The Kalinga War was fought between the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka the Great and the state of Kalinga, a feudal republic located on the coast of the present-day Indian state of Odisha and northern parts of Andhra Pradesh. The Kalinga city is capital of Kalinga kingdom, it is situated in present day Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh. The Kalinga war, the only major war Ashoka fought after his accession to throne, is one of the major and bloodiest battles in world history. Kalinga put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka's brutal strength. The bloodshed of this war is said to have prompted Ashoka to adopt Buddhism. However, he retained Kalinga after its conquest and incorporated it into the Maurya Empire.
The main reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic. Since the time of Ashoka's father, King Bindusara, the Mauryan Empire based in Magadha was following a policy of territorial expansion. Kalinga was under Magadha control during the Nanda rule, but regained independence with the beginning of the rule of the Mauryas. That was considered a great setback for the traditional policy of territorial expansion of the Magadhan emperors and was considered to be a loss of political prestige for the Mauryas merely imperative to reduce Kalinga to complete subjection. To this task Ashoka must have set himself as soon as he felt he was securely established on the throne. The war began in the 8th year of Ashoka's reign, probably in 261 BC. Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta had previously attempted to conquer Kalinga, but had been repulsed. After a bloody battle for the throne after Bindusara's death, Ashoka tried to annex Kalinga. Ashoka was successful only after a savage war, whose consequences changed Ashoka's views on war and led him to pledge never to wage a war of conquest. It is said that in the aftermath of the Battle of Kalinga the Daya River running next to the battle field turned red with the blood of the slain; more than 150,000 Kalinga warriors and about 100,000 of Ashoka's own warriors were among those slain.
Dhauli hill is presumed to be the area where the Kalinga War was fought. The historically important Dhauli hills are located on the banks of the Daya River of Bhubaneswar in Odisha (India). Dhauli hill, with a vast open space adjoining it, has major Edicts of Ashoka engraved on a mass of rock by the side of the road leading to the summit of the hill. It was an important and a decisive event in the history of the world.
Ashoka had seen the bloodshed with his own eyes and felt that he was the cause of the destruction. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. Ashoka's later edicts state that about 100,000 people were killed on the Kalinga side and almost equal number of Ashoka's army. Thousands of men and women were deported. Ashoka after seeing this was filled with sorrow and remorse.
Ashoka's response to the Kalinga War is recorded in the Edicts of Ashoka. The Kalinga War prompted Ashoka, already a non-engaged Buddhist, to devote the rest of his life to Ahimsa (non-violence) and to Dharma-Vijaya (victory through Dharma). Following the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military expansion of the empire, and led the empire through more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony and prosperity.
- "Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas." Rock Edict No.13
According to oral histories, a woman approached him and said, "Your actions have taken from me my father, husband, and son. Now what will I have left to live for?". Moved by these words, it is said, that he accepted/adopted Buddhism, and vowed to never take life again.
- "Detail History of Odisha".
- Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra(1986) Page 10. Military History of Orissa. Cosmo Publications, New Delhi ISBN 81-7020-282-5
- Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra (1986) Page 12. Military History of Orissa. Cosmo Publications, New Delhi ISBN 81-7020-282-5
- S. Dhammika, The Edicts of King Ashoka, Kandy, Buddhist Publications Society (1994) ISBN ISBN 955-24-0104-6 (on line)