This well-researched work of fiction is based on the life of Atoka Maurya, arguable the greatest monarch to rule India. This epic tale begins as prince Ashoka, Viceroy of Takshashila, fights his half-brother, Sushim to claim the throne. He then conquers Kalinga, the last remaining Independent kingdom in Jambudvipa (India).
Appalled by the bloodshed of the Kalinga war, the emperor turns pacifist. He marries the widow of Kalinga’s former king and embraces Buddhism.
Intrigue, romance, adventure, religion and philosophy are all woven into this fast-paced novel. It traces the dramatic trajectory of history and tells a taut, gripping tale.
Emmanuel Sumitra Modak is one of the very last surviving officers of the (Imperial) Indian police (IP). He still remains the youngest ever IP officer to be awarded the Indian Police medal. He started his career in 1941 as an Assist ant Superintendent of Police in Satara District, one of two districts in India most affected by violent opposition to British rule. A distinguished 37-year career that followed saw him serve as Poona’s first ever Police Commissioner, Inspector General of Police of Jammu & Kashmir and Commissioner of Police, Mumbai. He retired as Director General of Police, Maharashtra. A voracious reader and prolific writer, he is the author of several crime novels, an autobiography Sentinel of the Sahyadris and numerous essays and articles.
This book is a historical novel and therefore required me to do research to understand the period and the historical figures of that time. Yet I maintain that this is more fiction than historical treatise.
Ashoka has held a fascination for me ever since I was a boy and used to read about his exploits and adventures while ensconced in the boughs of an ancient mango tree in our garden. As a young man, I resolved to write a book about a king who, without a doubt, has to be one of the three or four greatest figures in Indian history.
The sources on Ashoka were his inscriptions carved on the stone pillars and rocks during his reign, and Buddhist legends derived from l) the two Ceylonese works in Pali, namely, the Dipavamas and the Mahavamsa, and 2) the Tibetan work in Sanskrit called the Divyavandana. There is a third set of sources which described conditions in the Mauryan Empire. Among these are the classical accounts (from Greek and Roman writers), and the Arthashastra, the Manual on Polity, ascribed to Kautilya.
The Arthashastra was said to have been composed by Kautilya, Chandragupta’s astute mentor and Prime Minister. That Chandragupta’s administration was run more or less on the lines advocated there in, is shown by the extant fragments on Megasthenes’ Indica. That the administration could not have been very different at the time of his son, Bindusara, and grandson, Ashoka, is clear from certain references in Ashoka’s Edicts.
The Ceylonese and Tibetan legends were written many centuries after Ashoka. Moreover, they were written from the point of view of the Buddhist monks. They contained many exaggerations, such as the patently ridiculous incidents of Ashoka killing his ninety—nine brothers and boiling a Buddhist monk in a cauldron of oil in order to get his throne, or to show his hatred of the Buddhist Order, till his conversion.
The best source about Ashoka is his own inscriptions. Every sentence, if not every word, evoked sincerity and honesty His object in issuing his Edicts was never to glorify himself as Darius did in his own Edicts. His sole object was to spread his Dhamma — the Law of Piety — by the acceptance of which he thought that human beings could change their own nature, and usher in an era of peace and goodwill. Any reference either to his administration or himself occurred only in passing. And though the most powerful ruler of his time, he preferred to call himself just ‘King’ and not ‘King of Kings’ or ‘Emperor.’
After studying the historical material (given in the bibliography) I came to the conclusion that historians resort to speculation about what must have happened, even though this is based on insufficient premises. As examples, I would like to cite two. One historian has argued that Asl1oka’s Dhamma was his own adaptation of Buddhism. But as D.R. Bhandarkar has shown, this Dhamma was nothing but the Buddha’s exhortation to householders, as contained in the Sigalovada Sutta. The second example is the attempt made by a recent historian of Ashoka to prove that Ashoka’s Dhamma was the result of a calculated ploy to consolidate his economic and political power. Mauryan power had already been consolidated in India since the time of Chandragupta, as it had never been done before, and would never be done thereafter. The enforcement of Buddhism as a State religion did anything but cement this power. It led to a strong reaction from the Brahmins and Kshatriyas, especially the ban on animal sacrifice and the eating of certain kinds of meat. It weakened the strength of the Army and its will to fight. This was brought out dramatically one morning, forty years after Ashoka’s death, when Pushyamitra, the Brahmin Senapati (Commander—in-Chief) of the Mauryan Army; called Bruhadratha, the last of the Mauryan Kings, for a review of his troops, and cut off his head in their presence, without any sign of protest. He then proceeded to establish his own dynasty, which undid all that the Mauryas had done.
Using the license allowed to novelists, I have indulged in a bit of speculation, myself The latest research indicates that the Brahmi Script was not the outcome of a gradual process, but was invented a little before or at the time of Ashoka. That it was lost in limbo not long after Ashoka’s death is clear from the fact that Fa Hien, who visited India in the fourth century AD, was unable to get anybody to decipher it.
The Brahmi Script, I am persuaded, is a sensible phonetic Script, superior in many respects to the Devanagari (first found in the middle of the second century AD.) The only reason why it was abandoned could be the one given in my novel. No one knew who invented the Script. I have, therefore, allowed myself to indulge in the fancy that it was done by a girl called Brahmi (naturally she had to be beautiful), of Greek and Indian parentage. Diodorus relates the story of a Greek author named Iambolous, who was received hospitably in the Court of King Bindusara. I have made him the father of Brahmi.
In circa AD 150, Rudradaman, the then King of Gujarat, carved an inscription below Ashoka’s Inscription at Girnar, in Sanskrit. He said therein that the ‘Yavana Raja Tushaspa’ was Ashoka’s Governor at Surashtra, and that he had sluice-gates constructed on the famous Lake of Sudarshan. That is all that we know of Tushaspa; I have made him the second most important character in my novel.
The Chinese had it that the art of boxing was introduced into China by the Indian Buddhist Monk Bodhidharma, who travelled to China in the sixth century AD and stayed in the Shao—Lin monastry for several years. It is further said that observing that many of the novices were physically too weak to perform the hard spiritual exercises that were required, he taught them a system of boxing that was later developed into the art of unarmed combat.
Whether this might be true, there can be no doubt that Bodhidharma was a very remarkable man. With his brilliant analytical mind, he cut through all speculative thoughts and founded the school of Dhyana, which became the basis of Buddhist thought in China, and later, in Japan. In my novel, the character of Dharmavira alias Darshaka is based on that of Bodhidharma. I must confess that, once again, I have used the licence permitted to a novelist to anticipate him by a few centuries.
In consolidation with this same character, I must say a word about the doctrine of Bodhi or Samadhi or Satori through unarmed combat. The theory of Love and Harmony being at the root of success in unarmed combat, as much as in Satori, has been discovered by another remarkable man (who belonged to our times), Morehei Uyeshiba, the father of martial arts like judo and Karate. It can be applied to any aspect of life, and is in fact a philosophy of life, based on the control of Ki. This Ki is nothing but the Prana of the yogis of old. The sole object of the yogi was to attain Samadhi - the union of the individual soul with the Universal Forces through Pranayama, the control of Prana.
Some readers might feel that I have given undue space to warfare and battle tactics. My answer to this view is that battles have occupied a large part of Indian history. Indians have lost their country to foreign invaders on several occasions, not only because of internal dissensions, but because of their undue reliance on static warfare and frontal assaults. This was never illustrated more dramatically than on the 21st of April 1526, when Babur, a soldier of fortune and the founder of the Mugul Empire, debouched on the field of Panipat with scarcely 12,000 troops and defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi, who had a Force of 100,000 (including 1,000 elephants). To hold the frontal assault of the enemy, Babur put an extended barricade of 1,000 bullock-carts tied together, and placed behind them his matchlockmen. When Lodi was deeply committed to the assault, Babur executed the classical Cannae maneuvre on his flake with his cavalry and mounted bowmen.
I should like to say something about another important character in my novel, the Royal Courtesan, Vasavadatta. In a lovely poem titled Abhisar (Assignation), Rabindranath Tagore narrated a story told by a Bodhisatva. One night Vasavadatta, the beautiful courtesan of Mathura, was walking along, when her foot touched someone sleeping at the foot of the city wall. Holding her lamp down, she saw the handsome young Buddhist monk, Upagupta. Smiling, she asked him to leave the hard ground and share her warm bed with her. Upagupta, who eventually became the head of the Buddhist Order in India, replied that the time for his assignation with her had not yet come. YX/hen it did, he would certainly meet her.
Many years later, Vasavadatta, now an old woman, had smallpox and the townsmen of Mathura threw her outside the same city walls. Upagupta happened to be passing by and saw her. Sitting down, he cradled her head on his lap, rubbed her body with oil of sandle wood and ministered to her. ‘The time for my assignation has at last come, Vasavadatta he said.
I reasoned that if Vasavadatta was a contemporary of Upagupta, she must have been a contemporary of Ashoka also, and that, in view of her great beauty, and her knowledge of the sixty-four arts,’ she could in the natural course of events, have become the Royal Courtesan of Pataliputra. The Classical accounts (that is, the accounts of Greek and Roman writers) show that the Royal Courtesan had a special place of honour in royal processions – immediately behind the Queens.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend