SUNGAS AND KANVAS
SUNGA EMPIRE(187 to 78 BCE)
Pushyamitra Sunga(187–151 BCE):
- The dynasty was established by Pushyamitra Sunga, after the fall of the Maurya Empire(when the emperor Brhadratha, the last of the Mauryan rulers, was assassinated by the then Senapati of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushyamitra Sunga). Its capital was Pataliputra, but later emperors such as Bhagabhadra also held court at Besnagar, modern Vidisha in Eastern Malwa.
- The empire 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. The Kabul Valley and much of the Punjab passed into the hands of the Indo-Greeks and the Deccan to the Satavahanas.
- Patanjali in his Mahabhashya and Panini in his Ashtadhyayi clearly states Pushyamitra Sunga was a Brahmin from Bhardwaj Gotra.
- The meaning of “Sunga” is the fig tree in Sanskrit. So Sungas took their dynastic name from the fig tree. (Other example of Indian dynasties like Kadamba (a tree name) of Banavasi, Pallava(Sanskrit word for “branch and twig”) of Kanchi who took their dynastic name from tree.)
Prosecution of Buddhists?:
- It believed by some historians to have persecuted Buddhists and contributed to a resurgence of Brahmanism that forced Buddhism outwards to Kashmir, Gandhara and Bactria.
- The earliest reference to persecution of Buddhists by Pushyamitra Sunga is from the Sarvastivadin Buddhist text of 2nd Century CE, Divyavadana and its constituent part, the Ashokavadana.Tibetan Buddhist Historian Taranatha also mentions proscution.
- Pushyamitra Sunga might have withdrawn royal patronage of Buddhist institutions. With patronage shifting from Buddhism to Brahmanism, the Buddhists sided with Sunga’s enemies, the Indo-Greeks.
- According to some historians, Pushyamitra Sunga prosecuted Buddhists because:
- There is evidence of damage to Buddhist establishments at Takshashila around the time of Sunga.
- Sanchi stupa was destroyed by Pushyamitra Sunga, but later restored by his successor Agnimitra.
- The Bharhut Stupa gateway was not constructed during the time of Pushyamitra Sunga, but was constructed by his successors who had a more tolerant attitude to Buddhism, compared to Pushyamitra Sunga.
- The destruction of Ghositarama monastery at Kaushambi, in 2nd century CE, is attributed to Pushyamitra Sunga.
- Deokothar Stupas (located between Sanchi and Barhut) suffered destruction during the same period, also suggesting some kind of involvement of Sunga rule.
- Some historians have expressed skepticism of Pushyamitra’ s persecution of Buddhists because:
- The account of the Tibetan Buddhist Historian Taranatha is absurd.
- Archaeological evidence casts doubt on the claims of Buddhist persecution by Pushyamitra.
- The Ashokavadana legend is likely a Buddhist version of Pushyamitra’s attack on the Mauryas, reflecting the declining influence of Buddhism in the Sunga Imperial court. The very same Ashokavadana attributes similar cruelty to Ashoka against the Ajivikas.
- Support of Buddhism by the Sungas at some point is suggested by an epigraph on the gateway of Bharhut, which mentions its erection “during the supremacy of the Sungas(but they may be Pushyamitra’s Successor)
- The existence of Buddhism in Bengal in the Sunga period can also be inferred from a terracotta tablet that was found at Tamralipti.
- Sunga Dynasty ended, Buddhism flourished under the Kushanas and the Shakas; and hence Buddhism did not suffer any real set-back due to the Sunga Dynasty.
- He was the second King of the Sunga Dynasty of northern India. He succeeded his father, Pushyamitra Sunga.
- He was hero of Kalidasa’s play Malavikagnimitra. According to Kalidasa in the Malavikagnimitra, Agnimitra belonged to the Baimbika family (Baimbika-kula), while the Puranas mention him as a Sunga.
- The Malavikagnimitra, informs us that , a war broke out between the Sungas and neighboring Vidarbha kingdom during Agnimitra’s reign. Before the rise of the Sungas, Vidarbha(under Yajnasena) had become independent from the Mauryan Empire. Yajnasena was defeated and recognized the suzerainty of the Sunga rulers.
- In the Malavikagnimitram, Kalidasa tells us that Vasumitra guarded the sacrificial horse let loose by his grandfather Pushyamitra, and he defeated the armies of the “Yavana” (or Indo-Greeks) on the banks of the Sindhu River.
Devabhuti (83–73 BCE):
- The last of the Sunga emperor was Devabhuti (83–73 BCE). He was assassinated by his minister (Vasudeva Kanva).The Sunga dynasty was then replaced by the subsequent Kanvas.
Cultural contributions of Sungas:
- 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 of art, which is considered the indigenous counterpart to the more Hellenistic Gandhara school of art.
- 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 Emperor 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.
- Later Sunga emperors were seen as amenable to Buddhism and as having contributed to the building of the stupa at Bharhut.
Kanva dynasty(75 BCE – 30 BCE):
- The Kanva or Kanvayana Dynasty replaced the Sunga dynasty in Magadha, and ruled in the Eastern part of India.
- Vasudeva Kanva (75–66 BCE) was the founder of the Kanva dynasty.He was originally an Amatya (minister) of last Sunga ruler Devabhuti.
The Kanvas were Brahmins and considered themselves as descendents from Rishi Kanva.
At the time of Vasudeva Kanva’s accession, the Shunga kingdom was already finished as the Punjab region was under the Greeks and most parts of the Gangetic planes was under different rulers.
- Magadha was ruled by four Kanva rulers.Much detail about these kings has been ascertained only on the basis of Numismatics. Last ruler was Susharman (40 – 30 BCE).
- Their dynasty was brought to an end by the ruler of the Satavahana Dynasty or ‘Andhra bhritya’ dynasty in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh.