Subhadrangi, also known as Dharma(Pali: Dhamma) or Janapada-Kalyani, was the wife of Samrat Bindusara and the mother of Ashoka the Great (c. 3rd century BCE), the Maurya emperor of ancient India.

Chief Queen of the Maurya Empire
DynastyMaurya (by marriage)
FatherA Brahmin of Champa (according to Ashokavadana)
ReligionAjivika (according to Mahavamsa-tika)


The various Buddhist texts provide different names or epithets for Ashoka's mother:

  • Subhadrangi, in Asokavadanamala[1][2]
  • Dharma (Pali: Dhamma), in Vamsatthapakasini or Mahavamsa-tika, a 10th-century commentary on Mahavamsa[2]
  • Janapada-kalyani, in a Divyavadana legend;[3] according to scholar Ananda W. P. Guruge, this is not a name, but an epithet.[1]


Ashokavadana, which does not mention Ashoka's mother by name,[4] states that she was the daughter of a Brahmin from Champa city near the Mauryan capital Pataliputra.[5] According to the Mahavamsa-tika, she belonged to the Moriya Kshatriya clan.[2]

According to the 2nd century historian Appian, Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta entered into a marital alliance with the Greek ruler Seleucus I Nicator, which has led to speculation that Ashoka's father Bindusara (or Chandragupta himself) married a Greek princess. However, there is no evidence that Ashoka's mother (or grandmother) was Greek, and the idea has been dismissed by most historians.[6]

Legends in Buddhist textsEdit

According to the Ashokavadana, she was the daughter of a Brahmin from the Champa. She was extremely beautiful, and some unnamed fortune-tellers predicted that she would marry a king. They also prophesized that she would bear two sons, one of whom will become a chakravartin (universal) king, while the other would be religiously-inclined. Accordingly, her father took her to Pataliputra, and offered him in marriage to king Bindusara.[7][8]

Bindusara considered the woman an auspicious celestial maiden, and inducted her into his harem. The king's concubines, who were jealous of her beauty, did not let her sleep with the king, and instead trained her as a barber. She soon became an expert barber, and whenever she groomed the king's hair and beard, the king would become relaxed and fall asleep. Pleased with her, the king promised to grant her one wish, to which she asked the king to have intercourse with her. The king stated that he was a Kshatriya (member of the warrior class), and would not sleep with a low-class barber girl. The girl explained that she was the daughter of a Brahmin (a member of the high priestly class), and had been made a barber by the other women in the harem. The king then told her not to work as a barber, and made her his chief queen.[9]

According to the Mahavamsa-tika, Ashoka's mother - named Dhamma - was a devotee of the Ajivika sect. During her pregnancy, she once said that she wanted to "trample on the moon and the sun to play with the stars and to eat up the forests". Based on an interpretation of this wish, an Ajivika ascetic predicted that her son would conquer and rule over entire India, destroy 96 heretical sects, and promote Buddhism. The ascetic also predicted that the son would kill his brothers for displeasing him (the text later states that Ashoka killed 99 out of his 100 brothers).[10]

After some time, she gave birth to a boy. She named the child Ashoka, because she had become "without sorrow" (a-shoka) when he was born. Later, she gave birth to a second son. She named the child Vitashoka, because her sorrow had ceased (vigate-shoke) when he was born.[9] She was The Step - Mother of 99 Half - Brothers of Ashoka including Susima.

In popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ a b Ananda W. P. Guruge 1993, p. 19.
  2. ^ a b c Radhakumud Mookerji 1962, p. 2.
  3. ^ Upinder Singh 2008, p. 332.
  4. ^ Nayanjot Lahiri 2015, p. 323:"In the Ashokavadana, Ashoka's mother is not named."
  5. ^ John S. Strong 1989, pp. 204–205.
  6. ^ Romila Thapar 1961, p. 20.
  7. ^ John S. Strong 1989, p. 204.
  8. ^ Nayanjot Lahiri 2015, pp. 31–32.
  9. ^ a b John S. Strong 1989, p. 205.
  10. ^ Romila Thapar 1961, p. 26.
  11. ^ Playing onscreen mother was a challenge: Pallavi Subhash, IBN Live, 31 January 2015, archived from the original on 2 February 2015