Ashoka, the Great and a Yogi in his torture-cell

   Well-known British historian of ancient India, Vincent A Smith says:  “King Bindusara reigned at Pataliputra and had a son named Susima. A certain Brahman of Champa had a lovely daughter. A prophecy declared that she was destined to be the mother of two sons, of whom one would become universal monarch, and the other would attain the goal of life of a recluse. The Brahman, seeking to fulfillment of the prophecy, succeeded in introducing his daughter into the palace, but the jealousy of the queens debarred her from the royal embrace, and assigned to her the menial duties of a barber. After some time the girl managed to explain to the king that she was no barber, but the daughter of a Brahman. When the king understood that she belonged to a caste with the member of whom he could honorably consort, he at once took her into favor and made her chief queen.

  ‘’In due course, the Brahman’s daughter, whose name was Subhadrangi, bore to the king two sons, the elder named Ashoka, and the younger named Vigatashoka.

  ‘’The ascetic Pingala Vatsajiva, when consulted by King Bindusara concerning the destiny of the two boys, feared to tell his sovereign the truth, because Ashoka was rough-looking and displeasing in the sight of his father; but he frankly told queen Subhadrangi that her son Ashoka was destined for the throne.

  “It came to pass that King Bindusara desired to besiege Taxila, which was in rebellion.

  “The king ordered his despised son Ashoka to undertake the siege, and yet would not supply him with chariots or the needful munitions of war, ill-supplied as he was, the prince obediently started to carry out the king’s orders, whereupon the earth opened, and from her bosom supplied all his wants.

  ‘’When Asoka with his army approached Taxila, the citizens came forth to meet him, protesting that their quarrel was only with oppressive ministers, not with the king or the king’s son. Taxila and the kingdom of the Svasas made their submission to the prince, who in due course returned to the capital. It came to pass that one day Prince Susima, the king’s eldest son, was coming into the palace from the garden when he playfully threw his glove at the head of the Prime Minister Khallataka. The minister was deeply offended, and from that day engaged in a conspiracy with five hundred privy councilors to exclude Susima, and to place Ashoka on the throne.

  “The people of Taxila again revolted, and the Prince Susima, who was deputed to reduce them to obedience, failed in his task. King Bindusara, who was then old and ill, desired to send Ashoka to Taxila, and to recall Susima, that he might take up the succession. The ministers, however, contrived to exclude the elder prince, and to secure the throne for Asoka, on whose head the gods themselves placed the crown, at the moment when his father expired.

  ‘’Susima marched against Pataliputra, to assert his rights and expel the usurper; but Ashoka and his minister Radhagupta obtained the services of naked giants, who successfully guarded the gates, and by stratagem Susima was inveigled, so that he fell into a ditch full of burning fuel, and there miserably perished.

  ‘’One day, when five hundred of his ministers ventured to resist the royal will, Asoka, transported with rage, drew his sword, and with his own hand cut off the heads of all the offenders.

   ‘’Another day, the women of the palace, whom Asoka’s rough features failed to please, mocked him by breaking off the leaves of an ashoka tree in the garden. The king, when he heard of the incident, caused five hundred women to be burnt alive. The ministers, horrified at these acts of cruelty, entreated the king not to defile his royal hands with blood, but to appoint an executioner to carry out sentences.

  “The king accepted this advice, and a man named Chandagirika – a wretch of unexampled cruelty, who loved to torture animals, and had slain his father and mother – was sought out and appointed Chief Executioner. For his use the king caused to be built a prison, which had a most attractive exterior, so that men might be tempted to enter it, and thus suffer all the tortures of hell that awaited them within. The king had commanded that no man who entered this prison should leave it alive.”

  Hiuen Tsiang, the Chinese pilgrim who visited India in 629 AD, says in his travelogue thus: “At first when Asoka raja ascended the throne, he exercised a most cruel tyranny. He constituted a hell for the purpose of torturing living creatures. He surrounded it with high walls with lofty towers. He placed there especially vast furnaces of molten metal, sharp scythes and every kind of instrument of torture like those in the infernal regions. He selected an impious man whom he appointed lord of the hell.

  “At first every criminal in the empire, whatever his fault, was consigned to this place of calamity and outrage. Afterwards all those who passed by the place were killed without any chance of self-defense.

  “At this time an ascetic named Balapandita (or, Samudra, in Ashokavadana) just entered the religious order, was passing through the suburbs begging food, when he came to hell-gate. The impious keeper of the place laid hold upon him to destroy him.

  ‘’The Sramana, filled with fear, asked for a respite to perform an act of worship and confession. Just then he saw a man bound with chords enters the prison. In a moment they cut off his hands and feet, and pounded his body in a mortar, till all the members of his body were meshed up together in confusion.

  “The Sramana having witnessed this deeply moved with pity, arrived at the conviction of the impermanence of all earthly things, and reached the fruit of “exemption from learning, or Arhatship”. Then the infernal lector said, “Now you must die.”

  ‘’The Sramana having become an Arhat, was freed in heart from the power of birth and death, and so, though cast into a boiling caldron, it was to him as a cool lake, and on its surface there appeared a lotus flower, whereupon he took his seat. The jailer terrified thereat hastened to send a messenger to the king to tell him of the circumstances. The king having himself come and beheld the sight raised his voice in loud praise of the miracle.

  “The jailer, addressing the king, said, “Maharaja, you too must die.”

  “And why so?” said the king. “Because of your former decree with respect to the infliction of death, that all who come to the walls of the hell should be killed; it was not said that the king might enter and escape death.”

  “The king said, “The decree was indeed established, and cannot be altered. You have long destroyed life. I will put an end to it.”

  “Then ordering the attendants, they seized the jailer and cast him into a boiling caldron. After his death the king departed, and leveled the walls, filled up the ditches, and put an end to the infliction of such horrible punishments.”

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