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A recent Indian television series is showing a detailed life characteristic of Ashoka's childhood. Though its a work of fiction, I would like to know how much of the show is based on fact. Furthermore, how much do we know about Emperor Ashoka?

  1. Was Chanakya alive and so active during Ashoka's childhood, that he was able to play a second king-making game?
  2. Was Bindusar's mother (the Greek Helena) so cruel and hatched a plot to kill him?
  3. Did a Persian friend called Mir Khurasan really came to Bindusar all the way from Persia and decided to stay on in Magadha? (Was Persian language even invented at ~300BC?)
  4. Did Mir Khorasan and Helena really hatch a plot to get hold of the Magadha empire? If so, how come they didn't succeed?
  • @twosheds I modified the 4th question from being more general and added context. – Shinu Jacob Feb 19 '15 at 21:16
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    I don't watch the TV series, nor do I have much information about India during Ashoka's time. But I was talking to a friend the other day, and the some things he told me from that series sounded too hilarious to be true. It's best to take such Indian "historical" TV series with a grain of salt. :-) – taninamdar Feb 26 '15 at 16:16
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Since you like "rich media," you might wish to consult this recent (5 Feb 2015) discussion (audio here) on the BBC Radio 4 series "In Our Time." IIRC the guests (Naomi Appleton, Jessica Frazier, and Richard Gombrich) seem to have concurred that

  • the most reliable surviving sources on Ashoka are the Pillars, but ...
  • as historical sources, even the Pillars have flaws, but ...
  • other sources on Ashoka were written much later

Gombrich is particularly emphatic (starting ~9:30 in the audio) that "the only evidence we really have for Ashoka are his inscriptions, and all the stuff about his having been a violent young man and all this comes from many hundred years later. It's of course very typical of hagiography[...]" When the interviewer (Melvyn Bragg) asks, "So you're casting [doubt] on everything that's been said so far?" Gombrich replies, "absolutely."

However Appleton is somewhat more equanimous in her blog: "Perhaps there has been too much of a tendency in intervening years to read the edicts in the light of the texts, rather than as an independent source. Yet I would hate to see the texts dismissed as irrelevant to the story of Ashoka."

  • +1. @5:30- "well very little" etc. It would be wonderful though if you could quote the relevant lines. – Rajib Feb 27 '15 at 1:55
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    @Rajib: done. Well worth the relisten. – TomRoche Feb 27 '15 at 6:48
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1.Was Chanakya alive and so active during Ashoka's childhood, that he was able to play a second king-making game?- Yes, Chanakya lived till 87 while Chandragupta lived till only 40.

2.Was Bindusar's mother (the Greek Helena) so cruel and hatched a plot to kill him? - Yes. This was a common practice among queens to get the kingdom in favour of thier sons.

3.Did a Persian friend called Mir Khurasan really came to Bindusar all the way from Persia and decided to stay on in Magadha? (Was Persian language even invented at ~300BC?) -Yes, Persians were earlier defeated by Alexander and wanted revenge at any cost, so they became friendly with Maurya dynasty through marriage alliance.

4.Did Mir Khorasan and Helena really hatch a plot to get hold of the Magadha empire? If so, how come they didn't succeed? Such plots were common, they did not succeed as Chanakya prevented them from doing it. Moreover Persians and Greeks never trusted each other and were often at war with each other.

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    Could you at least point us to the references used? – CGCampbell May 1 '15 at 13:09

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