Ashoka, Beloved of the Gods

Gita Mehta considers the ancient Buddhist king in the context of a nuclear-armed India and finds his legacy never more relevant

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in the footsteps image winter 1998“Asoka, the greatest of kings. . . ,” wrote H. G. Wells in A Short History of the World, “one of the brightest interludes in the troubled history of mankind.”

Not being a historian, I presume to write about an Indian emperor who reigned in the third century B.C.E. only because I am an Indian, and modern India defines her sovereign status by two symbols from Ashoka’s reign - the wheel in the center of our flag and the pillar crowned by four lions stamped on our coins. As children, we were often told by our parents that these 2,300-year-old symbols were not mere deference to antiquity; they were to inspire us to create a country governed by righteousness.

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