The horrors of the Kalinga War brought about a sudden change in the heart of Asoka. Deep remorse overtook him almost immediately.
The death, destruction, violence and bloodshed of the war left a permanent impression in his mind for long time to come.
The Thirteenth Major Rock Edict of Asoka which was issued at the end of the war gives a vivid picture of the change of Asoka from an aggressive and violent warrior to a great lover and preacher of peace.
The Edict runs as follows:
“On conquering Kalinga, the Beloved of the Gods felt remorse, for, when an unconquered country is conquered, the slaughter, death and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the Beloved of the Gods, and weights heavily on his mind. What is even more deplorable to the Beloved of Gods, is that those who dwell there, whether Brahmanas, Sramanas, or those of other sects, or householders who show obedience to their superiors, obedience to mother and father, obedience to their teachers and behave well and devotedly towards their friends, acquaintances, collogues, relatives, slaves and servants – all suffer violence, murder and separation from their loved ones. Even those who are fortunate to have escaped, and whose love is undiminished (by the brutalizing effect of war) suffer from the misfortunes of their friends, acquaintances, colleagues and relatives. This participation of all men in suffering, weighs heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods”.
Asoka further continued to say : “So, if a hundredth or a thousandth part of those people who were killed, met death, or were deported at that time in Kalinga, would now similarly suffer, it would be considered very deplorable by the Beloved of the Gods”. The feeling which Asoka expressed shows a total transformation in him. He renounced war and violence once and for all.”The Beloved of the Gods desires that all beings should be unharmed,” he announced.
Asoka realised in the Kalinga War that the real conquest was not the conquest by the sword but the conquest of the heart. He came to believe that the victory by Dharma was the best victory. He assured other peoples of India, especially the forest-dwellers, that there should be no harm caused to them if they too desisted from doing harm.
And, to the countries outside the boundaries of the Maurya Empire both inside and outside India. Asoka sent his missions of peace to establish a new type of relation, till then unknown to history. Advocating the principles of love and Dharma for all time to come Asoka desired to put an end to man’s desire for war.
His Edict concluded with the following instruction to his successors:
“The purpose for which this edict of Dharma has been inscribed is that my sons and grandsons should not think of making new” conquests and should be satisfied in abstaining from conquests by arms, as well as, in prescribing light punishment. They should consider conquest by Dharma as the only conquest, as that is of value both in this world and in the other world”. No war in history ended by opening a real path for peace as did the Kalinga War. And no monarch after victory turned into a monk to preach the gospels of non-violence and love as did Asoka.
The direct immediate effect of the Kalinga War was the conversion of Asoka to Buddhism. Two and a half years after his conversion, he became an active devotee of that religion and prepared for his great role as a missionary. Wisely enough did Asoka rule as a monarch while living the life of a monk-missionary for the spread of Buddhism as well as the essence of what might be called universal morality.
While the greatest result of the Kalinga War was the transformation of Asoka from a Chandasoka to Dharmasoka, the war had other results too. Among these, the following results, deserve mention. Firstly, Asoka changed the character of the Maurya administration from one of thorough absolutism to that of benevolent paternalism. His role as a king got reoriented.
The administration was directed towards all-round welfare activities for the benefit of all people. It was in his Kalinga Rock Edict in Dhauli, near the ancient capital of Kalinga, Tosali, that Asoka announced the finest principle of administration saying: “All men are my children, and just as I desire for my own children that they should have bliss and happiness both in this world and the other world, so also I desire the same for all men”. He ordered his officers at Tosali to “cultivate love for all persons”. His Rock Edict at Jaugada also contained the same famous announcement.
Secondly, the Kalinga War, which led to the conversion of Asoka, paved path for the spread of Buddhism all over India and outside. The violence of the war brought about its antithesis, non-violence, on which Buddhism laid great emphasis. Without the Kalinga War, Buddhism might have lingered as a minor religion of India instead of being the mass religion of Asia in due course of time.
Asoka’s faith in Buddhism and his missionary activities for the spread of that religion were the direct outcome of the Kalinga War. It was from a Kalinga sea port, Tamralipiti, that Asoka sent his daughter Sanghamitra to Ceylon to preach Buddhism there.
Thirdly, if history has named Asoka as the greatest monarch of world history, that name has been written in the blood of the Kalinga people. Asoka is a rare example in the annals of rulers who gave up his faith in war after winning a great victory. His conquest of Kalinga was his first conquest which became the last, instead of encouraging him for further conquests. The Kalinga War was thus a milestone in history for mankind’s search for peace and human brotherhood.
Finally, the Kalinga War also had its effect on the people of Kalinga. Buddhism took a deep root in the land. In future to follow, it went out to South-East Asian countries in different waves, carried by the Kalingan merchants and colonists.
Politically, the defeat in the Kalinga War, did not subdue the martial quality of the Kalinga people. In fact, Kalinga rose to greater eminence as a military power after the Maurya rule. She became independent not long after Asoka’s death. Not long thereafter a royal dynasty, famous as the Chedi or the Cheti dynasty, rose to power in Kalinga.
One of the kings of the dynasty, Aira Mahameghavahana Kharavela humbled Magadha and conquered extensive territories both in northern and southern India, and made Kalingan empire. Kalinga’s maritime activities began to grow and in subsequent ages, vast colonies were established by her people across the Indian Ocean.