Ashoka (S. Aśoka; P Asoka; T. mya ngan med མྱ་ངན་མེད་; C. Ayu wang 阿育王), aka "Ashoka the Great" or "Dharmāśoka," was the ruler of the Maurya Empire from approximatedly 268 to 232 BCE. Ashoka was celebrated as a great patron of Buddhism.
One of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka was the son of Bindusāra and the grandson of the founder of the Maurya Empire, Chandragupta Maurya. During his reign, Ashoka expanded the empire to rule over a realm stretching from present-day Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east. It covered the entire Indian subcontinent except for parts of present-day Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The empire's capital was Pataliputra (in Magadha, present-day Patna).
Ashoka converted to Buddhism and was influential in the spread of Buddhism throughout India and beyond. He is remembered for the Ashoka pillars and edicts, for sending Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka and Central Asia, and for establishing monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. He is said to have constructed many Buddhist temples (vihara) and stupas throughout India.
Beyond the Edicts of Ashoka, biographical information about him relies on legends written centuries later, such as the 2nd-century CE Ashokavadana ("Narrative of Ashoka", a part of the Divyavadana), and in the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle"). The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka. His Sanskrit name "Aśoka" means "painless, without sorrow" (the a privativum and śoka, "pain, distress"). In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya (Pali Devānaṃpiya or "the Beloved of the Gods"), and Priyadarśin (Pali Piyadasī or "He who regards everyone with affection"). His fondness for his name's connection to the Saraca asoca tree, or "Ashoka tree", is also referenced in the Ashokavadana. In The Outline of History, H.G. Wells wrote, "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star."
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