The Political, Religious, and Intellectual Figure of Ashoka the History of South Asia 

Subject: Famous Person
Type: Autobiography Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1717
Topics: Biography


The South Asian history is poised with great legends and emperors who promoted various themes including but not limited to political, cultural, artistic, and intellectual aspects of the ancient lifestyle. Today, we shall examine a great figure known as Ashoka dating back to the 1500CE to understand more about the ancient people and their contribution to the society politically, religiously, artistically, and intellectually. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to provide a brief report of Ashoka’s biography, then contextualize the political, religious, religious, and intellectual themes associated with the person and reflect his significance in shaping the South Asian history. 

Ashoka’s biography 

Ashoka belonged to the Mauryan Dynasty, India where he ruled almost the entire subcontinent by an alias name as ‘Ashoka the Great.’ Being the third Empire of Mauryan Dynasty Ashoka is highly praised for his prolific contribution in promoting Buddhism within India and across the world. In the political arena, Ashoka conquered the Mauryan Dynasty where he emerged as a fearsome king with an undisputed vision of expanding his territory ubiquitously across the Indian subcontinent, however, excluding the extreme South of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Nevertheless, his political superiority took a new leaf after the lethal Kalinga conquest, where he changed to become a peaceful and non-violent ruler than before. Ashoka’s intellectual capacity was also undisputed in his time. He employed great knowledge in building several stupas all over his emperor. This was coupled with numerous pillars, where the Ashoka pillar was identified as the most significant. Further, since Ashoka promoted Buddhism in most parts of India in his ruling, his supremacy was regarded as the most exalted in the South Asian history. Besides, despite the fact that after his death the religious practice was less prominent, Ashoka’s legacy continued to prosper and extend in other parts especially throughout Eastern and Southern Asia (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012).

Themes portrayed by ashoka 

Political theme 

King Ashoka is so far regarded as the greatest political rulers in the word history. Despite the fact that the Buddhist literature has attempted to conserve the ruthless legendary of Ashoka, his edicts on rocks and pillars confirm the king’s political reforms and policies and his promulgations to his subjects (Sarao, 2010). Based on the edicts, it is possible to gain insight into the power and capability of Ashoka in his attempt to establish an empire ingrained in righteousness. This depicts Ashoka’s political system to be more spiritual and moral as it was the primary concern of the ruler to ensure the welfare of his subjects especially after converting to the Buddhism way of life (Sarao, 2010). 

In one of his edicts, Ashoka proclaimed restraint against human and animal bloodshed and futileness positing that his conversion to Buddhism was a wake-up call towards riotousness. Before, Ashoka was a cruel and merciless political leader and declared relentless warfare on his enemies, which eventually implicated suffering on his people. Later, after a change of heart, the king turned to the welfare of his people who still feared him as a ruthless and overbearing tyrant (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012). With the influence of Buddhism, he changed the political system of his territory where he encouraged his people to be compassion and encouraged the conservation of wildlife as well as the environment. He also promoted policies to protect the current prisoners during his ruling. Further, Ashoka encouraged intellectual capacity among his people by building learning institutions and promoting agricultural projects for enhancing trade (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012). Finally, Ashoka’s political system encouraged peace and tranquility as he treated his subjects equally regardless of the religion, political standpoint and cast. This influenced the surrounding kingdoms to become well-respected associates. Therefore, per the highlighted edict it is possible to agree that the political system expressed by Ashoka was influential in the South Asian history and contributed largely to a democratic system of ruling after that (Neelis, 2010).

Religious theme

As a religious figure, Ashoka was rich in spiritual growth by observing and committing utterly to the Buddhist way of living (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012). In fact, he even turned Buddhism to be a state religion sin his emperor where he encouraged Buddhist missionary activity among his people.  Since Ashoka was overwhelmed by re Buddhist religious practices, he decided to establish a pilgrimage site as a sacred place of worship, where the people he ruled would attain enlightenment. Besides, in his ruling, Ashoka ensured that his territory had a serene atmosphere for introducing and practicing Buddhist philosophies. Since the King was attempting to make Buddhism a state religion, it also generated great expectations that tied down to supporting and influencing the mechanism by which decision-making was influenced by his political regime (Neelis, 2010). Despite the fact that the impact of Buddhism prior was relatively limited during his ruling, reports show that after his regime, there was an abundance of Buddhism that spread all over the South Asia (Sarao, 2010). History has it that the abundance of Buddhism during Ashoka’s ruling was influenced by many factors (Sarao, 2010). For instance, despite the fact that he practiced Buddhism as a tactic of eradicating social conflicts with other territories, he was also a true follower of the Buddhist doctrine (Sarao, 2010).  Therefore, his conversion to Buddhism was quite honest, and it gained him leverage for social cohesion. However, his ultimate intentions for observing Buddhism may not be clear to justify this standpoint. Nevertheless, it is through Ashoka that the South Asians started to practice Buddhism as he integrated the religious tradition to a state ideology. Eventually, Buddhism expanded beyond the Indian territory and gradually expanded its transformation into the global religion. However, after his demise, Buddhism took a low note although it managed to remain popular beyond it native land especially in eastern and southeastern Asia (Vohra, 2012).        

Intellectual theme

In intellectual prosperity, Ashoka was also not left out. He made prolific contributions by enlightening the society he served as well as enriching himself with great knowledge on Buddhism and kingship (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012). Historical data reveals that Ashoka used his great knowledge to build pillars where he could inscribe his edicts about the Buddhism ideologies. Adding to that, he also developed the Ashoka chakra that was inscribed in most of his relics such as the Lion Capital of Sarnath and The Ashoka Pillar, which is salient at the center of the Indian national flag (Sarao, 2010). The main reason of inscribing his edicts and philosophies ion the pillars was to promote his publicity as a great ruler across the territory of South Asia. The pillars were placed in strategic sites where almost every individual of the Mauryan dynasty would have a glimpse. He also went public by making oral announcements about his philosophical teachings. Notably, the inscriptions on rocks and pillars that dated back many years of Ashoka’s reign contained intellectual statements of his perception about a better life (Vohra, 2012). In fact, the actions and information he conveyed about his life and acts communicated frankness and sincerity to inspire the people he ruled to live a better life of peace and tranquility. 

To enrich his intellectual understanding about the wellbeing of his people, Ashoka would mostly emphasize his understanding of dharma as an energetic practice of socio-moral enrichment (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012). He assumed that the inceptions he made would communicate the virtues of honesty, truthfulness, kindheartedness, nonviolence, and considerate behavior towards his people and encouraged his people to replicate the same in the entire society. Additionally, after his conversion, Ashoka aimed to eliminate bias by treating religious creeds and philosophical doctrines equally (Singh, 2008). Indeed, his preaching about Buddhism was mostly limited to his coreligionists and not beyond. Ashoka understood that freedom of worship was an imperative aspect to ensure the wellbeing of his people. He adopted a policy that encouraged respect and guaranteed other religious sects complete freedom to live by their specific principles and encouraged them to practice intelligent worthiness in their inner souls as they continued with the religious rituals (Vohra, 2012). 

Reflecting Ashoka to the ancient era

Ashoka reflects the ancient era as a period driven by violence and brutality, and that it was only through salvation that salvation was the only antidote to mitigate the oppressive way of ruling. Indeed, most of the ancient emperors in South Asia and beyond such as Napoleon were used to warfare as their only means of commanding respect and tranquility from the subjects (Vohra, 2012). However, the case of Ashoka was different, as when he mixed his authority with Buddhism and genuine concern for materials, he managed to preach Buddha’s original desire that saw suffering among people mitigated, nature was preserved, and the wellbeing of the society was finally restored (Singh, 2008). 

Significance of Ashoka to South Asia history 

Ashoka used magnificent techniques to preach morality and spirituality in his subjects while promoting Buddhism as a state religion and political system. The achievements indicate the great significance of Ashoka to the south Asian history. Indeed, introducing Buddhism in his emperor, Ashoka knew that the best way of shaping the future of the people was to promote education and enhance trade as a means of showing his people the benefits associated with morality and spirituality (Olivelle, Leoshko & Ray, 2012). Due to that, he introduced universities and promoted agriculture and trade. Since then, the lives of the people in South Asia changed tremendously as they experienced life through a better perspective of peace, safety, and happiness. Today, Buddhism has spread across the world, and particularly in South Asia, it is used as a doctrine for promoting coexistence and peace among the people (Neelis, 2010). 


Conclusively, Ashoka’s legacy has caught the attention of many subsequent and contemporary rulers in South Asia and other parts of the world. Despite the fact that he started as a ruthless and dreadful emperor, his conversion to Buddhism left an amazing history that made his biography trending, and his edict replicated across South Asia in the subsequent rulers. Ashoka teaches that the wellbeing of the society can only be achieved through promoting peace and tranquility among the subjects and neighboring kingdoms. If the current South Asian society can hold to his edicts, then the future of the society can be promising and fruitful.

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  1. Neelis, J. (2010). Early Buddhist transmission and trade networks: mobility and exchange within and beyond the northwestern borderlands of South Asia (Vol. 2). Brill.
  2. Olivelle, P., Leoshko, J., & Ray, H. P. (2012). Reimagining Asoka: memory and history.
  3. Sarao, K. T. S. (2010). Origin and Nature of Ancient Indian Buddhism. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
  4. Singh, U. (2008). A History of Ancient and Early medieval India: from the Stone Age to the 12th century. Pearson Education India.
  5. Vohra, R. (2012). The making of India: a political history. ME Sharpe.
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