Shunga | Indian History | Free PDF Download


  • The Shunga dynasty was a Brahmin dynasty, established in 185 BCE, about 50 years after Ashoka’s death, when the emperor Brihadratha Maurya, the last ruler of the Maurya Empire, was assassinated by his Senānī or commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra Shunga.
  • Pushyamitra Shunga became the ruler of Magadha and neighbouring territories. His realm essentially covered the central parts of the old Mauryan Empire.
  • Malavikagnimitra claims that the empire of Pushyamitra extended to the Narmada River in the south.
  • Meanwhile, Kabul and much of the Punjab passed into the hands of the Indo-Greeks and the Deccan Plateau to the Satavahana dynasty.
  • Pushyamitra died after ruling for 36 years (187–151 BCE). He was succeeded by son Agnimitra. This prince is the hero of a famous drama by one of India’s greatest playwrights, Kālidāsa. Agnimitra was viceroy of Vidisha when the story takes place.
  • The power of the Shungas gradually weakened. It is said that there were ten Shunga emperors. The Shungas were succeeded by the Kanva dynasty around 73 BCE.
  • Following the Mauryans, the first Brahmin emperor was Pushyamitra Shunga, and is believed by some historians to have persecuted Buddhists.
  • Buddhist scripture such as the Asokavadana account of the Divyavadana and ancient Tibetan historian Taranatha have written about persecution of Buddhists.
  • Pushyamitra is said to have burned down Buddhist monasteries, destroyed stupas, massacred Buddhist monks and put rewards on their heads, but some consider these stories as probable exaggerations
  • From Malavikagnimitra it is learnt that Yajnasena, brother-in-law (Sister’s husband), a minister of Brihadratha established an independent kingdom in Vidarbha when there was the overthrow of the Maurya rule by Pushyamitra.
  • This made him a natural enemy of Pushyamitra. Yajnasena arrested and imprisoned his cousin Madhavasena who was the governor of the frontier and a personal friend of Agnimitra.
  • The latter asked Yajnasena to release Madhavasena but Yajnasena agreed on condition that his relation, a former minister of Brihadratha, who had been imprisoned by Pushyamitra must also be released. This enraged Agnimitra who marched against Yajnasena who surrendered. Vidarbha was divided between Yajnasena and Madhavasena and both acknowledged the suzerainty of Pushyamitra. This extended the sphere of influence of the Sunga King upto the Narmada region.
  • War and conflict characterized the Shunga period. They are known to have warred with the Kalingas, Satavahanas, the Indo-Greeks, and possibly the Panchalas and Mathuras.
  • The Shunga Empire’s wars with the Indo-Greek Kingdom figure greatly in the history of this period.
  • From around 180 BCE the Greco-Bactrian ruler Demetrius conquered the Kabul Valley and is theorized to have advanced into the trans-Indus to confront the Shungas.
  • An account of a direct battle between the Greeks and the Shunga is also found in the Mālavikāgnimitram, a play by Kālidāsa which describes a battle between a squadron of Greek cavalrymen and Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra.
  • Accompanied by a hundred soldiers on the “Sindhu river”, in which the Indians defeated a squadron of Greeks and Pushyamitra successfully completed the Ashvamedha Yagna.
  • Dr. H. C. Raychaudhuri observes that “The rule of the emperors of the house of Pushyamitra marks an important epoch in the history of India in general and Central India in particular.
  • The Greek dynasties received a check at the hands of the Sungas and had to revert to the friendly and peaceful policy during the whole of the Sunga period, of their Seleukidan precursors.
  • The Sunga period saw the beginning of the Brahmanical Hinduism as is exemplified by two horse-sacrifices at the time of Pushyamitra.
  • The exaggerated stories of the cruel persecution of the Buddhists by Pushyamitra have been refuted by historians by pointing out that pro-Buddhist officers were allowed to serve under the Government and the Buddhist monuments at Bharut, Sanchi, etc. remained undemolished.
  • In both art and literature the Sunga period left impress of its genius on the history of India, comparable to the glory of the Guptas. Vidisa (Besnagar) grew into an important centre of ivory and stone-carving.
  • Rockcut stupa at Bharut is the most famous monument of the Sunga period.
  • The Sunga period also witnessed a revival of literature specially in central India. Gonarda was the birth place of Patanjali, the greatest literary genius of the period. His Mahabhashya, a commentary on Panini’s grammar is a celebrated piece of Sanskrit literary work.

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