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Legends of Pushyamitra Shung

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While Nehruvian historians has intentionally distorted Indian history, founding greats only in Ashok & Akbar, despite several evidences of mass murders by both of these, suppressed real legends. While utilizing the time of #Homestay to read and learn a bit about some of the real legends of Indian history, came across a very fascinating Hero – Pushyamitra Shunga (185 BCE – 149 BCE). His journey is quite similar to Chandragupta Maurya, who in order to protect India from Greek invasion, revolted against Nanda dynasty and unified several parts of India.

From an unknown kid to a King:

Boy from a humble family, raised from the ranks of solider to become Senapati (Head of Army) due to his sheer talent under the last Mauryan king Brihadrath. It has been said that Brihadrath while he was on hunt, found a young boy taking head on with a wild tiger and defeating the same to protect the king. Brihadrath promptly decided to recruit him in his army and within few years, the same boy becomes his Senapati. Pushyamitra was very vigilant against raids and possible attack by Yavans (Greeks) and escalated the same to Brihadrath, last Mauryan King. However, Brihadrath, instead of preparing for any possible conflict with Greeks, was rather decided to keep mum or to surrender. Another reason why Brihadrath was not very excited was because some Buddhist monks were surreptitiously helping Greeks and he was not willing to take any action against such seditious monks due to his appeasement policy for specific sect. Worth recalling that Ashoka has made Buddhism, the supreme state religion and was followed by his successors. In order to save His country from possible Yavan invasion, Pushyamitra executed weak Brihadrath in front of the whole army and army chose to side with Pushyamtira as all the soldiers would like to fight and save their country from any foreign invasion instead of going for surrender.

Fake blame on Pushyamitra for religious persecution:

There are some Hinduphobic historians who blame Pushyamitra as a King who persecuted Buddhists. The source cited for vilifying Pushyamitra are two near-contemporaneous (2nd century AD) Buddhist chronicles, the Ashokavadana and the Divyavadana. This non-contemporary story (which surfaces more than three centuries after the alleged facts) about Pushyamitra’s offering money for the heads of monks is rendered improbable by the well-attested historical fact that he allowed and patronized the construction of monasteries and Buddhist universities in his domains.

While Pushyamitra must have punished seditious monks who were caught helping Yavans surreptitiously, exaggerated stories of the cruel persecution of the Buddhists by Pushyamitra have been refuted by historians by pointing out that pro-Buddhist officers were allowed to serve under the Shung administration and from credible historical evidences it’s clear that when the King Pushyamirta ruled, the Buddhists constructed huge Buddhist Stupas at places like Sanchi and Barhut. The Bharhut Stūpa is among the most exquisite stūpas of ancient India with extraordinary sculptural craftsmanship. It was entirely commissioned and built under the supervision of Pushyamitra Shunga. Similarly, the exceptional balustrade surrounding the Sanchi Stūpa standing resolute till date, was built by the selfsame Pushyamitra Shunga.

Evidences are also available to show that during the Shunga rule, people made big donations to Buddhist monasteries without any fear. That speaks of the spirit of tolerance which prevailed in India in ancient times in matters of religion.

The famous historian of Buddhism Etienne Lamotte has observed: “To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof.” (History of Indian Buddhism, Institut Orientaliste, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988/1958, p.109)

According to Ashokavadana, he offered 100 Dinaras for heads of buddhist monks, but the Dinara did not come into use before 1st century C.E. in India. The Srilankan buddhist text, Mahavamsa suggests that monasteries in present day Bihar, Awadh and Malwa during the rule of Pushyamitra’s contemporary Dutthagamani ruled in Lanka. Besides, a text like Ashokavadana authored by fanatic Buddhists, which is far from the truth cannot be held as a primary source. Further, the Shunga-haters cleverly gloss over the mention of Ashoka’s mass murder of Jains in the same Ashokavadana.

It is possible that some buddhist followers and monks were habituated to extreme monetary support and encouragement from Mauryan emperors and those were not given to them by Pushyamitra Shunga and started to frame him as a Anti-Buddhist.

Art & Culture under Pushyamitra:

In both art and literature, the Shung period left impress of its genius on the history of India, comparable to the glory of the Guptas. Worth mentioning that Pushyamitra’s Guru, Patanajali, one of the greatest geniuses in Indian history was a student of another very famous genius Panini, has written Mahabhashya, a commentary on Panini’s grammar and a very celebrated work on Sanskrit literary. Vidisha grew into an important center of ivory and stone carving. Patanjali wrote the famous Yoga sutra which is still followed all over the world. The teachers were recognized for their intellectual qualities. Gurukul style of education continued. Patanjali also refers to the guilds of five types of artisans – metal workers, masons, architects, cooks and confectioners. Trade and farming were conducted in an organized way. There was prosperity all around during Shunga rule.

The highlight of Shunga art was construction of railings and Toranas (Gateways), for Sanchi and Vidisa stupas. This proves that though the rulers were followers of Vedic Dharma, they patronized all other religions. Besides these, the artistic activity kept flourishing in Madhura and Bodhgaya.

Expansion under Shung dynasty:

Vidarbha (extending rule from East to West): Yagyasen (brother-in-law) of Brihadrath’s minister, imprisoned his own cousin Madhavsena and Madhavsena was also happened to be Agnimitra’s (son of Pushyamitra) personal friend. Agnimitra marched against Yagyasen, leading Yagyasen to surrender which brings Vidrabha back under Shung empire.

Extending empire till Indus river in North-West: Malavikaagnimitra (drama written by Kalidas) provides the details about a direct battle between the Greeks and Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra near Sindhu river where Greeks got defeated. And this way, Pushyamitra successfully completed the Ashvamedh Yagya. Inscriptions of the Shungas have been found as far as the Ayodhya (the Dhanadeva-Ayodhya inscription), as an evidence of performing Ashvamedh Yagya.

Historical records:

Pushyamitra Shunga’s history is recorded in the “Harshacharita” authored by Bāṇabhaṭṭa. Besides Harshacharita, “Mahabhashya” by Guru Patanjali, “Malvikagnimitra” by Kalidas, Vayu purana, Matasya Purana, etc are other prominent scriptures which informs us about Pushyamitra Shung.


Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History: Chapter 2 by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

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