Maurya King Ashoka wives were religious, pious and well-wishers of Maurya Empire. However, his last and fifth wife Tishyaraksha is rather infamous in Maurya History for her ill deeds and cunning nature that led to the downfall of the greatest kingdom in Indian history.
Tishyaraksha is described as a destitute and desperate woman of wrong morals who enticed the King with her talents of dance and music soon after the death of the chief queen Asandhimitra. Tishyaraksha’s description can be found in Buddhist account titled ‘Ashokavadana’ which details her wrong deeds that affected the Mauryan Dynasty deeply at a crucial time when the Empire was in need of a strong leader.
Like few of Ashoka’s wives, Tishyaraksha was a commoner. She did not belong to any royal family to be called as Chief Royal Consort after Asandhimitra. Tishyarakha’s whereabouts are very unclear but some accounts say that she was a long time maid of Asandhimitra and knew everything about the imperial life.
Tishyaraksha – Marriage with Ashoka
Ashoka was depressed and devastated after his beloved queen Asandhimitra’s death. He is said to have mourned his loss deeply. Historians opine that Tishyaraksha came to Pataliputra sensing the opportunity to attract the vulnerable Emperor.
She lured the king with her beauty and talent to which Ashoka lost his heart and he went on to marry her. Historians state that Tishyaraksha was a very young woman and Ashoka was already old and withered when he wed her.
Tishyaraksha’s Interest in Maurya Prince Kunala
Ashoka had a son named Kunala by his third wife Padmavati. Kunala was raised with affection by Asandhimitra and he was an extremely religious and good-natured young man who was next in line for the throne. Kunala was not only well behaved but he was exceedingly charming with beautiful big eyes.
Kunala was a devout Jain who respected Tishyaraksha as his mother. However, Tishyaraksha’s intentions about Kunala were questionable. Jain records state that the young concubine of Ashoka had fallen head over heels in love with the young and handsome prince. Despite of her many advances Kunala did not respond to her the way she wanted. This ignorance by Kunala enraged Tishyaraksha and she decided to teach him a lesson by doing something unthinkable.
Tishyaraksha – Death and Decline of Mauryan Empire
Kunala was a brave young man like his father Ashoka and the royal court unanimously decided that the young prince will be sent to Taxila to curb the riots. During this time, Ashoka had an unusual request of two precious gems and wrote a letter to the Governor of Taxila. Ashoka’s letter was opened by Tishyaraksha who cleverly changed the subject of the letter and mentioned that Ashoka wants the Governor of Taxila to take off two eyes of the young prince.
Unfortunately, Ashoka sent the letter to Taxila without checking the contents. Historians opine that even though Kunala was saddened by his dear father’s request he obliged and became a blind man. He left Taxila and wandered long and hard with his wife.
When Ashoka came to know about his son’s miserable state he ordered for Tishyaraksha’s execution. Mauryan Empire was struggling without a strong leader because Kunala was handicapped. Kunala’s son Samprathi took over the throne but the absence of a decisive leader led to the decline of the empire.