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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History


Urdu Version
Known as the Emperor of Emperors, Ashoka, is remembered for being an enlightened ruler.

Last Updated: 28 Feb. 2014

An exemplary ruler

Ashoka Ashoka
(Stoa Poikle)

One of the world’s most exemplary rulers, Ashoka (286 – 231 BC), is revered not only for his accomplishments in extending the Mauryan Empire, but also for being a benevolent and enlightened ruler. Ashoka’s symbol of the three lions has become one of the emblems of modern India and is on the Indian rupee. Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, led many campaigns to expand the Mauryan Empire. His successful campaigns culminated in the annexation of Kalinga (modern day Orissa) in 261 BC, which he won after waging a bloody battle. He was so overcome by the carnage of the war (an estimated 300,000 people died) that he was probably the first victorious ruler to renounce war on the battlefield. Ashoka converted to Buddhism, but did not impose his faith on his subjects. He decided to rule not by force but through piety, Dharma, and soften the strictness of the government. Ashoka also employed special officers to ensure people were receiving the benefits due to them and instruct them in righteousness. Some historians believe his policy of peace lead to the downfall of the Mauryan Empire.

Ashoka Map Mauryan Empire under Ashoka
(Huntington Archive)


Ashoka had royal edicts inscribed on rocks and pillars to promote his beliefs and principles. They encourage non-killing, attention to family, tolerance of other religions and respectful treatment of slaves. These were written in local dialects, using the earliest known post-Harappan script known as Brahmi. Two such edicts have been found in Pakistan at Mansehra and Shahbazgarhi (east of Mardan) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


Beloved of the Gods King Piyadasi (Ashoka), desires that all religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart. But people have various desires and various passions, and they may practice all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives great gifts yet is lacking in self-control, purity of heart, gratitude and firm devotion, such a person is mean. -Excerpt from Fourteen Rock Edicts #7 (Dhammika)

Find out more

Books & Articles

Dhammika, Ven S. The Edicts of King Ashoka. Kandy: Wheel, 1994. Colorado State University. “The Mauryan Empire.” Silk Road Exhibit. University of Washington.


PBS The Story of India: Episode 2 – Edicts of Ashoka (video)