Outstanding Leaders of Ancient India
Siddhartha Gautama: Making a choice
According to an old story, Siddhartha Gautama’s mother had a strange dream before his birth, about 563 BC. An elephant with six tusks, carrying a lotus flower in its trunk touched her. Brahmans told Siddhartha’s father, the king, that the dream meant that his son would be either a great king or a holy man.
To make sure that Siddhartha would choose to be a king, his father showered him with luxuries. Whenever the young man left the palace, the king’s guards cleared the streets of all unpleasant sights.
One day, though, ‘Siddhartha saw an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a peaceful holy man. The sights touched his heart and made him set out on his quest for the meaning of life.
Asoka: Ruling with Kindness
Asoka became India’s most beloved leader about 269 BC. His life changed after he conquered the empire and saw the suffering that wars caused. Saddened, Asoka found peace in Buddhism. To help others learn Buddha’s teachings, Asoka sent teachers to other lands, such as Egypt and China.
Asoka governed with kindness instead of force. He sent “overseers of the law” to make sure that local officials promoted “welfare and happiness…among servants and masters, Brahmans and rich, the needy and aged.”
Chandra Gupta II: Learning Thrives
About AD 376, Chandra Gupta II, greatest king of the Gupta dynasty, ruled a large empire. He extended it from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. During this time, the arts and learning flourished. Chandra brought many talented writers and artists to his courts. One was Kalidasa, India’s greatest playwright.
Chandra held tournaments in which the poets competed. Winners often used clever wordplay, riddles, and puns. Sometimes the king would suggest a topic or rhyme scheme, and the poets would try to see who could use it in the most surprising way.
Rajendra: Extending the Empire
Rajendra was the greatest ruler of the Chola dynasty. In about AD 1014 he extended the empire east and north. Rajendra’s army overran the Deccan Plateau. Then Rajendra conquered Bengal, far to the north. On this expedition his soldiers reached the Ganges River, which was sacred to Hindus. The soldiers brought back some of its water to their new capital.
Rajendra also built a powerful navy that defeated pirates in the Indian Ocean. Chola ships landed parts of what are now Malaysia and Indonesia. They created routes that helped spread the influence of India cultures to these areas.
Reference: The World and Its People