The third emperor of the Mauryan dynasty and one of the greatest that India has produced, Aśoka ruled during the period 272—232 B. C. His empire extended from Gāndhāra (Afghanistan) up to southern Karnataka. The terrible bloodshed witnessed during his conquest of the Kaliṅga Kingdom (Orissa) brought about a big change in his mental attitude. He thence-forward vowed to conquer by dharma rather than by war and violence. He is believed to have embraced Buddhism and dispatched Buddhist missionaries to several countries of the world. His rule was a golden era in Indian history. The several rock-edicts erected by him all over the country bespeak of his rule of dharma.

Aśoka is also the name of a tree (Saraca indica) believed to be dear to Śiva, and hence, considered sacred. The grove of Aśoka trees is mentioned in the Rāmāyaṇa as the place where Sītā was confined by the demon king Rāvaṇa. Hence Hindu women over the ages have associated it with constancy and chastity, have worshipped it, as also eaten its tender buds.