The term "Ashoka Vijayadashami" is derived from the historical celebration that took place ten days after Emperor Ashoka's victory in the Kalinga War. It was on this day that Emperor Ashoka initiated the path of Buddhist Dhamma, marking a transformative moment in his life. Following the gruelling Kalinga war, he renounced violence and embraced the principles of Buddhist Dhamma.
This ten-day event included a pivotal moment on the tenth day when Emperor Ashoka, accompanied by his royal family, received the teachings of Dhamma from the esteemed Buddhist monk, Bhante Moggiliputta Tishya. After this Dhamma initiation, Ashoka pledged to win the hearts of his subjects not through force or scripture but through peace and non-violence.
In his commitment to propagate Buddhism, Ashoka undertook remarkable endeavours, including the construction of thousands of stupas, the installation of inscriptions and Dhamma pillars, and sending his daughter Sanghmitra and son Mahendra as Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka for the expansion of Buddhism, where they erected 84,000 columns. He invested his resources in the service of Dhamma, reflecting his dedication to charity and welfare.
The declaration made by Emperor Ashoka on this day, known as Dussehra, was sealed with his royal authority, and he encouraged the people of his realm to celebrate Ashoka Vijayadashami, signifying the festival's association with the promotion of Buddhism.
Furthermore, on Ashoka Vijayadashami, which fell on 14th October 1956, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and his 500,000 followers gathered at Nagpur's Deekshabhoomi to embrace Buddhism, relinquishing their former Hindu identity. This historic day is also celebrated annually as "Dhamma Chakra Parivartan Day."
The history of India has witnessed numerous rulers who governed the Indian subcontinent. Prior to the British era, dynastic rulers in India ruled over various regions, often sustaining traditions passed down through generations. Most of these rulers failed to make a lasting impact. However, Ashoka The Great, who ruled over ancient India, remains unparalleled when it comes to presiding over the largest empire in Indian history. His empire stretched from present-day Afghanistan in the west to present-day Bangladesh in the east.
Ashoka was born in 304 BC to Bindusara, the second Mauryan ruler. In 268 BC, Ashoka became the third Mauryan ruler. Ashoka was an invincible ruler whose streak of victory was uninterrupted. However, the Kalinga War, which he won, changed the course of his life and contemporary India.
The war was fought between the Mauryan Empire, under Ashoka's leadership, and the independent state of Kalinga, located in the eastern part of modern-day India (in the present-day Odisha region). The Kalinga region was known for its rich culture and commerce, and it presented a formidable opponent to the expanding Mauryan Empire. Consequently, a war took place between the Mauryan Empire and the Kalinga kingdom.
The Kalinga War was extremely brutal and resulted in a massive loss of life on both sides. Ashoka was profoundly moved by the immense suffering, loss of human life, and the devastation caused by the conflict. He felt that the victory he achieved was futile and pyrrhic.
Witnessing the horrors of war and the suffering it caused, Ashoka underwent a profound change of heart. He felt remorse and guilt for his actions in Kalinga and was deeply affected by the human and moral cost of warfare. As a result, he turned to Buddhism and embraced its principles of non-violence and compassion.
After converting to Buddhism, Ashoka made a commitment to promote Dhamma (Buddhist principles) as the guiding philosophy of his rule. He issued edicts and inscriptions throughout his empire to communicate his commitment to moral and ethical governance, non-violence, and social welfare.
The Mooknayak spoke to Arvind Sontakke, a retired bureaucrat, who, through his 22 Pratigya mission, is playing an instrumental role in spreading Buddhism in Gujarat and Maharashtra. He says, "Ashoka did not propagate Buddhism as a religion but as an art to change life. He did not espouse rituals, citing the examples of edicts. He said, 'the caves and the Pali and Prakrit inscriptions in Junagarh and Nasik prove that there was no animosity, no vendetta sentiments between people, and brotherhood and fraternity prevailed at that time, and this is what we want in life.' He commissioned the edicts and inscriptions to far-off places like Iran and Iraq to spread the message of peace and serve as a guide for rulers around the world. Sontakke said that these edicts are also a testimony to the farsightedness of Ashoka, as they have survived the depredations of time and are likely to last more than 100,000 years."
These inscriptions are some of the earliest known examples of Indian epigraphy and provide valuable insights into Ashoka's reign, his conversion to Buddhism, and the principles of his rule. The Stupas commissioned by him aimed at spreading the message of Buddha.
The "84,000 Buddha Stupa" is a symbolic representation in Buddhism and is associated with the idea that there are 84,000 teachings of the Buddha. These teachings include various aspects of Buddhist philosophy, ethics, and practices. The number 84,000 is often used to symbolize the vastness and depth of the Buddha's teachings.
Stupas are traditional Buddhist monuments, often containing relics or other sacred objects, and they can vary in size and design. While there may not be a specific "84,000 Buddha Stupa" that houses 84,000 Buddha statues or relics, you can find stupas in many Buddhist communities and countries, each with its own significance and purpose. Out of these 84,000 stupas, 19 were established in China. Only some of them have survived the depredations of time.
The Ashoka Temple located in Ningbo: The Ashoka temple, located in the Ningbo city in Zhejiang province, lies south of Shanghai in China. Vikrant Kishore, an Australia-based Indian filmmaker who visited the temple earlier this year, told The Mooknayak, "In the local language, this temple is known as Ayuwang Si. It is a 1700-year-old temple built by Monk Huida of the Western Jin Dynasty in 282 CE. The place has relics of Buddha, and the four Ashoka pillars make the connection with Indian culture complete. The temple has undergone a lot of changes during its long history, and various successive dynasties have contributed to making the present-day Temple. It was accorded the status of a provincial cultural preservation unit by the Zhejiang Provincial Government in 1981 and was renovated."
The temple is spread over a total area of 124,100 square meters, which includes many mountains, temple lands, forests, etc. The built-up area of the temple is 23,400 square feet. The core area includes Shanmen or the Gate of Three Liberations, Four Heavenly Kings Halls, and the Buddhist Texts Library. The Buddhist Texts Library has five rooms wide in two stories.
Nangchen Stupa: Nangchen, located in Qinghai province of China, witnessed a historic process in 2015 when a more than 2,000-year-old lost stupa, reportedly commissioned by King Ashoka, was restored through religious rites by an Indian monk Gyalwang Drupka, belonging to the Drukpa sect of Buddhism. A replica of Ashoka's pillar and Buddha Statue was added to the esoteric place. The stupa could play a pivotal role in establishing cultural links between the two countries.
Arvind Sontakke says, "19 stupas were established by King Ashoka, and after the 6th century B.C., Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) came to India and went back with a copious amount of written material on Buddhism. The impact of Buddhism can be seen in the more than 150 crore people of China, as atheism also reflects the teachings of Buddhism."
At a time when West Asia and Europe are battered by the wars between Israel and Palestine and Russia and Ukraine, the futility of war, as observed during the Kalinga war by Ashoka, pops up in relevance and serves as a message to the world.