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|Commanders and leaders|
|Total 200,000||war elephants|
|Casualties and losses|
150,000 (figures by Ashoka)|
The Kalinga War (ended c. 261 BCE) was fought in ancient India between the Maurya Empire under Ashoka and the state of Kalinga, an independent feudal kingdom located on the east coast, in the present-day state of Odisha and north 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 included one of the largest and deadliest battles in Indian history. Kalinga did not have a king as it was culturally run without any.
This is the only major war Ashoka fought after his accession to the throne. In fact, this war marks the close of empire building and military conquests of ancient India that began with Maurya king Bindusara. In the entire Indian history this war is considered as the deadliest war costing nearly 250,000 lives.
The reasons for invading Kalinga were to bring peace and for power. Kalinga was a prosperous region consisting of peaceful and artistically skilled people. Known as the Utkala, they were the first from the region who traveled offshore to the southeast for trade. For that reason, Kalinga had important ports and a powerful navy. They had an open culture and used a uniform civil code.
Kalinga was under the rule of the Nanda Empire until the empire's fall in 321 BCE. Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta Maurya had previously attempted to conquer Kalinga but had been repulsed. Ashoka set himself to the task of conquering the newly independent empire as soon as he felt he was securely established on the throne. Kalinga was a strategic threat to the Maurya empire. It could interrupt communications between Maurya capital Pataliputra and Maurya possessions in the central Indian peninsula. Kalinga also controlled the coastline for the trade-in bay of Bengal.
Course of the war
No war in the history of India 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.
The war was completed in the eighth year of Ashoka's reign, according to his own Edicts of Ashoka, probably in 261 BCE. 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.
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. Thousands of men and women were deported from Kalinga and forced to work on clearing wastelands for future settlement.
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 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'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.
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