|Fig.1: You know you're great when your emblem includes multiple lions.
The Maurya Empire was founded 322 years Before Crullers by Ashoka's grandpa, Chandragupta. It is rumored that when Alexander the Great's army reached India, a 14-year-old Chandragupta joined his ranks only to spread rumors about how tough the Indian army was, saying that they were able to stop sword blows with their bare hands, shoot lasers from their eyes, and drink cough syrup without chasing it down with fruit juice or anything! The plan worked, and Alexander's wussy army convinced him to turn back, effectively ending his Godzilla-like rampage throughout Asia. Eventually Chandragupta fought his way to the top, overthrew the ruling Nanda Empire, defeated Alexander's satrapies (governors) in present-day Pakistan, and beat Super Mario Bros.without using any of the warp zones. It's little wonder that he isn't known as "Chandragupta the Great," but I suppose he didn't have that je ne sais quoi to earn that distinction, and was friend-zoned into being just a regular old emperor.
|Fig.2: A representation of what Ashoka's Hell was like,
or the hot tub at your family reunion. One of the two.
Of course, Ashoka had his fair share of military victories and conquests. He expanded his empire to include the vast majority of the Indian subcontinent, including chucks of territory from present-day Burma, Iran, Afghanistan, and even a summer retreat in Maui. But one piece of territory had always given his predecessors trouble: Kalinga, the furtlie land on the northern part of India's eastern coast. Chandragupta invaded but was repulsed. Ashoka's father, Bindusara, led an army but couldn't consolidate his rule there. His brother, Sushim, asked a Kalingan girl out once, and she gave him a fake number. Ashoka was having none of that. He led an army of (according to his own records) 400,000 soldiers to take care of business in 261 BC. A bloody battle ensued that left (once again, according to that exaggerating Ashoka) 200,000 Kalingans dead, and forced the territory to finally become part of the Maurya Empire.
|Fig.3: The size and awesomeness of his empire
didn't make Ashoka feel better after the
Battle of Kalinga, not one bit!
Ashoka's traumatic reaction to the Battle of Kalinga also convinced him to turn to a certain peaceful religion that originated in northeastern India: Buddhism. Two hundred years after a man with hippie-ish qualities named Siddhartha Gautama taught the ways of the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths and the Six Geese A-Laying, Buddhism was still a small-time player in the Indian religion game. Ashoka's conversion changed that, and he promoted Buddhism throughout his empire. Evidence for this lies in the "Edicts of Ashoka," a collection of more than thirty discovered engravings on pillars and rock walls meant to brainwash...I mean, inform his subjects on the laws and moral axioms that should be followed. The main point was to live life through dharma: treat people through gratitude and respect, do not engage in unnecessary violence, respect the differences in others, and don't kill any porcupines. That last thing is not just me making a dumb joke; Ashoka really didn't want you to kill porcupines, as well as a few other specifically named animals, like parrots and tortoises. Well somebody has a membership to the World Wildlife Fund!
He also attempted to spread Buddhism beyond the borders of his empire. He sent his son and daughter to Sri Lanka (the island on the southern tip that makes India looks like it's crying like a subcontinental baby) and they successfully converted the populous there. This caused Buddhism to then spread to Sri Lanka's trading buddies in Southeast Asia (modern Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, etc.), so you can easily liken it to a row of dominoes (or, in the case of Southeast Asia, maybe a venereal disease). Ashoka even sent letters and emissaries to the Greek kingdoms in the west, attempting to open their eyes to the teachings of the Buddha. Of course they, being Greeks, had enough philosophies and ideologies to argue about, and didn't need yet another religion to create even more divisions (Christianity would take care of that eventually). Anyway, Buddhism remained a hit in South Asia thanks to Ashoka, and it would slowly spread northeastward to the kingdoms in China, Korea, and Japan as well. Not only was the Buddha's teachings easy to connect with the prevailing Eastern philosophies at the time, he also possessed a certain seductiveness about him (fig.4).
|Fig.4: Whoa now, Buddha! Don't give me that "come hither" look!