The Greatest Emperor of India
The son of Bindusar and the grandson of Chandra Gupta Maurya, Ashoka was born in 273 B.C. After the death of his father, Bindusar – the king of Patali Putra, Ashok’s elder brother Suman contended for the throne. But most of the ministers and prime minister Radha Gupt, in particular were against Suman. They considered Ashoka more capable and discreet. Therefore they helped him attain the reins of powers. Ashoka had already gained experience of administration during his father’s rule. Therefore, he had no difficulty in managing the state affairs when he ascended the throne. The first thing that he did was to restore peace in the kingdom. It took him full three years to do so. In fact the coronation ceremony was performed when he had established peace in his kingdom. Ashoka was a great philanthropist. He used to take his meal after feeding many thousands of Brahmins. He had a very busy schedule of work, which started very early in the morning and went upto midnight. He remained very active and kept himself informed of the latest goings on in the land. People were very honest during his reign. The incidents of theft were unheard of. People had religious bent of mind and were truthful. Science had also made a good progress. Technology, medicine and surgery had also developed appreciably.
Ashoka had a vast stretch of land under him to rule over. On the north side was snow-capped Himalayas, besides Nepal and Kashmir. His southern boundaries extended up to Mysore State. In the north-west were Baluchistan and Afghanistan. In the east flowed river Brahmaputra, while in the west were Saurashtra and Junagarh, which formed part of his kingdom. In fact his empire was more extensive than the Mughals’, or the Britishers’. It was a vast empire and needed the capabilities of a person like Ashoka to rule over it. Kalinga war brought great fame to Ashoka. It is, in fact, due to this war that he became Ashoka – the great. It was not so because he won the war, but because he gave up fighting after winning this war. It was because of the transformation that occurred in him. It was because of the reaction that war had on his mind. Ashoka embraced Buddhism. According to one version he got initiation from his sister – Anandiji, while according to an other version he got it from his nephew i.e. brother’s son. It brought him spiritual awakening and his entire course of life was changed. He contemplated welfare measures for the people. He was not a religious bigot. He was tolerant and wanted all religions to develop. In his view, religion meant doing good needs and keeping away from sins. According to him kindness, charity, truth and purity constituted religion. By doing good deeds he meant serving parents, Brahmins, saints and the aged and sick people, respecting and obeying teachers and treating lonely people with love and humility. It also meant observing norms of good conduct. In tune with his religious fervour, he plunged himself in welfare measures for his people. He opened hospitals and dispensaries where the rich and the poor alike could get free treatment. Similarly there were dispensaries for birds and animals. Gardens and parks were laid out throughout the empire. Inns were constructed for the travelers; shady trees were planted alongside the roads. Walls and tanks were sunk for the benefit of the people, since he believed in non-violence, he banned animal sacrifice. Though he hated violence and observed law of Piety i.e. Dharma in his personal life, yet it does not mean that he was lenient in administration. He was a hard task-master and never hesitated from awarding suitable punishment to the corrupt and guilty. Ashoka has attained unprecedented fame not only in India but also in the whole world. He is truly a world figure. The government of India has rightly honoured his memory by adopting ‘Ashoka Chakra’ as national symbol.
During the reign of Harsha Vardan in 629 AD when Buddhism ruled supreme in India, a twenty six year old Chinese pilgrim arrived in India. His name was Yuan Chuang better known in India as Hiuen Sang. Like his father, he was a tall and handsome man with beautiful eyes and a good complexion. He had a serious but benevolent expression and a sedate and rather stately manner. He had a rare combination of moral and intellectual qualities and traits common to Chinese set of by a strongly marked individuality. A Confucianist by inheritence and early training, far seen in native lore and possessing good abilities, he became an uncompromisng Buddhist.The splendours of India and the glories of its religion did not weaken or shake his love for China and his admiration for its old ways of domestic, social and political life. He was not a good observer though (like Bernier or Tavernier), nor a careful investigator, or a satisfactory recorder, consequently he left very much untold which he would have done well to tell. We must remember, however, that Yuan Chuang in is travels cared little for other things and wanted to know only Buddha and Buddhism.
His observations on Social and Legal Matters:
‘They(Indians) are of hasty and irresolute temperaments, but of pure moral principles. They will not take anything wrongfully, and they yield more than fairness requires. They fear the retribution for sins in other lives, and make light of what conduct produce in this life. They do not practice deciet and they keep their sworn obligations’.
He then describes the judicial processes and modes of punishment.
‘As the government is honestly administered and the people live together on good terms the criminal class is small. The statute law is sometimes violated and plots made against the sovereign; when the crime is brought to light the offender is imprisioned for life; he does not suffer any corporal punsihment, but alive and dead he is not treated as member of the community. For offences against social morality, disloyal and unfilial conduct, the punishment is to cut off the nose, or an ear, or a hand, or a foot, or to banish the offender to another country or into the wilderness. Other offences can be atoned for by money payment’.
The twilight of the Gupta Empire saw the setting in of decay. Powerful feudal governors in the provinces declared their independence. Trade and commerce suffered and social evils crept in. There was only a brief afterglow in the time of Harshavardhan (reign – 604 – 647 A.D.) – of Kannauj – who is famous for his philanthropy and patronage of Buddhism. Harsha Vardhana was a king of northern India who reunited some of the small city-states that had become independent after the fall of the Gupta dynasty and who used his position to reinvigorate the practice of Buddhism throughout his territory. He spent a number of years fighting against Sasanka and although he was not fully successful in defeating Gauda (in Bengal) he was able to expand his territories across five countries bordering his base in what is now Uttar Pradesh. The identity of the five countries may have equated to Sind, Magadha, Kashmir, Valabhi, and Gujarat. This would represent a considerable expanse of territory, and the labor and potential for taxation that it yielded had enormous potential for development. Harsha Vardhana’s rule is often identified as the time at which the ancient Indian world gave way to the medieval world, in which a system of centralized comparatively small kingdoms gave way to larger, decentralized empires composed of multiple centers with diverse ethnicities and religious and cultural practices. Harsha Vardhana’s attempts to improve his state included the establishment of diplomatic relations with China and the creation of numerous Buddhist institutions. Notable among these were the monastic center or university at Nalanda, to which Harsha Vardhana made some sort of contribution. The Chinese pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang visited and studied at Nalanda during his journey to India. Establishments aimed at helping the sick, the poor, and those traveling across his territory were created. Harsha also convened national meetings at the confluence of the rivers Yamuna and Ganges at which the fruits of his rule could be distributed among the people. After his death, the golden age that is considered to be his rule soon came to an end.
‘They(Indians) are of hasty and irresolute temperaments, but of pure moral principles. They will not take anything wrongfully, and they yield more than fairness requires. They fear the retribution for sins in other lives, and make light of what conduct produce in this life’. This observation is remarkable! it points to Indians before the ghastly and barbaric Muslim invasions of India, which finally and irreversibly corrupted the Indians. As to why the invasions happened, the comment, ‘they are of hasty and irresolute temperamnet’ may be a pointer here. See Muslim Invaders.