Birth and Early life
Ashoka was born on 304 BC as the son of Bindusara, the Mauryan emperor and Dharma. He was the grandson of the great emperor and founder of Maurya Dynasty, Chandraguptha Maurya. Ashoka had many half brothers, the sons of Bindusara's another wife and one brother, whom he loved the most. He and his mother were not treated well by the members of the family because Dharma was a brahmin woman and not a Kshatriya woman.
Ashoka acquired his education in both Vedic texts and military skills. In the passage of time he became a great warrior and a good hunter. It is said that Ashoka once killed a lion with only a wooden rod. He was known for his skill in sword fighting and the leadership qualities of him were excellent.
Rise to power
Due to his warrior skills and ruling capacity Ashoka controlled many sections of the army of the Mauryan Empire. He became very popular when he was successful in curbing the appraisal in Avanti. A heroic image was created in the minds of the people about Ashoka and every one adored him. His half brother Sushim who was the elder son of Bindusara and natural heir of the throne was infuriated by the rising popularity of Ashoka.
By the permission of his father Sushim he sent Ashoka to curb the violence in Takshashila. The population of Takshashila was Indo Greek people who were experts in fighting wars and Sushima thought that Ashoka will be killed in the war. But as the Ashoka entered Takshshila the people stopped violence and the peace was restored.
By the compulsion of sushima King Bindusara sent Asoka in exile to Kalinga. After two years he was called back to curb a huge revolt of Ujjain. He was succesful in his venture in spite of his small army. He was badly wounded and was treated by Budhist monks. There he came into contact with Devi, a Budhist follower and married her. He returned to pataliputra.
But as Devi was a Budhist follower Bindusara did not allow them to stay in Pataliputhra and he was sent to Ujjain as Governor. In this time Bindusara passed away and Devi gave birth to Mahendra, son of Ashoka. Sushima sent some persons to kill Devi and Mahendra but they accidentally killed Dharma, mother of Ashoka. Ashoka was filled with rage and attacked the palace and killed all the brothers and conquered the throne.
After this incident Ashoka became cruel and heartless ruler. His ambition was to become the most powerful ruler and the Emperor of whole India. He conquered all the neighboring states with the help of his mighty army. There was no kingdom of India at that time which could resist the invasions of Ashoka. In a short period of time he conquered all the kingdoms of India and almost the whole of India came under his rule. Due to his cruelty he came to be known as Chand Ashoka.
But he had to face good resistance from the country of Kalinga. The army of Kalinga fought a great war and the civilians of the country also fought the war. Even the ladies and the kids joined the war against Ashoka. But they could not resist the the mighty army of Ashoka and the city was burnt and plundered by the army of Ashoka.
Adopting Budhism- The Change
When Ashoka saw the destruction of the Kalinga caused by him and he was moved by the sight of burnt down city and the slaughtered people. He was ashamed by his deeds and chose to adopt Budhism and follow non- violence. He made Budhism as the state religion in 260 B.C. He took many measures to spread Budhism. He built thousands of Monastaries for the budhist saints. A lot of Budhist monks lived in these monastaries. He also built many stupas to flourish the ideas of budhism and to flourish the religion of which the Sthupa of Sanchi is most important.
The official policy of the government of Ashoka was Ahimsa or non- violence. He divided the whole nations into provinces and appointed officials to look after the welfare of the people. Slaughtering was banned except for most important causes and the hunting was made limited. He started many universities to spread education. A well developed irrigation system was introduced and hospitals were established for even animals. All subjects were treated alike, irrespective of cast, creed or religion. He established friendly relations with the neighboring countries.
In short it was a people oriented welfare administration. This made Chand Ashok, Ashoka the Great.
Death and Legacy
Ashoka passed away in 232 B.C. Mauryan Empire lasted only for fifty years after the death of Ashoka. His son and daughter Mahendra and Sangamithra were sent to Sri Lanka for spreading Budhism there. The last ruler of Maurya dynasty, Brhadratha was brutally murdered by Pushyamithra Sunga who founded Sunga dynasty.