Saturday, July 20, 2024

Hinduism Under Shunga Dynasty

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Shunga Dynasty ruled from Magadha and controlled a major portion of North India. Pushyamitra was the founder of the Shunga dynasty in India after taking over the Mauryan throne. The ruling seat was Pataliputra till Bhagabhadra shifted it to Vidisha in Malwa. The Shunga dynasty gave to Bharat the great Kalidasa as well as the revivalism of Hinduism, lost during the reign of Ashoka.

PC A Historical Atlas of South Asia by Joseph E Schwartzberg

Pushyamitra Shunga

The Shunga dynasty saw its peak with Pushyamitra, its first ruler. He ruled for over three decades and during that time art, education and philosophy flourished under him. Pushyamitra set up Sanskrit as the court language, which was the first step towards Hindu revivalism, post the Mauryan rule. Whilst patronising art and culture, Pushyamitra gave a special boost to Hinduism. He supported works like Mahabhashya which was composed by Patanjali.

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Hindu Revivalism

Pushyamitra was the first Brahmin ruler after the Mauryans and he ensured the revivalism of Hinduism, specially in Kashmir, Gandhara and Bactria. He reversed the sanctions that Ashoka had placed on Hinduism previously, so much so that he reestablished the animal sacrifices during Yajna. Brahmanical supremacy had suffered a heavy blow under Ashoka way before the Kalinga war. It turns out that Ashoka had converted to Buddhism two years before the Kalinga war. The story of him converting post the war was a propaganda forced upon students to malign Hinduism.


Though Pushyamitra supported and patronised Buddhist art, Brahmanism was constantly at a level of competition with Buddhism. It was still overcoming the stripping of its rituals by Ashoka. However, Pushyamitra did not show intolerance towards the other religion (Buddhism), in his pursuit to restore Hinduism.

The caste system was prevalent during this time but there was no rigidity amongst the castes. Inter caste marriages were prevalent and there was a general fluidity in terms of caste norms.

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Buddhism Under Shungas

In his pursuit of reviving Hinduism, Pushyamitra did harbour a stern approach towards the Buddhists. Seeing how the Hindus were reduced and converted by Ashoka, Pushyamitra lent a heavy hand upon the Buddhists. While the Buddhist texts claim him to have persecuted their ancestors, scholars have rejected the claim.

Pushyamitra’s approach of sternness was only for the revival of Hinduism of the Brahmanical order. The Sanchi Stupa was vandalised and due to non clarity of the texts, some believe it was during his reign. There is still a debate concerning the authenticity of the claim. Certain scholars uphold the vandalism to be a much later event. However, it was rebuilt on a much larger scale and by the accounts, it stands clear that the Buddhists were more than welcome to practice their religion.

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The sole reason for a foggy clarity upon the subject is the inconsistency of the Buddhist accounts. They are not uniform regarding the alleged persecutions and the currency dinara mentioned for killing Buddhist monks was not in circulation till 1st century BCE – much later than Pushyamitra. Further, a number of monasteries grew during the reign of Pushyamitra which would not be the case in case of persecutions.

The later Shunga rulers even built the Great Stupas for the Buddhists and did not restrict any practise of the Buddhist faith under their rule.

Greatness Of The Shungas

In history, there has been an odd chapter upon the Shungas which was as easily forgotten by the youngsters. Enough justice has not been allotted to the clan of Pushyamitra which gave Kalidasa and Hindu revivalism to Bharat. Not only that, Pushyamitra also consolidated Bharat into the long lived dream of Akhand Bharat. Their reign saw many battles, each of which established their dominance. However, after the death of Pushyamitra’s son, Agnimitra, the Shunga empire started disintegrating.

Hindu art and culture flourished during the Shunga dynasty. The role of Pushyamitra was pivotal to this revivalism. Even though the later Shunga rulers after Agnimitra could not take up the baton, they maintained the integrity of the Hindu culture and faith under their reign as well.



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