The Shungas were a Brahman family who worked i as officials under the Mauryas. They probably belonged to the region of Ujjain (western India). The Shunga dynasty was founded by Pushyamitra Shunga, an army general who killed the last Mauryan emperor, Brihadratha, in about 184 bc at an army review.
Bana, the court poet of Kannauj, has corroborated this incident. Another version says that Pushyamitra had no other option but to kill Brihadratha in order to save the empire from foreign invaders.
Pushyamitra’s kingdom was, at first, as far as the river Narmada in the s<5uth and probably as far as Jalandhar and Sialkot in Punjab in the north.
The north-west extent of the kingdom is not certain. The capital was Pataliputra but the crown prince, Agnimitra, held court at Vidisa (in eastern Malwa).
The Shungas were engaged in warfare against the Greeks in the north-west, against adversaries in the northern Deccan and the king of Kalinga in the south-east. The Greek attacks are mentioned in the works of Patanjali and Kalidasa as also in the Gargi Samhita.
Vasumitra, son of prince Agnimitra, defeated the Greeks. Pushyamitra, the grandfather (according to the Ayodhya inscription of Dhanadeva) is said to have successfully perfoimed two horse sacrifices.
These heralded the Shungas’ hold over a large territory and indicated their support to Brah- manism. Buddhist sources accuse Pushyamitra of persecuting the Buddhists.
But Romila Thapar writes, “This was clearly an exaggeration, since archaeological evidence reveals that Buddhist monuments at this time were being renewed.”
Pushyamitra’s apathy to Buddhism was (according to some scholars) due to his exasperation with the Buddhists when they converted to their religion the Greek invaders in the
Yet another view is that the Buddhists were resentful with the Mauryan patronage gone and the Shunga king espousing Brahmanism with horse- sacrifices and so on.
According to the Puranas, Pushyamitra died after a reign of thirty-six years. He was succeeded by his son Agnimitra, who is the hero of the play Malavikagnimitra by Kalidasa. Not much is known about his reign.
Agnimitra ruled for eight years and was succeeded by Sujyeshtha who had a reign of seven years. He was succeeded in 133 bc by Vasumitra (Sumitra, according to K.A. Nilakanta Sastri) who was full of martial spirit as a prince but became pleasure-loving when he became a king.
Vasumitra was killed during a concert by Muladeva (according to Bana). This was somewhat ironic, considering that it was Vasumitra who defeated Menander, the Greek king credited with having subjugated more nations than Alexander.
The disintegration of the Shunga dynasty probably began in the reign of Muladeva, who is regarded as the ruler of the independent principality of Kosala.
Some historians believe that the coins found at Ayodhya are of Muladeva and he may have been a predecessor of Dhanadeva described as ‘Lord of Kosala’ in the inscription found at Ayodhya. This was the first secession from the empire.
With the passage of time, the Shungas held sway only over Magadha and some territories of central India. According to the Puranas, Vasumitra ruled for ten years.
The next three kings mentioned in the Puranas are Andhraka, Pulindaka and Ghosha but they do not appear to have descended from the Shungas.
Their names may have been mentioned because, after Vasumitra’s death, the Andhras probably raided Magadha and occupied it temporarily.
Their inclusion in the Shunga dynasty creates an anomaly in the chronological history and, therefore, they are definitely outsiders.
In 123 bc, Vasumitra was succeeded by Vajramitra, who reigned for nine years. In 114 bc, he was succeeded by Bhagavata, who ruled for thirty-two years. Then came Devabhuti in 82 bc who ruled for ten years.
According to the Puranas, his rule came to an end in 72 bc. According to Bana, he was overthrown by his Brahman minister, Vasudeva. The Shungas thus lost Magadha but probably continued to rule in Vidisa till it was annexed by the Andhras.