Sunday, April 18, 2010

Influencing History

Here's an old BBC documentary that I watched today. A written tradition (vs. oral) and the ability to communicate, spread and defend it is important in determining how history depicts cultures and events.

This reminded me of an incident I was witness to in my childhood. My brother was in the final interview for one of the prestigious junior national level talent search contests at those times. The interview panel consisted of eminent academicians of the state (Orissa). One of them asked my brother a question about "Chandashoka". My brother was blank, clueless; this was the first time he was hearing this word. The interviewer was furious and was verbally upset about the ignorance of the term. He didn't bother to explain though.

Back at home, when my brother mentioned this incident to my Father he was surprised as well, but smiled and said: "Don't worry. It is not your fault. It is because of the difference in how history was taught to your generation vs. my generation.".

Chandashoka means "Chanda Ashoka" which translates to "Cruel Ashoka". It is the name Ashoka got after his invasion of Kalinga. Kalinga was located at the coastal region of the present day state of Orissa. Kalinga at those times was a happy, prosperous and culturally rich kingdom that valued their independence. The was was initiated by Ashoka, and history says it was because of a personal matter between his family. One of his family members had fled and sought protection in the Kalingas. The war was bloody and Kalinga fought till the last of its brave soldier. The river Daya, on whose banks the war was fought, turned red with the blood of the slain soldiers. Ashoka won the war, but it was so violent that it changed him for ever. He embraced peace and Buddhism. However the war dealt a huge blow to the Kalinga kingdom from which it never recovered. Kalinga was plundered, and most of the people deported.

Ashoka was always referred as "Chanda Ashoka" in local tales and history literature. But my little brother never studied it in school, because the prescribed text book always referred to Ashoka as "Ashoka the Great". This little but profound term has lost its importance for future generations. Ashoka ruled for 37 years from 269 BC to 232 BC. The Kalinga war was fought in 265 BC, just 4 years into his reign. Information about the reign of Ashoka is mostly from documents and inscriptions created by him and during his reign.


  1. "The Kalinga war was fought in 265 BC, just 4 years before the end of his reign."

    4 years before the end or four years into his reign?

  2. Thanks Nabeel, for the correction. I have changed the post.


Thank you. I'm all ears!