The Sunga dynasty (187-75 BC) began through
treachery and also ended, as if by divine justice, through
The founder of the Sunga dynasty was Pushyamitra, a minister in the
court of the last Mauryan ruler, Brihadrata. Mauryan rule was on its
last legs, after revolts by the Satvahanas in the south and
intrusions by the Greek forces in the north-western part of the
The ineptitude of Brihadrata led to the usurpation of his throne by
his Brahmin minister, Pushyamitra.
Pushyamitra not only managed to consolidate the remaining Magadhan
territories (previously part of the Mauryan empire), but was also
successful in pushing back the Greeks beyond the River Indus. His
son, Agnimitra, who was made the governor of Vidisha, campaigned in
the south-west against Yajnasena, the ruler of Berar (Vidharba). He
successfully divided the kingdom in two and parcelled it out between
Yajnasena and his estranged cousin, Madhavasena (who had sought
Pushyamitra's help). Both kings accepted Pushyamitra's suzerainty.
After his success against the Greeks, Pushyamitra was reported for
having performed the Ashwamegha (horse sacrifice) so he declared
Certain Buddhist texts such as Divyavadana and Ashokavadana have
mentioned Pushyamitra as a Brahmin bigot who destroyed Buddhist
'stupas' and 'viharas' and offered a bounty of a hundred gold pieces
on the head of every monk who was killed.
However, historians like Romila Thapar have refuted these stories as
an exaggeration. Whatever the truth might be, there is evidence
which reveals that the construction of the great Buddhist stupa at
Bharhut took place during the reign of the Sungas.
The great grammarian Patanjali was a contemporary of Pushyamitra.
Also the famed Bramhana texts like Manusmriti, Vishnusmriti and
Yagyavalkasmriti were compiled during the reign of the Sungas.
Pushyamitra was succeeded by his son, Agnimitra, and later by his
grandson Sujyestha. His other grandson, Vasumitra, who probably
succeeded Sujyestha, is credited with having repulsed the attack by
the Greek king Demetrius.
There were subsequent Sunga kings such as Bhagvata. The last Sunga
king, Devabhumi, was killed by a slave girl at the behest of his
minister, Vasudeva, who laid the foundation of the Kanava dynasty
which ruled Magadha for another 45 years. There is little evidence
about the rule of these later kings, making them a very shadowy
dynasty of kings.
Kanava rule was quickly eclipsed after an attack by the Andhras from