoka, we enter into a period of obscurity and the genealogy after Asoka cannot be drawn up with certainly. We have to depend on scanty data supplied by one or two inscriptions and on the genealogical lists given in the Brahamanical, Jaina and Buddhistic works which are both confusive and discrepant. The Brahmanical, i.e., the Puranic source, however, gives us more or less correct names of the later Maurya rulers as also the total span of the period they ruled (137 years).
Asoka had many sons of whom the name of only one, Tivara, is found in the inscriptions, but the names of three other sons, Mahendra, Kunala also known as Dharma-Vivardhana, and Jalauka are referred to in literature. Tivara does not seem to have ascended the throne either because he predeceased Asoka or for any other reason we are not aware of. According to Vayu Purana Kunala succeeded Asoka, ruled for eight years and was succeeded by five rulers the last of whom was Brihadratha.
Matsya Purana, however, gives a different list of the successors of Asoka, and his immediate successor being Dasaratha— Vishnu Purana again gives a third list. The last king Brihadratha’s name appears in all these lists and that of Dasaratha in more than one. Kalhana in his Rajatarangini mentions Jalauka as Asoka’s successor in Kashmir. It is, therefore, difficult to reconcile the divergent versions given by different sources.
From three brief dedicatory inscriptions on the walls of the rock-cut caves on the Nagarjuni hills, dedicated to the Ajivikas we come across the name of Dasaratha who adopted the epithet Devanampiya, who ruled for eight years and who was according to the Puranas was Asoka’s grandson. Dasaratha’s name was Kunala who was also known as Dharmavivardhana and probably also as Suyasas.
From the Buddhist legend it is known that Kunala was the heir apparent of Asoka but he blinded himself on account of the intrigues of his step-mother Tishyarakshita thus his son Dasaratha became the immediate successor of Asoka. According to Vayu Purana Kunala’s son was Bandhupalita. Bandhupalita may have been Dasaratha himself and Indrapalita who succeeded Dasaratha may have been Samprati.
According to Dr. V. A. Smith Dasaratha and Samprati were brothers reigning simultaneously in two parts of the empire, Dasaraitha over the eastern part while Samprati ruled over the western part. Dr. H. C. Raichaudhuri points out that Dr. Smith’s hypotnesis is in-correct in-as-much as. Samprati, according to the Jaina writers, ruled over both Pataliputra and Ujjaini.
According to the Puranas also Dasaratha was succeeded by his son Samprati. The Jaina records speak highly of Samprati’s efforts for the propagation of the Jaina faith. Smith’s view, therefore, has been rejected by the modern writers. In Acharya Jinaprabhusuri’s Pataliputrakalpa it is stated that In Pataliputra flourished the Great King Samprati, son of Kunala, lord of Bharata with its continents.
Samprati was succeeded by Salisuka. This is proved by the Vishnu Purana, Gargi Samhita and Vayu Purana. He is supposed to be identical with Vrihaspati, son of Samprati referred to in the Divva-vadana.
The last of the imperial Mauryas was Brihadratha mentioned by the Puranas as well in Bana’s Harshacharita. He was assassinated by his general Pushyamitra. With the assassination of Brihadratha the Maurya imperial line of Magadha came to an end after 137 years of rule in 187 B.C.
During the half century following the death of Asoka the Maurya empire was fast passing through a process of disintegration. According to Rajatarangini Jalauka, one of the sons of Asoka set up an independent Kingdom in Kashmir, with himself as the ruler and conquered Kanauj. He is said to have crushed off the invading “Mlechcha Horde”. This is perhaps a reference to the invasion by the Bactrian Greeks which was to become a formidable menace in future.
On the evidence of Taranath we come to know of another successor of Asoka who set up an independent Kingdom at Gandhara. Poet Kalidasa in his drama Malavikagnimitram refers to Vidarbha as independent Kingdom. On the north-western frontier that a King named Sophagasenus, i.e., Subhagasena was ruling independently is referred to by Greek writer Polybius who wrote about 206 B.C.
That the disintegration of the Maurya Empire was speeded up by the centrifugal forces after Asoka’s death and the Yavana invasion i.e., the invasion of the Bactrian Greeks. The final blow was administered by Pushyamitra, Commander-in-Chief, who assassinated his royal master Brihadratha and established a dynasty ‘known as the Sunga Dynasty.
Decline and Fall of the Maurya Empire:
The vast empire of the Mauryas that comprised practically the whole of the Indian Sub-Continent and beyond, and reared on the political theories of Kautilya, reached its tragic end with the assassination of the last of the imperial Mauryas, Brihadratha, at the hands of the traitor regicide Pushyamitra, Commander-in-Chief.
The end-came within barely fifty years of Asoka’s death. That within half a century from the time when Asoka had to assure his frontagers that they had nothing to fear from him, the empire became extinct, has given cause to scholars to identify the factors that speeded up the decline and fall of the Maurya empire.
According to one school of thought, Asoka’s religious policy mainly accounts for the debacle. The Chief exponent of this school of thought is Mahamahopadhyaya Haraprasad Sastri who is of the opinion that the reaction prompted by the Brahmanas against Asoka’s policy of patronising Buddhism and deliberately humiliating the Brahmanas led to this reaction.
He and others of his way of thinking see the hands of the Brahmanas in the revolution headed by Pushyamitra. Haraprasad Sastri thinks that Asoka’s edicts were directed against the Brahmanas and these were specially offensive as these were promulgated by a Sudra.
Asoka’s prohibition of animal sacrifice enjoined by Brahmanical religion, his appointing of Dhamma Maha-matras as superintends of morals among the Brahmanas thereby infringing the privilege of the Brahmanas, his introduction of Vyavasharasamata and Danda-samata i.e., equality in treatment as well as punishment of the Brahmanas with all other castes infringing the special consideration always shown to the Brahmanas have been enumerated as the causes prompting the Brahmanical reaction.
Dr. H. C. Raichaudhuri argues at length that prohibition of: animal sacrifice was not specially directed to the Brahmanas, for long before Asoka, non-violence had been recommended in Sruti. Further it has been proved beyond doubt that Asoka’s Grandfather, Chandragupta was not of Sudra, extraction, but was a Kshatriya of the village Mavuraposaka in Pippalivana.
Further, the Dhamma-maha-matras were no more superintendents of morals. They were entrusted with the duties of the promotion of welfare also of the Brahmanas-and the establishment of the Law of Piety which included liberality to the Brahmanas. Again, there is nothing to show that Dhamma-mahamatras were all appointed from the non-Brahmanas.
It has also been pointed out by Dr. Raichaudhuri that Brahmanas were not immune from principle of equality before Law and in punishment. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad it is clearly laid down that a priest, i.e., Purohita (Brahmana) might be punished with death for treachery towards his master.
Pandit Sastri’s contention that as soon as the strong arm of Asoka was withdrawn the Brahmanas revolted against his successors. This is not borne out by history. In Rajatarangini we come across definite evidence that Jalauka and the Brahmanical Hindus of Kashmir were on most friendly terms.
About Pushyamitra’s revolt it cannot be said that he being a Brahmana his revolt was an expression of Brahmanical reaction. We must not forget that his revolt can be better accounted for his hold over the army rather than his leadership of a band of discontented Brahmanas.
According to another school of writers the root cause of the fall of the Maurya Empire was Asoka’s policy of non-violence which he had adopted as state policy and which totally sapped the martial ardour of imperial Magadha. He gave up the aggressive militarism of his forefathers and disabanded his army.
He not only eschewed all wars but also enjoined upon his sons and grandsons to do so. All this had the natural effect of impairing martial spirit and military efficiency of the empire. But it was not, by itself, the only cause of the downfall of the empire. We must seek for other causes as well.
The Maurya Empire was ruled by a central authority, and it is no wonder that such a vast empire could not be kept together from the centre, particularly when weaker rulers succeeded to the throne. Empires rose and fell not only in India but also in other parts of the world and nearly one and half centuries that the Mauryas Empire endured cannot be considered too small a span of time.
The Maurya Empire had certain natural causes, also traceable in the factors of the downfall of other empires. These were the spirit of autonomy, oppressive nature of rule by the royal officials, rebellious disposition of the governors of outlying provinces, official treachery, palace intrigues and difficult communication with distant parts of the empire.
Taxila was in repeated revolt. The oppressive rule of the local officials led to the revolt of Taxila once under Bindusara when Asoka had to be sent to put it down. Even under Asoka it once revolted. This attempt at repeated revolts was symptomatic of what were happening elsewhere of the empire. Even if there were no open revolts the willingness was definitely there.
The Kalinga Edicts show that oppression by his officials was very much known to him and he did not hide his displeasure in this regard. If even under Asoka there was cause for anxiety at the neglect of duty, one can simply imagine what happened under Asoka’s weak successors. That there were intrigues and treachery in the imperial court is evident from the treacherous conduct of Pushyamitra. Such treacherous conduct could not be the result of momentary impulse or short-time preparation.
There are also grounds to believe that the Maurya Court after the death of Asoka was gradually divided into two factions one headed by Pushyamitra, the Commander-in-Chief, and other by the minister. The minister managed to place his son as governor at Vidarbha and the Commander-in-Chief his son as governor at Vidisa.
To the above weaknesses should be added the invasion of the Bactrian Greeks from the north-west. From Syria to whole of Western Asia upto the borders of Hindukush were under Seleukos. About -2S50 B.C. two provinces of Bactria and Parthia revolted against the Selencidan dynasty and became independent.
Attempt to re-conquer them by Antiochos III, King of Syria, failed and in 208 B.C. independence of Bactria and Parthia was recognised. Soon afterwards, the Bactrian and Parthian Kings turned their eyes towards India. About 190 B.C. Demetrius invaded India, when Brihadratha was the Maurya emperor and wrested considerable portion of his empire in the northwest.
The revolt of the Andhras, success of the raid of the Bacterian Greeks and loss of north-western part of the empire dealt a severe blow to the prestige of the empire and confusion reigned supreme in the country. Obviously, Pushyamitra, the Commander-in-Chief of the Maurya army, took advantage of the situation and killed his (master Brihadratha while he was reviewing his army and thus put an end to 137 year old dynasty founded by Chandragupta Maurya.
Yet, there need be no regret, for empire of Asoka would have gone the way of many more mighty empires of the world even if he had pursued the policy of aggressive militarism; it would be only a question of time. But the moral ascendancy of the Indian culture over a large part of the civilised world which Asoka’s policy had brought about has not vanished even today, after a lapse of two millenniums.