Posts Tagged ‘great’

ASHOKA THE GREAT

ASHOKA THE GREAT

The date of Asoka’s birth is not known, and not many historians are brave enough to hazard a guess. What is known is that he was the grandson of Chandragupta who founded the Maurya dynasty in approximately 324 B. C. (not long after Alexander left India) and the son of Bindusara, the second of the Maurya line.

On the death of Bindusara in circa 273 B. C. , Asoka became ruler of the Maurya kingdom for a reign of about 40 years. He was officially enthroned at Pataliputra (modern Patna) about four years after Bindusara’s death. What we know of his life and works is gleaned from his inscriptions and edicts and literary tradition. In the inscriptions he is often referred to as Devanampiya (“Beloved of the Gods”) or Priyadarsin (“Of Benevolent Appearance”).

During his father’s lifetime, Asoka is believed to have been viceroy on the northwestern region which included Kashmir and the Punjab with its capital in Taxila. After that he was viceroy of the western region with its capital at Ujjain. According to a Sinhala legend, Asoka was in Ujjain at the time of his father’s death.

In the first eight years of his reign he continued the aggressive policies of his father — who was called “Slayer of Foes” by Greek historians — and grandfather, under whom the Mauryan Empire had grown to include most of both Afghanistan and India. His first major action was that of putting down a revolt in Taxila.

But his war with the Kalingas in southern Orissa changed him forever. It is said that after a great victory he surveyed the battlefield and was appalled by the death and suffering he viewed there; whereupon, he gave up his violent ways and adopted a policy of peace.

An edict recording this event reads in part:

His Majesty King Priyadarshin the ninth year of his reign conquered the Kalingas.One hundred and fifty thousand were thence carried away captive, one hundred thousand were slain, and many times that number perished.

Ever since the annexation of the Kalingas, His Majesty has zealously protected the Law of Piety, has been devoted to that law, and has proclaimed its precepts.

His Majesty feels remorse on account of the conquest of the Kalingas, because, during the subjugation of a previously unconquered country, slaughter, death and taking occur, whereat His Majesty feels profound sorrow and regret . . . .

After the Kalinga War Asoka became an upasaka (lay Buddhist), steeped himself in Buddhist teachings and altered his policies radically. Instead of conquest by armed force, there would be “conquest by morality. “The “reverberation of the war drum” would be replaced by the “reverberation of the law. ”

Not content with peaceful policies within his own empire, Asoka sent forth missionaries to neighbouring kingdoms. However, he never tried to force his beliefs on others, and he maintained tolerant, if not friendly, relations with Hindu communities within his realm and with nearby kingdoms.

He opposed animal slaughter, whether for providing food or for sacrificial purposes, and he discouraged the royal hunt. In one of his edicts he states:

Obedience must be rendered to mother and father, likewise to elders; firmness (of compassion) must be shown towards animals; truth must be spoken: these same moral virtues must be practised.In the same way the pupil must show reverence to the master, and one must behave in a suitable manner towards relatives.

During the 13th year after his coronation, Asoka began a program of circuits by which his officials, every five years, would proclaim the moral law throughout the land.

There is no record of the last eight years of his life, except that he died in 232 B. C. and that he was succeeded by two of his grandsons: Dasaratha who ruled the eastern and Samprati the western parts of his empire. His empire survived him, but not for long.

Asoka was one of those rare phenomena in Indian history, and indeed in the history of the world, who combined in one person the qualities of both greatness and goodness.

Suggested Further Reading

  • Bhandarkar, Devadatta Ramkrishna, 1875-1950.
    Asoka. — 4th ed. — [Calcutta] : University of Calcutta, 1969.
    xxx, 366 p. ; 23 cm. — (Carmichael lectures ; 1923)
  • Gokhale, Balkrishna Govind.
    Asoka Maurya. — New York : Twayne, [1966]
    194 p. : map ; 21 cm. — (Twayne’s rulers and statesmen of the world series ; 3)
  • Smith, Vincent Arthur, 1848-1920.
    Asoka : the Burdhist emperor of India. — Oxford : Clarenden, 1901.
    204 p. : port. ; 20 cm. — (Rulers of India ; v. 28)

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Categories: History   Tags: ,

ALEXANDER THE GREAT

ALEXANDER THE GREAT
356-323 B. C.

Alexander III, king of Macedonia, was born in 356 B. C. at Pella in Macedonia. He died thirty-three years later (13 June 323) in Persia and is known to history as Alexander the Great.

As a teenager his tutor was Aristotle who imbued him with a love of Greek culture which never left him. He won his first battle at the age of 14, and when 16 he commanded forces of his father’s army at the Battle of Chaeronea which was won by Macedonia.

His father, Philip II, was assassinated in 336, and Alexander succeeded to the throne with the support of the army. He then engaged on a career of conquest which took him through Persia, to Egypt and ultimately to India. For the purposes here, the concern is his activities in India.

Alexander fought four great battles. At Granicus (334) he defeated the Persians, at Issus (333) he defeated Darius and his Persian army, at Gaugamela (331) he defeated them again, and finally at the Jhelum River (326) he defeated King Porus and his Indian army in what is known as the Battle of the Hydaspes.

Alexander had left Bactra in 327 and proceeded through what is present day Afghanistan. He crossed the Hindu Kush and invaded India, but to secure his lines of communication he had established garrisons near modern Kabul. He spent the winter of 327-326 fighting tribes in the Kunar and Swat Valleys and eventually conquered the city of Nyasa.

At Taxila he met Raja Ambhi with whom he arranged for support in the form of elephants and troops in return for aid against Taxiles’ enemy Porus.

Prior to the battle Alexander was on the east bank on the Jhelum and Porus on the west. The monsoons had begun, and Porus did not believe Alexander would attack until after the monsoons were over because he thought the river was unfordable, which it was. However, Alexander found a place about twenty-two kilometres north, and crossed at the point. He then attacked Porus in a ferocious battle during which Porus’ elephants panicked and trampled friend and foe alike.

According to Plutarch, after the battle Alexander asked Porus how he wished to be treated; and Porus answered: “As a king. “This so impressed Alexander that he made Porus satrap of his Indian conquests.

Alexander wished to push farther east at this point, but his troops, who were weary of battle and not a little homesick, came close to mutiny. He decided to return to Persia. He went by land with part of his army while his admiral, Nearchus, went by sea with the remainder of the army.

Alexander’s last years were spent consolidating his empire and trying to solve problems which had remained unsolved while he was busy fighting battles. That he cried because he had no more worlds to conquer is probably more apocryphal than true.

Alexander’s influence on world history is difficult to underestimate. The period which followed his death is known as the Hellenistic Age.

When it was over, the Age of Rome took its place. Greek had become the lingua franca of the Mediterranean region, and this facilitated the spread of Christianity there.

It cannot be said that Alexander the Great’s influence in India was great. The extent to which he may have influenced Indian political and social institutions is negligible, and the same can probably be said of Greek influence on Indian learning. To quote the French scholar Sylvain Levy, “The name of Alexander the Great which has maintained the same prestige in the traditions of the Near East as in those of the West has not yet been discovered even in a single Indian text. ”

However, in Gandhara and Taxila are found works which combine the best of Indian art with the best of Greek art.

Can this be the only legacy of Alexander in Greater India?

— Henry Scholberg

Suggested Further Readings

  • M’Crindle, John Watson, 1825-1913.
    The invasion of India by Alexander the Great . . . — New York : Barnes & Noble, [1939]
    xxxix, 432 p. : ill. , maps ; 23 cm.
    Reprint of 1896 ed.
  • Tarn, William Woodthorpe, Sir, 1869-1957.
    Alexander the Great. — Cambridge (England) : University Press, 1948.
    2 v. : fold. map ; 23 cm.

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