Magadha Empire Kings – Sungas And Kanvas

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Sungas 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.

Magadha Empire

It was established after the fall of the Indian Mauryan empire. The capital of the Sungas was Pataliputra

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Magadha Empire – THE SUNGAS (185-73 B.C.)

  • Sungas Empire – The Mauryas were succeeded by the Sungas and the latter ruled for 112 years from about 185 B.C. to 73 B.C.
  • It is stated in the Puranas that the  10 Mauryas will enjoy the earth for full 137 years. After them it  will go to the Sungas.
  • Pushyamitra the Commander-in-chief, will uproot Brihadratha and rule the Kingdom for 36 years.sungas and kanvas - Sunga_Art
  • According to the Harshacharita of Bana. “While reviewing the army under the pretext of showing him his forces, the base-born (Anarya) General Pushyamitra crushed his master, Brihadratha, the Maurya, who was weak in  keeping his coronation oath.”


  • Our chief sources of information for the history of the Sungas are the Puranas, the Harshacharita of Bana and the Mahabhasya of Patanjali.
  • We also get some information from the Theravali of Mutunga, a Jain writer who flourished during the 14th century A.D.
  • The Malavikagnimitram of Kalidasa also gives us a lot of information about the horse sacrifice of Pushyamitra and the fight of Agnimitra with the ruler of Vidarbha
  • The Ayodhya inscription of Dhandev makes a reference to two horse sacrifices performed by Pushyamitra.

Origin of Sungas in Magadha Dynasty 

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  • There are many theories with regard to the origin of the Sungas. Panini describes the Sungas as Brahmanas of Bharadvaja Gotra and there seems to be nothing strange in this.
  • We have many instances of Brahmans as Generals, eg., Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Asvatthama, Parshurama etc.
  • This view is also accepted by K.P. Jayaswal. According to him, the Sungas as Brahmans and they occupied a high position in the theological world.
  • According to the Divyavadana, Pushyamitra was lineally descended from the Mauryas.
  • Kalidasa in the Malavikagnimitram tells us that Agnimitra, son of Pushyamitra, was a scion of the Bimbika family.

Magadha Empire Pushyamitra (185-149 B.C.)

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  • Pushyamitra is stated to have ruled for 36 years and he must have been an old man at  the time of his death.
  • There are references not only to his son but also to his grandson taking part in the administration of the country.

Yavana wars in Magadha Empire

  • The throne which Pushyamitra ascended was not a bed of roses.he had to meet difficulties from various quarters.
  • It is contended that there were two Yavana wars which Pushyamitra had to fight. One war he fought in the beginning of his reign and the other towards the close of his reign.
  • The invasion of the Yavanas which is mentioned in the Gargi Samhita was a formidable one.
  • The Yavana leader was either defeated beyond the walls of Patalipura or he retried without any fighting.

War with Vidarbha

  • We have the details of the war between Agnimitra, son of Pushyamitra and viceroy of Vidisha, against Vidarbha in the Malavikagnimitram of Kalidasa.
  • It is stated that the kingdom of Vidarbha was a newly established one and like a newly planted tree had not taken firm roots.
  • Yajnaseni, king of Vidarbha, is represented as a relative of Brihadratha, the last Mauryan King whom Pushyamitra had ousted from the throne.
  • It is possible that Yajnaseni might have been a Governor of Vidarbha in the time of Brihadratha and declared himself independent after the usurpation of the Magadhan throne by Pushyamitra.

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Horse Sacrifices in Magadha Empire

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  • According to the Ajodhya Inscription, Pushyamitra performed two horse sacrifices. The horse sacrifice referred to in the Malavikagnimitram was performed towards the end of his reign and Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya, officiated as a priest.
  • The following passage occurs in the Mahabhasya : “The Pushyamitra Yajamahe”.
  • The question arises when the  first horse sacrifice was performed. It  is possible to be very definite on this point.
  • It is suggested that it will not be unreasonable to suppose that the first horse sacrifice was performed soon after the usurpation of the throne by Pushyamitra and probably also after the relief of Pataliputra from the first Yavana invasion.

Pushyamitra and Buddhism in Magadha Dynasty

  • Buddhist tradition as given in the Divyavadana and in the work of Taranatha, the Tibetan historian, describes Pushyamitra as a great persecutor of Buddhism.
  • It is stated in the Divyavadana that acting on the advice of his Brahman chaplain.
  • Pushyamitra made up his mind to destroy the teachings of the Buddha.
  • He went to destroy the monastery of Kukkutasana at Pataliputra.
  • However, he came back as he was frightened by a roar. After that, he marched out with a four-fold army destroying stupas, burning monasteries and killing the monks, as far as Sakala.
  • At Sakala, Pushyamitra issued a declaration that whoever would present  him with the head of a Sramana would be rewarded with one hundred Dinars.
  • Sakala has been  described in Milindapanha as a resot of the Buddhist monks.

Successors of Pushyamitra in Magadha

  • When Pushyamitra died in about 149 B.C. after a reign 36 years, he was succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince, Agnimitra who had ruled the provinces of the southern part during the lifetime of his father.
  • Agnimitra ruled for 8 years. No events of his reign are known. There are no inscriptions or coins of his reign.
  • Agnimitra was succeeded by Jyestha who ruled for seven years. The numismatics are not inclined to assign to him the Kausambi coins bearing the legend Jethamita.
  • No other information is available about him. Jyestha was succeeded in 133 B.C. by Sumitra.
  • As a prince, he had won laurels in the battle against the Greeks while commanding the force escorting the sacrificial horse let loose by Pushyamitra.
  • The Puranas mention the names of Angrakha, Pulindaka and Ghosha as the successors of Sumitra.
  • However, it is pointed out that these rulers did not belong to the Sunga dynasty and were wrongly included in the Puranas.
  • It is contended that Sumitra was succeeded by Vajra Mitra in 123 B.C. and not by Angrakha.

Importance of Sunga period in Magadha Dynasty

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  • According to Dr. Raychaudhuri, “the rule of the emperors of the Houses of Pushyamitra marks an important epoch in the history of India in general and of Central India in particular.
  • The renewed incursions of the Yavanas, which once threatened to submerge the whole of the Madhya Desa, received a check, and the Greek dynasties of the borderland reverted to the prudent policy of their Seleukiden precursors.
  • There was an outburst of activity in the domain of religion, literature and art, comparable to that of the glorious epoch of the Guptas.
  • It cannot be denied that it were the Sungas who defended the country from the attacks of the Yavanas.
  • If the Sungas had not established a strong government in the country and driven away the Yavanas, the latter might have succeeded in establishing their control over the whole of Northern India and in that case the country would have been completely Hellenized.
  • The Sunga period ushered in a new age in the art of buildings. The wooden railings of the Buddhist stupas were  replaced by stone railings and magnificent stone-gateways during the Sunga period immortal.
  • “It was the ivory workers of Vidisha who carved, in the immediate vicinity of their town, one of the monumental gates of Sanchi.”
  • The important monuments of the Sunga period are the Vihara at Bhaja near Poona, a group of rock-out stupas and a large Chaitya hall near the old Vihar at Bhaja, the Chaitya Hall No. 9 at Ajanta, stupa at Amarvathi, the Vriksha Devata at Bharhut, Garuda pillar at Besnagar, railing at Bodh Gaya, enclosing the Chankrama or promenade, a Chaitya hall at Basik, etc.

King Kharavela of Kalinga

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  • King Kharavela of Kalinga was a contemporary of the Sungas and it is desirable to give an account of his work and achievements.
  • We are lucky in having a lot of useful and interesting information about Kharavela in the Hathigumpha inscription.
  • This inscription was ably edited by K.p Jayaswal, and R.D. Banerjee.
  • The inscription begins with an invocation of the Arhats and the Riddhas in the Jain style.
  • Then it proceeds to say that Kharavela became Yuvaraja after completing his 15the year and obtained Maharaj Abhiseka as soon as he completed his 24th year.
  • In the first year of his reign, Kharavela repaired the capital of the Kalinga whose city walls, gates and buildings had been damaged by storm. He re-built reservoirs and restored gardens. He pleased 35 hundred thousand subjects.
  • In the second year, Kharavela sent a large army, disregarding Satakarni, to the West. he also destroyed the capital of the Mushikas to help the Kasapa (Kasyapa) Kshatriyas.
  • In the third year of  reign, Kharavela, who was well-versed in the Gandharva-Veda or the science of music, held theatrical performances, dances and other shows whereby “he entertains the capital.”
  • In the fourth year, Kharavela probably repaired some sacred buildings called “the abode of the Vidyadharas” and conquered the Rashtrikas and Bhojakas.
  • In the fifth Year Kharavela extended the old canal which had been excavated by King Nanda 300 years before, into the capital from the Tanasi Road.
  • In the sixth year, Kharavela granted privileges to the Paura and the Janapada corporations. The record of other achievements in the sixth year has disappeared from the inscription.
  • The record of the seventh year is almost completely gone, but it could not have been a long one. It appears that he got married in this year.
  • In the 8th year, he invaded Magadha and reached as far as the Barabar Hill (Ratnagiri) on the old route from Gaya to Pataliputra, killed someone there is some preliminary action and prepared himself to march forward.
  • In the 9th year, Kharavela gave costly gifts. He gave a Kalpa tree which means a tree of solid gold. The tree had leaves of gold and the gift was accompanied by gifts of elephants, horses and chariots with their drivers.
  • In the 10th year, Kharavela sent his army against Bharata-Varsha or Northern India. The other details of this year have disappeared from the inscription.
  • In the 11th year, Kharavela led in procession the wooden statue of Ketu – Bhadra who had flourished 1300 years before. The statue had been established by “the former kings of Kalinga” in the city called Prithika darbha. The procession gave satisfaction to the Janapada.
  • In the 12th year, Kharavela invaded the countries of North – Western Frontiers. In the same year he caused consternation amongst the people of Magadha and made their king do homage at his feet.
  • In the 13th year, having satisfied himself with the extension of his empire, he devoted his energies to religious acts. On the Kumari Hill he did something for the Arhat Temple. Ninety hundred bulls maintained by the king are mentioned in the inscription but as the inscription is damaged it is not possible to make out the full sense.


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