Historical Negationism and Sanitized Image of Ashoka and Buddhism in India

Divyavandana is the earliest source from which Indian neo-Buddhists claim massive prosecution of Buddhist monks by a king identified as Pushyamitra belonging to Brahmin lineage who usurped the last Emperor of Chandragupta’s Maurya dynasty. Later exaggerated narrations of our time assert Hindus went on some kind of killing rampage that wiped out Buddhism from the Subcontinent since that incident citing this historical reference.

Let’s see what fraction of the story is true.

Following is the relevant section that indicates how Pushyamitra went to Kukkutarama, a royal monastery founded by Ashoka, and slaughtered all the monks dwelling in it. He then reached Sakala (Sialkot) offering a reward of a hundred dinaras for each head of Buddhist monks (यो मे श्रमणशिरो दास्यति, तस्याहं दीनारशतं दास्यामि).

Later on, Pushyamitra was executed by a Yaksha that used to protect Buddha’s relic. The chapter ends with the statement “With the death of Pușyamitra, the Mauryan lineage came to an end“.

Here comes the whole enigma. Who was Pushyamitra?

Pushyamitra in the same text corresponds to a descendant of Ashoka through his successor Samprati in the order Ashoka-> Samprati-> Brhaspati->Pushyadharman->Pushyamitra, hence better to name the assailant “Pushyamitra Maurya” instead of “Pushyamitra Shunga” ahead.

Divyavandana also proclaims with the death of Pușyamitra, the Mauryan lineage came to an end. Thus, it’s obvious Pushyamitra of Divyavandana was no Brahmin Shunga, but a descendant of Ashoka himself. Brihadatta’s Senapati (general) Pushyamitra Shunga doesn’t appear even once in the narration.

Well, you can’t have a strong belief in the Buddhist prosecution inside the text but will reject it when it says the persecutor is a Maurya. The cruelty that he inherited from his great grandfather Ashoka (an “ungreat” for his entire life) annulled everything at the end that his forefather accomplished.

This modern myth has been fabricated willfully to hold Ashok and his lineage innocent and a narrative against Hindu ruler Pushyamitra is peddled by armchair historians persuading Hinduism as some intolerant puritanism that was responsible for the bloody decline of Buddhism in the subcontinent. We’ll see.

ASHOKA “The Great

After political freedom the Nehruvian Darbari historians were promoted to nourish three “the great”s for next generations: Ashoka the great, Akbar the great, and obviously Nehru the great. These supposedly secular saints had one thing in common, sponsoring a nanny state that has little to do with personal liberty. The point stands neither was secular even.

This same text Divyavadana narrates two compelling anecdotes of Ashoka’s “great” deeds after conversion to Buddhism.

Remember that recent France Beheading when Islamic radicals beheaded at least two teachers and stabbed several others over blasphemous cartoons of their Prophet? Yes, Buddhist Ashoka was the very first religious zealot Bharata have seen. There was no religious liberty in Ashoka’s Bharata, no repentance on such state-sponsored massacre of 18,000 Jain votaries from his side either.

Sadly, this was not the only one.

Again another Jain monk painted a picture of Buddha prostrating himself at the feet of the Nirgrantha Jnatiputra (Mahavira). Ashoka “the great” repeated the equal verdict. The monk along with his family was burnt alive. To warn civilians from further committing blasphemy against his personal belief, the Buddhist Ashoka announced a reward of a Dinara for every head of a Nirgantha.

Then something exceptional occurred.

Vitashoka the only brother left alive by Ashoka was accidentally killed by a subject following his order. Enduring personal damage, that was the point when distressed Ashoka determined not to commit violence again, the aftermath of the Kalinga war was never a reason.

Contrary to the original text, the critical edition of the Ashokavadana published by Sahitya Akademi exposes the negationist stand of Marxist historians in this country. The author Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyaya dismisses this chapter of age-old reference as defective for it violates the very mythical ground on which the mindless deceptive idealization of Ashoka stands: “Secularism”.

The last line of Mukhopadhyaya’s account literally suggests nothing, rather a baseless lie to wrap up the historical fact testifying his favorite villain.

On the other hand, eminent Buddhist scholar Etienne Lamotte in History of Indian Buddhism examines Pushyamitra certainly re-established the Vedic traditions showing a little favor to Buddhist missionary activities, but the particular persecution incident is vague.

‘History of Indian Buddhism‘ by Etienne Lamotte

Orthodox Shungas patronized art and literature irrespective of sects, unlike Ashoka. It is to be noted, construction of massive stone railings and marvelous Toranas (Gateways) depicting motifs on Gautama Buddha’s life stories for Sanchi and Vidisa stupas is executed under Pushyamitra and his immediate successor Agnimitra. The great Sanchi stupa was enlarged to its present area with renovation in its case, an umbrella, and a balcony on its top. His later successors did royal patronage to Bodh Gaya Shrine. Buddhism has prospered during Shunga’s rule like any other Vedic empire whose clear beneficiary was Gautama Buddha himself and his newly formed sect.

A distinct analogy can be drawn between Mukhopadhyaya’s tactic to acquit Buddhist Ashoka’s radicalism specified in Divyavandana and the attitude of Indology scholarship on the treatment of the Kalinga war.

Vedic court ritual followed by early Mauryans under the head Brahmin officials was smooth despite eclectic religious affiliations of emperors. Chandragupta had an intimate lean towards the Jain sect while his son Bindusara seems to have links with Ajivikas. Such an eclectic approach is considered typical in the Dharmic family of sects even today. Very interconnected, there is no constraint in praying each other’s place, to each other’s deity. The term “Religious Conversion” is exclusive, monopolistic, and hence, is alien to the land. This reminds me of a documentary where a bunch of Christian missionaries was discussing the biggest problem in India is they are accepting Jesus too easily as they indiscriminately worship Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Jina at the altar. But that was not how Christianity regards religious conversion. Conversion can only happen if you spit on Ram, throw away your murti, not just by accepting Jesus. It is essentially the conversion into dogma, into hate, exclusive ideology that militate against plural civilization like India. Though there is occasional rivalry among Dharmic sects, exclusion and religious prosecution are non-existent.

Ashoka’s power struggle against the members affiliated to Jain and Ajivika school made him reach out to rival Buddhism. This explains his tough approach towards Jain and Ajivika in later life. From day one of his rule, he was a bloodthirsty despot. Eliminating Bindusara’s elder son Sushima along with other ninety-seven male heirs sparing only his own brother, Ashoka ascended the throne. Hundreds of loyalists were also murdered in this bloody civil war. Sri Lankan Pali Chronicles on Ashoka unveils he was converted to Buddhism in his fourth regnal year, yet Darbari Historians downright reject these historical texts as they present conflicting views against their much believed ‘transformation in heart’ narrative that sobers away the bloody campaign their favorite villain.

During the civil war, Kalinga declared ownself independent from Nanda’s grips as a quasi-democratic territory. Untouched by early Mauryan expansionism, Kalinga met battle cry waged by Ashoka forthright. Kalingans had no chance to retaliate. Ashoka’s edict (exaggeratedly) tells 100,000 were killed in battle leaving thousands of others to die of wounds, another 150,000 were taken as captives after the war. Popular pro-Buddhist propaganda tells horrified by the brutality committed in the war he embraced Buddhism. But this subjective emotion has nothing to do with objective fact. What we know of Ashoka in the pre-Kalinga war, a ruthless manic like him was never a man to feel remorse and convert into pacifist at the sight of bloodshed. That is exactly what he was. None of the Ashokan inscriptions in Kalinga has a mention of his remorse or freeing the captives, rather in the Second Separate Rock Edict in Dhauli Ashoka carries threats of violence against the unconquered bordering tribes of Kalinga.

And the forest-folk who live in the dominions of the Beloved of the Gods, even them he entreats and exhorts in regard to their duty. It is hereby explained to them that, in spite of his repentance, the Beloved of the Gods possesses power enough to punish them for their crimes, so that they should turn away from evil ways and would not be killed for their crimes.

Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol-I

Is this pacifism?

Kalinga was predominantly a Jain state, yet we have evidence of the presence of other sects including Buddhism. Though we are unaware of exactly why Ashoka invaded Kalinga, it must be reminded that this fiend-turned-friend was involved in the mass prosecution of Jain and Ajivika even after his conversion. Over time, Ashoka by all accounts seems to have an alliance with mainstream Hindus, Brahmanas while Shramanas except Buddhists had to bear a significant share of Ashoka’s cruelty. This indicates a possibility that Kalinga as a Jain-dominated dependency sided with Ashoka’s rival half brothers during succession tussle.

Nehruvian ’eminent historians’ push for the very generic myth that Ashoka was the epitome of religious tolerance. Apart from instances of Jain and Ajivika pogrom, Ashoka had recruited Dhamma Mahāmātras (inspectors of religions) who are actually Buddhist missionaries to dictate individuals, their practices, what they should eat, how they should behave. Even two Edicts that have been inserted Samapa and Tosali explicitly addressed to the Mahamatras, not to the subjects.

The right to practice is the core of religious liberty. A nation is an amalgam of different faith systems and the state has no role in the personal practice of individuals. Ashoka’s state, whatsoever, had no regard for freedom to practice customs.

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this Dhamma edict to be written. Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festivals be held, for Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi sees much to object to in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does approve of.

Major rock edict I

Such rigorous religious censorship by Ashoka can be put in parallel with interventions put by the current Indian republic state denying the freedom to practice the belief and indigenousness of many native sects including tribal communities with an eye on evangelical support.

“Project Thessalonica aims to stop or limit Hindu activity by converting people who form the pillars of Hindu culture, festivals, traditions and activity

Missions want to ensure that no new temple construction activity starts. With this objective they are converting masons, craftsmen and others involved in temple construction activity. The First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee adopted towns where the annual Kumbh Mela takes place and has been actively converting the locals so that visitors face extreme hardship during their next visit trying to find services and supplies. Another mission group is adopting boatmen of Kasi where Hindus drop rice balls in river Ganges as an offering to their forefathers. The boatsmen are being trained in other fields so that they abandon this profession. 

They are making environmental groups raise the voice so that Ganesh processions, Kumbh Melas and Jagannath Rath Yatras are limited. One big worry seems to the extremely popular Hindu television programs. Christian agencies have decided on buying these prime slots at a premium and are actively working with programming sources. Over the past 20 years, missionaries also appear to have invested a lot in handling the political leadership. So much so that their activities appear to be almost immune to the ruling political party. It seems that a good section of media is also on their side to such an extent that any group opposing their activity finds itself identified as a militant or extremist group in the news media.”

Alex Pomero, Project Thessalonica: Can Hinduism face the onslaughter of Project Thessalonica (2005)

Ashoka also ousted “heretical” monks from the Sangha.

This is the order of the beloved of the Gods. The Mahāmātras stationed at Kauśambi are to be addressed in the following words:. I have made both the Saṅgha of the monks and Saṅgha of the nuns united. No heretical monk should be admitted into the Saṅgha. Whosoever be it a monk, be it a nun, shall break up the unity of the Saṅgha should be made to wear white robes unworthy of the Order and to reside in what is not fit for the residence of a recluse.

Minor Pillar Edict I

So much liberty and openness!

How religiously fanatic were ancient Hindus in general?

Patanjali’s Mahabhashya cites Brahmanas and Shramanas are eternal enemies. That means Brahmins guarding āstika (theist) school of philosophies and Shramanas encompassing nāstika (atheist) sects defended their position against each other. Shri Rama in Hindu epic Ramayana replies in an event, In no case should a wise man (buddha) consort with an atheist (न नास्ति केनाभिमुखो बुधः स्यात्). The opposition between ancient Brahmana and Shramanas was in a way equivalent to conflict between Vaishnava and Shaiva. Occasional instances of violence between “Hindus” can be not denied, but intolerance is another matter.

Besides the allegation of instigating violence against Buddhists, another accusation of Ambedkarite neo-Buddhists reports that Buddha was appropriated as Hindu and synthesized as an avatar of Vishnu around the middle of the sixth century AD calling for the decline of Buddhism. Undoubtedly, Buddha was every inch Hindu and founder of a heretical atheist sect, Buddhism. But, we are not sure whether he was the incarnation of Vishnu or not. There was even Allopanishad authored in the medieval period to include Akbar in Vishnu’s pantheon. We know less, rather than imposing our own convict, we need to leave each belief in its own way.

Did Hindus destroy Buddhist culture systematically?

Here are some facts.

Fa-Hsien (337 CE – 422 CE) another Chinese traveler in A Record of the Buddhist Kingdoms gives a rich account of the Buddhist practices and pilgrimage sites in South Asia as the first eyewitness. He didn’t record a single instance of the armed conflict of any Hindu King against Buddhists.

Buddhist scholar Hieun Tsang (637 AD) when visited Bharata marked King Harshavardhana, who patronized both Shaivism and Buddhism, organized the Kanauj assembly that had attendee across the religious sects. He found Kanauj had above 100 Buddhist monasteries with 10,000 pupils, 200 “Deva” (Hindu) temples, and several thousand non-Buddhists living together.

During the rule of the Bhaumakara dynasty (8th – 11th century), Mahayana Buddhism reached its zenith in Kalinga, and transformation from Mahayana to Vajrayana Buddhism commenced. Subhakaradeva a major patron of Buddhism, in his Neulpur grant, proudly announces his grandfather KshemankaraDeva re-established varnashrama in their proper duties in Kalinga. Bhaumas, however, favored both Brahmana and Shramana orders.

“Eminent historian” DN Jha alleges, “A Tibetan tradition has it that the Kalacuri King Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha, and the Tibetan text  Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some Hindu fanatics“.

However, the contemporary annals Tabakat-i-Nasiri by Maulana Minhaj-ud-din tells a different story: “The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven, and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On being acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindu tongue, they call a college, Vihara. When that victory was effected, Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar returned with great booty, and came to the presence of the beneficent sultan, Qutb-ud-din I-bak, and received great honor and distinction”

“Monasteries were sacked, temples were ruthlessly desecrated and countless idols were broken and trodden under foot”. What did Hindus do for Buddhists when Mohemmedans led by Khiliji swept away entire North India under his sword leading to their total decay?

  1. The Sena king (Hindu) installed defensive garrisons at Odantapuri and Vikramashila Monasteries, which were imposing walled citadels directly on the Ghurids’ line of advance.
  2. The Tibetan also found the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Monastery, not far from Nalanda at Vajrasana  (modern-day Bodh Gaya), still to contain three hundred Sri Lankan monks. It was the site of Buddha’s enlightenment and the holiest pilgrimage site in the Buddhist world.
  3. The Tibetan translator found Jagaddala in northern West Bengal still flourishing and full of monks.
  4. The Hindus (in Sindh) had a warrior caste which, along with their political and religious leaders, fought the huge Umayyad force. The Buddhists, on the other hand, lacking any martial tradition or caste were willing to avoid destruction and submit peacefully.
  5. Abandoned by mass exodus of Buddhists as recorded by Tibetian monk Dharmaswami, Shaiva sect start taking care of Bodh Gaya, sacred place at which the Buddha attained enlightment. Hiuen Tsang in 637 AD provides authentic record of the place. He says that two Brahmin brothers prayed to Lord Maheshwara in the Himalayas to grant their wishes, upon which Maheshwara instructed them to carry out the meritorious task of erecting a large temple and excavate a large tank and devote all kinds of religious offerings near the most sanctified Bodhi tree for attaining ‘the fruit of a Buddha’. The elder Brahmin devotee accordingly built a large temple”. Ashoka bulit a Vajrasana which was later provided with railing to protect the shrine by early Shungas. The current pyramidal structure dates to the Gupta Empire, in the 5th–6th century CE.
  6. Tibetian monk Dharmaswamin when reached pillaged Nalanda saw old Rahula SriBhadra the head of the university was kept fed by a local Brahmana Jayadeva.

Adi Shankaracharya a 7th-century sage started touring across the country and engaging in theological debate with Buddhist scholars in public view to re-establish the Dharma. At that time, a famous mimansa scholar Kumarila Bhatta of Kamarupa enrolled in Nalanda University to learn Buddhist doctrine but was thrown out of University for indulging in a debate against a teacher who was ridiculing Vedic practices. Bhatta engaged with many Buddhist scholars under the criterion that whoever would accept defeat with embracing the sect of the champion. When Bhatta, Sankara along with his disciples who had done a comparative study of Buddhism with Vedic philosophy turn victorious in debate after debate, commoners as well as Buddhist scholars, the patrons like ruiling and merchandile class to these mentors bestowed interest in returning back to the Vedic fold.

Madhvacharya (14th century), who begins his Sarva-Darshana-Samgraha (Compendium of all the Philosophical Systems) from the detailed analysis of the school of Charvakas, and then criticizes it with Indian logical practice of presenting purvapaksha (opponent’s argument) before canceling it. 

To reach more and more individuals, Hinduism went through a major reformation. Shankaracharya himself established maths or monasteries at Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Sringeri in the south, and Puri in the east as Amnaya Peetha (Vedic Seat) in order to safeguard four Vedas. This has been unknown in Hinduism. Mimicking the Buddhist monastical system, these mutts have the sole motive to uphold the religious order blessed by royal patronage.

On the other hand, samghabheda (schism) within the Buddhist faith began to intensify, however, this history of schism in Buddhism dates back from the time of Buddha himself with respect to his cousin Devadatta. Like infestation of termite hollows and eventually uproot any strong Banyan tree. Where monks were admitted into Sangha on basis of living with austerity, elements with dubious characters started joining in. In excavation of Nagarjunakonda, tools used for counterfeiting were discovered. Adultery, Alcoholism become norms. Jain followers kept sustaining their lives with absolute values of sect and survived for age. With the rise of Adi Shankara, the theological hold of Buddhism started fading. With the cut in lavish religious endowments by kings and local patrons, Sanghas suffered a setback. This wasn’t the case with Brahmana for many were the householders while another portion used to live on Bhiksha. Not all were reliant on assistance. As time passes Buddhists invented various deities which were absent in the early Pali Canon to ridicule Hindus. Trailokyavijaya, a Buddhist deity developed around the 8th century tramples up the head of Mahadeva with his left leg while his right leg presses up the bosoms of Gauri. Another Bodhisatva named Vajrapani orders Mahadeva to comply with Buddhist doctrine. On refusing the offer, they indulge in a magical war with Vajrapani. Eventually, both Shiva and Parvati feel under his feet. Buddhist deity Vignantaka always stands on Vighnaharta Ganesha of Hindu iconography. Including Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu is depicted as a violation of Buddhism while there were well-orchestrated attempts like this to prove the Hindu. By now there is no Hindu art or gods mentioned humiliating the Buddha. No doubt, Hinduism has always been the most tolerant by far.

This was not limited to rhetorical violence. Ancient Buddhist tradition like Mahavamsa that is revered in Theraveda terms non-Buddhists beasts and justifies their massacre. Following is recorded in reference to a war between the great Chola king Elara and Buddhist king Duttagamini in 2nd century BC that lead to the killing of millions (exaggerated like Kalinga war) of Tamils.

From playing a leading role in fomenting conflicts to justifying fundamentalist mindset, they have recorded everything. Had there been any prosecution done of Hindu kings, well-versed scribes like them must have penned it down over that stretch of fifteen centuries. Not a single piece of historical testimony is there except the modern myths maligning Hinduism!

Suppressio veri Suggestio falsi is the very reality of history-writing scandal in India over decades.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. A most fascinating read – cogent and well-argued. Great work!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is very interesting. A whole lot different than what our school texts would have us believe.
    I can’t understand the need to place people in boxes of ‘great’ or any other. History teaches us a lot even if we learn the facts as they are. Even of Ashoka wasn’t great, it neither alters the tenets of buddhism nor our present. The truth just teaches us better lessons.
    Your article has immense value. Really good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. nitinsingh says:

    Wonderful post , v informative

    Liked by 1 person

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