The Victorious Emperor - Poem by Rajesh Thankappan
The mural painted on the wall
Depicts a famous victory and a fall
The victorious emperor mounted on his regal horse
Surveys the battleground in deep remorse.
Orphaned children, widowed women,
Lamenting parents, bodies devoid of life,
Unclaimed weapons, maimed men,
Were seen strewn all over the battleground.
Emperor Ashoka of the Kalinga war
Shall never from our consciousness stray afar
For his was a victory that did not celebrate a fall
As depicted by the painter on the wall.
Poet's Notes about The Poem
As the legend goes, one day after the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue:
What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other’s kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant…. What’s this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?
Words on Ashoka
For eight and twenty years Asoka worked sanely for the real needs of men. Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star. From the Volga to Japan his name is still honoured. China, Tibet, and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory to-day than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne.
H. G. Wells, in The Outline of History (1920)
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