- The collapse of the Mauryan rule in 187 BCE paved the way for the emergence of several powers in the Indian subcontinent
- The period from the decline of the Mauryas to the rise of the Guptas (2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE) is known in Indian history as the post – Mauryan period.
- 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 B.C.E.
- It was established after the fall of the Indian Mauryan Empire.
- The capital of the Sungas was Pataliputra.
History of the Sungas
- The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 B.C.E., 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
- Pushyamitra Sunga became the ruler of the Magadha and neighbouring territories.
- He died after ruling for 36 years (187-151 B.C.E.).
- He was succeeded by son Agnimitra.
- The Sungas were succeeded by the Kanva dynasty around 73 B.C.E.
- Extent of Empire
- 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 in central India.
- Sunga rule in India according to the Puranas lasted for 112 years. Magadha was the nucleus of the kingdom
- The last of the Sunga kings was Devabhuti (83-73 B.C.E.).
- He was assassinated by his minister (Vasudeva Kanva)
- The Sunga dynasty was then replaced by the subsequent Kanvas.
Conflicts and Sacrifices
- According to Patanjali’s Mahabhasya , there were Greek incursions during the rule of the Sungas.
- Also the Hindu text of the Yuga Purana, describes Indian historical events in the form of a prophecy, and relates the attack of the Indo-Greeks on the capital Pataliputra, a magnificent fortified city.
- Malavikagnimitra refers to the conflict between Pushyamitra and Yajnasena, King of Vidarbha(the eastern Maharashtra area) and the victory of the Shungas
- Patanjali also mentions sacrifices performed for Pushyamitra
- The Malavikagnimitra narrates the story of military encounter between prince Vasumitra and Yavana army on the banks of Sindhu
- According to the play, Pushpamitra (Pushyamitra) sent his grandson Vasumitra (Agnimitra’s son) who escorted the sacrificial horse during its travels through different areas prior to the performance of the Asvamedha yajya.
- Vasumitra defeated the Yavanas on the banks of the Sindhu river.
- The sacrifice was performed after Vasumitra returned victorious along with the horse.
- After Ashoka’s tryst with Dhamma and Buddhism, the Sungas are known for having reverted to Brahmanical orthodoxy
- Buddhist sources claim that Pushyamitra Sunga persecuted the Buddhists.
- The Divyavadana gives stories of Pushyamitra’s cruelty and his animosity towards Buddhism.
- Later Sunga kings were seen as amenable to Buddhism and as having contributed to the building of the stupa at Bharhut
- While there is much debate on the religious policies 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 – work composed by Kalidasa in the later Gupta period, and romanticized the love of Malavika and King Agnimitra, with a background of court intrigue
- During the historical Sunga period (185 to 73 B.C.E.), Buddhist activity also managed to survive somewhat in central India (Madhya Pradesh) as suggested by some architectural expansions undertaken at the stupas of Sanchi and Barhut, originally started under King Ashoka.
- However, 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 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
- The Sunga Empire played an important role in patronizing Indian culture at a time when some of the most important developments in Hindu thought were taking place.
- The richness of India’s spiritual tradition, from which the whole world has gained insight, owes much to this period.
- The Sunga rulers helped to establish the tradition of royal sponsorship of learning and art that would be continued by later dynasties, ensuring that Indian culture remained vital and creative.