Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shunga dynasty and Sanskrit….

Pushyamitra Shunga is respectfully applauded by Vedic people for his greatest ever achievement that he revived Vedic religion that was almost vanished from India because of dominance of Buddhism. As per Punanik texts he conducted two horse sacrifices to revive Vedic rituals after coming into the power. This fact also evidenced by Kalidasa’s famous play “Malavikagnimitra”. Chief protagonist of the play Agnimitra was immediate successor of Pushyamitra, probably his son.

Pushamitra was General of Mauryan King Brihadratha. He assassinated Brihadratha and assumed power. Many scholars state that he had complete apathy towards Buddhism, so much so that he mass-massacred thousands of Buddhist monks and destroyed many monasteries.

Even if considered above being sheer exaggeration of the facts, there has been no doubt among any historian that Pushyamitra was anti-Buddhist and reviver of almost dead Vedic religion.

If this is a fact it poses few questions:

First, if Pushyamitra was reviving Vedic religion, which language he would have chosen to be his Court language?

In all probabilities answer will be “Sanskrit.”

Sanskrit is thought to be very ancient language. The language Vedic people revere for its being divine and perfect one! Supposing, since Ashoka was follower of the Buddhism, he chose Prakrit as official language of his Court, wouldn’t Pushyamitra do naturally quite opposite?

Wouldn’t he select divine Sanskrit over Prakrit to be his official language as he was reviving ancient Vedic religion?

But this is not a case at all!
Pushyamitra came into the power in 185BCE and acted as defacto King (he never assumed title of the king, continued his previous title “Senapati”…i,e. Commander of Army.) till his death! (149 BCE)

 During his reign of almost 36 years had he used Sanskrit as his official language wouldn’t be there some proofs in the form of any inscription? There is no such proof!

His contemporary kings, like Kharvela, still were using Prakrit and ample proofs are available to support this fact, like Hathigumpha inscriptions. Prakrit still was dominant language of social and royal communication.

Agnimitra, who succeeded Pushyamitra in the year 149 BC, struck his own coins. Pushyamitra may not have circulated his coins because he never assumed title of the king in his life. But his son Agnimitra’s some coins have been found in Mathura region.

The coin gives startling proof! The name “Agnimitra” punched on the coin is “Agi Mittasa”. This is Prakrit form of the name!

This does only imply that Agnimitra too used Prakrit as his official language.

This may not be enough. Other king from the lineage of Shunga dynasty, Danabhuti, (he is also thought to be a feudatory of Shunga, not king himself) too have used Prakrit form of his name. In Bharhut inscription, in mention to a donation his name appears as "Vacchiputa Dhanabhuti". Also in another Bharhut inscriptions Shungas are mentioned as "Sugana raaje" (During the period of Shunga's), in Prakrit language. 

Now let us deal with other proof. We know that Heliodorus was a Greek ambassador appointed in Shunga court. Bhagabhadra was ruling king of those times. Heliodorus, near Shunga capital Vidisha, erected a Garuda pillar in honor of Vasudeva in 110 BCE

There are two inscriptions on the pillar engraved in Prakrit language using Bramhi script.  

Since a royal emissary used Prakrit language in the inscription, it does mean that the official language of Shunga dynasty was Prakrit and none else.  Otherwise a foreign Ambassador wouldn’t have used that language.

 Shunga’s at one hand are called reviver of Vedicism and at other they do not apply Sanskrit of any form as their royal language raises a serious question, did Sanskrit exist then?

This is because till 160 AD, no Sanskrit inscription is to be found throughout the country. There is no trace of any kind of Sanskrit (Chandas or Bhasha) being part of social or political life till middle of second century AD.

Then another question arises, if Pushyamitra conducted Horse Sacrifice as per Vedic ritual, in which language were Veda’s then? We always have been told that Veda’s and Vedic literature was preserved by oral tradition through millenniums in itself becomes a lie. Entire absence of any Sanskrit or Sanskrit-like language, even in the reign of Vedic dynasty points out to this startling fact.

Then why after 160 AD gradually from hybrid sanskrit to classical Sanskrit inscriptions and written literature starts floating, dominating even Prakrit languages?

The answer is because Sanskrit was still in making during this period! It didn’t exist prior to, at least, first century AD. As sanskrit was developed it started getting royal patronages and gradually became language of inscriptions and literature during Gupta period...still in the beginning inscriptions were bilingual i.e. Prakrit and Sansktrit. Inference can be drawn that Sanskrit was still a new language to the people hence needed bilingual texts.   

-Sanjay Sonawani
Ref.: 1. Coins of Ancient India:From the earliest Times Down to the Seventh Century- By Alexander Cunningham
2. Between the Empires : Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE- By  Austin Patrick Olivelle Alma Cowden Madden 

-See also:


  1. Good Article and Research. Your article is an example of how to do research. We are assuming few things when we are reading history. Existence of Sanskrit is one of the assumption. As you have mentioned, I too wondered why there are not much ancient Sanskrit evidences available whereas Lot of Prakrit evidences does exist and available in a mass quantity. Really surprising and shocking article. History writers and lovers must read this article.

  2. Doesn't prove anything. A tiny minority of Indians is fluent in English yet all the official work is done in that language. It could be the same in Sung dynasty too. Sanskrit could very well be the official language. As for what remains, the chapter is not closed. New information emerges all the time. Before Ajanta and Elora were discovered, the hills and jungles were accepted to be the abode of wild animals for ever.

  3. Kharavela in 149 BCE ? thats hilarious KhÀravela’s MahÀmeghavÀhana dynasty was reigning in Kalinga around the 13th century BCE.

    1. kharavela lived around 2nd to 1st century BCE

  4. @sanjay sonawani u do know sanskrit was holy and was reluctant to be written right?

  5. very nice article. There is one sentences about the Vidisha city in MP, that this was the capital place. could you pl elaborate little on this.

  6. the swastika is OM written in Brahmi script. It is found in Yajurved 40.17

    The oldest swastika was found by archaeologists in Mezine and is dated to be of 10000 BC.

    Prakrit= That whose prakriti matches sanskrit.

    Brahmins made a prakrit in every region. They taught that vyakaran to the common people.

    obviously messages to common people should be given in prakrit

    Maharishi Dayanand saraswati of aya samaj chose hindi to propagate the message of the vedas.

  7. Buddhism weakens a society. The best men and women become monks. They die without producing children. The leftovers in society procreate. In a few hundred years height and weight of people falls .

    Then they fold their hands and die at the hands of khiljis as ambedkar says

    “There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in was due to the invasions of the Musalmans.”

    “Such was the slaughter of the Buddhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Buddhist priesthood Islam killed Buddhism. This was the greatest disaster that befell the religion of Buddha in India.”

    Problem with your thesis is that pushyamitra came before islam. So who finished buddhism ? was it the hindus ? or islam?

    Buddhism will die again due to the reason I gave above. Here is what Sri Aurobindo says

    Aurobindo said, “You must understand that my mission is not to create Matts, ascetics and Sannyasis, but to call back the souls of the strong to the Lila of Krishna and Kali. That is my teaching as you can see from the Review, and my name must never be connected with monastic norms or the monastic ideal. Every ascetic movement since the time of the Buddha has left India weaker and for a obvious reason. Renunciation of life is one thing, to make life itself national, individual, world-life greater and divine is another. You cannot enforce one ideal on the country without weakening of the other. You cannot take away the best souls from life and yet leave life stronger and greater. Renunciation of ego, acceptance of God in life is the Yoga I teach – no other renunciation”.
    [copied from]