Sunga Empire

Sunga Empire

::"For other uses of the term Sunga see Sunga (disambiguation)"Infobox Former Country
native_name =
conventional_long_name = Sunga Empire
common_name = Sunga Empire
continent = Asia
region =
country =
era = Antiquity
status =
event_start =
year_start = 185 BC
date_start =
event1 =
date_event1 =
event_end =
year_end = 75 BC
date_end =
p1 = Maurya Empire
flag_p1 =
s1 = Kanva dynasty
flag_s1 =

flag_type =

image_map_caption = Approximate greatest extent of the Sunga empire (circa 185 BCE).
capital = Pataliputra
common_languages = Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali
religion = Hinduism
government_type = Monarchy
leader1 = Pusyamitra Sunga
year_leader1 = 185-151 BC
leader2 = Devabhuti
year_leader2 = 83-75 BC
title_leader = King
legislature =

The Sunga Empire (or Shunga Empire) is a Magadha dynasty that controlled North-central and Eastern India as well as parts of the northwest (now Pakistan) from around 185 to 73 BCE. It was established after the fall of the Indian Mauryan empire. The capital of the Sungas was Pataliputra. Later kings such as Bhagabhadra also held court at Vidisa, modern Besnagar in Eastern Malwa. [ [] ] The Sunga Empire is noted for its numerous wars with both foreign and indigenous powers. Although very much isn't known, the Mathura school of art and the works of Patanjali colored North India during this empire.


The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 BCE, about 50 years after Ashoka's death, when the king Brhadrata, the last of the Mauryan rulers, was assassinated by the then commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga ["Pusyamitra is said in the Puranas to have been the "senānī" or army-commander of the last Maurya king Brhadratha" The Yuga Purana, Mitchener, 2002.] , while he was taking the Guard of Honour of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga then ascended the throne.

Pushyamitra Sunga became the ruler of the Magadha and neighbouring territories. The kingdom of Pushyamitra was extended up to Narmada in the south, and controlled Jalandhar and Sialkot in the Punjab in the north-western regions, and the city of Ujjain [ [ India :: The Shunga kingdom - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] in central India. The Kabul Valley and much of the Punjab passed into the hands of the Indo-Greeks and the Deccan to the Satavahanas.

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, Kalidasa. Agnimitra was viceroy of Vidisha when the story takes place. The power of the Sungas gradually weakened. It is said that there were ten Sunga kings.

The Sungas were succeeded by the Kanva dynasty around 73 BCE.


Following the Mauryans, the first Brahmin king was Pusyamitra Sunga, who is frequently linked in tradition with the persecution of Buddhists and a resurgence of Brahmanism that forced Buddhism outwards to Kashmir, Gandhara and Bactria. Sarvastivada pg 38-39] However, there is doubt as to whether he did persecute Buddhists actively. According to the 2nd century Ashokavadana::"Then King Pusyamitra equipped a fourfold army, and intending to destroy the Buddhist religion, he went to the Kukkutarama. (...) Pusyamitra therefore destroyed the sangharama, killed the monks there, and departed.:After some time, he arrived in Sakala, and proclaimed that he would give a hundred dinara reward to whomever brought him the head of a Buddhist monk" ("Shramanas") Ashokavadana, 133, trans. John Strong.

Later Sunga kings were seen as amenable to Buddhism and as having contributed to the building of the stupa at Bharhut. [ Akira Hirakawa, Paul Groner, "A History of Indian Buddhism: From Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana", Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1996, ISBN 8120809556 pg 223]

Brahmanism competed in political and spiritual realm with Buddhism in the gangetic plains. Buddhism flourished in the realms of the Bactrian kings. [ Ashok Kumar Anand, "Buddhism in India", 1996, Gyan Books, ISBN 8121205069 pg 91-93]

Wars of the Sungas

War and conflict characterized the Sunga period. They are known to have warred with the Kalingas, Satavahanas, the Indo-Greeks, and possibly the Panchalas and Mathuras.

The Sunga 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. The Indo Greek Menander is credited with either joining or leading a campaign to Pataliputra with other Indian Kings; however, very little is know about the exact nature and success of the campaign. The net result of these wars remains uncertain.

Some interpretations of the Mahabharata and Yuga Purana have attempted to account for this:

The "Anushasanaparava" of the Mahabharata affirms that the city of Mathura was under the joint control of the Yavanas and the Kambojas. ["tatha Yavana Kamboja Mathuram.abhitash cha ye./ ete ashava.yuddha.kushaladasinatyasi charminah."//5 — (MBH 12/105/5, Kumbhakonam Ed)]

Also the Hindu text of the "Yuga Purana", which describes Indian historical events in the form of a prophecy, ["For any scholar engaged in the study of the presence of the Indo-Greeks or Indo-Scythians before the Christian Era, the "Yuga Purana" is an important source material" Dilip Coomer Ghose, General Secretary, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata, 2002] relates the attack of the Indo-Greeks on the capital Pataliputra, a magnificent fortified city with 570 towers and 64 gates according to Megasthenes, ["The greatest city in India is that which is called Palimbothra, in the dominions of the Prasians [...] Megasthenes informs us that this city stretched in the inhabited quarters to an extreme length on each side of eighty stadia, and that its breadth was fifteen stadia, and that a ditch encompassed it all round, which was six hundred feet in breadth and thirty cubits in depth, and that the wall was crowned with 570 towers and had four-and-sixty gates." Arr. Ind. 10. "Of Pataliputra and the Manners of the Indians.", quoting Megasthenes [ Text] ] and describes the ultimate destruction of the city's walls:: "Then, after having approached Saketa together with the Panchalas and the Mathuras, the Yavanas, valiant in battle, will reach Kusumadhvaja ("The town of the flower-standard", Pataliputra). Then, once Puspapura (another name of Pataliputra) has been reached and its celebrated mud [-walls] cast down, all the realm will be in disorder." ("Yuga Purana", Paragraph 47-48, 2002 edition.)

Pushyamitra is recorded to have performed two Ashvamedha Yagnas and Sunga imperial inscriptions have extended as far as Jalandhar. Scriptures such as the Divyavadhana note that his rule extended even farther to Sialkot, in the Punjab. Moreover, if it was lost, Mathura was regained by the Sungas around 100 BCE (or by other indigenous rulers: the Arjunayanas (area of Mathura) and Yaudheyas mention military victories on their coins ("Victory of the Arjunayanas", "Victory of the Yaudheyas"), and during the 1st century BCE, the Trigartas, Audumbaras and finally the Kunindas also started to mint their own coins). Accounts of battles between the Greeks and the Sunga in Northwestern India are also found in the "Mālavikāgnimitram", a play by Kālidāsa which describes a battle between Greek cavalrymen and Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra, on the Indus river, in which the Indians defeated the Greeks and Pushyamitra successfully completed the Ashvamedha Yagna. ["Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian coins in the Smithsonian institution", Bopearachchi, p16. Also: "Kalidasa recounts in his Mālavikāgnimitra (5.15.14-24) that Puspamitra appointed his grandson Vasumitra to guard his sacrificial horse, which wandered on the right bank of the Sindhu river and was seized by Yavana cavalrymen- the latter being thereafter defeated by Vasumitra. The "Sindhu" referred to in this context may refer the river Indus: but such an extension of Sunga power seems unlikely, and it is more probable that it denotes one of two rivers in central India -either the Sindhu river which is a tributary of the Yamuna, or the Kali-Sindhu river which is a tributary of the Chambal." The Yuga Purana, Mitchener, 2002.]

Nevertheless, very little can be said with great certainty. However, what does appear clear is that the two realms appeared to have established normalized diplomatic relations in the succeeding reigns of their respective rulers.

The Indo-Greeks and the Sungas seem to have reconciled and exchanged diplomatic missions around 110 BCE, as indicated by the Heliodorus pillar, which records the dispatch of a Greek ambassador named Heliodorus, from the court of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas, to the court of the Sunga king Bhagabhadra at the site of Vidisha in central India.

Cultural Contributions

While there is much debate on the religious politics of the Sunga dynasty, it is recognized for a number of contributions. Art, education, philosophy, and other learning flowered during this period. Most notably, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and Mahabhasya were composed in this period. It is also noted for its subsequent mention in the Malavikaagnimitra. This work was composed by Kalidasa in the later Gupta period, and romanticized the love of Malavika and King Agnimitra, with a background of court intrigue.

Artistry on the subcontinent also progressed with the rise of the Mathura school, which is considered the indigenous counterpart to the more Hellenistic Gandhara school of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

During the historical Sunga period (185 to 73 BCE), Buddhist activity also managed to survive somewhat in central India (Madhya Pradesh) as suggested by some architectural expansions that were done at the stupas of Sanchi and Barhut, originally started under King Ashoka. It remains uncertain whether these works were due to the weakness of the control of the Sungas in these areas, or a sign of tolerance on their part.

The last of the Sunga kings was Devabhuti (83-73 BCE). He was assassinated by his minister (Vasudeva Kanva) and is said to have been overfond of the company of women. The Sunga dynasty was then replaced by the subsequent Kanvas.


The script used by the Sunga was a variant of Brahmi, and was used to write the Sanskrit language. The script is thought to be an intermediary between the Maurya and the Kalinga brahmi scripts. [ [ Source] ]

List of Sunga kings

*Pusyamitra Sunga (185 - 149 BCE)
*Agnimitra (149 - 141 BCE)
*Vasujyeshtha (141 - 131 BCE)
*Vasumitra (131 - 124 BCE)
* Andhraka (124 - 122 BCE)
* Pulindaka (122 - 119 BCE)
* Ghosha
*Devabhuti (83 - 73 BCE)



* "The Legend of King Asoka, A study and translation of the Asokavadana", John Strong, Princeton Library of Asian translations, 1983, ISBN 0-691-01459-0

ee also

History of Buddhism
History of India


*"Dictionary of Buddhism" by Damien KEOWN (Oxford University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-19-860560-9
*"Ashoka and the decline of the Mauryas" Romila Thaper (London 1961).
*"The Yuga Purana", John E. Mitchiner, Kolkata, The Asiatic Society, 2002, ISBN 81-7236-124-6

External links

* [ List of rulers of Magadha]
* [ Medallions from Barhut]
* [ Sunga art in North India (Bharhut and Bodgaya)]

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