Shunga Empire




Shunga Empire:

  • Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, Kalidasa’s Malvikagnimitram, Gargi Samhita of sage Garga, and the Yuga Purana comprise the Brahmanical sources, while Taranath’s History of Buddhism, Ashokavadan, and Divyavadan comprise the Buddhist sources.
  • There are also archaeological and epigraphical sources like the Dhanadeva inscription of Ayodhya, the Yavanarajya inscription of Mathura, the inscriptions of Bhilsa, Barhut, and Hatigumpha.
  • The copper coins called Karshapana belonging to the Shunga period have also been found.

1.Pushyamitra Shunga:

  • Pushyamitra Shunga was the founder and first ruler of the Shunga Empire in East India. He was a follower of Hinduism. 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 emperor
  • He was a patron of Brahmanism and revived the Vedic rites, especially the rite of sacrifice. He performed the Ashvamedha sacrifice twice to proclaim his sovereignty, one immediately after his ascension to the throne of Magadha and the other after defeating the Greeks.

2.Post Pushyamitra:

  • Pushyamitra was succeeded by his son Agnimitra (151-143 BCE) who was the hero of Kalidasa’s play Malvikagnimitram.
  • According to a drama called Malavikagnimitram was written by Kalidasa, Agnimitra belonged to the Baimbika family ( Baimbika-Kula ). He had three wives namely Dharini, Iravati, and Malavika. queen Dharani was the mother of the fourth Shunga king, Vasumitra. Malavika was a princess of Vidarbha. During his father's rule, Agnimitra was assigned as viceroy of Vidisha.

3.War with Vidarbha:

  • At the time of Ashoka, Vidarbha was a part of the Mauryan empire, but due to the inefficiency of later Mauryan kings, it became independent. Vidarbha became independent when a Mauryan minister put his brother-in-law, Yajnasena on the throne. They ruled for some years. When Shungas came into power, they captured the Mauryan minister and prisoned him. Yajnasena had a cousin named Madhavasena. Both cousins had an enmity between them. Madhavasena developed good relation with Agnimitra. Once, due to the disputes between him and Yajnasena, Madhavasena tried to leave Vidarbha and take shelter there. But before he could do so, Yajnasena captured and imprisoned him.
  • These hostilities surfaced upon the issue of custody of the brother-in-law of Yajnasena (a Mauryan minister) and Madhavasena, a partisan of Agnimitra (the Crown Prince) and Yajnasena’s cousin.
  • Agnimitra ordered an invasion of Vidarbha by Virasena, upon which Yajnasena was compelled to surrender Madhavasena.
  • Later, Vidarbha was divided between the two cousins, with the river Varada forming the boundary between the two states and these states remained under the authority of the Shungas.


  • Agnimitra was succeeded at the throne of Magadha by his son, Vasumitra.
  • He had fought with the Bactrian Greeks while guarding the sacrificial horse of his grandfather and repelled a major attack by Demetrius.
  • After his ascension to the throne, he seemingly gave up on the martial spirit and vigor of his earlier days and engaged in a life of pleasure.
  • Harshacharita by Bana implies that he was killed by Muladeva while enjoying a drama. He was succeeded by Vajramitra, who ruled for nine years, but his reign has went undocumented.

5.Decline of Shungas:

  • The last king of the Shunga dynasty, Devabhuti was killed by a slave girl at the instruction of his Brahmin minister Vasudeva Kanva in 75 BCE, who established the Kanva dynasty at Magadha.
  • The last king of the Shunga dynasty, Devbhuti, was not an efficient king. His minister, Vasudeva, killed him and established the Kanva dynasty. This incident is described in the Harshacharita by Banabhatta.

6.The Shunga Literature:

  • Literature in the Sanskrit language was encouraged during the Shunga period. To review the changes in Sanskrit language, Patanjali wrote the ‘Mahabhashya’ based on Panini’s ‘Ashtadhyayi’. According to some scholars, there were many new additions made in the original text of Mahabharata during this period. The Manusmruti was composed during this period. Along with literature, the Shunga’s contribution in the field of art is also important. The stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut, Garuda pillar at Besnagar are excellent examples of art during this period. The sculptural art in the Shunga period widened its horizons and depicted the life of common people on a large scale.
  • The composition of literature in the Sanskrit language was encouraged during the 112 years of the Shunga period.
  • The Sanskrit play, Malvikagnimitram by Kalidasa details the life of Agnimitra and other rulers of the Shunga dynasty as well as narrates an account of a direct battle between the Greeks and the Shunga.
  • The Yuga Purana relates the attack of the Indo-Greeks on the Shunga capital Patliputra and also about the civil war the Indo-Greeks faced in Bactria.
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