Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty (304 - 232 BCE) is considered one of India's greatest emperors. It is believed that the Mauryan Empire during his reign stretched from modern-day Iran through almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka is also credited to be the propagator of Buddhism - now the world's fourth-largest religion.
From time immemorial, our history books have been teaching us a 'lie' about the great emperor. We have always learnt that Ashoka renounced war and embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga War. However, it may not be true.
According to many texts, 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.
Ashoka then gave up war and embraced Buddhism. He then 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 an 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, author Sanjeev Sanyal's 2016's book 'The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History' tells a different story. Sanyal claimed that during his research 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.
Now, Twitter users are starting to question the history books after a Twitter user (@TIinExile) pointed out this 'lie' which people have been fed for years.
"When Ashoka became Buddhist: 4th year of his rule. When he invaded Kalinga: 8th year. Ashoka was a BUDDHIST when he waged Kalinga war. After war, he killed 18,000 Non-Buddhists who allegedly "insulted Buddhism". Whom do they finally blame? Yes, Hindus and Hinduism."
"Yes, the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka killɛd 18,000 Ajivikas & Jains because a Nirgrantha Jain of Pundravardhana (Bengal) named Jnatiputra drew a picture of Buddha prostrating at the feet of Mahavira. Worse, this information comes from a Buddhist source," he added.
Many other Twitter users also expressed shock after the new 'revelation'. Here are a few Twitter reactions: