Pusyamitra Sunga

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Sunga masculine figurine (molded plate). 2nd-1st century BCE.

Pusyamitra Sunga (185–149 BCE) was the founder and first King of the Sunga Dynasty in Northern India.

Pusyamitra Sunga was originally a Senapati (General) of the Mauryan empire. In 185 BCE he assassinated the last Mauryan Emperor (Brhadrata) 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).

Theories of origin[edit]

Brahmin origin[edit]

Origin of Gotra[edit]

Patanjali in his Mahabhashya and Panini in his Ashtadhyayi clearly states Pusyamitra 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. Pusyamitra 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 Pusyamitra 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 Pusyamitra 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]

Academic debate[edit]

Some historians have rejected Pushyamitra' s persecution of Buddhists.[citation needed] The traditional narratives are dated to two centuries after Pushyamitra’s death in Asokâvadâna and the Divyâvadâna, Buddhist books of legend. The traditional accounts are often described as exaggerated.[citation needed] The Asokavadana legend is likely a Buddhist version of Pusyamitra's attack on the Mauryas, reflecting the declining influence of Buddhism in the Sunga Imperial court.

Koenraad Elst writes:[24]

The story is in fact given in two near contemporaneous (2nd century A.D.) Buddhist histories, the Asokâvadâna and the Divyâvadâna; the two narratives are almost verbatim the same and very obviously have a common origin.5 This non-contemporary story (which surfaces more than three centuries after the alleged facts) about Pushyamitra’s offering money for the heads of Buddhist monks is rendered improbable by external evidence: the well-attested historical fact that he allowed and patronized the construction of monasteries and Buddhist universities in his domains, as well as the still-extant stupa of Sanchi.6 After Ashoka’s lavish sponsorship of Buddhism, it is perfectly possible that Buddhist institutions fell on slightly harder times under the Sungas, but persecution is quite another matter. The famous historian of Buddhism Etienne Lamotte has observed: “To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof.”

The very same Ashokavadana also attributes similar cruelty to Ashoka:

“At that time, an incident occurred which greatly enraged the king. A follower of the Nirgrantha (Mahâvîra) painted a picture, showing Buddha prostrating himself at the feet of the Nirgrantha. Ashoka ordered all the Ajivikas of Pundravardhana (North Bengal) to be killed. In one day, eighteen thousand Ajivikas lost their lives. A similar kind of incident took place in the town of Pataliputra. A man who painted such a picture was burnt alive with his family. It was announced that whoever would bring to the king the head of a Nirgrantha would be rewarded with a dînâra (a gold coin). As a result of this, thousands of Nirgranthas lost their lives.”

Among the detractors is Romila Thapar, who writes that archaeological evidence casts doubt on the claims of Buddhist persecution by Pushyamitra.[25] More recently, Giovanni Verardi has criticized ideological claims trying to downplaying archeological and textual evidence of brahmanic religious persecutions. Specifically those carried on by Pusyamitra.[26] Support of the Buddhist faith by the Sungas at some point is suggested by an epigraph on the gateway of Barhut, which mentions its erection "during the supremacy of the Sungas".[27]

On the other hand, 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 possibility that the original brick stupa built by Ashoka was destroyed by Pusyamitra and then restored by his successor Agnimitra.[28] 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.[29] Proponents also point to the proclamations and claim that the Manu Smriti was propagated.

Succession of the throne[edit]

Pusyamitra 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 Pusyamitra 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. ^ http://koenraadelst.voiceofdharma.com/books/acat/ch2.htm
  25. ^ Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas by Romila Thapar, Oxford University Press, 1960 P200
  26. ^ Giovanni Verardi, Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India, Manohar Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9788173049286
  27. ^ John Marshall "A guide to Sanchi", p11
  28. ^ Sir John Marshall, "A Guide to Sanchi", Eastern Book House, 1990, ISBN 81-85204-32-2, pg.38
  29. ^ Article on Deokothar Stupas possibly being targeted by Pushyamitra


  • John Strong, The Legend of King Asoka, A Study and Translation of the Asokavadana, 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