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Sungas: Post Mauryan Period

Sungas Post Mauryan Period


The demise of Mauryan rule in 187 BCE marked the onset of a transformative era in the Indian subcontinent. The Sungas post-Mauryan period, spanning from the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE, witnessed the rise of diverse powers. Among them, the Shunga Empire, a Magadha dynasty, asserted control over North-central and Eastern India, as well as parts of the northwest (present-day Pakistan) from 185 to 73 BCE. Emerging after the fall of the Mauryan Empire, the Sungas established their dominion with Pataliputra as their capital.

History of the Sungas

  • Establishment: Sunga dynasty emerged in 185 BCE, 50 years post Ashoka’s death, with Pushyamitra Sunga assassinating the last Mauryan ruler, King Brhadrata.
  • Rulership: Pushyamitra Sunga, the commander-in-chief, assumed control of Magadha and neighboring regions, ruling for 36 years until 151 BCE.
  • Succession: Pushyamitra was succeeded by his son Agnimitra, continuing the Sunga lineage.
  • Extent of Empire: The Sunga kingdom reached from Narmada in the south to Jalandhar and Sialkot in the northwest, including the central city of Ujjain.
  • Duration: Sunga rule, per Puranas, lasted for 112 years, with Magadha at its core.
  • Dynastic Transition: Devabhuti, the last Sunga king (83-73 BCE), was assassinated by his minister, Vasudeva Kanva, leading to the rise of the Kanva dynasty in 73 BCE.

Conflicts and Sacrifices

  • Greek Incursions during Sunga Rule: Patanjali’s Mahabhasya notes Greek incursions during the Sunga era, while the Yuga Purana prophetically recounts an Indo-Greek assault on Pataliputra, the grand capital.
  • Military Conflict in Malavikagnimitra: The play Malavikagnimitra recounts the victory of the Sungas, led by Pushyamitra, over Vidarbha’s King Yajnasena, reflecting historical conflicts in eastern Maharashtra.
  • Sacrifices for Pushyamitra: Patanjali records elaborate sacrifices performed for Pushyamitra, showcasing the religious and political landscape of the time.
  • Military Episode with Vasumitra: Malavikagnimitra narrates a military encounter between Vasumitra (Pushyamitra’s grandson) and the Yavana army on the banks of the Sindhu, symbolizing Sunga military prowess.
  • Asvamedha Yajya Expedition: Pushyamitra dispatches his grandson Vasumitra to escort the sacrificial horse, culminating in a victorious return after defeating the Yavanas on the Sindhu’s banks.
  • Cultural and Historical Tapestry: These accounts weave together cultural, political, and military aspects, providing a unique glimpse into the complex tapestry of Sunga rule and their engagements with Greek influences.

Art and Culture during Sungas

During the Sunga period, which followed the decline of the Mauryan Empire, there were notable developments in art and culture in ancient India:

  1. Architecture and Artistic Revival: The Sungas contributed to the revival of traditional Indian art and architecture. The period witnessed the construction of stūpas, such as the Bharhut and Sanchi Stupas, adorned with intricate carvings depicting scenes from the life of Buddha and Jataka tales.
  2. Buddhist Influence: Buddhism continued to flourish during the Sunga period, influencing artistic expression. The depiction of Buddha in various forms became a prominent theme in sculptures and art.
  3. Pillars and Gateways: They continued the Mauryan tradition of erecting monumental pillars, often topped with animal capitals. The gateways of stūpas were adorned with elaborate carvings and sculptures, showcasing the artistic prowess of the time.
  4. Literature and Language: This period saw a resurgence in Sanskrit literature. Literary works in this period included texts on medicine, astronomy, and grammar. The Sanskrit language gained prominence as a vehicle for intellectual and cultural expression.
  5. Mathematics and Sciences: Scientific pursuits, including astronomy, also made progress.
  6. Coinage: The Sunga rulers issued coins that featured symbols like the bull, tree-in-railing, and various other motifs. These coins provide insights into the economic and cultural aspects of the time.
  7. Decline of Mauryan Legacy: While there was a continuation of Mauryan artistic and cultural elements, this period marked a shift towards more regional and indigenous styles, contributing to the evolving narrative of Indian art and culture.

In essence, the Sunga period played a crucial role in shaping the artistic and cultural landscape of ancient India, witnessing a fusion of traditional influences and the emergence of distinctive features that would endure in subsequent dynasties.


The Sunga period, following the decline of the Mauryan Empire, marked a dynamic chapter in Indian history. Characterized by a revival of art, architectural achievements, and military exploits, the Sungas navigated challenges, leaving behind a cultural legacy that reflected both indigenous traditions and interactions with the Hellenistic world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1.What comes under Post-Mauryan period?

Ans1. The Sunga Empire (or Shunga 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.

Q2. What dynasty came after Maurya?

Ans2. The Maurya Dynasty was succeeded by the Sunga Dynasty. It was established by Pushyamitra Sunga in 185 BC. For further reading check the following articles: Sunga Dynasty.

Q3. What was the economy during post-Mauryan period?

Ans3. During the post-Mauryan period, agriculture continued to be a dominant economic activity. However, trade and commerce also flourished. The establishment of trade routes, both overland and maritime, facilitated the exchange of goods between different regions.

Read also: Medieval Indian Paintings

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