Pushyamitra Shunga

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For the 5th century CE tribe, see Pushyamitras.
Pushyamitra Shunga
Shunga masculine figurine (molded plate). 2nd-1st century BCE.
Shunga Emperor
Reign c. 185 – c. 149 BCE
Predecessor Brihadratha Maurya
Successor Agnimitra
Issue Agnimitra
Dynasty Shunga

Pushyamitra Shunga (IAST: Puṣyamitra Śuṅga) (c. 185 – c. 149 BCE) was the founder and first ruler of the Shunga Empire in North India.

Pushyamitra was originally a Senapati "General" of the Maurya Empire. In 185 BCE he assassinated the last Mauryan Emperor, Brihadratha Maurya, during an army review, and proclaimed himself King. He then sacrificed a horse and brought much of North 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]

Gotra origins[edit]

Patanjali's Mahabhashya and Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi clearly states Pushyamitra Shunga was a Brahmin from Bhardwaj Gotra.[1] while the Harivamsa Purana called him a Kashyapa 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, a Śauṅgaśaiśiri (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's Śrautasūtra states the Shaishiri are from the Katashakah of Vishwamitran ancestry.[4]

According to the Matsya Purana, Dwaimushyayana Gotra or Dual Gotra is mentioned in Śauṅgaśaiśiri Brahmins whose Prawara are the Angiras (आंगीरस), Vaarhaspatya (वार्हस्पत्य), Bhardwaj, Maudvagalya and Śaiśirēya (शैशिरेय). The first four gotra are from Āṅgīrasagaṇa (आंगीरसगण) while the fifth is definitely from another Gotra otherwise it can't be a Dual Gotra.[5] On the other side, it is also mentioned that Prawara like Kaashyap, Avatsara (अवत्सर) and Vashistha 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 Śaiśira (शैशिर) under Vashistha, therefore Śaiśira are definitely from Kashyapa Gotra.[6] Thus Pushyamitra Shunga was of Dwaimushyayana Gotra from both Bhardwaja and Kaashyapa lineage.

Origin of the surname Shunga[edit]

It is written in the Harivamsa Purana for Pushyamitra Shunga 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, Shunga 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 "Shunga" is the fig tree in Sanskrit. So according to him, Shungas 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.

Mauryan origin[edit]

According to the Buddhist Divyavadana, Pushyamitra was lineally descended from the Mauryas.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] Also, Most of the Puranas say in unison that Commander Pushyamitra got the throne after killing his master Brihadratha Maurya.[16][17][18][19]

Accounts of persecution[edit]

Buddhist Accounts[edit]

The earliest reference to persecution of Buddhists by Pushyamitra Shunga 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 the Buddhist religion. According to these ancient accounts, Pushyamitra Shunga 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.[20] According to other accounts, Pushyamitra Shunga proceeded to Shakala and offered 100 Dinaras for the head of every Buddhist monk.[21]

A Sarvastivadin-Vaibhashika text of 2nd Century CE, Vibhasha, chronicles the legend of Pushyamitra Shunga 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 Shunga, such as 'Gomimukhya' (cattle-faced) and 'Gomishanda', alluding to Vedic Sacrifices revived under the Brahmin Pushyamitra Shunga.[20]

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).[20]

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 Shunga. He proposes the Sanchi stupa was destroyed by Pushyamitra Shunga, but later restored by his successor Agnimitra. According to N.N.Ghosh (1945) the Bharhut gateway was not constructed during the time of Pushyamitra Shunga, but was constructed by his successors who had a more tolerant attitude to Buddhism, compared to Pushyamitra Shunga, a 'leader of Brahmanic reaction'. The destruction of Ghositarama monastery at Kaushambi, in 2nd century CE, is attributed to Pushyamitra Shunga.[20]

According to P.K.Misra,[20]

Although archaeological evidence is meager, it seems likely, that the Deorkothar stupa geographically located between Sanchi and Bharhut, was destroyed as a result of Pushyamitra Shunga's fanaticism. The exposed remains at Deorkothar bear evidence of deliberate destruction datable to his reign. The three-tiered railing is damaged; railing pillars lie broken to smithereens on stone-flooring. Twenty pieces of pillar have been recovered, each fragment itself fractured. The site offers no indication of natural destruction.(2001).

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 Shunga 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.[20]

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 Shunga's death strongly points to a coup d'état and Thapar points out there was no Brahmanic revolution.[20] A common feature is lack of archaeological evidence. Romila Thapar writes that archaeological evidence casts doubt on the claims of Buddhist persecution by Pushyamitra.[22] Koenraad Elst is also of opinion that accounts linking Pushyamitra Shunga to Buddhist persecution are untrue.[23]

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

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.

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.[24] Though, support of Buddhism by the Shungas at some point is suggested by an epigraph on the gateway of Bharhut, which mentions its erection "during the supremacy of the Shungas",;[25] it is however contested by N.N.Ghosh who says the Bharhut gateway was constructed by Pushymitra Shunga's successors who had a more tolerant attitude to Buddhism.[20] 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.[26] Similarly, the Deokothar Stupas (geographically located between Sanchi and Barhut) suffered destruction during the same period, also suggesting some kind of involvement of Shunga rule.[27]

According to Danver, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that Pushyamitra Shunga might have withdrawn royal patronage of Buddhist institutions. With patronage shifting from Buddhism to Brahmanism, the Buddhists sided with Shunga's enemies, the Indo-Greeks. Historian H.Bhattacharya and colleagues, opine that as a result, Pushyamitra Shunga 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 Shunga Dynasty ended, Buddhism flourished under the Kushanas and the Shakas; and hence Buddhism did not suffer any real set-back due to the Shunga Dynasty. Lamotte says it was the Vishnuite Propaganda that led Buddhism into danger.[20]


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 Shunga. According to Witzel, Manudharma was first collected under Pushyamitra Shunga 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.[28]

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. 207 History of ancient India by Arun Bhattacharjee
  14. ^ Roy, Suresh, "Shungarajvansha Evam Unka Kaal (Shunga dynasty and their time period)," Anamika Publications, 1989, P. 56-57
  15. ^ 'Divyavadanam' edited by P.L. Vaidya, P. 282/5
  16. ^ The Matsya Purana (272/26/-)Pushyamitrastu Senaneeruddhritya Sa Brihdrithan.
  17. ^ The Bhagavata Purana 12/1/15
  18. ^ The Vishnu Purana 4/24/9
  19. ^ The Vayu Purana 3/99/37
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Pruthi, R.K., (2004). Buddhism and Indian Civilization, p.83. Discovery Publishing House
  22. ^ Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas by Romila Thapar, Oxford University Press, 1960 P200
  23. ^ http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/ayodhya/pushyamitra.html
  24. ^ Giovanni Verardi, Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India, Manohar Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9788173049286
  25. ^ John Marshall "A guide to Sanchi", p11
  26. ^ Sir John Marshall, "A Guide to Sanchi", Eastern Book House, 1990, ISBN 81-85204-32-2, pg.38
  27. ^ Article on Deokothar Stupas possibly being targeted by Pushyamitra
  28. ^ 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
Preceded by
Mauryan Dynasty
Brihadratha Maurya
King of Shunga Dynasty
185–149 BCE
Succeeded by