Ashoka Maurya (304 BCE - 232 BCE) commonly known as Ashoka and also as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BCE to 232 BCE. One of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan to present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. In about 260BCE Ashoka waged a bitterly destructive war against the states of Kalinga (modern Odisha). He conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, which none of his ancestors had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. His reign was headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar). He embraced Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. Ashoka reflected on the war in Kalinga, which reportedly had resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations. Ashoka converted gradually to Buddhism beginning about 263 B.C.E. at the least. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka regarded Buddhism as a doctrine that could serve as a cultural foundation for political unity. Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator.
In the history of India, Ashoka is referred to as Samraat Chakravartin Ashoka – the "Emperor of Emperors Ashoka". His name "aśoka" means "painless, without sorrow" in Sanskrit (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").
H.G. Wells wrote of Ashoka:In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves "Their Highnesses", "Their Majesties" and "Their Exalted Majesties" and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.
Along with the Edicts of Ashoka, his legend is related in the later 2nd-century Aśokāvadāna ("Narrative of Asoka") and Divyāvadāna ("Divine narrative"), and in the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle").
Ashoka played a critical role in helping make Buddhism a world religion. The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka.