The Kalinga War was fought in 262-261 BCE, eight years after the accession of Ashoka. It was fought between the Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire and the state of Kalinga, an independent feudal kingdom located on the east coast, in the present-day state of Orissa and north parts of Andhra Regions.
The Kalinga war is counted as one of the largest and deadliest battles in Indian History. Kalinga did not have a king as it was culturally managed without any.
After Ashoka acceded to the throne, it was the only major war he fought. The bloodshed in this war prompted Ashoka to adopt Buddhism.
Reason for the Kalinga War
The reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic. Kalinga was a flourishing country consisting of peaceful and artistically skilled people.
The Utkala of Kalinga was the first from the region that moved offshore to the most south for the trade. Because of this, Kalinga had important ports and a powerful navy. They used a uniform civil code and had an open culture.
Nanda Empire ruled the Kalinga until the empire’s fall in 321 BCE. Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka’s grandfather attempted to conquer Kalinga but had been offended.
When Ashoka felt that he was securely established on the throne, he set himself to the task of conquering the newly independent empire. Also, Kalinga was a strategic threat to the Maurya Empire.
It could interrupt communication between Maurya capital Pataliputra and Maurya settlements in the central Indian peninsula. Trade-in Bay of Bengal was also in control of Kalinga.
Course of the War
According to Edicts of Ashoka, the war was completed in the eighth year of Ashoka’s reign in 262 BCE. The results of the savagery changed Ashoka’s views on the war and led him to promise to never again conduct a war of conquest.
According to Megasthenes, the Greek historian at the court of Chandragupta Maurya, the ruler of Kalinga had a powerful army comprising infantry, cavalry, and elephants.
No war in the history of India as important either for its intensity or for its results as the Kalinga war of Ashoka. No wars in the annals of the human history has changed the heart of the victor from one of wanton cruelty to that of an exemplary piety as this one. From its fathomless womb the history of the world may find out only a few wars to its credit which may be equal to this war and not a single one that would be greater than this. The political history of mankind is really a history of wars and no war has ended with so successful a mission of the peace for the entire war-torn humanity as the war of Kalinga.Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra, Military History of Orissa
Ashoka had seen the bloodshed and felt that he was the cause of the destruction. The whole area of Kalinga was looted and destroyed.
Some of Ashoka’s later edicts state that about 150,000 people died on the Kalinga side and an almost equal number of Ashoka’s army.
According to myths among Odia people, descendants of Kalinga’s natives- claim that these numbers were highly exaggerated by Ashoka. As per the myths, Kalinga armies caused twice the amount of damage they sustained.
Thousands of men and women were deported from Kalinga and forced to work on clearing wastelands for future settlement.
Ashoka’s response to the Kalinga War is registered in the Edicts of Ashoka. The Kalinga War aroused Ashoka, already a non-engaged Buddhist, to dedicate the rest of his life to ahimsa (non-violence) and dharma-vijaya (victory through dharma).
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.Ashoka, Rock Edict No. 13
Following the victory of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military increase of the empire and began an era of more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony, and prosperity.
Kalinga War as the reason for the decline of the Maurya Empire
The Kalinga war led to the decline of the Mauryan Empire. Due to the policy of non-violence, his soldiers fell behind in the art of war. As a result his gradual decline began. And within 50 years of the death of Ashoka, the Maurya dynasty has fallen.
In this war, about 100,000 people were killed and people were taken bound to Magadha and the whole Kalinga war was set on fire after this war. Ashoka changed his heart and he gave up violence.
Read About Father of Ashoka, Bindusara