The Early History of Chandragupta (Brahmanical Version)

According to the Puranas the Kshetriya sovereignty was to cease with Nanda. In the beginning of the Kali age the Nandas were kings so named.

Amongst them Sarvarthasiddhi was celebrated for his valour; he was monarch of the earth and his troops were nine crore and one hundred. Vaktranasa and others were his hereditary ministers, but amongst them the most famous was the Brahman, Rakshasa.

He was skilled in government and policy, and the six attributes of princes; was eminent for piety and prowess, and was highly respected by Nanda. The king had two wives of whom Sunanda was the elder — the other was of Sudra extraction; she was the favourite of the king, of great beauty and amiable character — her name was Mura. On one occasion the king in the company of his wives administered the rights of hospitality to a venerable ascetic, and after washing his feet sprinkled the queens with the water: nine drops fell upon the forehead of the elder, and one on Mura. This she received with reverence, and the Brahman was much pleased with her deportment.

Mura accordingly was delivered of one son, of most excellent qualities, who was named Maurya. Sunanda was delivered of a lump of flesh.

This Rakshasa divided into nine portions, which he put into a vessel of oil, and carefully watched.

By his cares nine infants were in time evolved, who were brought up by Rakshasa and called the nine Nandas after their progenitor.

The king when he grew old retired from the affairs of state, consigning his kingdom to these nine sons, and appointing Maurya to the command of the army.

Maurya had a hundred sons, of whom Chandragupta was the best, and they surpassed the Nandas in merit.

The Nandas being therefore filled with envy, conspired against his life, and inviting him and his sons into a private chamber put them to death.

At this time the Raja of Sinhala sent to the court of the Nandas a lion of wax in a cage, so well made that it seemed to be alive. And he added this message, ‘If any one of your courtiers can make this fierce animal run without opening the cage, I shall acknowledge him to be a man of talent.”

The dullness of the Nandas prevented their understanding the purport of the message; but Chandragupta, in whom some little breath yet remained, offered, if they would spare his life, to undertake the task, and this being allowed, he made an iron rod red-hot, and thrusting it into the figure, the wax soon ran, and the lion disappeared.

Although they desired his death, Chandragupta was taken by the Nandas from the pit into which he had been cast, and continued to live in affluence. He was gifted with all the marks of royalty: his arms reached to his knees; he was affable, liberal and brave; but these deserts only increased the animosity of the Nandas, and they waited for an opportunity of compassing his death.

Upon one occasion Chandragupta observed a Brahman of such irascible temperament, that he tore up violently a tuft of kusa grass, because a blade of it had pierced his foot: on which he approached him, and placed himself under his protection through fear of incurring the Brahman’s resentment.

This Brahman was named Vishnugupta, and was deeply read in the science of government taught by Usanas (Saturn), and in astronomy: his father, a teacher of niti or polity, was named Chanaka, and hence the son is called Chanakya.

He became the great friend of Chandragupta, who related to him all he had suffered from the Nandas.

On which Chanakya promised him the throne of the Nandas; and being hungry, entered the dinner-chamber, where he seated himself on the seat of honour.

The Nandas, their understanding being bewildered by fate, regarded him as some wild scholar of no value, and ordered him to be thrust from his seat. The ministers in vain protested against the act; the princes forcibly dragged Chanakya, furious with rage, from his seat.

Then, standing in the centre of the hall, Chanakya, blind with indignation, loosened the lock of hair on the top of his head, and thus vowed the destruction of the royal race: — “Until I have exterminated these haughty and ignorant Nandas, who have not known my worth, I will not again tie up these hairs.”

Having thus spoken, he withdrew, and indignantly quitted the city, and the Nandas, whom fortune had deserted, made no attempt to pacify him.

Chandragupta being no longer afraid of his own danger, quitted the city and repaired to Chanakya, and the Brahman Kautilya, possessed of the prince, resorted to crooked expedients for the destruction of the Nandas.

With this view he sent a friend, Indraserma, disguised as a Kshapanaka, as his emissary, to deceive Rakshasa and the rest, whilst on the other hand he excited the powerful Parvatendra to march with a Mlechchha force against Kusumapura, promising him half the kingdom.

The Nandas prepared to encounter the enemy, relying on the valour of Rakshasa. He exerted all his prowess, but in vain, and finding it impossible to overcome the hostile force by open arms, attempted to get rid of Maurya by stratagem; but in the meantime all the Nandas perished like moths in the flame of Chanakya’s revenge, supported by the troops of Parvatendra.

Rakshaha, being worn in body and mind, and having lost his troops and exhausted his treasures, now saw that the city could no longer be defended; he therefore effected the secret retreat of the old king Sarvarthasiddhi, with such of the citizens as were attached to the cause of the Nandas, and then delivered the capital to the enemy, affecting to be won to the cause of Chandragupta.

He prepared by magic art a poisoned maid, for the destruction of that prince; but Kautilya detected the fraud, and diverting it to Parvatesa caused his death; and having contrived that information of his share in the murder of the monarch should be communicated to his son, Malayaketu, he filled the young prince with alarm for his own safety, and occasioned his flight from the camp.

Kautilya, though master of the capital, yet knowing it contained many friends of Nanda, hesitated to take possession of it, and Rakshasa, taking advantage of the delay, contrived with Daruverma and others, machines and various expedients to destroy Chandragupta upon his entry: but Kautilya discovered and frustrated all his schemes.

He persuaded the brother of Parvateswara, Vairodhaka, to suspend his departure, affirming with solemn asseverations, that Rakshasa, seeking to destroy the friends of Chandragupta, had designed the poisoned maid for the mountain monarch. Thus he concealed his own participation in the act, and the crafty knave deceived the prince, by promising him that moiety of the kingdom which had been promised to his brother.

Sarvathasiddhi retired to the woods to pass his days in penance but the cruel Kautilya soon found means to shorten his existence.

When Rakshasa heard of the death of the old king he was much grieved, and went to Malayaketu and roused him to revenge his father’s death. He assured him that the people of the city were mostly inimical to Chandragupta and that he had many friends in the capital ready to co-operate in the downfall of the prince and his detested minister. He promised to exhaust all his own energies in the cause, and confidently anticipated Malayaketu’s becoming master of the kingdom, now left without a legitimate lord. Having thus excited the ardour of the prince, and foremost himself in the contest, Rakshasa marched against Maurya with an army of Mlechchhas or barbarians.

This is the preliminary course of the story — the poet will now express the subject of the drama. It begins with an equivoque upon the words Krura graha, in the dialogue of the prelude. This ends the introduction.


The Origin of the Mauryas (Buddhist Version)

The appellation of “Moriyan sovereigns” is derived from the auspicious circumstances under which their capital, which obtained the name of Moriya, was called into existence.

While Buddha yet lived, driven by the misfortunes produced by the war of (prince) Vidudabha, certain members of the Sakya line retreating to Himavanta, discovered a delightful and beautiful location, well watered, and situated in the midst of a forest of lofty bo and other trees. Influenced by the desire of settling there, they founded a town at a place where several great roads met, surrounded by durable ramparts, having gates of defence therein, and embellished with delightful edifices and pleasure gardens. Moreover that (city) having a row of buildings covered with tiles, which were arranged in the pattern of the plumage of a peacock’s neck, and as it resounded with the notes of flocks of “konchos” and “mayuros” (pea fowls) it was so called. From this circumstance these Sakya lords of this town, and their children and descendants, were renowned throughout Jambudipo by the title of “Moriya.” From this time that dynasty has been called the Moriyan dynasty.


The Legend of Susunago (Buddhist Version)

Who is this statesman named Susunago ? By whom was he brought up? He was tho son of a certain Licchavi raja of Vesali. He was conceived by a courtesan (“Nagarasobhini” literally “a beauty of the town”) and brought up by an officer of state. The foregoing is recorded in the Atthakatha of the priests of the Uttaravihara (of Anuradhapura). Such being the case, and as there is no want of accordance between our respective authorities, I shall proceed to give a brief sketch of his history.

Upon a certain occasion, the Licchavi rajas consulted together, and came to the resolution, that it would be prejudicial to the prosperity of their capital, if they did not keep up the office of ” Nagarasobhini tharantaran” (chief of courtesans). Under this persuasion, they appointed to that office a lady of unexceptionable rank. One of these rajas, receiving her into his own palace, and having lived with her, there, for seven days, sent her away. She had then conceived unto him. Returning to her residence, she was delivered, after the ordinary term of pregnancy. The issue proved to be an abortion. Deeply afflicted, and overwhelmed with shame and fear, causing it to be thrown into a basket, carefully covered with its lid, and consigning it to the care of a female slave, she had it placed, early in the morning, at the Sankharatanan (where all the rubbish and sweepings of a town are collected). The instant it was deposited there (by the slave), a certain nagaraja, the tutelar of the city, observing it, encircling it in its folds and sheltering it with its hood, assumed a conspicuous position. The people who congregated there, seeing (the snake), made the noise “su”, “su” (to frighten it away); and it disappeared. Thereupon a person who had approached the spot, opening (the basket) and examining it, beheld the abortion matured into male child, endowed with the most perfect indications of greatness. On making this discovery, great joy was evinced. A certain chief who participated in this exultation, taking charge of the infant removed him to his house; and on the occasion of conferring a name on him, in reference to the shouts of “su”, “su” above described, and to his having been protected by the nagaraja, conferred on him the name of “Susunago”.

From that time protected by him (the chief), and in due course attaining the wisdom of the age of discretion, he became an accomplished acharayo; and among the inhabitants of the capital, from his superior qualifications, he was regarded the most eminent person among them. From this circumstance, when the populace becoming infuriated against the raja Nagadasako deposed him, he was inaugurated monarch, by the title of Susunago raja.


The Legend of the Nandas (Buddhist Version)

Subsequent to Kalasoko, who patronised those who held the second convocation, the royal line is stated to have consisted of twelve monarchs to the reign of Dhammasoko, when they (the priests) held the third convocation. Kalasoko’s own sons were ten brothers. Their names are specified in the Atthakatha. The appellation of “the nine Nandos” originates in nine of them bearing that patronymic title.

The Atthakatha of the Uttaravihara priests sets forth that the eldest of these was of an extraction (maternally) not allied (inferior) to the royal family; and that he dwelt in one of the provinces: it gives also the history of the other nine. I also will give their history succinctly, but without prejudice to its perspicuity.

In aforetime, during the conjoint administration of the (nine) sons of Kalasoko, a certain provincial person appeared in the character of a marauder, and raising a considerable force, was laying the country waste by pillage. His people, who committed these depredations on towns, whenever a town might be sacked, seized and compelled its own inhabitants to carry the spoil to a wilderness, and there securing the plunder, drove them away. On a certain day, the banditti who were leading this predatory life having employed a daring, powerful, and enterprising individual to commit a robbery, were retreating to the wilderness, making him carry the plunder. He who was thus associated with them, inquired: “By what means do you find your livelihood?” “Thou slave,” (they replied) “we are not men who submit to the toils of tillage, or cattle tending. By a proceeding precisely like the present one, pillaging towns and villages, and laying up stores of riches and grain, and providing ourselves with fish and flesh, toddy and other beverage, we pass our life jovially in feasting and drinking.” On being told this, he thought: “This mode of life of these thieves is surely excellent: shall I, also, joining them, lead a similar life?” and then said, “I also will join you, I will become a confederate of your’s. Admitting me among you, take me (in your marauding excursions).” They replying “sadhu,” received him among them.

On a subsequent occasion, they attacked a town which was defended by well armed and vigilant inhabitants. As soon as they entered the town the people rose upon and surrounded them, and seizing their leader, and hewing him with a sword, put him to death. The robbers dispersing in all directions repaired to, and reassembled in, the wilderness. Discovering that he (their leader) had been slain; and saying, “In his death the extinction of our prosperity is evident: having been deprived of him, under whose control can the sacking of villages be carried on? even to remain here is imprudent: thus our disunion and destruction are inevitable:” they resigned themselves to desponding grief. The individual above mentioned, approaching them, asked: “What are ye weeping for?” On being answered by them, “We are lamenting the want of a valiant leader, to direct us in the hour of attack and retreat in our village sacks;” “In that case, my friends (said he) ye need not make yourselves unhappy; if there be no other person able to undertake that post, I can myself perform it for you; from henceforth give not a thought about the matter.” This and more he said to them. They, relieved from their perplexity by this speech, joyfully replied “sadhu;” and conferred on him the post of chief.

From that period proclaiming himself to be Nando, and adopting the course followed formerly (by his predecessor), he wandered about, pillaging the country. Having induced his brothers also to co-operate with him, by them also he was supported in his marauding excursions. Subsequently assembling his gang, he thus addressed them: “My men ! this is not a career in which valiant men should be engaged; it is not worthy of such as we are: this course is only befitting base wretches. What advantage is there in persevering in this career, let us aim at supreme sovereignty?” They assented. On having received their acquiescence, attended by his troops and equipped for war, he attacked a provincial town, calling upon (its inhabitants) either to acknowledge him sovereign, or to give him battle. They on receiving this demand, all assembled and having duly weighed the message, by sending an appropriate answer, formed a treaty of alliance with them. By this means reducing under his authority the people of Jambudipo in great numbers, he finally attacked Patiliputta (the capital of the Indian empire), and usurping the sovereignty, died there a short time afterwards, while governing the empire.

His brothers next succeeded to the empire in the order of their seniority. They altogether reigned twenty two years. It was on this account that (in the Mahavamsa) it is stated that there were nine Nandos.

Their ninth youngest brother was called Dhana-nando, from his being addicted to hoarding treasure. As soon as he was inaugurated, induced by miserly desires the most inveterate, he resolved within himself: “It is proper that I should devote myself to hiding treasure;” and collecting riches to the amount of eighty kotis, and superintending the transport thereof himself and repairing to the banks of the Ganges,—by means of a barrier constructed of branches and leaves interrupting the flow of the main stream, and forming a canal, he diverted its waters into a different channel; and in a rock in the bed of the river having caused a great excavation to be made, he buried the treasure there. Over this cave he laid a layer of stones to prevent the admission of water, poured molten lead on it. Over that again he laid another layer of stones, and poured a stream of molten lead (over it), which made it like a solid rock, he restored the river to its former course. Levying taxes among other articles, even on skins, gums, trees, and stones, he amassed further treasures, which he disposed of similarly. It is stated that he did so repeatedly. On this account we call this ninth brother of theirs, as he personally devoted himself to the hoarding of treasure, “Dhana-nando.”


The Legend of Chanakya and Chandragupta (Buddhist Version)

It is proper that, in this place, a sketch of these two characters should be given. Of these, if I am asked in the first place, Where did this Chanakya dwell? Whose son was he? I answer. He lived at the city of Taksasila. He was the son of a certain brahman at that place, and a man who had achieved the knowledge of the three vedas; could rehearse the mantras; skilful in stratagems; and dexterous in intrigue as well as policy. At the period of his father’s death he was already well known as the dutiful maintainer of his mother, and as a highly gifted individual worthy of swaying the chhatra.

On a certain occasion approaching his mother, who was weeping, he inquired: “My dear mother! why dost thou weep?” On being answered by her: “My child, thou art gifted to sway a chhatra. Do not, my boy, endeavour, by raising the chhatra, to become a sovereign. Princes everywhere are unstable in their attachments. Thou, also, my child, wilt forget the affection thou owest me. In that case, I should be reduced to the deepest distress. I weep under these apprehensions.” He exclaimed: “My mother, what is that gift that I possess? On what part of my person is it indicated?” and on her replying, “My dear, on thy teeth,” smashing his own teeth, and becoming “Kandhadatto” (a tooth-broken-man) he devoted himself to the protection of his mother. Thus it was that he became celebrated as the filial protector of his mother. He was not only a tooth-broken-man, but he was disfigured by a disgusting complexion, and by deformity of legs and other members, prejudicial to manly comeliness. (Hence his name “Kautilya” in the Hindu authorities)

In his quest of disputation, repairing to Puspapura, the capital of the monarch Dhana-nando,—who, abandoning his passion for hoarding, becoming imbued with the desire of giving alms, relinquishing also his miserly habits, and delighting in bearing the fruits that resulted from benevolence, had built a hall of alms-offerings in the midst of his palace, and was making an offering to the chief of the brahmans worth a hundred kotis, and to the most junior brahman an offering worth a lac,—this brahman (Chanakya) entered the said apartment, and taking possession of the seat of the chief brahman, sat himself down in that alms-hall.

At that instant Dhana-nando himself.—decked in regal attire, and attended by many thousands of “siwaka” (state palanquins) glittering with their various ornaments, and escorted by a suite of a hundred royal personages, with their martial array of the four hosts, of cavalry, elephants, chariots, and infantry, and accompanied by dancing girls, lovely as the attendants on the devas; himself a personification of majesty, and bearing the white parasol of dominion, having a golden staff and golden tassels,—with this superb retinue, repairing thither, and entering the hall of alms-offerings beheld the brahman Chanakya seated. On seeing him, this thought occurred to him (Nando): “Surely it cannot be proper that he should assume the seat of the chief brahman.” Becoming displeased with him, he thus evinced his displeasure. He inquired: “Who art thou, that thou hast taken the seat of the chief Brahman?” and being answered (simply), “It is I;” “Cast from hence this cripple brahman; allow him not to be seated,” exclaimed (Nando) and although the courtiers again and again implored of him, saying, “Deva! let it not be so done by a person prepared to make offerings as thou art; extend thy forgiveness to this brahman;” he insisted upon his ejection. On the courtiers approaching (Chanakya) and saying, “Achariyo! we come, by the command of the raja, to remove thee from hence; but incapable of uttering the words ‘Achariyo depart hence,’ we now stand before thee abashed;” enraged against him (Nando), rising from his seat to depart, he snapt asunder his brahmanical cord, and dashed down his jug on the threshold: and thus invoking malediction, “Kings are impious: may this whole earth, bounded by the four oceans, withhold its gifts from Nando;” he departed. On his sallying out, the officers reported this proceeding to the raja. The king, furious with indignation, toured, “Catch, catch the slave.” The fugitive stripping himself naked, and assuming the character of an ajivika, and running into the centre of the palace, concealed himself in an unfrequented place, at the Sankharathnan. The pursuers not having discovered him, returned and reported that he was not to be found.

In the night he repaired to a more frequented part of the palace, and meeting some of the suite of the royal prince Parvata, admitted them into his confidence. By their assistance, he had an interview with the prince. Gaining him over by holding out hopes of securing the sovereignty for him, and attaching him by that expedient, he began to search the means of getting out of the palace. Discovering that in a certain place there was a ladder leading to a secret passage, he consulted with the prince, and sent a message to his (the prince’s) mother for the key of the passage. Opening the door with the utmost secrecy, and escaping with the prince out of that passage, they fled to the wilderness of Vindhya.

While dwelling there, with the view of raising resources, he converted (by recoining) each kahapanan into eight, and amassed eighty kotis of kahapana. Having buried this treasure, he commenced to search for a second individual entitled (by birth) to be raised to sovereign power, and met with the aforesaid prince of the Moriyan dynasty called Chandragupta.

His (Chandragupta’s) mother, the queen consort of the monarch of Moriya-nagara, the city before mentioned, was pregnant at the time that a certain powerful provincial raja conquered that kingdom, and put the Moriyan king to death. In her anxiety to preserve the child in her womb, departing for the capital of Puspapura, under the protection of her elder brothers and under disguise, she dwelt there. At the completion of the ordinary term of pregnancy, giving birth to a son, and relinquishing him to the protection of the devas, she placed him in a vase, and deposited him at the door of a cattle pen. A bull named Chando stationed himself by him, to protect him; in the same manner that prince Ghoso, by the interposition of the devata, was watched over by a bull. In the same manner, also, that the herdsman in the instance of that prince Ghoso repaired to the spot where that bull planted himself, a herdsman, on observing this prince, moved by affection, like that borne to his own child, took charge of and tenderly reared him; and in giving him a name, in reference to his having been watched by the bull Chando, he called him “Chandragupta” and brought him up. When he had attained an age to be able to tend cattle, a certain wild huntsman, a friend of the herdsman, becoming acquainted with, and attached to him, taking him from (the herdsman) to his own dwelling, established him here. He continued to dwell in that village.

Subsequently, on a certain occasion, while tending cattle with other children in the village, he joined them in a game, called “the game of royalty”. He himself was named raja; to others he gave the offices of sub-king, &c. Some being appointed judges, were placed in a judgment hall; some he made officers of the king’s household; and others, outlaws or robbers. Having thus constituted a court of Justice, he sat in judgment. On culprits being brought up, regularly impeaching and trying them, on their guilt being clearly proved to his satisfaction, according to the sentence awarded by his judicial ministers, he ordered the officers of the court to chop off their hands and feet. On their replying, “Deva! we have no axes,” he answered “It is the order of Chandragupta that ye should chop off their hands and feet, making axes with the horns of goats for blades, and sticks for handles. They acting accordingly, on striking with the axe, the hands and feet were lopt off. On the same person commanding, “Let them be re-united,” the hands and feet were restored to their former condition.

Chanakya happening to come to that spot, was amazed at the proceeding he beheld. Accompanying (the boy) to the village, and presenting the huntsman with a thousand kahapana, he applied for him, saying, “I will teach your son every accomplishment; consign him to me.” Accordingly conducting him to his own dwelling, he encircled his neck with a single fold of a woollen cord, twisted with gold thread, worth a lac.

The discovery of this person is thus stated (in the former works): “He discovered this prince descended from the Moriyan line.”

He (Chanakya) invested prince Parvata, also, with a similar woollen cord. While these youths were living with him, each had a dream which they separately imparted to him. As soon as he heard each (dream), he knew that of these prince Parvata would not attain royalty; and that Chandragupta would, without loss of time, become paramount monarch in Jambudipo. Although he made this discovery, he disclosed nothing to them.

On a certain occasion having partaken of some milk-rice prepared in butter, which had been received as an offering at a brahmanical disputation, retiring from the main road, and lying down in a shady place protected by the deep foliage of trees, they fell asleep. Among them the Achariyo awaking first, rose, and, for the purpose of putting prince Parvata’s qualifications to the test, giving him a sword, and telling him: “Bring me the woollen thread on Chandragupta’s neck, without either cutting or untying it,” sent him off. Starting on the mission, and failing to accomplish it, he returned. On a subsequent day, he sent Chandragupta on a similar mission. He repairing to the spot where Parvata was sleeping, and considering how it was to be effected, decided: “There is no other way of doing it; it can only be got possession of, by cutting his head off.” Accordingly chopping his head off, and bringing away the woollen thread, presented himself to the brahman, who received him in profound silence. Pleased with him, however, on account of this (exploit), he rendered him in the course of six or seven years highly accomplished, and profoundly learned.

Thereafter, on his attaining manhood, deciding: “From henceforth this individual is capable of forming and controlling an army,” and repairing to the spot where his treasure was buried, and taking possession of, and employing it; and enlisting forces from all quarters, and distributing money among them, and having thus formed a powerful army, he entrusted it to him. From that time throwing off all disguise, and invading the inhabited parts of the country, he commenced his campaign by attacking towns and villages. In the course of their (Chanakya and Chandragupta’s) warfare, the population rose en masse, and surrounding them, and hewing their army with their weapons, vanquished them. Dispersing, they re-united in the wilderness; and consulting together, they thus decided: “As yet no advantage has resulted from war; relinquishing military operations, let us acquire a knowledge of the sentiments of the people.” Thenceforth, in disguise, they travelled about the country. While thus roaming about, after sunset retiring to some town or other, they were in the habit of attending to the conversation of the inhabitants of those places.

In one of these villages, a woman having baked some “appulapawa” (pancakes) was giving them to her child, who leaving the edges would only eat the centre. On his asking for another cake, she remarked “This boy’s conduct is like Chandragupta’s in his attempt to take possession of the kingdom.” On his inquiring, “Mother, why, what am I doing; and what has Chandragupta done?” “Thou, my boy, (said she) throwing away the outside of the cake, eat the middle only. Chandragupta also, in his ambition to be a monarch, without subduing the frontiers, before he attacked the towns, invaded the heart of the country, and laid towns waste. On that account, both the inhabitants of the town and others, rising, closed in upon him, from the frontiers to the centre, and destroyed his army. That was his folly.”

They, on hearing this story of hers, taking due notice thereof, from that time, again raised an army. On resuming their attack on the provinces and towns, commencing from the frontiers, reducing towns, and stationing troops in the intervals, they preceded in their invasion. After a respite, adopting the same system, and marshalling a great army, and in regular course reducing each kingdom and province, then assailing Pataliputra and putting Dhana-nando to death, they seized that sovereignty.

Although this had been brought about, Chanakya did not at once raise Chandragupta to the throne; but for the purpose of discovering Dhana-nando’s hidden treasure, sent for a certain fisherman (of the river) and deluding him with the promise of raising the chhatra for him, and having secured the hidden treasure; within a month from that date, putting him also to death, inaugurated Chandragupta monarch.


The Legend of Asoka (Northern Version)

The Lineage and Family of Asoka

KING Bimbisara reigned at Rajagriha. His son was Ajatasatru, whose son was Udayibhadra, whose son was Munda, whose son was Kakavarnin, whose son was Sahalin, whose son was Tulakuchi, whose son was Mahamandala, whose son was Prasenajit, whose son was Nanda, whose son was Bindusara.

King Bindusara reigned at Pataliputra, and had a son named Susima.

A certain Brahman of Champa had a lovely daughter. A prophecy declared that she was destined to be the mother of two sons, of whom one would become universal monarch, and the other would attain the goal of the life of a recluse. The Brahman, seeking the fulfillment of the prophecy, succeeded in introducing his daughter into the palace, but the jealousy of the queens

Debarred her from the royal embraces, and assigned to her the menial duties of a barber. After some time the girl managed to explain to the king that she was no barber but the daughter of a Brahman. When the king understood that she belonged to a caste with a member of which he could honourably consort, he at once took her into favour and made her chief queen. In due course, the Brahman’s daughter, whose name was Subhadrangi, bore to the king two sons, the elder named Asoka, and the younger named Vigatasoka.

The ascetic Pingala Vatsajiva, when consulted by King Bindusara concerning the destiny of the two boys, feared to tell his sovereign the truth, because Asoka was rough-looking and displeasing in the sight of his father; but he frankly told Queen Subhadrangi that her son Asoka was destined for the throne.

It came to pass that King Bindusara desired to besiege Taxila, which was in rebellion. The king ordered his despised son Asoka to undertake the siege, and yet would not supply him with chariots or the needful munitions of war. Ill-supplied as he was, the prince obediently started to carry out the king’s orders, whereupon the earth opened, and from her bosom supplied all his wants. When Asoka with his army approached Taxila, the citizens came forth to meet him, protesting that their quarrel was only with oppressive ministers, not with the king or the king’s son. Taxila and the kingdom of the Svasas made their submission to the prince, who in due course returned to the capital.

It came to pass that one day Prince Susima, the king’s eldest son, was coming into the palace from the garden when he playfully threw his glove at the head of the prime-minister Khallataka. The minister was deeply offended, and from that day engaged in a conspiracy with five hundred privy councillors to exclude Susima, and to place Asoka on the throne.

The people of Taxila again revolted, and Prince Susima, who was deputed to reduce them to obedience, failed in his task. King Bindusara, who was then old and ill, desired to send Asoka to Taxila, and to recall Susima, that he might take up the succession.

The ministers, however, contrived to exclude the elder prince, and to secure the throne for Asoka, on whose head the gods themselves placed the crown, at the moment when his father expired. Susima marched against Pataliputra, to assert his rights and expel the usurper; but Asoka and his minister Radhagupta obtained the services of naked giants, who successfully guarded the gates, and by stratagem Susima was inveigled, so that he fell into a ditch full of burning fuel, and there miserably perished.

The Tyranny and Conversion of Asoka

One day, when five hundred of his ministers ventured to resist the royal will, Asoka, transported with rage, drew his sword, and with his own hand cut off the heads of all the offenders.

Another day, the women of the palace, whom Asoka’s rough features failed to please, mocked him by breaking off the leaves of an asoka tree in the garden. The king, when he heard of the incident, caused five hundred women to be burnt alive.

The ministers, horrified at these acts of cruelty, entreated the king not to defile his royal hands with blood, but to appoint an executioner to carry out sentences.

The king accepted this advice, and a man named Chandagirika a wretch of unexampled cruelty, who loved to torture animals, and had slain his father and mother was sought out and appointed Chief Executioner. For his use the king caused to be built a prison, which had a most attractive exterior, so that men might be tempted to enter it, and thus suffer all the tortures of hell which awaited them within; for the king had commanded that no man who entered this prison- should leave it alive.

One day, a holy ascetic named Balapandita (Samudra in the metrical version) unwittingly entered the gate, and was instantly seized by the jailer. The holy man, though given seven days’ respite, was at the end of the term of grace ruthlessly cast into a seething cauldron of filth, beneath which a great fire was kindled. The cruel jailer, looking in, beheld the saint, seated on a lotus, and unscathed by fire. The miracle having been reported to the palace, the king himself came to see it, and being converted by the sight and the preaching of the holy man, embraced the true religion and forsook the paths of wickedness. The prison was demolished, and the jailer was burnt alive.

The above legend from the Asokavadana, which is given with further details by Hiuen Tsang (Beal, ii. 86), places the ‘prison’ or ‘hell’ at Pataliputra the capital.

Another form of the legend, which is merely referred to by Hiuen Tsang without comment, places the ‘hell’ at Ujjain in Malwa (Beal, ii. 271).

The conversion of the king, according to Hiuen Tsang, was due to the great saint Upagupta, whom he met after the destruction of the ‘ hell.’ With the aid of Upagupta, King Asoka summoned the genii and commanded them to build stupas throughout the land for the reception of the relics of Buddha’s body, which had been taken out of the eight stupas where they had originally been enshrined after the cremation of the Sakya sage. At the moment of a solar eclipse the genii, in obedience to the commands of the king and the saint, simultaneously deposited the relics in all the stupas.

The Avadana story is that when King Asoka desired to distribute the sacred relics of the body of Buddha among the eighty-four thousand stupas erected by himself, he opened the Stupa of the Urn, wherein King Ajatasatru had enshrined the cremation relics collected from seven of the eight original stupas. The eighth, that at Ramagrama, was defended by the guardian Nagas, who would not allow it to be opened. The relics thus withdrawn from the Stupa of the Urn were distributed among eighty-four thousand stupas, ‘resplendent as the autumn clouds,’ which were erected in a single day by the descendant of the Mauryas. ‘The worshipful, the fortunate Maurya caused the erection of all these stupas for the benefit of created beings; formerly he was called on earth Asoka the Wicked, but this good work has earned for him the name of Asoka the Pious.’

The metrical Avadana is still more extravagant than the prose form of the tale, and alleges that 3,510 millions of stupas were erected at the request of the people of Taxila, and that ten millions were erected by the Yakshas on the shores of the sea.

The Pilgrimage of Asoka

Having erected the eighty-four thousand stupas, King Asoka expressed a desire to visit the holy places of his religion. By the advice of his counsellors he sent for the saint Upagupta, son of Gupta the perfumer. Upagupta had been in accordance with prophecy born a century after the death of Buddha, and, when summoned by the king, was dwelling on Mount Urumunda in the Natabhatika forest near Mathura.

The saint accepted the royal invitation, and, accompanied by eighteen thousand holy men, travelled in state by boat down the Jumna and Ganges to Pataliputra, where he was received with the utmost reverence and honour.

The king said: ‘I desire to visit all the places where the Venerable Buddha stayed, to do honour unto them, and to mark each with an enduring memorial for the instruction of the most remote posterity.’ The saint approved of the project, and undertook to act as guide. Escorted by a mighty army the monarch visited all the holy places in order.

The first place visited was the Lumbini Garden. Here Upagupta said: ‘In this spot, great king, the Venerable One was born’; and added: ‘Here is the first monument consecrated in honour of the Buddha, the sight of whom is excellent. Here, the moment after his birth, the recluse took seven steps upon the ground.’

The king bestowed a hundred thousand gold pieces on the people of the place, and built g a stupa. He then passed on to Kapilavastu.

The royal pilgrim next visited the Bodhi-tree at Bodh Gaya, and there also gave a largess of a hundred thousand gold pieces, and built a chaitya. Rishipatana (Sarnath) near Benares, where Gautama had ‘turned the wheel of the law,’ and Kusinagara, where the Teacher had passed away, were also visited with similar observances. At Sravasti the pilgrims did reverence to the Jetavana monastery, where Gautama had so long dwelt and taught, and to the stupas of his disciples, Sariputra, Maudgalayana, and Maha Kasyapa. But when the king visited the stupa of Vakkula, he gave only one copper coin, inasmuch as Vakkula had met with few obstacles in the path of holiness, and had done little good to his fellow creatures. At the stupa of Ananda, the faithful attendant of Gautama, the royal gift amounted to six million gold pieces.

The Story of Vitasoka

Vitasoka (Vigatasoka), the king’s brother, was an adherent of the Tirthyas, who reproached the Buddhist monks as being men who loved pleasure and feared pain. Asoka’s efforts to convert his brother were met by the retort that the king was merely a tool in the hands of the monks. The king therefore resolved to effect his brother’s conversion by stratagem.

At his instigation the ministers tricked Vitasoka into the assumption of the insignia of royalty. The king when informed of what had happened feigned great anger, and threatened his brother with instant death. Ultimately he was persuaded to grant the offender seven days’ respite, and to permit him to exercise sovereign power during those seven days. During this period the fear of death so wrought upon the mind of Vitasoka that he embraced the doctrine of Buddha, in which he was instructed by the holy Sthavira Yasas. With difficulty the king was persuaded by the Sthavira Yasas to grant to his brother permission to become a monk. In order to initiate the novice gradually into the habits of the life of a mendicant friar, Asoka prepared a hermitage for him within the palace grounds. From this hermitage Vitasoka withdrew, first to the Kukkutarama monastery, and afterwards to Videha (Tirhut), where he attained to the rank of a saint (arahat). When Vitasoka, clad in rags, returned to the palace, he was received with great honour, and was induced to exhibit his supernatural powers. He then again withdrew to a distant retreat beyond the frontier, where he fell ill. Asoka sent him medicine, and he recovered.

In those days it happened that a devoted adherent of the Brahman ascetics threw down and broke a statue of Buddha at Pundra Vardhana in Bengal. As a penalty for the sacrilege eighteen thousand inhabitants of that city were massacred in one day by order of Asoka. Some time after another fanatic at Pataliputra similarly overthrew a statue of Buddha. The persons concerned, with all their relatives and friends, were burned alive, and the king placed the price of a dinara on the head of every Brahmanical ascetic.

Now, when the proclamation was published Vitasoka, clad in his beggar’s garb, happened to be lodging for the night in the hut of a cowherd. The good wife, seeing the unkempt and dishevelled appearance of her guest, was convinced that he must be one of the proclaimed ascetics, and persuaded her husband to slay him in order to earn the reward. The cowherd carried his victim’s head to the king, who was horrified at the sight, and was persuaded by his ministers to revoke the proclamation. Not only did he revoke the cruel proclamation, but he gave the world peace by ordaining that henceforth no one should be put to death.

In Fa-hien’s version of the legend the brother of the king is anonymous. The pilgrim tells us that the younger brother of King Asoka lived the life of a recluse on the Vulture’s Peak hill near Rajagriha, where he had attained to the rank of a saint (arhat). The king invited the recluse to the palace, but the invitation was declined. The king then promised that if his brother would accept the invitation, he would make a hill for him inside the city. ‘Then the king, providing all sorts of meat and drink, invited the genii, and addressed them thus: “I beg you to accept my invitation for tomorrow; but as there are no seats, I must request you each to bring his own.” On the morrow the genii guests came, each one bringing with him a huge stone, four or five paces square. After the feast, he deputed the genii to pile up their seats, and make a great stone mountain ; and at the base of the mountain with five massive square stones to make a rock chamber, in length about 35 feet, and in breadth 22 feet, and in height 71 feet or so.’

The same story is told by Hiuen Tsang in order to explain the origin of the stone dwelling which was still to be seen at Pataliputra in the seventh century A. D.

The Story of Mahendra, and the conversion of Ceylon

King Asoka early in his reign had a half-brother, the son of his mother, who was younger than the king, and belonged to a noble family. The young man was extravagant, wasteful, and cruel in disposition. In his dress also he aped the royal costume.

The indignation of the people became so great that the ministers ventured to remonstrate with the king, and to say: ‘Your majesty’s brother in his pride assumes a dignity beyond his due. When the government is impartial, the subjects are contented; when the subjects are content, the sovereign is at peace. We desire that you should preserve the principles of government handed down to us by our fathers, and that you should deliver to justice the men who seek to change those principles.’

Then King Asoka, weeping, addressed his brother and said: ‘I have inherited from my ancestors the duty of protecting my people; how is it that you, my own brother, have forgotten my affection and kindness? It is impossible for me at the very beginning of my reign to disregard the laws. If I punish you, I dread the resentment of my ancestors; if I pass over your transgressions, I dread the ill opinion of my people.’

The prince, bowing his head, admitted his error, and begged for nothing more than a respite of seven days. The king granted this request, and threw his brother into a dark dungeon, though he provided him with exquisite food and all other luxuries. At the end of the first day the guard cried out to the prisoner: ‘One day has gone; six days are left.’ By the time the sixth day had expired, the prisoner’s repentance and discipline were complete. He attained at once to the rank of a saint (arahat), and feeling conscious of miraculous powers, ascended into the air.

Asoka went in person to the dungeon, and told his brother that having now, contrary to expectation, attained the highest degree of holiness he might return to his place. Mahendra replied that he had lost all taste for the pleasures of the world, and desired to live in solitude. Asoka consented, but pointed out that it was unnecessary for the prince to retire to the mountains, as a hermitage could be constructed at the capital. The king then caused the genii to build a stone house, as already related.

Mahendra, after his conversion, journeyed to the south of India, and built a monastery in the delta of the Kaveri (Cauvery), of which the ruins were still visible nine hundred years later.

He is also related to have made, use of his supernatural powers to pass through the air to Ceylon, in which island he spread the knowledge of the true law, and widely diffused the doctrine bequeathed to his disciples by the Master. From the time of Mahendra, the people of Ceylon, who had been addicted to a corrupt form of religion, forsook their ancient errors and heartily accepted the truth. The conversion of Ceylon, according to Hiuen Tsang, took place one hundred years after the death of Buddha.

The Story of Kunala

In the seventh century A. D. pilgrims were shown a stupa at Taxila, which was said to have been built by Asoka to mark the spot where the eyes of his beloved son Kunala were torn out. The story of Kunala is to the following effect.

After the death of his faithful consort Asandhimitra, King Asoka, late in life, married Tishyarakshita, a dissolute and unprincipled young woman. She cast amorous glances on her stepson Kunala, her worthy predecessor’s son, who was famous for the beauty of his eyes. The virtuous prince rejected with horror the advances made by his stepmother, who then became filled with ‘the spite of contemned beauty,’ and changed her hot love into bitter hate. In pursuance of a deep-laid scheme for the destruction of him who by his virtue had put her vice to shame, the queen with honied words persuaded the king to depute Kunala to the government of distant Taxila.

The prince obediently accepted the honourable commission, and when departing was warned by his father to verify orders received, which, if genuine, would be sealed with an impression of the king’s teeth. The queen bided her time, with ever-growing hatred. After the lapse of some months she wrote a dispatch, addressed to the viceroy’s ministers at Taxila, directing them immediately on receipt of the orders to put out the eyes of the viceroy, Prince Kunala, to lead him and his wife into the mountains, and to there leave them to perish.

She sealed the dispatch with royal red wax, and, when the king was asleep, furtively stamped the wax with the impression of his teeth, and sent off the orders with all speed to Taxila. The ministers who received the orders knew not what to do. The prince, noticing their confusion, compelled them to explain. The ministers wished to compromise by detaining the prince in custody, pending a reference to the capital. But the prince would not permit of any delay, and said: ‘My father, if he has ordered my death, must be obeyed; and the seal of his teeth is a sure sign of the correctness of the orders. No mistake is possible.’ He then commanded an outcaste wretch to pluck out his eyes. The order was obeyed, and the prince, accompanied by his faithful wife, wandered forth in sightless misery to beg his bread.

In the course of their weary wanderings they arrived at Pataliputra. ‘Alas,’ cried the blind man, ‘what pain I suffer from cold and hunger. I was a prince; I am a beggar. Would that I could make myself known, and get redress for the false accusations brought against me.’ He managed to penetrate into an inner court of the palace, where he lifted up his voice and wept, and, to the sound of a lute, sang a song full of sadness.

The king in an upper chamber heard the strains, and thinking that he recognized the voice and touch as those of his son, sent for the minstrel. The king, when he beheld his sightless son, was overwhelmed with grief, and inquired by whose contrivance all this misery had come about. The prince humbly replied: ‘In truth, for lack of filial piety I have thus been punished by Heaven. On such and such a day suddenly came a loving order, and I, having no means of excusing myself, dared not shrink from the punishment.’

The king, knowing in his heart that Queen Tishyarakshita was guilty of the crime, without further inquiry caused her to be burnt alive, and visited with condign punishment every person, high or low, who had any share in the outrage. The officials were some dismissed, some banished, some executed. The common people were, according to one account, massacred, and, according to another, transported across the Himalayas to the deserts of Khotan.

In those days a great saint named Ghosha dwelt in the monastery by the holy tree of Mahabodhi. To him the king brought Kunala, and prayed that his son might receive his sight. The saint commanded that on the morrow a great congregation should assemble to hear his preaching of the Law, and that each person should bring a vessel to receive his tears. A vast multitude of men and women assembled, and there was not one of those who heard the sermon but was moved to tears, which fell into the vessels provided.

The saint collected the tears in a golden vase, and said these words: ‘The doctrine which I have expounded is the most mysterious of Buddha’s teaching; if that exposition is not true, if there is error in what I have said, then let things remain as they are; but, if what I have said is true and free from error, let this man, after washing his eyes with these tears, receive his sight.’

Whereupon Kunala washed in the tears and received his sight.

A Story of Tishyarakshita

Tishyarakshita, queen of King Asoka, in pursuance of her incestuous passion for her stepson, Prince Kunala, who repulsed her advances, resolved to avenge herself, and, in order to accomplish her purpose, took advantage of the king’s sufferings from a dangerous and apparently incurable disease, to acquire complete control over his mind, and for some days she was granted unrestrained use of the sovereign power.

Asoka, believing his malady to be incurable, gave the order: ‘Send for Kunala; I wish to place him on the throne. What use is life to me?’ Tishyarakshita hearing these words, thought to herself: ‘If Kunala ascends the throne, I am lost.’ Accordingly she said to King Asoka: ‘I undertake to restore you to health, but a necessary condition is that you forbid all physicians to have access to the palace.’ The king complied with her request, and she enjoined everybody to bring to her any person, man or woman, who might be suffering from the same malady as the king.

Now it happened that a man of the shepherd caste was suffering from the same malady. His wife explained his case to a physician, who promised to prescribe a suitable remedy after examining the patient. The man then consulted the physician, who brought him to Queen Tishyarakshita. She had him conveyed to a secret place, where he was put to death. When his body was opened she perceived in his stomach a huge worm, which had deranged the bodily functions. She applied pounded pepper and ginger without effect, but when the worm was touched with an onion, he died immediately, and passed out of the intestines. The queen then begged the king to eat an onion and so recover his health. The king replied: ‘Queen, I am a Kshatriya; how can I eat an onion?’

‘My lord,’ answered the queen, ‘you should swallow it merely as physician’s order to save your life.’ The king then ate the onion, and the worm died, passing out of the intestines.

The Dotage of King Asoka

The king resolved to give a thousand millions of gold pieces to the Master’s service, and when far advanced in years had actually given nine hundred and sixty millions. In the hope that the vow would be completed before he died he daily sent great treasures of silver and gold to the Kukkutarama monastery at the capital. In those days Sampadi, the son of Kunala, was heir-apparent. To him the ministers pointed out that the king was ruining himself by his extravagance, and would, if permitted to continue it, be unable to resist the attacks of other monarchs or to protect the kingdom.

The prince, therefore, forbade the treasurer to comply with the king’s demands. Asoka, unable to obtain supplies from the treasury, began to give away the plate which furnished the royal table, first the gold, next the silver, and finally the iron. When all the metallic ware had been exhausted, the ministers furnished the king’s table with earthenware. Then Asoka demanded of them, ‘Who is king of this country?’ The ministers did obeisance and respectfully replied: ‘Your majesty is king.’ Asoka burst into tears, and cried: ‘Why do you say from kindness what is not true? I am fallen from my royal state. Save this half-apple there is nought of which I can dispose as sovereign.’ Then the king sent the half-apple to the Kukkutarama monastery, to be divided among the monks, who should be addressed in this wise: ‘Behold, this is my last gift; to this pass have come the riches of the emperor of India. My royalty and my power have departed; deprived of health, of physic, and of physicians, to me no support is left save that of the Assembly of the saints. Eat this fruit, which is offered with the intent that the whole Assembly may partake of it, my last gift.’

Once more King Asoka asked his minister Radhagupta: ‘Who is sovereign of this country?’ The minister did obeisance and respectfully replied: ‘Sire, your majesty is sovereign of this country.’

King Asoka, recovering his composure, responded in verse, and said:

This earth, encinctured by its sapphire zone,

This earth, bedecked with gleaming jewels rare,

This earth, of hills the everlasting throne,

This earth, of all creation mother fair,

I give to the Assembly.

The blessing which attends such gift be mine;

Not Indra’s halls nor Brahma’s courts I crave,

Nor yet the splendours which round monarchs shine,

And pass away, like rushing Ganga’s wave,

Abiding not a moment.

With faith unchangeable, which nought can shake,

This gift of Earth’s immeasurable sphere

I to the Saints’ Assembly freely make ;

And self-control I crave, of boons most dear,

A good which changeth never.

According to Fa-hien (chapter xxvii), this gift of the empire was recorded in an inscription on a stone pillar to the south of Pataliputra. The site of the pillar has not been identified with certainty. The speech of Asoka in prose is as follows:

‘This earth, which ocean enwraps in a glorious garment of sapphire, this earth whereof the face is adorned with mines of diverse jewels, this earth, which supports all creatures and Mount Madara, I give to the Assembly.

‘As the reward of this good deed I desire not to dwell in the palace of Indra, nor yet in that of Brahma, nor do I in any wise desire the felicity of kingship, which, quicker even than running water, passes away and is gone.

‘The reward which I crave for the perfect faith whereby I make this gift is that self-control which the saints honour, and which is a good exempt from change.’

King Asoka, having thus spoken, sealed the deed of gift, and presently fulfilled the law of mortality.

The forty millions of gold pieces which yet remained to complete King Asoka’s vow for the gift of a thousand millions, were expended by the ministers in the redemption of the earth, and Sampadi was placed upon the vacant throne. He was succeeded by his son Vrihaspati, who was succeeded in order by Vrishasena, Pushyadharma, and Pushpamitra (Pusyamitra).

Pusyamitra and the End of the Mauryan Line

Sampadin’s son was Brihaspati who in turn, had a son named Vrsasena, and Vrsasena had a son named Pusyadharman, and Pusyadharman begot Pusyamitra.

One day, the latter asked his ministers: “What can I do to make my name renowned forever?”

“In your majesty’s lineage,” they answered, “there was a king named Asoka who built eighty-four thousand dharmarajikas. His fame will endure as long as the Buddhist religion survives. Let your majesty also build eighty-four thousand dharmarajikas, and so be famous like him.”

But the king said: “King Asoka was great and distinguished; is there not some other means?”

Now Pusyamitra had a Brahmin priest who was a mean and faithless man. He declared: “Your majesty, there are two ways to make a name endure forever. King Asoka built eighty-four thousand dharmarajikas and is thereby famous. If you, on the other hand, were to destroy those dharmarajikas, your name would endure even longer.”

Then King Pusyamitra equipped a fourfold army, and intending to destroy the Buddhist religion, he went to Kukkutarama; but at the gate, he heard a lion’s roar, and frightened, he retreated to Pataliputra. A second time, and then again a third time, the same thing happened. Finally, he summoned the community and said to the monks: “I am going to destroy the religion of the Blessed One – would you rather keep the stupas or the sangharama?” The monks decided to keep the stupas. Pusyamitra therefore destroyed the sangharama, killed the monks there, and departed.

After some time, he arrived in Sakala, and proclaimed that he would give a hundred dinara reward to whomever brought him the head of a Buddhist monk. Now there was a certain arhat there who lived in a dharmarajika, and he started creating heads by means of his supernatural powers and giving them to the king. When the king learnt what was happening, he resolved to have the arhat put to death. The saint then entered the trance of cessation but did not cross over to the other side. The king [unable to kill him] finally gave up and went to Kosthaka.

There the yaksa Damstranivasin reasoned: “[If Pusyamitra is not killed] the Buddhist religion will die out; but I maintain the precepts – it is not possible for me to harm anyone whomsoever!” Now another yaksa, Krmisa was seeking the hand of Damstranivasin’s daughter in marriage, but Damstranivasin had refused him saying, “you are an evil-doer!” Now, however, he agreed to give Krmisa his daughter, on the condition that he take appropriate measures for the rescue and continued protection of the Buddhist religion.

Now King Pusyamitra had always behind him as his bodyguard a very big yaksa. He was so strong that the king was never beaten. But Damstranivasin grabbed that yaksa who was Pusyamitra’s aide-de-corps, and went for a walk in the mountains. Pusyamitra then fled south to the great ocean; but there the yaksa Krmisa took up a great mountain and set it down on top of Pusyamitra, his troops and his chariots. He was then given name Sunihita (“Well-put- down”). With the death of Pusyamitra, the Mauryan lineage came to an end.

The Legend of Asoka (Southern Version)


The Conversion of Asoka

Kalasoka, king of Magadha, had ten sons, who after his death ruled the kingdom righteously for twenty-two years. They were succeeded by other nine brothers, the Nandas, who likewise, in order of seniority, ruled the kingdom for twenty-two years.

A Brahman named Chanakya, who had conceived an implacable hatred against Dhana Nanda, the last survivor of the nine brothers, put that king to death, and placed upon the throne Chandra Gupta, a member of the princely Maurya clan, who assumed the sovereignty of all India, and reigned gloriously for twenty-four years. He was succeeded by his son Bindusara, who ruled the land for twenty-eight years.

The sons of Bindusara, the offspring of sixteen mothers, numbered one hundred and one, of whom the eldest was named Sumana, and the youngest Tishya (Tissa). A third son, Asoka, uterine brother of Tishya, had been appointed Viceroy of Western India by his father. On receiving news of King Bindusara’s mortal illness, Asoka quitted Ujjain, the seat of his government, and hastened to Pataliputra (Patna), the capital of the empire. On his arrival at the capital, he slew his eldest brother Sumana, and ninety-eight other brothers, saving alive but one, Tishya, the youngest of all. Having thus secured his throne, Asoka became lord of all India, but by reason of the massacre of his brothers he was known as Asoka the Wicked.

Now it so happened that when Prince Sumana was slain, his wife was with child. She fled from the slaughter, and was obliged to seek shelter in a village of outcastes beyond the eastern gate. The headman of the outcastes, pitying her misery, entreated her kindly, and, doing her reverence, served her faithfully for seven years. On that very day on which she was driven forth from the palace she gave birth to a boy, on whom the name Nigrodha was bestowed. The child was born with the marks of sanctity, and when he attained the age of seven was already an ordained monk.

The holy child, whose royal origin was not known, happened one day to pass by the palace, and attracted the attention of the king, who was struck by his grave and reverend deportment. King Asoka, highly delighted, sent for the boy, who drew near with decorum and self-possession.

The king said, ‘My child, take any seat which thou thinkest befitting.’ Nigrodha, seeing that no priest other than himself was present, advanced towards the royal throne as the befitting seat. Whereupon King Asoka, understanding that this monk was destined to become lord of the palace, gave the boy his arm, and seating him upon the throne, refreshed him with meat and drink prepared for his own royal use.

Having thus shown his respect, the king questioned the boy monk concerning the doctrines of Buddha, and received from him an exposition of the doctrine of earnestness, to the effect that ‘earnestness is the way to immortality, indifference is the way to death.’ This teaching so wrought upon the heart of the king, that he at once accepted the religion of Buddha, and gave gifts to the priesthood. The next day Nigrodha returned to the palace with thirty-two priests, and by preaching the law, established king and people in the faith and the practice of piety. In this manner was King Asoka constrained to abandon the Brahmanical faith of his father, and to accept as a lay disciple the sacred law of Buddha.

These things happened in the fourth year after the accession of King Asoka, who in the same year celebrated his solemn coronation, and appointed his younger brother Tishya to be his deputy or vice-regent.

The sixty thousand Brahmans, who for three years had daily enjoyed the bounty of Asoka as they had enjoyed that of his predecessors on the throne, were dismissed, and in their place Buddhist monks in equal numbers were constantly entertained at the palace, and treated with such lavish generosity that four lakhs of treasure were each day expended. One day, the king, having feasted the monks at the palace, inquired the number of the sections of the law, and having learned that the sections of the law were eighty-four thousand in number, he resolved to dedicate a sacred edifice to each. Wherefore, the king commanded the local rulers to erect eighty-four thousand sacred edifices in as many towns of India, and himself constructed the Asokarama at the capital. All the edifices were completed within three years, and in a single day the news of their completion reached the Court. By means of the supernatural powers with which he was gifted, King Asoka was enabled to behold at one glance all these works throughout the empire.

From the time of his consecration as emperor of India, two hundred and eighteen years after the death of the perfect Buddha, the miraculous faculties of royal majesty entered into King Asoka, and the glory which he obtained by his merit extended a league above and a league below the earth.

The denizens of heaven were his servants, and daily brought for his use water from the holy lake, luscious, fragrant fruits, and other good things beyond measure and without stint.

The king, lamenting that he had been born too late to behold the Buddha in the flesh, besought the aid of the Snake-King, who caused to appear a most enchanting image of Buddha, in the full perfection of beauty, surrounded by a halo of glory, and surmounted by the lambent flame of sanctity, in honour of which glorious vision a magnificent festival was held for the space of seven days.

The Story of Mahendra and Sanghamitra, and the Conversion of Ceylon

While Asoka during his royal father’s lifetime was stationed at Ujjain as viceroy of the Avanti country, he formed a connexion with a lady of the Setthi caste, named Devi, who resided at Vedisagiri (Besnagar near Bhilsa). She accompanied the prince to Ujjain, and there bore to him a son named Mahendra, two hundred and four years after the death of Buddha. Two years later a daughter named Sanghamitra was born. Devi continued to reside at Vedisagiri after Asoka seized the throne; but the children accompanied their father to the capital, where Sanghamitra was given in marriage to Agni Brahma, nephew of the king, to whom she bore a son named Sumana.

In the fourth year after King Asdka’s coronation, his brother Tishya, the vicegerent, his nephew Agni Brahma, and his grandson Sumana were all ordained. The king, who had received the news of the completion of the eighty-four thousand sacred edifices, held a solemn assembly of millions of monks and nuns, and, coming in full state in person, took up his station in the midst of the priesthood. The king’s piety had by this time washed away the stain of fratricide, and he who had been known as Asoka the Wicked, was henceforth celebrated as Asoka the Pious.

After his brother Tishya had devoted himself to religion, Asoka proposed to replace him in the office of vicegerent by Prince Mahendra, but at the urgent entreaty of his spiritual director, Tishya son of Moggali (Mudgalya), the king was persuaded to permit of the ordination both of Mahendra and his sister Sanghamitra. The young prince had then attained the canonical age of twenty, and was therefore at once ordained. The princess assumed the yellow robe, but was obliged to defer her admission to the Order for two years, until she should attain full age. Mahendra was ordained in the sixth year of the king’s reign, dating from his coronation.

In the eighth year of the reign, two saints, named respectively Sumitra and Tishya, died. Their death was attended with such portents that the world at large became greatly devoted to the Buddhist religion, and the liberality of the people to the priests was multiplied. The profits so obtained attracted to the Order many -unworthy members, who set up their own doctrines as the doctrines of Buddha, and performed unlawful rites and ceremonies, even sacrifices after the manner of the Brahmans, as seemed good, unto them. Hence was wrought confusion both in the doctrine and ritual of the Church.

The disorders waxed so great that the heretics outnumbered the true believers, the regular rites of the church were in abeyance for seven years, and the king’s spiritual director, Tishya son of Moggali, was obliged to commit his disciples to the care of Prince Mahendra, and himself to retire into solitude among the mountains at the source of the Ganges.

Tishya, the son of Moggali, having been persuaded to quit his retreat, expelled the heretics, produced the Kathavatthu treatise, and held the Third Council of the Church at the Asokarama in Pataliputra. These events happened in the year 236 after the death of Buddha, and seventeen and a half years after the coronation of King Asoka.

In the same year King Devanampiya Tissa (Tishya) ascended the throne of Ceylon, and became the firm friend and ally of King Asoka, although the two sovereigns never met. The King of Ceylon, in order to show his friendship and respect, dispatched a mission to India, headed by his nephew, Maha Arittha. In seven days the envoys reached the port of Tamalipti (Tamluk in Bengal), and in seven days more arrived at the Imperial Court. They were royally entertained by King Asoka, who was graciously pleased to accept the rich and rare presents sent by his ally, in return for which he sent gifts of equal value. The envoys remained at the capital for five months, and then returned to the island by the way they had come, bearing -to their sovereign this message from King Asoka: ‘I have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Law, and the Order; I have avowed myself a lay disciple of the doctrine of the son of the Sakyas. Imbue your mind also with faith in this Triad, in the highest religion of the Jina; take refuge in the Teacher.’

After the close of the Third Council, which remained in session for nine months, Tishya the son of Moggali resolved that the law of Buddha should be communicated to foreign countries, and dispatched missionaries to Kashmir and Gandhara ; to Mahishamandala (Mysore) ; to Vanavasi (North Kanara) ; to Aparantaka (coast north of Bombay) ; to Maharashtra; to the Yavana country (on the north-western frontier) ; to the mountain regions of the Himalaya ; to Suvannabhumi (Pegu?) and to Ceylon.

The mission to Ceylon consisted of Prince Mahendra and five colleagues, of whom one was Sumana, his sister’s son.

Mahendra resolved, with the king’s permission, to visit his mother and her relations on his way to Ceylon, and devoted six months to this purpose.

He found his mother at her home in Vedisagiri, and, having been received with great joy, was accommodated in the splendid monastery at that place which she had erected. The preaching of Mahendra converted Bhandu, a grandnephew of his mother. After this event Mahendra lingered for another month, and then with his companions, to whom Bhandu attached himself, rose aloft into the air, and flying, as flies the king of swans arrived in Ceylon, and alighted upon the Missa mountain.

The first discourse pronounced by the leader of the mission converted the king, with forty thousand of his followers. The princess Anula, with five hundred of her attendants, desired to enter the Order, but was told that the male missionaries had no power to ordain females, who, however, might be ordained by the princess Sanghamitra.

The king of Ceylon, after due deliberation, again dispatched his nephew to King Asoka, with instructions to bring back Sanghamitra and a branch of the sacred io-tree. King Asoka, although grieving sorely at the separation from his beloved daughter, gave his consent to her deputation to Ceylon, and proceeded with much ceremony to sever a branch of the holy tree.

The severance was effected, signalized by many miracles, and the envoys, accompanied by Sanghamitra, were dispatched to the port of Tamalipti, escorted by an army commanded by King Asoka in person.

‘The vessel in which the bo-tree was embarked briskly dashed through the water; and in the great ocean, through the circumference of a league, the waves were stilled ; flowers of the five different colours blossomed around it, and various melodies of music rang in the air.’ The holy branch, thus miraculously wafted to the shore of the island, was received with due honour, and was planted in the Mahamegha garden, which the king had dedicated to the use of the Order. The branch threw off eight vigorous shoots, which were distributed and planted in as many localities.

In those days also the king of Ceylon built for Mahendra the Mahavihara, the first monastery of the island, and the construction of the Chetiyagiri (Mihintale) monastery followed soon after.

The princess Anula, in company with five hundred virgins and five hundred women of the palace, was duly ordained as a nun by Sanghamitra, and straightway attained the rank of Arahat. The king erected a nunnery for Sanghamitra, who there abode in peace, until she died in the fifty-ninth year after her ordination, that being the ninth year of the reign of the Ceylonese King Uttiya. Her brother Mahendra had passed away in the previous year, while observing the sixtieth ‘retreat’ since his ordination.

While King Asoka was engaged in the festivals connected with the dispatch of the branch of the bo-tree, another mission, headed by his grandson Sumana, arrived from Ceylon to beg for relics to be enshrined in the great stupa by the island .king. The request of this second mission also was granted by King Asoka, who bestowed upon his ally a dishful of holy relics, to which Sakra, lord of the Devas, added the right collar-bone of Buddha, extracted from the Chulamani stdpa. The relics were received with extreme honour, and enshrined with due ceremony in the Thuparama atilbpa, the moment being marked by a terrific earthquake. Witnessing this miracle, the people were converted in crowds, and the king’s younger brother joined the Order, which in those days received an accession of thirty thousand monks.

The Legend of the Third Church Council

When, as has been related, the heretics waxed great in numbers and wrought confusion in the Church, so that for seven years the rite of confession and other solemn rites remained in abeyance, King Asoka determined that the disorder should cease, and sent a minister to the Asokarama to compel the monks to resume the services. The minister, having gone there, assembled the monks and proclaimed the royal commands. The holy men replied that they could not perform the services while the heretics remained. Thereupon the minister, exceeding his instructions, with his own hand smote off the heads of several of the contumacious ecclesiastics as they sat in convocation. The king’s brother Tishya interfered, and prevented further violence.

The king was profoundly horrified and greatly alarmed at the rash act of his minister, and sought absolution. In accordance with the advice of the clergy, the aged Tishya, son of Moggali, was summoned from his distant retreat, and conveyed by boat down the Ganges to the capital, where he was received by the king with extraordinary honour and reverence.

Asoka, desiring to test the supernatural powers of the saint, begged that a miracle might be performed, and specially requested that an earthquake confined to a limited space might be produced. The saint placed a chariot, a horse, a man, and a vessel filled with water, one on each side of a square space, exactly on the boundary lines, and produced an earthquake which caused the half of each object within the boundary line to quake, while the other half of each remained unshaken. Satisfied by this display of power, Asoka inquired if the sacrilegious murder of the priests by the minister must be accounted as the king’s sin. The saint ruled that where there is no wilful intention, there is no sin, and, accordingly, absolved Asoka, whom he instructed fully in the truth.

The king commanded that all the priests in India, without exception, should be assembled, and taking his seat by the side of his spiritual director, examined each priest individually as to his faith. The saint decided that the doctrine of the Vaibadyavadin school was the true primitive teaching of the master, and all dissenters were expelled, to the number of sixty thousand. A thousand orthodox priests of holy character were then selected to form a convocation or Council. To these assembled priests, Tishya, son of Moggali, recited the treatise called Kathuvatthu in order to dissipate doubts on points of faith. The Council, following the procedure of the First Council at Rajagriha and the Second Council at Vaisali, recited and verified the whole body of the scriptures, and, after a session lasting nine months, dispersed. At the conclusion of the Council the earth quaked, as if to say ‘Well done,’ beholding the re-establishment of religion. Tishya, the son of Moggali, was then seventy-two years of age.

The Story of Tishya, the Viceregent

One day, Tishya, the younger brother of Asoka, and Vicegerent of the empire, happened to be in a forest, and watched a herd of elk at play. The thought occurred to him that when elks browsing in the forest divert themselves, there seems to be no good reason why monks well lodged and well fed in monasteries should not amuse themselves. Coming home, the vicegerent told his thoughts to the king, who, in order to make him understand the reason why, conferred upon him the sovereignty for the space of seven days, saying, ‘Prince, govern the empire for seven days, at the end of which I shall put thee to death.’ At the close of the seventh day the king asked the prince: ‘Why art thou grown so wasted?’ He replied, ‘ By reason of the horror of death.’ The king rejoined, ‘Child, thou hast ceased to amuse thyself, because thou thinkest that in seven days thou wilt be put to death. These monks are meditating without ceasing on death; how then can they engage in frivolous diversions?’

The prince understood, and became a convert. Some time afterwards he was on a hunting expedition in the forest, when he saw the saint Mahadharmarakshita, a man of perfect piety and freed from the bonds of sin, sitting under a tree, and being fanned with a branch by an elephant. The prince, beholding this sight, longed for the time when he might become even as that saint and dwell at peace in the forest. The saint, in order to incline the heart of the prince unto the faith, soared into the air and alighted on the surface of the water of the Asokarama tank, wherein he bathed, while his robes remained poised in the air. The prince was so delighted with this miracle that he at once resolved to become a monk, and begged the king for permission to receive ordination.

The king, being unwilling to thwart his pious desire, himself led the’ prince to the monastery, where ordination was conferred by the saint Mahadharmarakshita. At the same time one hundred thousand other persons were ordained, and no man can tell the number of those who became monks by reason of the example set by the prince.

The Last Days of Asoka

The branch of the holy bo-tree, brought to Ceylon in the manner above related, was dispatched in the eighteenth year of the reign of Asoka the Pious, and planted in the Mahameghavana garden in Ceylon.

In the twelfth year after that event, Asandhimitra, the beloved queen of Asoka, who had shared his devotion to Buddhism, died. In the fourth year after her decease, the king, prompted by sensual passion, raised the princess Tishyarakshita to the dignity of queen-consort. She was young and vain, and very sensible of her personal charms. The king’s devotion to the bo-tree seemed to her to be a slight to her attractions, and in the fourth year after her elevation her jealousy induced her to make an attempt to destroy the holy tree by art magic. The attempt failed. In the fourth year after that event, King Asoka the Pious fulfilled the lot of mortality, having reigned thirty-seven years.