Name of the Battle : The Kalinga War
Venue : Kalinga, India
Year : 261 BC
One of the most famous wars in Indian history and also one of the bloodiest battles in World history, the Kalinga War was fought between Ashoka, the great Mauryan Emperor, and the ruler of the State of Kalinga, a feudal republic located on present-day Odisha and northern parts of Andhra Pradesh.
The reasons that led to the battle
Historians have different views regarding the reasons that compelled Ashoka to invade Kalinga. When Ashoka, the son of the Mauryan emperor Bindusara and the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, the first Mauryan Emperor, ascended the throne of Magadha in 273 BC, he also wanted to follow the footsteps of his father and grandfather and set out to expand his empire to become a great conqueror. Kalinga was a part of Magadha Empire during the time of the Nandas. When the Nandas were defeated by Chandragupta Maurya, Kalinga was an independent state. While Chandragupta Maurya and Bindusara initially wanted to re-conquer it, they could not succeed. It was Ashoka who came forward to conquer it again. Also, historians reveal that Kalinga had already expanded its military power and had huge material prosperity due to its trade relations with Java, Malay, and Ceylon, right from the time of Chandragupta to that of Ashoka, and Ashoka could not neglect the importance of Kalinga for the Mauryan Empire. The vast military strength, wealth and power of Kalinga were the main causes of jealousy for the Magadha Empire and so, Ashoka wanted to re-establish the Magadh power in this state. In the 12th year of Ashoka's reign, he sent a message to the ruler of Kalinga to surrender his empire to the Mauryas. However, Kalingaraj or the ruler of Kalinga refused to submit to the Mauryan Empire. Thus, followed a huge war between the two rulers in 261 B.C.
The strength of warring forces
The Kalinga army had only 60,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry and 700 elephants. On the other hand, the Greek ambassador Megasthenes mentions the military strength of Kalinga to be of about one lakh, which consisted of 1700 horses, thousands of elephants, and 60 thousand soldiers. Kalinga army also had a powerful naval force.
Aftermath of the battle: Winner and Loser
Winner : Ashoka the Great
Loser : The Ruler of Kalinga
Ashoka and his army fought a severe fight with the army of Kalinga. They offered a stiff resistance to the Mauryan army. The entire town of Kalinga turned into a battle ground and every one came forward to fight against the Mauryan army, commanded by their ruler. However, they were no match for the mighty Magadha army, led by Ashoka himself. They resisted and fought bravely. In fact, in many instances, the army and the people of Kalinga came very close to victory. Till the last breath, they fought with great valour and finally the soldiers and the people of Kalinga perished in the battlefield. And Ashoka won the great battle of Kalinga.
The larger implications of the battle
Ashoka became victorious and, as a result ruled Kalinga. But at what cost? Ashoka saw the blood filled battlefield with his own eyes. 100,000 men lost their lives and 1,50,000 were taken as prisoners. An equal number of Mauryan soldiers died. He saw the corpses of horses, elephants and soldiers in the battlefield. Blood streams were seen everywhere. There were orphaned children crying. Wounded people were rolling on the ground in pain. Countless people suffered due to the war. The whole of Kalinga was destroyed in front of his own eyes. He conquered Kalinga but there was not a single man left to live a life of slavery. He could not stay there any longer and with a heavy heart, he led his men back towards Pataliputra.
The overall place and significance of the battle in the Indian History
Ashoka the Great felt unhappy even after winning the Kalinga war. He was immersed in grief seeing the horrifying state of Kalinga with the blood and tears all over. The loss suffered by Kalinga due to the war was horrifying. He was unhappy because he conquered Kalinga at a cost of a heavy loss of lives. The scenes of death, pain, agony, cries, blood that he had seen on the battlefield did not give him any peace of mind and haunted him all the time. He realised that any kind of war can continue to affect the minds and lives of the survivors for a long time. At that time, Ashoka was a great emperor and conqueror. He was at the height of supreme power and there was no one equivalent to him in terms of wealth or armed strength. But, even then, he was not happy.
The Kalinga War prompted him to devote the rest of his life to non-violence (Ahimsa) and to victory through Dhamma (Dhamma-Vijaya). He preached that it is conquest through dharma that was the real conquest in life and not the conquest through violence. He became a follower of Buddhism. Ashoka promised that he would never again take to arms again. He ended the military expansion of the empire. The Kalinga war became his first and last war.
He made some significant changes in the state policy of Magadh. The policy of Magadhan imperialism ended. The age old policy of aggression and conquest of the Magadhan rulers also ended. A new policy of peace and non-violence was adopted in the empire. After the Kalinga war, Ashoka controlled the entire Indian subcontinent, except for the extreme southern part.
His laws of Dhamma were engraved on rocks and stone pillars. Missionaries were sent to other countries to preach Buddhism and dhamma, so that more and more people adapt to non-violence mode of living. Such inscriptions can be found even today both in India and outside. For 40 long years, Ashoka the Great led the Mauryan Empire through peace, harmony, humanity, love, non-violence and prosperity.
After Ashoka's death in 232 BC, the Mauryan dynasty came to an end and the Mauryan Empire dissolved. The Kalinga War is indeed one of the most remarkable and memorable battles in Indian history. It has no equals in terms of intensity among all the bloody and violent wars fought in Indian History.