“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history … the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.” – H.G. Wells
Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE) is undoubtedly one of the most significant, yet often overlooked figures in the creation of modern India. As leader of the region’s first great empire, Ashoka Maurya wielded a fierce, bloody and iron-fisted approach to the expanse of his kingdom, which at its height engulfed a vast swathe of land from the Hindu Kush to the Bay of Bengal.
Eventually reformed by his encounters with Buddhism however, Ashoka is said to have undergone a profound personal transformation that compelled him to rule his empire no-longer by military force; but by spiritual wisdom, humanistic values, tolerance and respect. In honour of this, the ‘Ashoka Chakra’ is today emblazoned at the centre of the Indian national flag; emblematic of the influence Ashoka still has on the fabric of the nation itself.
In this intimate talk by Charles Allen, one of the foremost experts on Ashoka and recent author of Ashoka: The Search for India’s Lost Emperor, the man behind the myth is uncovered in reference to a variety of ancient visual objects and texts. Charles also touches on one of his most recent endeavours; the alleged discovery of the ‘Bones of the Buddha’, a finding shrouded in controversy, intrigue and speculation since their uncovering in 1898, yet linked far earlier to the rule of Ashoka himself.