By: Varsha Sharat
We learn the history of the past to make our present and future a better one. But do we honestly follow the good things and correct the mistakes done in the past?? When I think about India in its present situation I am always forced to ask the question do we really learn from our past?
Many great Kings have ruled India, but there is no King like Samraat Ashoka who was known for compassion, righteousness, sense of justice and more importantly for the policy of non-violence. Before Gandhi became the symbol for non-violence, Ashoka set the path to be followed.
His empire stretched from present-day Afghanistan in the west, to the present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra. He conquered Kalinga, which no one in his dynasty had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. Before he conquered Kalinga, Ashoka was known for his unquenched thirst for wars and campaigns launched to conquer the lands of other rulers and came to be known as Chandashok (terrible Ashoka).
Kalinga’s invasion was considered to be the greatest invasion ever recorded in Indian history until then. Kalinga put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka’s brutal strength. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. About 100,000 people were killed on the Kalinga’s side. The brutality of the conquest led him to adopt Buddhism and pursued an official policy of non-violence (ahimsa). (Unlike our present governments who brutally suppress any kind of opposition unless it helps their vote bank politics.)
During the remaining portion of Ashoka’s reign, Ashoka defined the main principles of dharma as non-violence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all. (As opposed to present India where feudal oppression still thrives in villages, inhumane treatment of servants and child labour is a common sight). Ashoka was perhaps the first emperor in human history to ban slavery, hunting, fishing and deforestation. (Compare to present India where poaching of animals, over fishing and grabbing of forest lands from tribals is the norm of the day)
Ashoka asked people to live with harmony, peace, love and tolerance. (Unlike us where we fight in the name of anything whether it is region, religion, language or caste). Ashoka called his people as his children, and they could call him when they need him. (As opposed to our ‘great’ leaders who would not show their faces unless there is an election). He also asked people to save money and not to spend for immoral causes. (Unlike our greed for money and our corruption in epic proportions).
Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. (Unlike the thousands of accused languishing in prisons for years waiting for trial). He built universities and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture (Unlike the present day scenario where farmers kill themselves because of either famine or floods). He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for animals and renovating major roads throughout his kingdom. (We don’t have proper hospitals for people let alone for animals and the less said about Indian roads the better).
Renowned British author and social critic H. G. Wells in his bestselling two-volume work, The Outline of History (1920), wrote of emperor Ashoka:
“In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves ‘their highnesses,’ ‘their majesties,’ and ‘their exalted majesties’ and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day” .
The only way to leave a lasting legacy of Samraat Ashoka (Once a forgotten ruler. Sad but true!!!) is to follow the path set by him. But the question that needs to be asked is will we??