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Emperor Ashok and Jainism

Updated on July 12, 2016

We know that Mauryan Emperor Ashok got converted to Buddhism after the war of Kaling. But what religion he was following before becoming a Buddhist? A brief history.

Ashok Chakra
Ashok Chakra

Emperor Ashok was the third Emperor of Mauryan dynasty who ruled from 269 B.C.E. to 232 B.C.E. from Patliputra (Present day Patna) in India. He was grandson of Chandragupt Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty and a son of Bindusar, the second emperor of the dynasty. Ashok's empire was spread almost all over Indian sub continent, including today's Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangla Desh. He is known as one of the greatest emperors of India.

Kalinga, which is present day Orissa was not a part of Mauryan empire until Emperor Ashok invaded it. He embraced Buddhism after the mass killings of soldiers of both sides in Kaling war. Thereafter, he became a staunch Buddhist and propagated this religion throughout Indian subcontinent.

Now the question remains. What was the religion of Emperor Ashok before he converted to Buddhism?

Before Converting to Buddhism

If you search on the internet and in the books for the religion of Emperor Ashok before Converting to Buddhism, you will find that most of the writers have avoided to mention his ex-religion. Some of them have mentioned that Emperor Ashok converted to Buddhism from Hinduism, i.e. he was a Hindu. The writers who have avoided to mention his ex-religion know that what was it, but do not want to disclose it. Those who think that the Emperor was a Hindu are wrong as there was no religion named Hindu at that time period. If they want indirectly to say that it was the Vedic religion, then also they are wrong, as the Magadhans were never supporters of Vedic religion, and this region was always anti-Vedic. The Mauryans always embraced, supported and propagated Shramanic religions.

We must note that Chandragupt Maurya, the Grandfather of Emperor Ashok was a Jain. This fact is confirmed by Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador in Emperor Chandragupt's court. Further, there are lot of references to Chandragupt's affiliation with Jainism. In his later days, Chandragupt became a Jain ascetic. (Please read more at: )

Emperor Bindusar, father of Emperor Ashok was follower of Ajivik sect. This sect was another stream of Shramanic tradition. Ajivik sect was later absorbed by Digambar sect of Jainism.

Emperor Ashok was influenced by Jainism because of his grandfather Chandragupt Maurya.

Early Faith of Emperor Ashok

We must note that the evidences of Emperor Ashok's conversion to Buddhism we find are primarily from Buddhist texts. None of his edicts clearly indicates that he was converted to Buddhism. In fact, he was a secular Emperor in his public life who supported all the 4 major religions of that time namely Jainism, Buddhism, Brahminism and Ajivik sect.

According to Buddhist texts, the emperor sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghmitra to Sri Lanka for propagating Buddhism. But there is no mention of these two in any of the edicts of the emperor. There is no mention of sending missionaries to Sri Lanka by him in the edicts.

Some scholars have questioned his conversion to Buddhism.

However his few edicts of later period indicate his attraction towards Buddhism. One evidence of his conversion is that he erected rock pillars at Buddhist sites, but at the sites of other religions.

But most of his edicts are influenced by Jainism. We know from his edicts that he was against animal sacrifice and he did a lot of things for animal welfare. Both these things are especially related to Jainism.

Family Religion of Emperor Ashok

It is important to know about the religions of family members of the emperor. According to Jain and Buddhist sources, the emperor had two queens of much importance. Elder was a Jain by religion, younger was Buddhist. The Jain queen had a son named Kunal. He was selected as the successor of the empire by Ashok. As Kunal was a blind, his son Samprati looked after the empire.

Samprati became another great emperor of Mauryan dynasty. He was a staunch Jain, a pupil of the great Jain Acharya Suhasti. Samprati sent Jain missionaries to Andhra and Tamil Nadu. He brought many regions under influence of Jainism.

We must think that why Ashok selected the son of his Jain queen as his successor and sent son of Buddhist queen to propagate Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

-Mahavir Sanglikar


Jainism, or The Early Faith of Asoka by Edward Thomas

Asoka's mission to Ceylon and some connected problems By JYOTIRMAY SEN The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. 4:4 , 1928

Bharatiy Itihas Ek Drishti by Jyoti Prasad Jain Published by Bharatiy Gyanpeeth New Delhi

Wikipedia on Ashoka


Submit a Comment
  • jainismus profile imageAUTHOR

    Mahaveer Sanglikar 

    7 years ago from Pune, India

    Thank you Didge for reading the Hub and appreciating it.

  • Didge profile image


    7 years ago from Southern England

    Fantastic hub jainismus and a good addition to Hubpages! Thanks for sharing!

  • jainismus profile imageAUTHOR

    Mahaveer Sanglikar 

    7 years ago from Pune, India


    Thank you for the appreciation.

  • profile image

    Sri Balananda 

    7 years ago

    Dear sir,

    asoka sent missionaries allover the world and made it as popular as we see it today. the question is why did he not make jainsim so popular.

    why did he fight against the jain kharavelas of kalinga? jainism was into ahimsa right? his father bindusara was of brahamanic persusion.

    and siddharta was a shaivite before enlightenment, as his cousin devdatta kills a swan. if they were jains why will such an episode come to us?

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    With hands palm to palm I bow to you sir...and thank you SO much for your kind gift of information!I myself have encountered this information...a bit here and a bit there...but this was an excellent Hub that put it together so well!Could a connection between the Vedic peoples who brought the foundations of the sanatanadharma with them from the steppes of the Persian Empire and Ashoka be made?

  • jainismus profile imageAUTHOR

    Mahaveer Sanglikar 

    7 years ago from Pune, India

    Off course, it was nothing other than the Shramanic religion of Parshwanath, as the parents of Gautam Buddha were followers of it.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    nice article, but what was the religion of shakyan peoples or tribe before siddharth gautama(shakyanmuni) was born, as he is referred as the founder of buddhism.

  • jainismus profile imageAUTHOR

    Mahaveer Sanglikar 

    8 years ago from Pune, India

    Rohit, Kalpesh,

    Thank you for reading this Hub.

  • jainismus profile imageAUTHOR

    Mahaveer Sanglikar 

    8 years ago from Pune, India

    Well, Jainism was never against wars, but Buddhism was. This may be the question to your answer, but I think that the reason 'non violence' for adopting Buddhism given by Buddhists is false a false one. They just invented this reason to put into the story.

  • profile image

    Dr D N Yogeesh 

    8 years ago

    Of course your argument is correct.But One question arise here.Because of ahimsa ashoka followed buddism.jainism also preached ahimsa why he did not continued in the same religion?

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    interesting... would love to read more in details

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    it is also mentioned that Emperor Ashoka raised about 10 thousand of buddha stupa.


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