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Kalinga War

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The Kalinga War (Sanskrit: कलिन्ग युध्धम्) was a war fought between the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka the Great and the state of Kalinga, a feudal republic located on the coast of the present-day Indian state of Orissa. The Kalinga war is one of the major battles in the History of India. Kalinga put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka's brutal strength. The bloodshed of this war is said to have prompted Ashoka to adopt Buddhism.


The main reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic.[4] Since the time of Ashoka's father, King Bindusara, the Mauryan Empire based in Magadha was following a policy of territorial expansion. Kalinga was under Magadha control during the Nanda rule,[citation needed] but regained independence with the beginning of the rule of the Mauryas. That was considered a great setback for the traditional policy of territorial expansion of the Magadhan emperors and was considered to be a loss of political prestige for the Mauryas.

Possibly Kalinga was a thorn in the body-politic of his dominions. Andhra, which lay to the south of Kalinga and comprised inter alia the modern Krishna and Godavari districts, was conquered by Bindusara. Thus on one side of the Maurya kingdom was Chola and on the other Kalinga. According to Hindu Political theory, Kalinga and Chola were natural enemies of the Maurya power and therefore natural friends of each other. It is not unreasonable to suppose that in Bindusara's war on Chola and Pandya, Kalinga was an ally of the latter, attacked the Maurya forces from the rear and was thus chiefly instrumental in its ending in failure. It was therefore perhaps supremely imperative to reduce Kalinga to complete subjection. To this task Ashoka must have set himself as soon as he felt he was securely established on the throne.[4]

The overseas activities of Kalinga threatened the economic and commercial interest of Magadha. As Magadha was not an important sea power she had to depend on other friendly states having overseas commerce to sustain her own economic interest. She would face economic collapse if the coasts would be blockaded against her. The hostile attitude of the traders of Kalinga inflicted a serious damage on her which is alluded to by Lama Taranatha. According to Taranatha, the serpents of the eastern seas stole away the jewels of Ashoka at which the emperor became angry and invaded their territory. Thus a war with Kalinga was not only political but also of economic necessity.Observes, Dr. R. P. Mohapatra.[5]

The pretext for the start of the war is uncertain. One of Susima's brothers might have fled to Kalinga and found official refuge there. This enraged Ashoka immensely. He was advised by his ministers to attack Kalinga for this act of treachery. Ashoka then asked Kalinga's royalty to submit before his supremacy. When they defied this diktat, Ashoka sent one of his generals to Kalinga to make them submit.The general and his forces were, however, completely routed through the skilled tact of Kalinga's commander-in-chief. Ashoka, baffled at this defeat, attacked with the greatest invasion ever recorded in Indian history until then.

Ashoka had seen the bloodshed with his own eyes. He felt that he was the cause of the destruction. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. Ashoka's later edicts state that about 100,000 people were killed on the Kalinga side and 1,00,000 from Ashoka's army. Thousands of men and women were deported.

Ashoka's response to the Kalinga War is recorded in the Edicts of Ashoka. According to some of these (Rock Edict XIII and Minor Rock Edict I), the Kalinga War prompted Ashoka, already a non-engaged Buddhist, to devote the rest of his life to Ahimsa (non-violence) and to Dhamma-Vijaya (victory through Dhamma). Following the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military expansion of the empire, and led the empire through more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony and prosperity.

"Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas." Rock Edict No.13[7]

Word-of-mouth stories passed down to us from our fore-fathers tells us that after the war was over and Ashoka the Great saw the destruction he had caused, a woman approached him and said, "Your actions have taken from me my father, husband, and son. Now what will I have left to live for?". Moved by these words, it is said, that he accepted/adopted Buddhism. He vowed to never take life again and became one of the most just ruler India has ever seen.



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