Discovering Pakistan

5, 000 years of Civilization & Culture

Legend of Prince Kunala

Kunala was the son of Emperor Ashoka and Queen Padmavati and presumptive heir to to the Maurya Empire, which, at the time (3rd century BCE), covered most of the Indian subcontinent and all of present-day Pakistan. Kunala was a handsome boy, with beautiful, bright eyes; his father Ashoka is said to have said at his birth: “My son’s eyes are beautiful and very auspicious; they resemble a fully blossomed blue lotus.”

But destiny had other plans for Kunala – in the prime of his life, he was cruelly blinded by Tishyarakshita, a jealous younger wife of Ashoka whose amorous advances Kunala had repulsed. The tragic incident took place in Taxila, where Kunala had been sent on official business; today, Kunala Stupa in Taxila stands as a monument to the unfortunate prince.

Below is a concise summary of Kunala’s tale by Victorian Indologist Vincent Arthur Smith, from his book “Asoka, the Buddhist Emperor of India”.

Below is a longer and slightly different version of the story, a direct translation of the Sanskrit “Ashokavadana” by John S. Strong. The Ashokavadana is a 2nd century CE text that comprises of legends and historical narratives about the reign of Emperor Ashoka. The story begins with Ashoka sending Kunala to quell a rebellion in Taxila, and goes on to relate the evil stratagems of Queen Tishyarakshita, Kunala’s blinding and plaintive return to the capital Pataliputra (modern Patna in India), and finally, Ashoka’s heartbreaking encounter with his beloved son, now bereft of his lotus-like eyes. [The remaining pages of the story were not accessible in the Google Books preview].

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