Kalinga War

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Kalinga War
Part of Conquests of Mauryan Empire

Kalinga (adjacent to the Bay of Bengal) and the Maurya Empire (blue) before the attack of Ashoka The Great
Datebegan c. 262 BCE, ended c. 261 BCE, in the 8th year of Ashoka's coronation of 268 BCE[1]
Result Mauryan Empire victory
Kalinga conquered by Mauryan Empire
Mauryan Empire Kalinga
Commanders and leaders
Ashoka Unknown
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown 100,000 killed, 150,000 deported (figures by Ashoka)[2][3]

The Kalinga War (ended c. 261 BCE)[1] was fought in ancient India between the Maurya Empire under Ashoka and Kalinga, an independent feudal kingdom located on the east coast, in the present-day state of Odisha and northern parts of Andhra Pradesh. It is presumed that the battle was fought on Dhauli hills in Dhauli which is situated on the banks of Daya River. The Kalinga War was one of the largest and deadliest battles in Indian history.[4]

This is the only major war Ashoka fought after his accession to the throne, and marked the close of the empire-building and military conquests of ancient India that began with the Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya.[5] The war cost nearly 250,000 lives.[5]


According to political scientist Sudama Misra, the Kalinga janapada originally comprised the area covered by the Puri and Ganjam districts.[6]

The reasons for invading Kalinga were to bring peace and for power. Kalinga was a prosperous region consisting of peaceful and artistically skilled people. The northern part of Kalinga was known as the Utkala (Uttar: North, Kal: Kalinga), they were the first from the region to use a navy and traveled offshore to Southeast Asia for trade. For that reason, Kalinga was able to develop several ports and a skilled navy. The culture of Kalinga was a blend of tribal religions and Brahmanism co-existing peacefully.[7]

Kalinga was under the rule of the Nanda Empire who ruled over the region from their capital in Magadha until their fall in 321 BCE.[8] Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta Maurya had previously attempted to conquer Kalinga but had been repulsed.[citation needed] Ashoka set himself to the task[citation needed] of conquering and annexing Kalinga to the vast Maurya Empire as soon as he securely established himself as the Emperor.[7] Some scholars argue that Kalinga was a strategic threat to the Mauryas. It could interrupt communications between Mauryan capital Pataliputra and possessions in the central Indian peninsula. Kalinga also controlled the coastline for trade in the Bay of Bengal.[9]

Course of the war[edit]

No war in the history of India is as important either for its intensity or for its results as the Kalinga war of Ashoka. No wars in the annals of human history have changed the heart of the victor from one of wanton cruelty to that of exemplary piety as this one. From its fathomless womb, the history of the world may find out only a few wars to its credit which may be equal to this war and not a single one that would be greater than this. The political history of mankind is really a history of wars and no war has ended with so successful a mission of peace for the entire war-torn humanity as the war of Kalinga.

— Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra, Military History of Odisha[10]

The war was completed in the eighth year of Ashoka's reign, according to his own Edicts of Ashoka, probably in 261 BCE.[1] After a bloody battle for the throne following the death of his father, Ashoka was successful in conquering Kalinga – but the consequences of the savagery changed Ashoka's views on war and led him to pledge to never again wage a war of conquest.

According to Megasthenes, the Greek historian at the court of Chandragupta Maurya, the ruler of Kalinga had a powerful army comprising infantry, cavalry and elephants.[11]


Shanti Stupa, Dhauli hill is presumed to be the area where the Kalinga War was fought.

Ashoka had seen the bloodshed and felt that he was the cause of the destruction. The whole area of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. Some of Ashoka's later edicts state that about 150,000 people died on the Kalinga side and an almost equal number of Ashoka's army, though legends among the Odia people – descendants of Kalinga's natives – claim that these figures were highly exaggerated by Ashoka. As per the legends, Kalinga armies caused twice the amount of destruction they suffered. However, prominent historians have rejected this claim and the edicts of Ashoka are believed to be the primary evidence. Thousands of men and women were deported from Kalinga and forced to work on clearing wastelands for future settlement.[12]

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi (Ashoka) 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 Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.

— Ashoka, Rock Edict No. 13[13]

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 began an era of more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony, and prosperity. [citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 2001 Indian Hindi-language film Aśoka, is based on Kalinga war
  • The book "Ashok and the nine unknown" by author Anshul Dupare is based on the aftermath of Kalinga war.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Le Huu Phuoc, Buddhist Architecture, Grafikol 2009, p.30
  2. ^ Ashoka (r. 268–231 BCE), Edicts of Ashoka, Major Rock Edict 13.
  3. ^ Radhakumud Mookerji (1988). Chandragupta Maurya and His Times. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 81-208-0405-8.
  4. ^ "Greatest Battles In The History Of India". WorldAtlas. 19 September 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b Raychaudhuri, H. (2006). Political History of Ancient India: From the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty. Cosmo Publications. p. 268,305. ISBN 978-81-307-0291-9. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  6. ^ Sudāmā Miśra (1973). Janapada state in ancient India. Bhāratīya Vidyā Prakāśana.
  7. ^ a b Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra(1986) Page 10. Military History of Orissa. Cosmo Publications, New Delhi ISBN 81-7020-282-5
  8. ^ (Raychaudhuri & Mukherjee 1996, pp. 204-209, pp. 270–271)
  9. ^ Roy, K. (2015). Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia. Warfare, Society and Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-317-32128-6. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  10. ^ Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra (1986) Page 12. Military History of Odisha. Cosmo Publications, New Delhi ISBN 81-7020-282-5
  11. ^ Sequeira, Dolly E. (2020). Total History and Civics. Delhi: Morning Star. pp. 45, 46.
  12. ^ Roy, K. (2015). Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia. Warfare, Society and Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-317-32128-6. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  13. ^ Allen, Charles (2012). Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor. Little, Brown Book Group. p. 82. ISBN 9781408703885. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Ashok and the Nine Unknown".

External links[edit]