Just like with Constantine, a legend developed about the conversion of Ashoka which was quite different from reality. Even though he had produced a great number of monuments which were placed throughout India with texts that provided a great amount of insight to his life, including his conversion, no one could read them.Yet, the people remembered Ashoka had created them, and their presence encouraged scholars to tell andretell what they had heard about him, making his legend one of the most important ones to come out of Buddhist India. He was known to the Indians, and to the rest of the Buddhist world, as Ashoka the Great; after his conversion, he was to be seen as a devout follower of the Buddha, who, among other things, helped establish stupa to house the relics of the Buddha as pilgrimage sites throughout the region.
The story of Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism within the Asokavadanahas several layers to it. Some elements of his conversion are based upon factors from a previous life. In that life, he had met the Buddha when he (Ashoka) was a young child. Although he did not have much to give, he gave what he could: the boy placed a handful of dirt in the Buddha’s begging bowl, thinking he was giving a wonderful gift to the Enlightened One. The intention was pure, and so it was welcomed by the Buddha who smiled upon him. Because of this deed, the Buddha said that in another life Ashoka would become a great king, and as a king, he would establish the Buddhist faith within his kingdom. Despite the intention of the young child, dirt was not a fit gift for the Buddha. Thus, when he was born as Ashoka, he was born with a horrible skin condition making him hideous to look at.
Ashoka’s father disliked him. One of his brothers, Susima, was his father’s favorite and the heir apparent. Yet, as a prince, Ashoka certainly held a great amount of authority within the kingdom. Thus, when one part of the kingdom or another would revolt against the authority of the king, Ashoka would be sent to help take care of the situation. Accordingly, he was able to squash the rebellion peacefully, without having to resort to violence. His brother fared much worse. It was during such a time, when Ashoka’s brother was away trying to squash a rebellion, that his father lay dying. The king’s ministers, seeing the situation, and believing that Ashoka would be a more favorable successor than his brother, tried to have Ashoka declared king in his brother’s absence. Ashoka’s father would not have it. The gods, however, confirmed that Ashoka was to rule, and when they came down to announce it, Ashoka’s father coughed up blood and died.
As soon as Ashoka had taken the throne, his personality changed. The first thing he had to do was make sure his brother would not return and demand the kingdom from him. With the aid of his ministers, he prepared a trap for Susima at the entryway to the city: they place a pit full of fiery charcoal there, expecting Susima to rush in to the city without caution. The trap was a success. After Susiuma heard of his father’s death, he quickly returned home, and fell into the pit as expected.Ashoka’s newfoundpower got the best of him. He ordered his ministers around, and when they would not obey to the letter, he had them killed. And, in one terrible incident, his rage led him to have five hundred of his concubines burned alive. From such actions, he was to become known throughout the land as “Ashoka the Fierce.”
His prime minister noticed that he was out of control. He was not governing the land well. His primary focus was one which should have been secondary: judging people and acting as their executioner when needed. There was much more he should be doing, but he wasn’t. The prime minister suggested a solution: Ashoka should create the position of royal executioner, and let the judgment and punishment be put into that man’s hand. Agreeing to this, Ashoka found the most wretched of young men, a young boy named Girika (also known as Canagirika), and gave him the position of executioner. Under Girika’s guidance, Ashoka built a prison which was beautiful on the outside, but horrible within, a prison that became known as Ashoka’s hell.Because Girika pleased Ashoka, he was able to make a rather unusual request and be granted it: anyone who came upon the prison grounds would not be allowed out alive.
One day a Buddhist monk, Samudra, while wandering throughout India happened to enter Girika’s prison. From the outside, he saw how beautiful it was, but once he entered the grounds he saw it was as hideous as any hell he had heard about, and quickly wanted to leave. Girikastopped him. Pleased to find another victim, Girika gave the monk seven days to prepare for his death. In that time, Samudra attained the level of arhatand was prepared to meet his end. Yet, when the time came, a miracle occurred. Girika had Samudra placed in a pot of boiling water, but after he was placed within it, Samudra did not suffer at all. “Straight-away, he [Girika] sent word to King Asoka. Asoka came to witness this marvel, and thousands of people gathered, and Samudra, seated in the cauldron, realized that the time for Asoka’s conversion was at hand.”
According to the monuments Ashokaleft behind, it was the cruelty of war which motivated his conversion to Buddhism. He had undertaken a devastating war to annex the Kingdom of the Three Kalingas. Although that war ended in success, the cruelty he engaged for success left an impression on his conscience. Afterwards, he came to the conclusion that he could no longer live in such a violent kind of existence, and this led him to fully embrace Buddhist dharma. “When that edict, which expressly ascribes Asoka’s conversion to his remorse for the sufferings caused by the war in the ninth ‘regnal year’, is read together with the Minor Rock Edict […] it seems to be a necessary inference that Asoka became a lay disciple under the Buddhist system in his ninth ‘regnal year,’ immediately after the conquest of Kalinga. . .” Vincent Smith, Asoka: The Buddhist Emperor of India. 2nd ed. (Delhi: S. Chand & Co., 1964), 27.
 “Susima immediately rushed to the eastern gate, intending to do battle with his half-brother, but he fell into the ditch full of charcoal, and came to an untimely and painful end.” John S. Strong, The Legend of King Asoka, 210.
 Ibid., 210-11.
 Ibid., 216.
 Ibid., 217.
 See Ibid., 218.
 Ibid., 218.
 Ibid., 219.