Ashok: A Short Biography of Ashoka the Great of India

Updated on February 13, 2009
Ashoka the Great
Ashoka the Great
A movie made about Ashoka's life (2001)
A movie made about Ashoka's life (2001)

The Life of Ashoka the Great

According to Wikipedia, H.G. Wells wrote:

"In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who call themselves "their highnesses," "their majesties", and "their exalted majesties" and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day."

Ashoka was the first ruler to unify all of India. He was also the first Buddhist King who after his conversion to Buddhism attempted to embrace nonviolence and Buddhist principles as part of royal policies Today, he is considered one of India's greatest leaders.

Ashoka the Great ruled India from 273 BC until 232 BC. Despite the acclaim held by H.G. Wells, for many Americans, Ashoka is not well known. This hub is an effort to elucidate the achievements of this historical figure. This is targeted to those who are not familiar with Ashok.

Mauryan Coins
Mauryan Coins

A Talented Military Leader

Ashoka was born in 304 BC. He was the son of the Mauryan Emperor Bindusara. He had one younger brother and also older half-brothers. Early on, he showed great promise. When he started showing success as a military leader, his older brothers began to fear that Ashoka would ascend to the throne.

When an uprising occurred in the Takshashila province, Prince Susima suggested to his father that Ashoka would be the best person to deal with it. When news reached the province that Ashoka was coming, the fighting stopped. The militia who had started the revolt welcomed Ashoka's arrival.

With this victory, Susima became more concerned about Ashoka.  He portrayed him as power hungry and ambitious.  Soon, he had convinced his father to exile Ashoka to Kalinga. 


In Kalinga, Ashoka fell in love with Kaurwaki who worked as a fisherwoman.  She would later be one of his many wives.

His exile was soon ended when there was an uprising in Ujjain Province.  Emperor Bindusara now called Ashoka back from exile and sent him to Ujjain.  This time there was a great battle and Ashoka was seriously hurt.

During his recovery, he was overseen by Buddhist monks and nuns.  It was during this time that he first learned about Buddhism.  He fell in love with his nurse Devi.  She too would become one of his wives. 

Statuettes from the Mauryan Era
Statuettes from the Mauryan Era

The Death of the Emperor

The year after the battle at Ujjain, the Emperor Bindusara became very sick. It was clear that he would die. Soon, a war broke out between all of his sons over who would succeed the emperor.

After a series of battles, Ashoka killed many of his brothers. He thus attained the throne in 274 BC. For the first eights years of his rule, he became famous for his brutaiity and his desire to expand the Mauryan Empire.

His nickname at this time was Chandashoka which means "cruel Ashoka".

The site of the Kalinga Battlefield today
The site of the Kalinga Battlefield today

Battle of Kalinga

So, when Ashoka was in his eighth year of rule, his wife Devi gave birth two twins: Prince Mahindra and Princess Sanghamitra.

He also learned that one of his brothers was hiding in Kalinga. Ashoka was outraged that any place would aid his brother. He launched a full invasion of the province. In the fighting, thousands of people were killed and large areas of land were ravaged.

After the battle, Ashoka decided to look over the destruction. The place that he had once been exiled now lay in utter collapse with houses burned down and many bodies still unburied. It was said that this was the first time that Ashoka saw the direct impact of war.

According to legend, upon seeing the utter devastation, he said: "What have I done?"  For the rest of his life, he would not forget the horror that he saw on this day.

Asokan Pillar at Vaishali, the lion faces north, the direction Buddha went on his final journey
Asokan Pillar at Vaishali, the lion faces north, the direction Buddha went on his final journey
Close up of the lion at Vaishali
Close up of the lion at Vaishali

Conversion to Buddhism

It is said that his wife Devi accompanied him at Kalinga. She was so bothered by what she saw that she left his side. She ran away and never returned.

Devi was Buddhist and perhaps this in combination with Ashoka's memory of learning about Buddhist principles led him to change his ways.

From this point on, he embraces Buddhism. He took on the Buddhists Radhaswami and Manjushri as his teachers. He decided that he would base the rest of his rule on Buddhist principles.

Original sandstone that sat atop a pillar at Sarnath
Original sandstone that sat atop a pillar at Sarnath
The base of the original pillar at Sarnath that was broken during Turk invasions of India
The base of the original pillar at Sarnath that was broken during Turk invasions of India

The First Buddhist King

Ashoka now reversed course. He set free all of his prisoners and returned their property.

There is a story that the pregnant wife of one of his brothers escaped the palace before she could be killed. The baby survived and was brought up by Buddhist monks and nuns. When the boy was 13, he was discovered by Ashoka who learned the boy's identity. Ashoka, at this time, felt so much shame that he moved the boy and his mother to live in the palace.

At this time, he got a new name. Instead of Chandashoka, he became known as Dharmashoka which means "pious Ashoka."

Great Stupa at Sanchi, India
Great Stupa at Sanchi, India
Dhamek Stupa, the oldest existing stupa
Dhamek Stupa, the oldest existing stupa

Great Public Works Projects

Ashoka now begins a massive public works project where he orders the creation of thousands of Buddhist buildings. He builds stupas which are mounds that house Buddhist relics and he builds viharas which are Buddhist monasteries. He orders the construction of roadhouses for travelers which are free of charge.

He created edicts which protect wildlife against sport hunting and he promotes the vegetarianism. He initiates the building of universities, irrigation systems, and hospitals.

He signs peace treaties with many of the neighboring kingdom even though with India's resources, he would have little trouble to conquer them outright.

One of Ashoka's Edict: "...And the king abstains from (killing) living beings..."
One of Ashoka's Edict: "...And the king abstains from (killing) living beings..."

Equality for All

Ashoka takes the very innovative position of protecting minority interests in India. He required nonviolence as well as loerance of all other religions and all opinions.

Wikipedia writes:

"Dharmashoka also defined the main principles of dharma as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents and other religious teachers and priests, liberality toward friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all."


The Ashoka Chakra, known as the wheel of Dharma (Chakra means wheel)
The Ashoka Chakra, known as the wheel of Dharma (Chakra means wheel)
National Flag of India
National Flag of India

Death of Ashoka

Ashoka ruled for over 40 years. 50 years after his death, the Mauryan Empire came to an end. He had numerous wives and many heirs but most of their names are lost. Buddhism did not, of course, stay the state religion of India. Still, empowered by Ashoka, Buddhism quickly spread outside of India's borders into Southeast Asia.

Today, the Ashokra Chakra, the Wheel of Dharma, is featured on the national flag of India.  Ashoka used this image on many of his constructions.  The wheel has 24 spokes which represent:

  1. Love
  2. Courage
  3. Patience
  4. Peacefulness
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-control
  10. Selflessness
  11. Self sacrifice
  12. Truthfulness
  13. Righteousness
  14. Justice
  15. Mercy
  16. Graciousness
  17. Humility
  18. Empathy
  19. Sympathy
  20. Godly knowledge
  21. Godly wisdom
  22. Godly moral
  23. Reverential fear of God
  24. Hope/trust/faith in the goodness of God 




    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Shiva baba 2 weeks ago

      Nice about Ashoka

    • profile image

      Anshika Vijay 4 months ago

      So so helpful and best history about ashoka.....thanks

    • profile image

      Ankush 6 months ago

      Yes very nice history of the Ashoka

    • profile image

      6 months ago

      thank you

    • profile image

      Kushal 6 months ago

      Very good history about Ashoka

    • profile image

      Nitin shivhare 9 months ago

      Thanks a lot

    • profile image

      Tahreen fatima 16 months ago

      It is very good and very helpful and useful for project

    • profile image

      Girish K 21 months ago


      But there is no much information about Kawrawki

    • profile image

      vanshu 2 years ago

      your inforemation is good

    • profile image

      sandip 2 years ago

      This is so sweet

    • profile image

      Kumar Gaurav Maurya 2 years ago

      Hello sir ur page is awesome .......i like it

    • profile image

      nagesh 2 years ago

      Its a good article, My thumps up to the writer.

      I also thanks to writer about the healthy discussion over the topic.

      But i would like mention that some of the person wrote here about their religion & trapping Ashoka in that unnecessarily with out any logic because they think that their religion is great.

      The great religion are those which have equality to all of its followers .Today i see most of religions of world are making division in human kind.

      i found Buddha religion great at least they don't tell us about the division,Castes ism,racism,violence etc.

      Buddhism told us about Peace,Non violence & Nirvana.

      thanks to Larry..

    • profile image

      Rohan Alkunte 3 years ago

      Larry great Article ..

    • profile image

      Rajesh 3 years ago

      Historically true facts stated beautifully. Buddhism spread during his time d most. Life of Ashoka has bn eventful. Salute to his transformation n his progressive approach to development.

    • profile image

      Kanchan sajwan 3 years ago


    • profile image

      yogesh thakur 3 years ago

      ashoka is great


      this help me very much in my hhw.

    • profile image

      robin tapi 3 years ago

      Itz vry intrestng story bout ashoka ...thnk you, writer.

    • profile image

      Shruti Singh 3 years ago

      Good job its helpful for me in my school project .I like this arcticle. Am very happy.

    • profile image

      Pravesh chaudhary 3 years ago

      Wow!!! intresting.....

    • profile image

      Lekha Velamakanni 3 years ago

      Studied about Ashoka more than three decades ago! Your article has been a great help for my daughter in her school project today!!

    • profile image

      Silvy Gogna 3 years ago

      Wow nice work.... It helped me a lot for my school assignment. Keep it up... Well Done!!!!

    • profile image

      mubeena 3 years ago

      its so amazing

    • profile image

      parth jain 3 years ago

      Hi it's a great story. It's to help me for my project.

    • profile image

      arpit wasnik 3 years ago

      Hi I like this

    • profile image

      nipun bahri 3 years ago

      It makes me proud to be born in a land where ashoka born

    • profile image

      siddhesh gedam 4 years ago

      I love that biography

    • profile image

      Faiqua ahmed 4 years ago

      It is very useful and help ful for the children of all the classes from 6th to 12th and for all the exams

    • profile image

      Mohini verma 4 years ago

      it is help for my school project

    • profile image

      kapil maurya 4 years ago

      ashoka was not buddhist. he become buddhist after kaling war. he is the great king all indian history .

      !!!sadhu!!! !!!sadhu!!! !!!sadhu!!!

    • profile image

      Jacob Koock 4 years ago

      I love this for my school report...

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 4 years ago from Pune, India

      Recently I read a controversial article about Asoka. It says the king never existed. I am not sure about the intention of the writer, but the article forces us to rethink.

      Please have a look at:

    • profile image

      gautam 4 years ago

      I am very happy because i have a project work this is helped to me so i am very very happy thanks you so much

    • profile image

      Smruthi 4 years ago

      Very nice n useful article which is specially ment for children of high school students.

    • profile image

      cndcjdn 4 years ago

      asoka is a hindu as his grannd father(chandragupta maurya) is a hindu

      after some battels and later he became a follower of jain.

      Then his son bindusara ruled and known follow jainism.

      After this asoka come into the limelight he ruled over all of india and after kalinga war he become a follower of Buddhism.

      So, asoka is originally a hindu..

    • profile image

      Durlabh Pathak 4 years ago

      Dear Sir,

      On the basis of your info you said that Ashoka was born in 304 bc and ruled INDIA from273 BC until 232 BC. So how is it possible that Asoka ruled INDIA before his birth?

    • profile image

      akshar 4 years ago

      how did you know?

    • profile image

      akshay 4 years ago

      thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      Baby Varghese 4 years ago

      This is very useful. The best

      -Annmary Varghese

    • profile image

      Deeniti 5 years ago

      It was very useful specially for school

      extra information.

      I learned many things about Ashoka.

    • profile image

      chaitanya 5 years ago

      It's Sarva Dharma Sambhav !

      Means all religions are same.

      So respect all.

    • profile image

      chaitanya 5 years ago

      Thanks for this very useful info.

      Why B shah and jainismus are you jealous of Buddhism . It's not a big deal if no such famous and great person is not from jain . It doesn't mean you deliberately make one . Stop discrimination on the basis of religion .

      You know why India is not super power or will not become because of people like you are here ,who stuck on religion . My religion should be considered above all this mentallity which you both are having create chaos and disturbance in society . Shame on you !

      All religions are good at there place .

      Sarva Sharma Sambhav!!

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 5 years ago


      thanks for sharing this story with myself and others

      I am always willing to learn about different cultures

      and aspects of life

      Voted up

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Recently I read an article. It says that Asoka was a myth.. May be true, because there is no mention of the name Asoka in his inscriptions. In fact the inscriptions belong to King Piyadassi, who seems not to be Asoka.

    • profile image

      maaya 5 years ago

      thanks for helping in doing my assingment

    • profile image

      Raghvendra Pratap Singh Maurya 5 years ago

      very very thank you for this

    • profile image

      uuyvtyd 5 years ago

      i had a project on the kings .....this article helped me a lot

    • profile image

      k.rishika 5 years ago

      it helps me to tell about ashoka on the stage

    • profile image

      rajesh khandelwal 5 years ago

      i had no much idea about Buddhist but after reading the entire storey of ashoka i can say in few word that the person like ashoka can change him self then it's time for us to think and stop doing any kind of voilence which is agenst GOD

    • profile image

      Reny 5 years ago

      Hi could anyone please tell who the hell is Jain , I never heard his name and it is stupid to compare him with any other great like Jesus ,Buddha or any other…..

      When I asked many of my friend’s they really don’t know who is Jain they just told me he was shameless guy who always be a nude and tell some stupid thing and as it’s common in india to believe such bullshit some idiots belive that one nude guy and he is telling something which is our religion and which can become our future(nude one right??) so next time never wrote anything about him we dnt know him and we don’t want.

      If you guy’s really thing that he is good guy never compare him with any other or we can say he teach you guys to going a step head always pull some one back a step (which never works)

    • profile image

      rishi 5 years ago

      good information

    • profile image

      Ashish 6 years ago

      very nice n interesting helped me knowing Great Ashoka in a better way...

    • profile image

      rishi 6 years ago

      very very .....................................................................................................................useful

    • profile image

      Robert 6 years ago

      Shame the 24 spokes do not apply to the Sikh nation of India, who sacrificed 80% of them selves for country, even though they only make up only 2% of the entire population. Long live the Sikhs the saint warriors

    • profile image

      sonali 6 years ago

      its awesome!!!!!!!it helped me to understand about ashoka the great......its lovely thanx man.......i really like it.....

    • profile image

      rakshita 6 years ago

      it helped me in my project thanx..............its awesome yaar lovely....

    • profile image

      shubhi 6 years ago


    • profile image

      LJ 6 years ago

      Hi one question....6. How did Ashoka’s character and beliefs change over the course of his reign?

    • profile image

      niraj singh 6 years ago

      really he was the great.

    • profile image

      keerthi 6 years ago

      i loved it but can i have the pictures of this wonderful story

    • profile image

      chinmay 6 years ago

      very well wrote

    • profile image

      sanjana 6 years ago

      very informative thankyou

    • profile image

      manish 6 years ago

      Thanks Sir!!! Now i know abt ASHOKA THA GREAT...

    • profile image

      vikram 6 years ago

      oh great! i have completed my project work of social science

    • profile image

      gayathri 6 years ago

      i like this ariticle

    • profile image

      snigdha 6 years ago

      great job and helps in school projects

    • profile image

      sonia 6 years ago

      Great job.Usefull for school projects.

    • profile image

      vicky 6 years ago

      Now i came to now about ashoka

    • profile image

      Shivam singh 6 years ago

      This article give very help in our school project so thanks yaar...!

    • profile image

      sunny london 6 years ago

      how much he cover when he dont have mobile laptop and no technology this is strength of bihar. this land produce ashoka and guru govind singh

    • profile image

      A commenter 6 years ago

      This was really great. I had to write an essay, and this gave me a lot of help. Thanks so much! :)

    • profile image

      Muskan Pathai 6 years ago

      thanks! it really helped in my project very much !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 6 years ago from Pune, India

      We must note that the story of Conversion of emperor Ashok to Buddhism found in few Buddhist texts only, none of his edicts clearly indicate that he was converted to Buddhism.

      Further, most of the writers avoid to write from which religion he converted to Buddhism, and others blindly write that he was a Hindu (Vedic?) before converting.

      But there are evidences that he was a Jain.....

    • profile image

      fizzzzzzzzzz 6 years ago

      realy this article help me in my project thanx sir

    • profile image

      safi 6 years ago

      really usfull got first price cuz of this

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 6 years ago from Pune, India

      None of Emperor Ashok's edicts clearly says that he adopt Buddhism. Further, his edicts are nearer to Jain way of life.

      I thinks that his conversion to Buddhism was just an 'invention' by later Buddhist texts.

      If Emperor Ashok's Grand Father Chandragupt Maurya and father Bindusar were Jains, and if Ashok's son Kunal and Grandson Samprati also were Jains, I doubt that Ashok was a Buddhist.

    • profile image

      jahnavi 6 years ago

      very useful topic in history

    • profile image

      yash 6 years ago

      Interesting and useful information

    • profile image

      Rhea Sanjay 6 years ago

      Good article. Helped me in my school project

    • profile image

      Rajat Jain 6 years ago

      A great collaboration of Information about a Great king! Indeed a good work by Larry Freeman. Are you a follower of Indian History or a History Prof?

      Kindly read more about the two phases of Ashoka's Life... Chandashoka and Dharmashoka and provide your expert insight.


    • profile image

      diya 6 years ago

      thank you larry free man by same diya who commented before

    • profile image

      diya 6 years ago

      it is a very nice thing to and kor school asginments and projects

      i loved reading this


    • profile image

      jitendra satdive 6 years ago

      king ashoka is emperor of emperor , great man real hero of

      indian people

    • profile image

      atman vachhani 6 years ago

      thanks it was really usefull in project I did

      thank you Larry Freeman

    • profile image

      ashok 6 years ago

      Ashok Maurya or Ashoka (Devan?gar?: ????, Bangla: ????, IAST: A?oka, IPA: [a??o?k?], ca. 304–232 BC), popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BC to 232 BC.[1] One of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan in the west, to the present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra

    • profile image

      maneesh mishra 6 years ago

      THIS article is very benificial for history student and those who intrested in history of india

    • larryfreeman profile image

      larryfreeman 7 years ago from Fremont, CA

      Hi @loveshistory, I'm sorry that it was not as informative as you would have liked.

      In my view, plagiarism is a pretty strong charge. It means copying from a source and claiming it as your own. In this article, no text was copied. All quotes are cited as quotes. All facts in this article are taken primarily from Wikipedia. That is correct, At the same time, Wikipedia is clearly referenced as a source for this article.

      If you disagree with my definition of plagiarism, please let me know.

      If you see any inaccuracies, please state them. I am very glad to update the article.

      For the record, I also love history. I wrote this article as part of my own interest in the life of Ashoka.

    • profile image

      loveshistory 7 years ago

      article is not informative as i thought it would is plaguraized from wikipedia which is not a good site to get info from.

    • profile image

      PRITHA 7 years ago

      excellent, pictures help us to learn properly

    • profile image

      Chitranshu 7 years ago

      its is good experience but they have not metioned the name of buddhist monk who lead him buddhism

    • profile image

      saurabh nath 7 years ago

      It is a good experience to readabout my fav.

      thanks for this.

    • profile image

      anamika 7 years ago

      all i wanted was this...

    • saket71 profile image

      saket71 7 years ago from Delhi, India

      Very well written and researched. Feels good to find someone with a good view of Indian History from outside, when we in India are so fast forgetting it.

    • theindiaphile profile image

      theindiaphile 7 years ago from London

      Nice to read more about Ashok, I've rated you up!

    • profile image

      peace 7 years ago

      Its indeed a great informative post. Ashok's turn over was exemplary for today's leaders as well. In relation read this article another nice one as well.

    • profile image

      Zarin 7 years ago

      Excellent! man

    • profile image

      umakant 7 years ago

      Regading his faith to Budhism it is important to note that King Ashoka abuilt a huge pillar in the name of Buddha in Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, which is in Nepal. It is still known as 'Askoka stamva-(pillar)'. It substantiates his faith towards Buddhism. He born in Lumbini, Nepal and enlightened in Gaya, Bihar.

    • profile image

      Mashel 7 years ago

      :)) nice...

    • iantoPF profile image

      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Fascinating Hub. I continue to be very interested in the History and Spiritual paths of people around the world. This Hub is full of information I did not know about. Thank you.

    • profile image

      priyanshi bansal 7 years ago

      fabulousand excelent job

    • profile image

      Nishant upadhyay 7 years ago

      Very happy to know about king ashoka.He was a great man from bihar