Ashok: A Short Biography of Ashoka the Great of India

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 



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Comments 117 comments

VARSHA 8 years ago

This is a very educational article. I really found this very interesting.I felt that the language could be a bit better but this was truly rocking !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

nandita 7 years ago

usefull for projects

Chetan Mishra 7 years ago

Thanks for the article, helped alot with a school project.

The images were specially useful, so thanks =)

saimch 7 years ago

that's v.good for students of history

B Shah 7 years ago

Jainisum promotes ahimsa and vegitarian diet.

Bhudha himself ate meat and his last meal was pork !

So there is no reason to believe Bhuddhism was the reason for the king's aversion to war.

Indeed, his family was famously Jain and it is probably this which made him turn to Ahinsa in later life.

He supported Bhudists along with all other religins and all Indian kings have done this. Just because a rest house or a temple is inaugurated by the king, does not mean he has financially supported it - he is simply a famous person called to "cut the ribbon".

Not all projects named after Indira or Ravjiv or Sanjay Gandhi were financed by them - similarly - many acts are carried out in the name of the king to garner official and popular support without the king's personal involvement.

In my view, there is no clear evidence of Ashok being a Bhuddhist - he was more probbably Jain. Even his edicts never spell out his affiliation to that religion. It is simply the cherished wish of the latter-day archilogists of ASI, Congress and Dalits that have made him a Bhuddhist emperor.

larryfreeman profile image

larryfreeman 7 years ago from Fremont, CA Author

Hi B Shah,

Thanks for your view. In my article, I am stating the conventional viewpoint.

Since we are talking about a historical figure, the data available is open to different interpretations and debate. While I am no scholar, I welcome these types of discussions. :-)

In my view, there are two major question raised by your reasoning that need to be answered. Let us assume that Asoka supported Buddism in name only. There is no doubt that it was under his reign that Buddism greatly rose in stature. If not Asoka, then who was the true sponsor of Buddhism who dared to pursue it under the watch of a King who previously had been ruthless and cruel? Also, how do you account for Asoka's change of behavior as King? These types of transformations are historically quite rare. If he stuck with the views of his family, what accounts for his change of ruling style that coincided with his significant support for Buddhism?

Until you identify clearly who the "true" sponsor is and until you can explain the basis of the change in Asoka's ruling style, I find myself finding the conventional explanation of Asoka as a Buddhist to be the far simpler and neater explanation of the world events that occurred.

I would be very glad to hear your thinking if you find yourself able to answer these two questions.



debartha saha 7 years ago

Exelent job

svk 7 years ago

informative. nice pics

Kuldeep Singh Rawat 6 years ago

Dear Sir, The date mentioned after 8 years of his reign he adopted the budhism but it seems that it was quite earlier as per the various sources available as I am also the History background. I want to know the authentic date which might be mentioned in the edicts/inscriptions.

larryfreeman profile image

larryfreeman 6 years ago from Fremont, CA Author

Hi Kuldeep,

Thanks for your comment. My source is mostly Wikipedia so if you have any corrections, feel free to post them in your comments.


chafiq555 profile image

chafiq555 6 years ago from Gatlinburg

I have seen this movie and loved it so much. What I didn't know is the fact that it is a true story and all the history behind it. Great hub.

alok bikash barua 6 years ago

Ashok was not a buddhist but he become a buddhist to transfrom himself from cruelty to humane being. Mr B Shah just get up and open your mind try to accept the historical reality if you are a hindu just donot be a hindu try to be a humane being first then you can see the fact and true world.

prasanta pradhan 6 years ago

it is more useful for students of history.

bacgfvb 6 years ago

really helpful and has details.(info will be used for a project)

jamie:) 6 years ago

Thanks!! i just used some of this info for a school project

Helen  6 years ago

I was wondering where the image of Ashoka that is displayed here was found please?

Kind regards


Dr Subhas Chandra Sarkar 6 years ago

Thanks , Very much useful for students of history.

Lyn 6 years ago

I found your site after listening to the BBC History of the World in 100 objects radoi programme on the Pillar of Ashoka - have a listen online, Neil Macgregor makes a few points you may find interesting. Thanks for filling in some visuals of the pillars. However, I am a bit concerned that you use Wikipedia as a source as I have been constantly warned by my tutors in the English University courses I have taken NOT to reference Wikipedia as it is inherently flawed and cannot be cited as an authority, useful as it is as introductory material.

larryfreeman profile image

larryfreeman 6 years ago from Fremont, CA Author

I agree that it is a very good idea to question wikipedia as a reference. I have not yet verified my facts with other sources.

I plan to do this in the future.

larryfreeman profile image

larryfreeman 6 years ago from Fremont, CA Author

It is from wikipedia. You should probably be able to find it if you check my links.

soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

Hi! larry

Enjoyed your article. There many other things in India for which Ashoka and his children are remembered in India, Sri Lanka etc. I used picture of Ashoka you displayed for my article on "Why I am vegetarian" ( ). I also give reference to your article for the picture. He was indeed a trend setter not only for style in India but several other countries.

suvaditya mukherjee 6 years ago

Very good ! It is good to learn from the history of Ashok ,the great. It becomes easy too learn from the pictures.

Nishant upadhyay 6 years ago

Very happy to know about king Ashoka.He was from bihar.i have already said that bihar has provided many legend.One of the legend is king i'am going to bihar

Nishant upadhyay 6 years ago

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

priyanshi bansal 6 years ago

fabulousand excelent job

iantoPF profile image

iantoPF 6 years ago from Sunny California

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.

Mashel 6 years ago

:)) nice...

umakant 5 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.

Zarin 5 years ago

Excellent! man

peace 5 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.

theindiaphile profile image

theindiaphile 5 years ago from London

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

saket71 profile image

saket71 5 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.

anamika 5 years ago

all i wanted was this...

saurabh nath 5 years ago

It is a good experience to readabout my fav.

thanks for this.

Chitranshu 5 years ago

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

PRITHA 5 years ago

excellent, pictures help us to learn properly

loveshistory 5 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.

larryfreeman profile image

larryfreeman 5 years ago from Fremont, CA Author

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.

maneesh mishra 5 years ago

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

ashok 5 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

atman vachhani 5 years ago

thanks it was really usefull in project I did

thank you Larry Freeman

jitendra satdive 5 years ago

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

indian people

diya 5 years ago

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

i loved reading this


diya 5 years ago

thank you larry free man by same diya who commented before

Rajat Jain 5 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.


Rhea Sanjay 5 years ago

Good article. Helped me in my school project

yash 4 years ago

Interesting and useful information

jahnavi 4 years ago

very useful topic in history

jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 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.

safi 4 years ago

really usfull got first price cuz of this

fizzzzzzzzzz 4 years ago

realy this article help me in my project thanx sir

jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 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.....

Muskan Pathai 4 years ago

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

A commenter 4 years ago

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

sunny london 4 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

Shivam singh 4 years ago

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

vicky 4 years ago

Now i came to now about ashoka

sonia 4 years ago

Great job.Usefull for school projects.

snigdha 4 years ago

great job and helps in school projects

gayathri 4 years ago

i like this ariticle

vikram 4 years ago

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

manish 4 years ago

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

sanjana 4 years ago

very informative thankyou

chinmay 4 years ago

very well wrote

keerthi 4 years ago

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

niraj singh 4 years ago

really he was the great.

LJ 4 years ago

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

shubhi 4 years ago


rakshita 4 years ago

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

sonali 4 years ago

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

Robert 4 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

rishi 4 years ago

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

Ashish 4 years ago

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

rishi 4 years ago

good information

Reny 4 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)

rajesh khandelwal 4 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

k.rishika 4 years ago

it helps me to tell about ashoka on the stage

uuyvtyd 4 years ago

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

Raghvendra Pratap Singh Maurya 3 years ago

very very thank you for this

maaya 3 years ago

thanks for helping in doing my assingment

jainismus profile image

jainismus 3 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.

torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 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

chaitanya 3 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!!

chaitanya 3 years ago

It's Sarva Dharma Sambhav !

Means all religions are same.

So respect all.

Deeniti 3 years ago

It was very useful specially for school

extra information.

I learned many things about Ashoka.

Baby Varghese 3 years ago

This is very useful. The best

-Annmary Varghese

akshay 3 years ago

thanks for sharing

akshar 2 years ago

how did you know?

Durlabh Pathak 2 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?

cndcjdn 2 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..

Smruthi 2 years ago

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

gautam 2 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

jainismus profile image

jainismus 2 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:

Jacob Koock 2 years ago

I love this for my school report...

kapil maurya 2 years ago

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

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

Mohini verma 2 years ago

it is help for my school project

Faiqua ahmed 2 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

siddhesh gedam 2 years ago

I love that biography

nipun bahri 2 years ago

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

arpit wasnik 2 years ago

Hi I like this

parth jain 2 years ago

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

mubeena 2 years ago

its so amazing

Silvy Gogna 2 years ago

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

Lekha Velamakanni 2 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!!

Pravesh chaudhary 2 years ago

Wow!!! intresting.....

Shruti Singh 24 months ago

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

robin tapi 23 months ago

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

yogesh thakur 21 months ago

ashoka is great


this help me very much in my hhw.

Kanchan sajwan 20 months ago


Rajesh 20 months 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.

Rohan Alkunte 19 months ago

Larry great Article ..

nagesh 13 months 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..

Kumar Gaurav Maurya 12 months ago

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

sandip 11 months ago

This is so sweet

vanshu 8 months ago

your inforemation is good

Girish K 8 weeks ago


But there is no much information about Kawrawki

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