Kalinga War – Causes, Consequences, Significance of Kalinga War

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Kalinga War was fought between Mauryan Empire under Ashoka and the state of Kalinga in Ancient India. Currently, Kalinga includes Odisha and south-eastern Andhra Pradesh. The Kalinga War is thought to take place in the Dhauli Hills in Dhauli, situated on the Daya River banks. The Kalinga War is known as one of the deadliest wars in Indian history.

The Kalinga War stands as a significant turning point in ancient Indian history, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural and political landscape of the subcontinent. The Kalinga War is notable not only for its scale and intensity but also for its profound impact on Emperor Ashoka’s transformation from a ruthless conqueror to a compassionate ruler and ardent follower of Buddhism.

Background of Kalinga War

The war fought between Ashoka, the great Mauryan Emperor, and the ruler of the State of Kalinga is known as Kalinga War. By the time Chandragupta Maurya passed, the Mauryan Empire Administration had most of modern-day India with its southern reaches and Kalinga staying independent.

Kalinga War Notes

  • Kalinga was soundly located, with trade routes leading to southeast Asia. Kalinga had significant ports and a strong navy.
  • A kingdom with so much capacity on the fringes of the Mauryan Empire would be problematic as it can disturb the communication lines between the Mauryan capital of Pataliputra and its holdings in the central Indian peninsula.
  • Chandragupta Maurya had attempted to capture the state but failed. After his death, his grandson Ashoka continued the conquest of Kalinga after coming to the throne.

Events of Kalinga War

There are not many resources available about the exact events and nature of the Kalinga War. But one thing is certain the level of violence and casualties were high.

  • As per the Rock Edicts of Ashoka, almost 1 lakh people were killed in the Kalinga War, lakhs perished, and a lakh and a half were taken as prisoners.
  • There is no solid evidence about when the war began, but it ended in the 8th year of Ashoka’s reign in 261 BC.
  • According to Megasthenes, who was a Greek historian at the court of Chandragupta Maurya, Kalinga’s monarch had a big force that had elephants, infantry, and cavalry.

Outcome of Kalinga War

Ashoka was victorious and hence conquered Kalinga. Even though he captured Kalinga, there was not a single individual left to live as a slave. Lakhs of individuals suffered in the Kalinga war. Orphans’ children were crying, and there were blood streams everywhere. Ashoka witnessed the dead bodies of elephants, soldiers, and horses.

Ashoka felt great regret for the killings, and he left the policy of aggression. Ashoka follows the policy for the welfare of animals and people. Ashoka sent ambassadors of peace to several countries, including greek kingdoms in west Asia.

Aftermath of Kalinga War

Kalinga War had a very deep impact on Ashoka. It was likely the only war in ancient history where a would-be conqueror gave up his sword.

  • After the war, Ashoka converted to Buddhism. After his conversion, Ashoka became involved in preaching Ashoka Dhamma. Ashoka devotes the rest of his life to ahimsa (non-violence) and to dharma-Vijaya (victory through dharma).
  • Ashoka also ended his military expansion and focused on the ear of peace, harmony, and prosperity for more than 40 years.
  • However, Ashoka’s policy brought peace to the land, but in the long run, it destroyed its ability to defend itself from the threats.

Significance of Kalinga War

Conquering Kalinga at the cost of lakhs of lives left Ashoka in great regret and sorrow. Ashoka felt that it is not worth the cost of human life.

  • The death of people, suffering, blood, and tears tormented him constantly; the Kalinga war inspired Ashoka to be a leader who cared about peace and harmony of the people.
  • Ashoka vowed that he would never take up weapons, and he made significant changes in the policies after the death of the Ashoka Mauryan dynasty and the Mauryan Empire disintegrated in 232 BC.
  • Ashoka’s remorse and transformation following the Kalinga War are evident in the numerous rock and pillar edicts he commissioned throughout his empire.
  • The Kalinga War left a deep imprint on the historical consciousness of India. It serves as a poignant reminder of the destructive consequences of war and the potential for transformation and redemption.

Kalinga War UPSC

The Kalinga War holds immense importance within ancient history for UPSC. This significant event marks a turning point in ancient Indian history, shaping the course of the Mauryan Empire and leaving a lasting impact on its governance and ideology.

Studying the Kalinga War enables candidates to comprehend the complexities of ancient warfare, understand the socio-political dynamics of the Mauryan Empire, and analyze the profound moral and philosophical transformation that Ashoka underwent, which would help them in UPSC exam preparation.

Kalinga War MCQs

Question: The Kalinga War was fought in the: a) 5th century BCE b) 3rd century BCE c) 1st century CE d) 6th century CE

Answer: b) 3rd century BCE

Question: The Kalinga War was fought between the Mauryan Empire and the kingdom of: a) Magadha b) Kalinga c) Kosala, d) Vatsa

Answer: b) Kalinga

Question: The Kalinga War resulted in a significant transformation in the reign of Emperor Ashoka. Which of the following statements is true? a) Ashoka became a more aggressive conqueror. b) Ashoka embraced Buddhism and adopted a policy of non-violence. c) Ashoka formed an alliance with Kalinga. d) Ashoka abdicated the throne after the war.

Answer: b) Ashoka embraced Buddhism and adopted a policy of non-violence.

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