As I rode my horse through the battlefield, I realized my father and my grandfather made sure this empire was built. It extended as far as the eye could see. My power can and will annihilate anyone, or anything, that stands in my way of victory. My empire is indestructible. However, as I look upon the carnage around me, listen to the silent screams of arrows whistling through the air towards their targets, hear the battle cries and screams of overpowered warriors, drown in the smell of ash and smoke, I wonder for the first time, is it all worth it?
One month has now passed since that day, and I now look upon my new territory, the land of Kalinga. When I arrived here, I felt emptiness. The broken gateway was made of gold columns. I could see that the city inside had clearly once been prosperous and the town hall was a beautiful piece of architecture. It was like a sparkling jewel in the light of the morning sun. Yet even this had not escaped the plague that enveloped the city. That’s when I saw the pyres burning at the edge of the city. My bodyguards and I rode toward the flames. I could not believe my eyes. The smoke rising into the sky was all-consuming. The pyre preparers glared at me with sheer contempt and pure hatred. And in that moment, I experienced something I had never felt before – a shiver up my spine, trembling in my legs and an iciness in the air around me. Fear.
I had destroyed their homes, snatched their freedom, shattered their way of life, ruined their families and broken their spirit. Their hatred was righteous, and I was a monster. There was disgust in their eyes. But I, Ashoka, was supposed to be the greatest ruler of them all, and they should be worshipping me. All I had wanted was to have this area under my rule as a part of my vast and prosperous kingdom. I did not want to destroy this land.
When we got back to my palace, I asked my advisor how many people had died during the battle. He replied, “Over 100,000.”
One hundred-thousand lives lost! And I was the monster responsible for this atrocious act. That night, I was haunted by the feeling of death. I saw it, smelled it, heard it and even touched it. And yet, I was back there the next morning and the next after that. The streets that once smelled of jasmine and roses, now reeked of burning flesh. The houses where mothers once sang lullabies were now filled with painful wailings of wives and children. The blank eyes and stone faces of people going about their work as if mechanically, hit me hard. Their grief and my guilt were unbearable.
Even my mother´s affectionate embrace could not alleviate the guilt I felt. I remembered her words. She had tried her level best to dissuade me from waging this war. But I was blinded by power and ambition. I wanted it all. How could a small country like Kalinga have the audacity to refuse to subjugate to the mighty Emperor Ashoka!
And then, I suddenly came upon this little group of simply dressed young monks chanting and helping people tirelessly as if unaffected by their surroundings. I had seen them before, before the war and they seemed to have the same expression as they had now. They chanted and seemed to be at peace. Oddly enough, their calm composure in the midst of this chaos seemed very strange.
The words of an old and once nobleman of this town resounded in my ears, “Your apologetic words can never return us our lives, our country, our people. Your greed and ego have destroyed us all. Is this what you wanted? You are incapable of giving a single life but responsible for taking away so many others. Go away!”
It was almost twilight now. I saw the monks walking away. As they passed me, I expected the same hatred, but there was none. This intrigued me and I started following them, as if a force was guiding me. I was oblivious to where I was headed until I reached the edge of their monastery. They entered and I followed. I was guided by another young monk inside the monastery. I felt a strange peace in the air and a calming silence amongst the chants. I knelt at the feet of the senior monk who looked at me. I recognized him. I had seen him before. My mother listened to his discourses often.
“O, Holy one, I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. I am lost. Help me.”
“Get up, O courageous one,” he said. “You were lost, and now you are found.”
“What do I do, to make things right?” I asked.
“Try and help rebuild the lost glory, win the hearts, and not the acres. Give up violence. Help treat the wounds of the injured.”
“I will,” I replied, and I did.
The next morning, I gave orders to immediately open treatment centers and hospitals for all the people affected by the battle. Shelters were to be opened for anyone and everyone requiring a place to stay. All steps were to be taken and state resources employed to bring back normalcy to the lives of the people affected by this war.
I pledged, there would never again be another Kalinga war in my lifetime. I would dedicate the rest of my life to development and upliftment of people in every way possible.
This was inspired by a true story: The Battle of Kalinga was a life changing event in the life of the Indian Emperor Ashok. After the Battle of Kalinga, Ashoka converted to Buddhism, and went as far and wide as he could possibly go, all the while promoting non-violence. He was the Emperor of the Maurya Dynasty and established the most powerful empire in the Indian subcontinent. He is most famously remembered for his architectural marvels, including the three headed lion, and Ashoka´s Chakra, which lies in the center of the Indian national flag.