Ashoka was the most significant ruler of the ancient Indian Mauryan Dynasty. Early in his reign, he was known for his extreme violence. According to tradition, he killed 99 of his brothers in order to secure the throne. As king, he created an elaborate torture chamber known as Ashoka’s Hell. Ashoka, however, made a dramatic change after witnessing the bloody Kalinga War, and he converted to Buddhism. This conversion resulted in the dramatic spread of Buddhism through Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and Sri Lanka.
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Ashoka was the most powerful ruler of the Mauryan Empire, which controlled the Indian subcontinent during the 3rd Century BC. The empire was founded by Ashoka’s grandfather Chandragupta and expanded under Ashoka’s father Bindusara.
The seminal event of Ashoka’s reign was the Kalinga War. The war was notoriously violent, with more than 100,000 troops being killed. It was so violent that it was said that the Daya River ran red with blood. The violence of this war had a profound effect on Ashoka, causing him to convert to Buddhism.
After his conversion, Ashoka famously sent missionaries (including his son Mahinda and his daughter Sanghamitta) to spread Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Mahinda eventually converted Sri Lankan King Tissa.
After his conversion to Buddhism, Ashoka erected a series of stone pillars which were inscribed with stories of his conversion and the teachings of Buddhism. In the rock edicts, Ashoka refers to himself as Priyadarsi (or, “beloved of the gods”).
Many of the rock edicts are decorated with the namesake Ashoka Wheel. This design, featuring a 24 spoked wheel, represents the cycle of dharma and is prominently featured on the modern flag of India.
The best-known of the rock edicts is the one located in the city of Sarnath. That pillar is notable for its capital which features four lions facing outward. The lion capital, like most of the rock edicts, features the Ashoka Wheel.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
* Want to learn more about the Kalinga War? Check out this website from Medium.
* Read more about Ashoka’s Rock Edicts on this website from the BBC.
* You can listen to the “Podcast History of the World” episode on Ashoka below:
* Want a short video on Ashoka? Watch below!
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