Pushyamitra Shunga

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Pushyamitra Shunga (c. 185 – c. 149 BCE) was the founder and first ruler of the Shunga Empire in North India.


  • After Ashoka's lavish sponsorship of Buddhism, it is perfectly possible that Buddhist institutions fell on slightly harder times under the Sungas, but persecution is quite another matter. The famous historian of Buddhism Etienne Lamotte has observed: "To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof."...The only reason to sustain the suspicion against Pushyamitra, once it has been levelled, is that "where there is smoke, there must be fire" - but that piece of received wisdom is presupposed in every act of slander as well.
    • E. Lamotte: History of Indian Buddhism, Institut Orientaliste, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988 (1958), quoted in Elst, K. (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism.
  • Interestingly, she [Romila Thapar] has refrained from mentioning the persecution of Buddhists by Pushyamitra Shunga... and the melting of idols by king Harsha of Kashmir, which had so far figured most prominently in the writings of her school. I wonder whether she has realized that those allegations have no legs to stand upon, even though others of her school continue to harp on them.
    • Sita Ram Goel, Hindu Temples - What Happened to Them?, Appendix IV
  • Even a very general knowledge of Indian history already shows that any instances of Hindu persecution of Buddhism could never have been more than marginal. After fully seventeen centuries of Buddhism's existence, from the 6 th century BC to the late 12 th century AD, most of it under the rule of Hindu kings, we find Buddhist establishments flourishing all over India. Under king Pushyamitra Shunga, often falsely labelled as a persecutor of Buddhism, important Buddhist centres such as the Sanchi stupa were built. As late as the early 12 th century, the Buddhist monastery Dharmachakrajina Vihara at Sarnath was built under the patronage of queen Kumaradevi, wife of Govindachandra, the Hindu king of Kanauj in whose reign the contentious Rama temple in Ayodhya was built. This may be contrasted with the ruined state of Buddhism in countries like Afghanistan or Uzbekistan after one thousand or even one hundred years of Muslim rule. Indeed, the Muslim chroniclers themselves have described in gleeful detail how they destroyed Buddhism root and branch in the entire Gangetic plain in just a few years after Mohammed Ghori's victory in the second battle of Tarain in 1192. The famous university of Nalanda with its fabulous library burned for weeks. Its inmates were put to the sword except for those who managed to flee. The latter spread the word to other Indian regions where Buddhist monks packed up and left in anticipation of further Muslim conquests. It is apparent that this way, some abandoned Buddhist establishments were taken over by Hindus; but that is an entirely different matter from the forcible occupation or destruction of Buddhist institutions by the foreign invaders.
    • Koenraad Elst: Religious Cleansing of Hindus, 2004, Agni conference in The Hague, and in: K. Elst The Problem with Secularism, 2007
  • Even Pushyamitra Shunga, of whom it is unreliably said by a very non-contemporary source that he had Buddhist monks killed, allowed Buddhist universities to flourish in his kingdom. Even he is not described to have demolished temples on the occasion of his political take-over, his alleged acts of persecution are ascribed by his detractors to purely sectarian fanaticism. ... In the case of their purely concocted grand theory of pre-Muslim persecution of Buddhism by Hindus, we see our leftist historians throw all standards of source criticism to the wind. Such is their eagerness to uphold this convenient hypothesis, and their care not to endanger what little supportive testimony there is. After all, from the millennia of pre-Muslim religious pluralism in India, there are not even five testimonies of such persecution, so these few should be scrupulously kept away from criticism. Therefore, the fact that the very first testimony of Pushyamitra Shunga's alleged persecution of the Buddhists dates from three centuries after the facts, is not treated as a ground for some caution with this evidence. Nor is any alternative interpretation of his alleged behaviour (e.g. that his anger was not directed against Buddhism but against the corruption that was overtaking the monasteries) being explored, the way all kinds of mitigating explanations are invented for the Islamic crimes. The allegation is simply repeated, and amplified, in all secularist history-books.
    • Koenraad Elst 1991: Ayodhya and after: issues before Hindu society.
  • One of the diversionary tactics employed by the “eminent historians” in order to shield Islamic iconoclasm from the public eye is to allege that Hinduism itself is the guilty religion, viz. of persecuting minority religions such as Buddhism. So much is this accusation now taken for granted, that any attempt to stick to the historical record fills the secularists with exasperation at such Hindu fanatical blindness... While Hinduism has received from Islam nothing but murder and destruction, Buddhism owes a lot to Hinduism. Apart from its very existence, it has received from Hinduism toleration, alms by Hindu laymen, sons and daughters of Hindus to fill its monasteries and nunneries, land grants and funding by Hindu rulers, protection by Hindu rulers against lawlessness and against the Islamic invaders between the mid-7th and the late 12th century... This non-contemporary story (which surfaces more than three centuries after the alleged facts) about Pushyamitra’s offering money for the heads of Buddhist monks is rendered improbable by external evidence: the well-attested historical fact that he allowed and patronized the construction of monasteries and Buddhist universities in his domains, as well as the still-extant stupa of Sanchi. ... At any rate, the striking fact, so far not mentioned in the Pushyamitra controversy, is that the main line of the narrative making the allegation against Pushyamitra is a carbon copy of the... account of Ashoka’s own offer to pay for every head of a monk from a rivalling sect.
    • Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2002). Ayodhya: The case against the temple.
  • By contrast, until proof of the contrary, the carbon-copy allegation against Pushyamitra may very reasonably be dismissed as sectarian propaganda. But a 20th-century Hindu scholar will twist and turn the literary data in order to uphold a sectarian and miracle-based calumny against the Hindu ruler Pushyamitra, and to explain away a sobering testimony about the fanaticism of Ashoka, that great secularist patron of Buddhism. Such is the quality of the "scholarship" deployed to undermine the solid consensus that among the world religions, Hinduism has always been the most tolerant by far.
    • Elst, K. (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism.
  • The oft-repeated allegation that Pushyamitra Sunga offered a reward for the heads of Buddhist monks is a miraculous fable related exclusively in a hostile source and contradicted by the finding of art historians that Pushyamitra was a generous patron of Buddhist institutions.
    • Elst, K. (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism.
  • The climax was reached when the same Marxist professors started explaining away Islamic iconoclasm in terms of what they described as Hindu destruction of Buddhist and Jain places of worship. They have never been able to cite more than half-a-dozen cases of doubtful veracity. A few passages in Sanskrit literature coupled with speculations about some archaeological sites have sufficed for floating the story, sold ad nauseam in the popular press, that Hindus destroyed Buddhist and Jain temples on a large scale. Half-a-dozen have become thousands and then hundreds of thousands in the frenzied imagination suffering from a deep-seated anti-Hindu animus. ... And these “facts” have been presented with a large dose of suppressio veri suggestio falsi.... A very late Buddhist book from Sri Lanka accuses Pushyamitra Sunga, a second century B.C. king, of offering prizes to those who brought to him heads of Buddhist monks. This single reference has sufficed for presenting Pushyamitra as the harbinger of a “Brahmanical reaction” which “culminated in the age of the Guptas.” The fact that the famous Buddhist stupas and monasteries at Bharhut and Sanchi were built and thrived under the very nose of Pushyamitra is never mentioned. Nor is the fact that the Gupta kings and queens built and endowed many Buddhist monasteries at Bodh Gaya, Nalanda and Sarnath among many other places. (...) This placing of Hindu kings on par with Muslim invaders in the context of iconoclasm suffers from serious shortcomings. Firstly, it lacks all sense of proportion when it tries to explain away the destruction of hundreds of thousands of Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain temples by Islamic invaders in terms of the doubtful destruction of a few Buddhist and Jain shrines by Hindu kings. Secondly, it has yet to produce evidence that Hindus ever had a theology of iconoclasm which made this practice a permanent part of Hinduism. Isolated acts by a few fanatics whom no Hindu historian or pandit has ever admired, cannot explain away a full-fledged theology which inspired Islamic iconoclasm....
    • S.R. Goel, Some Historical Questions (Indian Express, April 16, 1989), quoted in Shourie, A., & Goel, S. R. (1990). Hindu temples: What happened to them.

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