6th Class Social Science Ashoka, The Emperor Who Gave Up War Notes - Ashoka the Great

Notes - Ashoka the Great

Category : 6th Class


Ashoka the Great




1.            The foundation of the first empire in India was laid by the Mauryan Dynasty in Magadha. Chandragupta Mauraya was the first ruler of the dynasty.

2.            Megasthenes in his book Indica and Chanakya in Arthashastra have given detailed accounts of the administrative, political, economic and military system of the Mauryan Empire.

3.            Ashoka is regarded as one of the greatest rulers of the world.

4.            He waged a war on Kalinga and this war changed him from a great warrior to a great advocate of peace. He gave up warfare forever.

5.            Ashoka became an ardent follower of the Buddha?s teachings and spared no effort in propagating them.

6.            Most of Ashoka?s edicts are about dhamma which was a code of conduct and a way of life.

7.            The Mauryan Empire comprised of four provinces. The provincial government was under the control of the princes.

8.            The Mauryan Emperors had a good network of spies.

9.            The Mauryan art and architecture was quite advanced. It is reflected in Ashokan pillars, stupas etc.

10.         The Mauryan Empire began to decline after the death of Ashoka.





Do you know what an empire is? How is it different from a kingdom? Have you ever wondered who built the first empire in India? Let us explore in this chapter.



The foundation of the first empire in India was laid by the Mauryan Dynasty in Magadha. The Mauryan dynasty had three great emperors? Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Ashoka.

Chandragupta Maurya laid the foundation of India's first empire in Magadha in 321 BCE. He met Chanakya (also known as Kautilya) who was a wise and shrewd Brahmin. With his help, Chandragupta laid the foundation of a strong empire.


The empire stretched from Bengal and Assam in the east to Afghanistan and Baluchistan in the west and Kashmir and Nepal in the north to the Deccan Plateau in the south. It included large cities like Pataliputra and provincial capitals, such as Ujjain and Taxila. The empire also included villages and forests. People of this huge empire had different means of livelihood, languages, food and clothes.


Empire: An empire is a very large kingdom. It is ruled by an emperor. An empire needs more resources and officials for its maintenance. Also, a large army is required for its security

Kingdom: A kingdom is smaller than an empire. It is ruled by a king.


Dynasty: A dynasty is a line of rulers from the same family.




Chanakya is credited with having written Arthashastra. It is an account of Mauryan administration. It discusses theories and principles of governing a state. It prescribes solutions to the problems associated with governing an empire. Several of the suggestions are still relevant in the modern world.



Megasthenes was a Greek historian who came to India as an ambassador of Seleucus Nicator.  He lived in the court of Chandragupta Maurya for about five years Megasthenes has written an account of India and also that of Chandragupta's reign in his book entitled 'Indica\ He tried to write about India's geography, government, religion and society.


He writes that Pataliputra was a grand city surrounded by a wall with many towers and gates. The king lived in a beautiful palace made out of wood and surrounded by gardens.


According to him, the emperor led a splendid life in a beautiful palace. He did not meet too many people and did not sleep in the same room for two continuous nights. The emperor had unlimited powers and kept himself well informed about the empire through a system of g spies. Even the food to be eaten by the emperor g was first tasted by special servants. The emperor went out of the palace in a grand procession and under strict security. He sat on a gold palanquin.  The elephants were beautifully decorated with gold and silver.


Megasthenes has also written about the prosperity of the people. He writes "The Indians dressed in bright and rich colours; they liberally used ornaments and precious gems."




Ashoka was the third and the greatest emperor   of the Mauryan Dynasty. He was the son of   Bindusara and is regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers of the world. Ashoka means 'without sorrow'. He was a skilled and brave warrior.



After Bindusara death, Ashoka became the emperor in 268 BCE. He extended the boundaries of the empire. In 261 BCE, he attacked Kalinga (coastal Odisha). This war was the turning point of his life. The war was devastating and Kalinga was destroyed completely. Ashoka himself was horrified when he witnessed the bloodshed. More than one lakh people were killed. After realising the consequences of war, Ashoka gave up warfare and his policy of conquest. He embraced Buddhism and swore he would rule and conquer by dhamma, the Prakrit word for dharma.


History Reveals

Ashoka was brutal and ruthless and was known as ?Chandashok meaning ?cruel Ashoka? till the Kalinga War.


After he converted to Buddhism, he was called   'Dharmashoka or ?pious Ashoka.


Ashoka called himself Devemanpiya piyadasi meaning ?the beloved of the gods?.



Ashoka became an ardent follower and propagator of Buddha's teachings. He built many stupas and viharas. He was closely associated with the Sangha and the Buddhist monks. He sent Buddhist missionaries to other countries. At the same time, he was tolerant to all religions and did not force people to convert to Buddhism.


History Reveals

Ashoka sent missionaries to Syria, Egypt, Greece and Sri Lanka. In fact, he sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to propagate Buddhism.


Ashoka's dhamma was a code of conduct and a way of life. He used all his power and resources to spread the Buddha's teachings. He wanted to rule his empire by dhamma. He told his officials to be kind and tolerant towards the people. He appointed special officials called dhamma mahamatras to see to the welfare of the people.


Ahimsa (non-violence) is an important feature of Ashoka's dhamma. He was against the unnecessary massacre of people. Hence, the people were protected by the king's laws. Hunting was discouraged and vegetarianism was encouraged. He treated all people as equal and set prisoners free. He planted trees, dug wells and made hospitals for both humans and animals. He advocated the people to respect their parents and show regard for the slaves also. Ashoka's dhamma did not involve worship of a God or performing a sacrifice.



Ashoka vowed to spread the principles of Buddhism. He had inscriptions carved out on rocks in numerous places all over his empire. The Ashoka rock edicts are a collection of 33 inscriptions that are carved on the pillars, big boulders, caves etc. These rock edicts emphasise Emperor Ashoka's belief in the concept of dharma and focus on religious, social and moral concepts.


History Reveals

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, wrote, His edicts still speak to us in a language we can understand and we can learn much from them?.



Ashoka's Rock Edicts

Given below are some quotations of Ashoka inscribed on his rock edicts:


On Kalinga War: 

Beloved-of-the Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the dhamma, a love for the dhamma and for instruction in dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.


On importance of Dhamma:

There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma..... And, it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, brahmins and ascetics and not killing living beings.


On religious tolerance:

Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion and condemns others.... Only harms his own religion... One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others... All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart.



The Mauryan period is marked by an advanced level of art and architecture. It was greatly influenced by the Buddhist art. The Ashokan pillars, numerous stupas, sculptures, cave residences of ascetics etc. stand out as fine examples of Mauryan art. The tall Ashokan pillars were made out of a single stone which was cut, shaped and polished. One such pillar was erected at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh. The top portion of this pillar called the Lion Capital, has four lions standing back to back. It is now the national symbol of India. Another masterpiece of Mauryan art is the great stupa at Sanchi. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.





Q. Where can you see pictures of the Lion Capital in present times?



The Mauryan administration is considered as one of the best in ancient times. There was political stability which resulted in an era of economic development, social harmony, religious tolerance, spread of knowledge and progress in the sciences.


Pataliputra was the capital city. The capital and the surrounding areas were under the control of the central government with the emperor as the supreme head. He was also the supreme head of the army and the chief justice of the kingdom. He utilised the services of a council of ministers, princes and officials called mahamatms to run the administration.


The empire was divided into four provinces. These were Tosali in the east, Ujjain in the west, Suvarnagiri in the south and Taxila in the north. These provinces were ruled by royal princes sent as governors. Though, they were under the control of the centre, they exercised some autonomy.


The emperor collected tribute from the areas between the provinces. They made use of the available resources and exercised control over the roads and rivers. The densely forested regions were the homes of tribals. They functioned independently, but paid tribute to the emperor in kind.


Tribute and Tax

Tribute is not collected periodically.  It can be in cash or kind and given by the people willingly to the emperor. Tax, on the other hand, is collected periodically.


The Arthashastra tells us that land revenue was a major source of income for the state. Special officers were appointed to collect tax. All farmers had to give a certain amount of crops grown as tax. The people also paid sales tax and water tax. The taxes collected enabled the emperor to build a strong empire.


The system of justice was well organised. The emperor was strict and gave harsh punishments. So law and order prevailed in the empire.


The Mauryan king maintained a large and well equipped army. There was a developed spy system to keep a watch over the ministers, provincial governors and other officials. The spies included women also.




After Ashoka's death in 232 BCE, the empire slowly declined. Some of the reasons are:


? Ashoka's successors were not efficient enough to take care of such a large empire.


? The control over the distant areas slowly declined.


? The Mauryan army became weak and inefficient as the state treasury did not have enough funds required for its maintenance.


? Because of a weak army and inefficient kings, the provincial governors launched revolts and declared themselves independent of the central government.


Around The world

In Italy, the city of Rome began as a small farming village by a river called Tiber. As time passed, more village were build and eventually joined together to form a city.


According to a Roman legend, the city was set up by a man named Romulus. As babies, he and his twin brother were found by a wolf who fed them until they were rescued by a shepherd.


Until around 509 BCE. Rome was ruled by kings. Then, the last king was driven out of the city and Rome became a republic. It was ruled by a senate, The senate consisted of a group of men called senators who came from the city?s most important families.


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