Chandragupta Maurya 322-298 BC
Bindusara 297-272 BC
Ashoka the Great 273-232 BC
Dasaratha 232-224 BC
Samprati 224-215 BC
Salisuka 215-202 BC
Devavarman 202-195 BC
Satadhanvan 195-187 BC
Brihadratha 187-185 BC
In Hellenic terms, the Mauryan Empire comes between Alexander and the Indo-Greek Kingdom. Capital: Pataliputra (post here) or modern Patna.
I could do a mnemonic for the Great Mughals, but don’t think I can manage the Mauryans.
Ashoka is famous because he was an emperor who [...] put into practice our common human sense of fraternity. He is justly recognised as being a morally outstanding figure, because the sovereign power that gives such an unusual opportunity for treating one’s fellow creatures as one’s brothers also makes it unusually tempting to disobey one’s conscience and unusually difficult to act in accordance with it, even if one has the will.
Ashoka will continue to be remembered because he put conscience into practice in the exercise of his political power. This is all the more notable considering that, unlike ourselves, Ashoka lived in the Pre-Atomic Age and therefore did not have the obvious urgent utilitarian incentive, that our generation of mankind has, to renounce the use of war as an instrument of national policy. Waging war with even the deadliest of the weapons then at Man’s disposal, Ashoka would have run no risk of getting his own subjects exterminated, not to speak of bringing annihilation upon the human race as a whole. He could have been sure of enjoying this material kind of impunity if, for instance, he had chosen to follow up his conquest of Kalinga by going on to conquer the southern tip of the Indian peninsula and the adjacent island of Ceylon [neither of which the Mauryans reached, though Chandragupta is considered the first unifier of India]. To seize opportunities of rounding off their dominions by pushing forward to so-called “natural frontiers” is one of the standing temptations besetting the rulers of states. And in this case, Ashoka could have plausibly represented to himself that he would be waging war in the cause of peace. He would be bestowing on a whole subcontinent the peace that comes from political unification.
Instead of thinking and acting on these conventional lines of raison d’etat, Ashoka, as we know, was moved to action of a very different kind. He was moved – and this for the rest of his life – by a moral revulsion against his crime of having incorporated Kalinga in the Maurya Empire by an aggressive war of conquest. He was horrified at the spectacle of the wickedness and the suffering that he had let loose by his act of aggression. He stood convicted, in his conscience, of having sinned against his sense of brotherhood, and he responded by making a complete break with his dynasty’s and every dynasty’s traditional policy. Ashoka’s break with tradition was the more remarkable considering that the criminal policy of using war as an instrument for empire-building had not been peculiar to the Mauryas. It had been common form for every ruler, anywhere in the World, who had had the power to practise it. Ashoka’s grandfather Chandragupta had had Alexander’s bad example to incite him; Alexander had had Cyrus’s bad example, and so on, in a regressive chain of Karma, back to the Egyptian and Sumerian empire-builders in the third millennium B.C. In contrast to these predecessors of his, Ashoka devoted the rest of his life, and the whole of his political power, to putting his sense of brotherhood into action.
He was a chakravartin.
In renouncing war, Ashoka did not abandon the aim of unifying mankind, but he pursued this aim thenceforth by missionary, instead of military, methods. He did intervene in Ceylon, and not only there but also in the vast tracts, west of his empire’s western frontiers, that were being fought over, in Ashoka’s time, by Alexander’s pugnacious Macedonian Greek successors. Ashoka intervened outside his empire’s political frontiers by spreading knowledge of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, and he recognised no “natural frontiers” for his missionary activities, short of the limits of the inhabited portion of the Earth’s surface. Today, Buddhism has adherents all over Eastern Asia; and the spiritual brotherhood among Buddhists has been, and still is, one of the great unifying forces in the World. The sense of Buddhist brotherhood seems to be growing in strength today. At least, this is the impression made on me, three years ago, when I visited what are, I suppose, the two chief Buddhist holy places on Indian soil: Sarnath and Bodh Gaya. The ubiquity and vitality of Buddhism can, of course, be traced to a number of causes, but one of these causes is certainly Ashoka’s change of heart in the third century B.C. – his change of heart and his translation of this experience into action.
Ashoka’s actions also illustrate the point that, in India, the human sense of fraternity is not limited to a fellow feeling for other human beings. If I am right, Ashoka abolished the Imperial Hunt, placed his court on a vegetarian diet, and made the slaughtering of animals illegal for his subjects on fifty-six days in the year. The strength of this large-hearted tradition in India is attested by the extraordinary fact that, 1800 years after Ashoka’s day, the self-same three measures – all reflecting an Indian recognition of a brotherhood with non-human forms of life – were enacted by another emperor of India, Akbar.
Akbar had been a great huntsman himself. He became a vegetarian in deference to Hindu sensibilities.
The Indian religious influence that moved Akbar to take these measures appears to have come from a Jain, not a Buddhist, source (Buddhism had lost its last foothold in India not much less than 400 years before Akbar’s time). All the same, it was an Indian influence; and what one might perhaps call the “Indianisation” of Turkish Akbar’s spirit in the course of his life in India is an impressive illustration of the Indian spiritual tradition’s power to captivate foreigners when they come within its range. Except for Timur’s transitory raid, Akbar’s forebears had not set foot on Indian soil till Akbar’s own grandfather, Babur, had invaded India. Babur himself had spent too large a part of his life west of the Khyber Pass ever to be able to feel at home on Indian ground. As for Babur’s grandson, Akbar had been brought up as a Muslim; and Islam, like the other two religions, of the Judaic family, is exclusive-minded and intolerant by comparison with the religions and philosophies of Indian origin. Yet the influence of India on Akbar went so deep that he worked out for himself a religion of his own. Akbar’s Din Ilabi was characteristically Indian in its large-hearted catholicity.
Though Akbar, like Ashoka, renounced war on animals, he did not also make Ashoka’s renunciation of war against human beings. No doubt this would have been harder, from a practical point of view, for Akbar than it was for Ashoka. Ashoka had inherited an empire whose authority was well established. Akbar had refounded an empire which his father had lost after his grandfather had won it. A renunciation of war against human beings would probably have cost Akbar his throne, and might have cost him his life as well. Yet we may guess that Ashoka would still have done what he did do if the accident of birth had put him in Akbar’s place instead of in his own.
In the Atomic Age, the spirit that we need in our statesmen is surely Ashoka’s spirit. We can no longer do without unity. But we can also no longer afford to pursue this indispensable objective by methods of coercion. Conversion, not coercion, is, in our day, the only means that we can employ for uniting mankind. In the Atomic Age, the use of force would result, not in union, but in self-destruction. In this age, fear, as well as conscience, commands a policy that Ashoka, in his time, was inspired to follow by conscience alone.
Chakravartin, possibly Ashoka, plus or minus year 1; Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh; Musée Guimet, Paris; Wikimedia Commons
One World and India, New Delhi, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Orient Longmans Private Ltd, February 1960