Ashoka was anointed the new emperor in 274 BCE. Immediately he began instituting his law of oppression by administering capital punishment for even the slightest infractions. His cruel heart showed mercy upon no one. His people spoke so poorly of the new king's antics, word went straight to the top by way of the spies Ashoka had created to investigate public concern. Desiring to win rather than demand acclaim, Ashoka decided to surpass the efforts of his predecessors by brutally demolishing the kingdoms previously unscaved. The kingdom of Kalinga had with its borders, long kept the Mauryan Empire from accessing much of the Ganges river. This was enough of a reason to initiate an invasion. He led his military to eventual victory but in the process lost as well.Standing along the front lines, Ashoka witnessed first hand the massacre of hundreds of thousands waged war on complete strangers. He knew so many had lost their lives simply because, he, the king, had ordered them to do so. Women became widows, children now orphans, Ashoka asked himself exactly what had his people won in war.
Great changes in policy fell on India following the war. Ashoka relinquished all intent in expanding his lands by military means. He had nothing to gain in battle and no reason to fear outside invasion. Instead he turned all his attention to the welfare of his subjects, and so began an era of peace and internal progression. By example Ashoka taught and persuaded his people to love and respect all living things. According to Dr. Munshi, "he insisted on the recognition of the sanctity of all human life". The unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of animals was immediately abolished. Wildlife became protected by the king's law against sport hunting and branding. Limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but the overwhelming majority of Indians chose by their own free will to become vegetarians. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics and cast. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies.
Ashoka became an avid Buddhist practitioner, building 84,000 stupas across his empire housing the sacred relics of Gotama. He sent his family on religious pilgrimages to foreign lands and held massive assemblies so holy men from the world over could converse upon philosophies of the day. More than even Buddhism was Ashoka's deep involvement in the dharma. The dharma became the ultimate personal conduct of moral and ethical standard he desired his subjects to live by.Ashoka saw the dharma as a righteous path showing the utmost respect for life. The dharma would bring harmony to India in the form of compassion. Serving as a guiding light, a voice of conscious that is the dharma can lead one to be a respectful, responsible human being. Edward D'cruz interprets the Ashokan dharma as a "religion to be used as a symbol of a new imperial unity and a cementing force to weld the diverse and heterogeneous elements of the empire". Ashoka's intent was to instigate "a practice of social behavior so broad and benevolent in its scope that no person, no matter what his religion, could reasonably object to it".