Throughout our childhood(Indias) and in many writeups, we have learned about Ashoka as the great king. He is said to have converted to Buddhism after he won the war of Kalinga.
But is it all true or there is some truth behind the greatness of Ashoka. Let’s start at the start of his reign. He belonged to Mauranys, an empire which was built by Chandragupta.
After Chandragupta, his son Bindusaar became the king. After the death of Bindusaar’s death, Sushma was to be the king. During Bindusaar’s death, Sushma was out of the city.
After learning about Bindusaar’s death he rushed to Patliputra(present day Patna, and Indian city). But he was killed on the city gates by Ashoka’s orders.
Ashoka took over the kingdom with the help of Greek mercenaries. He then killed all the members of family and loyalists. All agree on the series of events up to this point. But common narrative tends to change after this point.
The common narrative is that after consolidating his power, he attacked Kalinga a few years after and he apparently had a change of heart after seeing all the death and he converted to Buddhism.
But this popular series of events is based mostly on writings by British writer and no such ground evidence is available. It turns out that Ashoka converted to Buddhism in 264BC where Kalinga war was fought in 262BC. So he was already a Buddhist follower even before fought the war.
An interesting thing to note is that there is evidence that this narrative was a part of the propaganda and he converted due to political reasons.
Chandragupta and Bindusaar were followers of the different sect. It seems that he was having political threats from followers of these sects and he had to turn attention towards a sect which was not followed by both of them i.e Buddhism.
It is shown that he was remorseful after the war but his action seems otherwise.
He did not release 15,000 people that he took captive during the war. He once saw a man drawing pictures related to Jainism so he ordered him and his family to be killed and put bounty of 1 gold coin if anyone would bring the head of Jain follower with him.
He was not even a successful administrator since he lost empires North-Western frontier and all the southern territories.
One should note that he was given greatness by the colonial-era historian. So it seems that far from Ashoka the great, he was just another man trying to use all old bok trick to earn some name.