Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi on Monday claimed that emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga War. Taking to Twitter, he wrote, "The lethal war in Kalinga transformed the vengeful Emperor Ashoka into a stable and peaceful emperor, and he became a patron of Buddhism. According to the prominent Indologist, A. L. Basham, Ashoka’s personal religion became Buddhism, certainly after the Kalinga War."
Singhvi added that although Ashoka attacked kingdoms after becoming a becoming a Buddhist, the Kalinga war certainly shook him. "Never have I contested the fact that Ashok didn't attack kingdoms after becoming Buddhist. That was Raj Dharm to maintain the integrity of the nation. My only point being Kalinga war really shook him & he took up Buddhism in a big way. Cold facts," he wrote.
There are many texts to confirm Singhvi's claim. According to one, emperor Ashoka invaded Kalinga in 260 BCE and slaughtered 100,000 inhabitants, deported 150,000 more, and left thousands of others to die of disease and famine. Afterwards, it is said, Ashoka walked across the battlefield and experienced a change of heart as he was looking upon the many lives he took.
He then gave up war and embraced Buddhism. He embarked on a path of peace and ruled with justice and mercy. He gave up hunting and even slaughtering of animals for feasts. He started going on pilgrimage and became a vegetarian. "He made himself available to his subjects at all times, addressed what they considered wrongs, and upheld the laws which benefited all, not only the upper class and wealthy," reads the article. His earlier image as a cruel and ruthless king who found pleasure in personally torturing those who were sentenced to prison, vanished after embracing Buddhism.
However, there is a contrasting theory as well. Author Sanjeev Sanyal claimed that during his research for his book 'The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History' he found out that Ashoka was a Buddhist even before he invaded Kalinga.
"None of the Buddhist texts link Ashoka's transformation to any event in Kalinga. It is also fascinating to note none of the Ashokan inscriptions in Odisha mention any regret the emperor may have. If his regret over the tragedy of Kalinga War led to his conversion at least one place should have mentioned the expression of his emotions. In fact, the inscription where he supposedly expressed his regret is in modern-day Pakistan. Even in those inscriptions he never offered to release those prisoners. Instead, he warned the tribes of the region of dire consequences if they tried to resist his invasion," said Sanyal.
"Therefore, the idea of his turning into a pacifist is a pretence. His expressions of noble sentiments are few but there is no evidence to suggest that he believed in them. Even in his own texts, he seems to be prevaricating and is non-apologetic to the people of Odisha for what he did," Sanyal added.
Meanwhile, Singhvi's tweet started a slugfest on the microblogging site. "Facts: Ashoka waged wars EVEN AFTER Kalinga. He sent his son Kunala with an army of 10,000 to brutally crush a revolt of natives in Takshashila. According to Buddhist sources, he conducted pogroms of Ajivikas,Jains AFTER Kalinga. And he was a Buddhist long before Kalinga war," a Twitter user wrote.
"Thanks Abhishek for putting things in the right perspective. Some of these fake peddling twitter handles are doing a lot of damage to our ethos," another Twitter user said.
Here are a few Twitter reactions: