(304 – 232 B.C.)
He gave India its official symbol of the four lions facing the four directions. He gave India the blue wheel that adorns the center of its national flag. He is one whom H.G. Wells described as the only emperor in history who shines as a brilliant star with undiminished radiance. And he is Ashoka, the Emperor of the Maurya dynasty of north India during the 3rd century B.C. and the one who brought glory to Buddhism by converting himself into it, sponsoring it all over his empire and the then world, and eschewing war and all sorts of violence immediately after securing one of the most glorious victories in the battlefield. It was Buddha who made Ashoka possible.
Ashoka was the grandson of Chandragupta, the founder of the great Maurya Empire. He has inherited from his father Bindusara, a sprawling empire from the Himalayas on the north to Kanchipuram in the south, and from Brahmaputra on the east to the Arabian Sea on the west. But one small kingdom, Kalinga (modern Orissa), a fertile land between the Mahanadi and the Godawari, and which stood within this huge expanse of Ashoka’s empire as an islet would not accept the overlordship of the emperor. The huge army of the emperor ran over the Kalingan resistance inflicting on it widespread destruction, land it was this victory that turned the course of his life and reign into one of non-violence, compassion and peace. He saw how he had sown destruction over Kalinga, killing more than one hundred thousand soldiers and injuring several fold of this figure and letting blood flow like rivers. A feeling of shame and sorrow and repentance filled his mind. It was this feeling that created the real Emperor Ashoka whom history honors as one of the greatest.