Pushyamitra Sunga

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Pushyamitra Sunga
Sunga emperor
Sunga masculine figurine (molded plate). 2nd-1st century BCE.
Reign 185–149 BCE
Successor Agnimitra

Pushyamitra Sunga (Sanskrit:पुष्यमित्र शुंगा Puṣyamitra Śuṅga) (185–149 BCE) was the founder and first King of the Sunga Dynasty in Northern India.

Pushyamitra was originally a Senapati (General) of the Mauryan empire. In 185 BCE he assassinated the last Mauryan Emperor (Brihadratha Maurya) during an army review, and proclaimed himself King. He then performed the Ashwamedha Yajna and brought much of Northern India under his rule. Inscriptions of the Shungas have been found as far as the Jalandhar in the Punjab, and the Divyavadana mentions that his rule extended as far as Sagala (Sialkot, Pakistan).

Theories of origin[edit]

Brahmin origin[edit]

Origin of Gotra[edit]

Patanjali in his Mahabhashya and Panini in his Ashtadhyayi clearly states Pushyamitra Sunga was a Brahmin from Bhardwaj Gotra.[1] While the Harivamsa Purana called him a Kaashyapa Gotriya Brahmin.[2] This problem was solved by J.C. Ghosh by referring him a Dwaimushyayana (द्वैयमुष्यायन), a Brahmin with dual Gotras. He further mentions that one class of the Gotra was called Dwaimushyayana or dual Gotriya because they were composed of two Gotras i.e. Father's and Mother's (here Bharadwaj and Kaashyapa). Such Brahmins could use both of their Gotras as their identity.[3]

In Pravar Khanda (प्रवर खण्ड) of the Apastamba, Shounga-Shaishiri (शौंग-शैशिरि) Gotra is mentioned. Pushyamitra was the Brahmin who was from the Shunga of Bhardwaj Gotra and Shaishiri in Katashakha (कटशाखा) of Vishwamitra ancestry. Baudhayana mentioned about this in his ShroutSootra (श्रौतसूत्र) that Shaishiri are from the Katashakah of Vishwamitra Ancestary.[4]

According to the Matsya Purana, Dwaimushyayana Gotra or Dual Gotra is mentioned in Shounga-Shaishirey Brahmins whose Prawara are Angiras (आंगीरस), Vaarhaspatya (वार्हस्पत्य), Bhardwaj, Moudgalya (मौद्वगल्य) and Shaishirey (शैशिरेय). The first four Gotra are from AangirasGana (आंगीरसगण) while fifth one is definitely from another Gotra otherwise it can't be Dwaimushyayana or Dual Gotra.[5] On the other side, it is also mentioned that Prawara like Kaashyap, Awatsara (अवत्सर) and Vashishtha are found under the Dwamushyayana Gotra in Shaishireya Kashyap. Thus with the help of the Matsya Purana and other proofs it is proven that Shaishreya Gotra is came from the combination of Kaashyap and Vashishtha Gotra but there is no name of Shaishir (शैशिर) under Vashishtha, therefore Shaishir are definitely from Kashyapa Gotra.[6] Thus Pushyamitra Sunga was of Dwaimushyayana Gotra from both Bhardwaja and Kaashyapa lineage.

Origin of the surname Sunga[edit]

It is written in the Harivamsa Purana for Pushyamitra Sunga that an Audbhijja Kaashyapa Dwija Senani will spread the tradition of Yajna again.[7] In this line of Harivamsa, the word Audbhijja (ओद्भिज्ज) means plant-born. Thus according to The Harivamsa Purana, A plant-born Kaashyapa Brahmin General will restore the Vedic tradition. In Aryan Dynasties, there was a tradition to derive their dynastic names from the various objects of nature like the Sun (Suryavanshi), the Moon(Chandravanshi), Fire(Agnivanshi), Vegetation (Pallava, Kadamba) etc. According to Dr. Hemchandjra Raychaudhari, Sunga Dynasty took their surname from a tree.[8] He further gave the example of Indian dynasties like Kadamba (a tree name) of Banavasi, Pallava(Sanskrit word for "branch and twig") of Kanchi and Narikela-Kramukanvaya (Narikela a Sanskrit word for the Coconut) of Champa. The meaning of "Sunga" is the fig tree in Sanskrit. So according to him, Sungas took their dynastic name from the fig tree.[9]

Vaishya origin[edit]

According to scholars Narhari K. Bhatt,[10] Pran Nath Chopra[11] and T. K. Suman Kumar,[12] Pushyamitra became governor of Saurashtra at Girinagar (near Junagadh, Gujarat) during the time of Chandragupta Maurya.

Iranian origin[edit]

According to Vincent Arthur Smith, Pushyamitra Sunga was of Iranian origin because his Sungas carried "mitra" suffix in their first names.[13] His suggestion was that Pushyamitra was a Persian, though a Hindu worshiper of the god Mitra, which the Persians in the time period popularly did. Smith also points that there were practices popular amongst Persians occurring in the Mauryan palaces: the keeping of a sacred fire (a Magian ritual) in the Mauryan court, and the celebration of washing the king's hair.[14]

But theory of Smith was totally rejected by Mahamahopadhyaya Pt. Harprasad Shastri and called Shunga Aryan Brahmin origin.[15] Shastri gave the evidence from the Rigveda where at least two persons whose name ended with the word "Mitra" suffix are mentioned. Firstly, he gave the name of Purumitra mentioned two times in the Rigveda.[16] Secondly he mentioned well-known Rishi Vishwamitra who was the priest of king Sudas. Also "Mitra" suffix was not given to all the successors of Pushyamitra which means that "Mitra" suffix has nothing to do with any ancestry or surname.

Mauryan origin[edit]

According to the Buddhist Divyavadana, Pushyamitra was lineally descended from the Mauryas.[17] But Suresh Chandra Roy didn't accept it. According to him, Divyavadana proves that there is the gap of five generations between Ashoka and Pushyamitra Shunga. But It is impossible because Pushyamitra sit on throne in 184 BCE and Ashoka died in 232 BCE.[18] Moreover names of the descendants of Ashoka were mentioned wrong in Divayavadana. According to this scripture, Kunala was the son of Ashoka and Sampadi was the son of Kunala, Brihaspati was the son of Sampadi, then Vrishasena, son of Brihaspati. Brihaspati's son Vrishasena, Vrishasena's son Pushyadharma and Pushyadharma's son Pushyamitra.[19] Also, Most of the Puranas say in unison that Commander Pushyamitra got the throne after killing his master Brihadratha Maurya.[20][21][22][23]

Accounts of persecution[edit]

Buddhist Accounts[edit]

The earliest reference to persecution of Buddhists by Pushyamitra Sunga is from the Sarvastivadin text of 2nd Century CE, Divyavadana and its constituent part, the Ashokavadana, which describe an account where Pushyamitra asked his ministers how he could get everlasting fame. They told him as long as Buddhist Law remained, he would have to construct 84,000 stupas as King Ashoka had done. But one priest told him he could have everlasting fame by doing the opposite - destroying Buddhist religion. According to these ancient accounts, Pushyamitra Sunga then went to the Kukkutarama monastery, slaughtered monks and the organization's residence; after which he proceeded to Shakala (Sialkot) where he issued an edict awarding a gold piece for every head of a Buddhist monk brought to him. These accounts state the destruction continued until he arrived at the Bodhi tree.[24] According to other accounts, Pushyamitra Sunga proceeded to Shakala and offered 100 Dinaras for the head of every Buddhist monk.[25]

A Sarvastivadin-Vaibhashika text of 2nd Century CE, Vibhasha, chronicles the legend of Pushyamitra Sunga destroying stupas, demolishing 500 monasteries at the Kashmir border and slaughtering monks; supported by Kumbhandas, Yakshas and demons which enhanced his power making him invincible, until he approached the Bodhi tree. According to these narratives, the guardian spirit of the Bodhi tree, Yaksha Damshtranivasin, took the form of a beautiful lady, approached the king, crushed his army and killed the king. A Mahasamghika text, the Shariputrapariprichha, translated into Chinese between 317 and 420 CE also mentions the story. The Aryamanjusrimulakalpa uses abusive terms for Pushyamitra Sunga, such as 'Gomimukhya' (cattle-faced) and 'Gomishanda', alluding to Vedic Sacrifices revived under the Brahmin Pushyamitra Sunga.[24]

According to the Tibetan Buddhist Historian, Taranatha, "the brahmana king, Pushyamitra, along with other tirthikasas, started war and thus burnt down numerous Buddhist monasteries from the madhyadesha to Jalandhara. They also killed a number of vastly learned monks. As a result, within five years, the doctrine was extinct in the north (Taranatha, 1970: 121).[24]

Archaeological evidence supporting persecution[edit]

According to John Marshall (1955, 1975) there is evidence of damage to Buddhist establishments at Takshashila around the time of Sunga. He proposes the Sanchi stupa was destroyed by Pushyamitra Sunga, but later restored by his successor Agnimitra. According to N.N.Ghosh (1945) the Bharhut gateway was not constructed during the time of Pushyamitra Sunga, but was constructed by his successors who had a more tolerant attitude to Buddhism, compared to Pushyamitra Sunga, a 'leader of Brahmanic reaction'. The destruction of Ghositarama monastery at Kaushambi, in 2nd century CE, is attributed to Pushyamitra Sunga.[24]

According to P.K.Misra,[24]

Academic debate[edit]

Some historians, such as K.P.Jayaswal, H.C.Raychaudhury, R.C.Mitra and D.Devahuti, have expressed skepticism of Pushyamitra' s persecution of Buddhists. Étienne Lamotte points out if there was a fight between Pushyamitra Sunga and the Yaksha Damshtranivasin and Krimisha, it is impossible to pinpoint the location. Devahuti agrees with Lamotte and adds the tale of Pushyamitra offering dinaras for heads of Buddhist monks and that of his army suddenly being destroyed is manifestly wrong. Mitra opines the account of the Tibetan Buddhist Historian Taranatha is absurd.[24]

Additionally, H.C.Raychaudhury and Romila Thapar, do not believe in the persecution theory; with Raychaudhury pointing out the ban by Ashoka on animal sacrifices applied not only to yagnas but also to others. Pushyamitra Sunga's death strongly points to a coup d'état and Thapar points out there was no Brahmanic revolution.[24] A common feature is lack of archaeological evidence. Romila Thapar writes that archaeological evidence casts doubt on the claims of Buddhist persecution by Pushyamitra.[26] Koenraad Elst is also of opinion that accounts linking Pushyamitra Sunga to Buddhist persecution are untrue.[27]

The Ashokavadana legend is likely a Buddhist version of Pushyamitra's attack on the Mauryas, reflecting the declining influence of Buddhism in the Sunga Imperial court. The very same Ashokavadana attributes similar cruelty to Ashoka against the Ājīvikas:

However, more recently, Giovanni Verardi has criticized ideological claims trying to downplaying archeological and textual evidence of brahmanic religious persecutions. Specifically those carried on by Pushyamitra.[28] Though, support of Buddhism by the Sungas at some point is suggested by an epigraph on the gateway of Bharhut, which mentions its erection "during the supremacy of the Sungas",;[29] it is however contested by N.N.Ghosh who says the Bharhut gateway was constructed by Pushymitra Sunga's successors who had a more tolerant attitude to Buddhism.[24] Sir John Marshall noted that the Sanchi stupa was vandalized during the 2nd century before it was rebuilt later on a larger scale, suggesting the original brick stupa was destroyed by Pushyamitra and then restored by his successor Agnimitra.[30] Similarly, the Deokothar Stupas (geographically located between Sanchi and Barhut) suffered destruction during the same period, also suggesting some kind of involvement of Sunga rule.[31]

According to Danver, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that Pushyamitra Sunga might have withdrawn royal patronage of Buddhist institutions. With patronage shifting from Buddhism to Brahmanism, the Buddhists sided with Sunga's enemies, the Indo-Greeks. Historian H.Bhattacharya and colleagues, opine that as a result, Pushyamitra Sunga put down Buddhists with a heavy hand. Therefore if Buddhists monasteries were pillaged, the motive may be construed as a political one, rather than a religious one. Danver points out that after Sunga Dynasty ended, Buddhism flourished under the Kushanas and the Shakas; and hence Buddhism did not suffer any real set-back due to the Sunga Dynasty. Lamotte says it was the Vishnuite Propaganda that led Buddhism into danger.[24]


Main article: Manusmṛti

According to P.V. Kane there was a dharmashastra attributed to Swayambhu Manu, before the 4th century BCE and a rajadharma attributed to Pracetasa Manu; references to which can be found in the Mahabharata and the Arthashastra. Roy says these works were recast by Bhrgu between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE, a dating accepted by Keith. This period coincides with the reign of Pushyamitra Sunga. According to Witzel, Manudharma was first collected under Pushyamitra Sunga in 150 BCE. Olivelle believes Manusmriti was composed by a single individual or by a group under the chairmanship of a strong personality; and rejects the view that the text was a product of gradual accretions over centuries by different individuals. Tripathi, Doniger and Smith accept Manusmriti's dating is around beginning of the Christian era. Olivelle asserts the text was composed and written between first century BCE and second century CE. The text is generally believed to be a Brahmanical response and reaction to the rise of Buddhism and Jainism; wherein 'Manu' over-emphasizes the role of dharma in state-craft in a particular sense of social conduct and legal rules.[32]

Succession of the throne[edit]

Pushyamitra Shunga was succeeded in 151 BCE by his son Agnimitra.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mahabhashya and Ashtadhyayi (4/1/117);VikarnaShungacchhagalaad VatsBhardwajatrishu | विकर्णशुंगच्छगलाद वत्सभारद्वाजात्रिषु।
  2. ^ The Harivamsa Purana, Bhavishyaparva 3/40
  3. ^ Ghosh, J.C.,"The Dynastic-Name of the Kings of the Pushyamitra Family," J.B.O.R.S, Vol. XXXIII, 1937, p.359-360
  4. ^ Ghosh, J.C.,"The Dynastic-Name of the Kings of the Pushyamitra Family," J.B.O.R.S, Vol. XXXIII, 1937, p.360
  5. ^ The Matsya Purana (196/51-54)
  6. ^ The Matsya Purana (199/10-14)
  7. ^ The Harivamsa Purana, 3/40-41/-; ओद्भिज्जो भविता कश्चित् सेनानी: काश्यपो द्विज:।
  8. ^ Raychaudhari Hemchandra, "Tha Audvijja Senani of the Harivansa?", Indian culture, Vol. IV, 1938, P. 360
  9. ^ Raychaudhari Hemchandra, "Tha Audvijja Senani of the Harivansa?", Indian culture, Vol. IV, 1938, P. 364-365
  10. ^ P. 12 Gujarat by Narhari K. Bhatt
  11. ^ P. 36 Encyclopaedia of India, Volume 30 by Pran Nath Chopra
  12. ^ P. 113 India:unity in diversity by T. K. Suman Kumar
  13. ^ P. 138 The Oxford history of India
  14. ^ P. 103 The Oxford history of India by Vincent Arthur Smith
  15. ^ Shastri, Harprasad, "Who were the Shungas?", J.A.S.B., 1912, P.287-288
  16. ^ The Rigveda 1/117/20, 10/39/7
  17. ^ P. 207 History of ancient India by Arun Bhattacharjee
  18. ^ Roy, Suresh, "Shungarajvansha Evam Unka Kaal (Shunga dynasty and their time period)," Anamika Publications, 1989, P. 56-57
  19. ^ 'Divyavadanam' edited by P.L. Vaidya, P. 282/5
  20. ^ The Matsya Purana (272/26/-)Pushyamitrastu Senaneeruddhritya Sa Brihdrithan.
  21. ^ The Bhagavata Purana 12/1/15
  22. ^ The Vishnu Purana 4/24/9
  23. ^ The Vayu Purana 3/99/37
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i Danver, Steven L., (2010). Popular Controversies in World History: Investigating History's Intriguing Questions, p.95-101. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598840780
  25. ^ Pruthi, R.K., (2004). Buddhism and Indian Civilization, p.83. Discovery Publishing House
  26. ^ Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas by Romila Thapar, Oxford University Press, 1960 P200
  27. ^ http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/ayodhya/pushyamitra.html
  28. ^ Giovanni Verardi, Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India, Manohar Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9788173049286
  29. ^ John Marshall "A guide to Sanchi", p11
  30. ^ Sir John Marshall, "A Guide to Sanchi", Eastern Book House, 1990, ISBN 81-85204-32-2, pg.38
  31. ^ Article on Deokothar Stupas possibly being targeted by Pushyamitra
  32. ^ Roy, Kaushik (2012). Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present, p.109-118. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107017368


  • John Strong, The Legend of King Ashoka, A Study and Translation of the Ashokavadana, Princeton Library of Asian translations (1983) ISBN 0-691-01459-0

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Mauryan Dynasty
King of Sunga Dynasty
185–149 BCE
Succeeded by