Ashoka-The Great King

Ashoka-also written as Asoka and Akbar are considered as great and noble kings of the world. Ashoka belonged to the great Mauryan lineage of kings begun by his equally great grandfather Chandragupta Maurya. He succeeded to the throne in 269 B.C.

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Although according to Buddhist sources, Ashoka is said to have begun as a tyrant and usurped the crown by killing all his possible rivals, these may not be facts but speculations.

After the war of Kalinga in the eighth year of his rule there was a complete change of heart. In his own words he accepted that 100000 men were killed and 150000 were taken captive. This he found very pitiful and grievous and resolved to follow the path of peaceful persuasions. Even the forest tribes which troubled the people living on the fringes were asked to reform themselves.

Thus keynote of Ashoka’s reforms was humanity in internal administration and abandonment of aggressive war. He leaned towards Buddhism and supported the doctrine of Ahimsa. He banned animal sacrifices, regulated slaughter of animals for food and substituted pilgrimages in place of hunting expedition. Thus he was responsible for the growth of vegetarianism in India.

Among his prominent social services was improvement in the communication by planting fruit and shade bearing trees along the paths and making rest-houses for the weary travellers.

He preached his thoughts by engraving them on the pillars which studded the important places in his empire. He saw to it that the language used in the edicts was the local language so that people could read and understand them. He addressed his subjects by beginning with Priyadarshi- beloved of the Gods and his subjects as his sons.

He spread Buddhism to the lands outside India. In Ceylon his brother Mahendra spread the Buddhism. Indeed he was a great king who towers above the other kings of his times. But near his end, he began to loose the firm grip on the reins of power. He died in 232 B.C. and empire began to fall apart. The governors who were controllers of the provinces declared themselves independent. Also it is almost a logical conclusion that if you consider a king as the greatest, his successors and predecessors must pale in his comparison.

Thus Ashoka was by any means no worldly dreamer but every inch a king, a little naive, often rather self-righteous and pompous but at the same time indefatigable, strong-willed and imperious.

Thus it is with good reason that the Indian Republic has adopted for the device of its state seal the capital of an Ashokan column.

Chandragupta Maurya

When Alexander the great entered India he crossed Hindu Kush occupied Kabul  and reached Indus and crossed it, it was 326 BC. The land of India thus attracted outsiders since times immemorial.Omphis, the king of Taxila had already submitted without much resistance. Beyond Jhelum river was the land ruled by warlike king of Punjab, Porus. Alexander was with great difficulty able to defeat Porus in a surprise attack. Porus was captured  and brought before his conqueror.

Porus was said to be very tall and handsome man. At the time he was brought before Alexander, he had nine wounds on his body and was barely able to stand. But when Alexander asked him how he should be treated, he had told “As befits me-like a king”. Alexander was so impressed with the answer, he restored him to his kingdom and made him a vassal when he retreated to Greek fearing a revolt in his armies.

Alexander had no intention of relinquishing the control of the areas he won in the battles. He installed satraps to govern the conquered territories. But these did not last long and local rulers again gained control of the lost lands.

There was at that time a young man called Sandrocottus -identical with Chandragupta Maurya, who sided with Greeks and advised Alexander to proceed East and attack the unpopular Nanda emperor in Patliputra. But his boldness of speech annoyed Alexander who ordered to kill him. But he escaped. Ultimately with the help of his Guru variously called Chanakya, Kautilya or Vishnugupta who was very able and unscrupulous Brahmin, Chandragupta overthrew the Nanda and became the king.

After the Alexander left, Chandragupta expanded his kingdom in all directions. His empire was the template for modern India. When Seleucus Nicator, the Greek general knocked at the doors of India again he was met by Chandragupta in 305 BC and suffered a humiliating defeat. He had to enter into matrimonial alliance with Chandragupta. Megasthenes was appointed ambassador to Patliputra.

It is surprising that such a great king would abdicate his throne to become a Jain monk and fast unto death in the South India at Sravan Belagola in the modern day Mysore.

Famed Silk of Assam

For some people, Assam is synonymous with tea. It is not an under statement, it is true because the tea of Assam travels all over the world. Assam tea is known for its strength and Darjeeling tea on the other hand is famous for its aroma. When two are blended in right proportions, magic is created. The people in Assam like their tea brew without any milk added to it. They call it “Lal cha”, the red tea liquor due to beautiful red color. This brew has been proved to be very good for health as it contains many chemicals which are antioxidants. Apart from the tea, Assam is known for the silk fabrics. This silk is so much in demand that the people who go to Assam for work in oil industry, tea gardens and as tourists makes it a point to buy lots of silk sarees and cloth for making salwar and kameez. There are good shops selling silk fabrics in all the big cities.

Silk weaving is an very ancient art of Assam. There are references of silk in the early literature of India. For example, in the times of Chandragupta Maurya, this silk was highly praised by Chanakya. The writer of Alamgir Nama, Mirza Muhammad Kazim mentioned that quality of the silk products in Assam was at par with the Chinese silk.

Three varieties of silk are available in Assam. These are Eri, Muga and Pat. There was a caste of weavers called Katani which specialized in Pat silk. Muga variety is the golden silk with natural color. When I was in Assam at Sibsagar, I saw villagers selling the the silk worm cocoons and someone told me that people here eat these worms as food.

The most famous place for silk weaving is Soalkuchi which is also called the “Manchester of East”. It is a weavers village specializing in the silk weaving. It is said that artisans here were brought to this place from Tantikuchi which was the village of weaver nearby. In fact, the word “tant” stands for the thread.

“Khat khat khat khatsalare sabade prean mor nite nachuyai” was one of the most popular radio songs composed and sung during the fifties of the last century by the present artist pensioner Narayan Chandra Das Of Sualkuchhi.Actually the ‘click-clack click-clack’sound of the loom make the soul of the passerby dance with the rhythmic rattle of the shuttle flying through the sheds of the wrap. In fact the weaving the cloth on hand loom brings the mind closer to the God because of the “Tana” warp and “bana” weft threads are akin to the illusion of this world and we are all lost in the tana bana. Saint Kabir wove the cloth and sung the songs of joy and praise and friendship with God.