Ashoka : the Greatest King the world has known


In the 4th century BCE, a paradigm shift in political ideology and ambitions inspired a number of remarkable men across the world to don the role of influential political and military leaders. One such leader was Chandragupta Maurya, who inspired by the prospect of building a large Indian empire and guided by his mentor Chanakya, overthrew the king of Magadha. He then started to expand his empire to the west and soon The Mauryan Empire soon extended from Bengal in the east and went all the way to Afghanistan in the west.

The Mauryan Empire reached its zenith under the rule of Chandragupta's grandson, Ashoka. At its prime, his empire was the largest and most populous in the world. Ashoka has been called the greatest king the world has ever known. Ashoka's claim to this unique distinction comes not just from his military prowess. On the contrary, it emanates from his renunciation of violence and war, his subsequent adoption of Buddhism and his mission to spread the non-violent teachings of the Buddha throughout his empire. Ashoka carved the Buddha's teachings on iron pillars especially erected for this purpose. These pillars are found all over the Indian subcontinent and are inscribed with edicts by Ashoka during his reign. He also sent Buddhist missions to other countries including Sri Lanka, China and Southeast Asia.

The 'Lion Capital of Ashoka' refers to a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back, on an elaborate base. It was originally placed atop the Ashoka pillar at the important Buddhist site of Sarnath in about 250 BCE. The pillar (also called the Ashoka Column) is still in its original location. However, the Lion ‘Capital’ has been moved to the Sarnath Museum, in Uttar Pradesh. A representation of this sculpture was adopted as the official Emblem of India in 1950 and has since been used on the coins of India after it became a Republic.

The punchmarked coins of the Mauryans are found all over the country including in south India. By the time of Ashoka, the Magadhan Empire had spread over most of the Indian subcontinent. Its coins also spread with the empire's expansion and have been found in large numbers across the length and breadth of the Mauryan Empire, from western Afghanistan to today's Bangladesh, and from the Himalayan foothills to the Deccan. The silver punch-marked coins also travelled beyond the Mauryan territory to the Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms of south India and to Sri Lanka due to the spread of Buddhism and extensive maritime trade. The Mauryan kingdom must have been very rich as very large hoards of Mauryan silver coins are still found in India.


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