Shishunaga Dynasty, Magadha - Informative & researched article on Shishunaga Dynasty, Magadha
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Shishunaga Dynasty, Magadha
Shishunaga Dynasty, the third ruling dynasty of Magadha, was founded by King Shishunaga.
 
 Shishunaga dynasty in Magadha was founded by the king Shishinaga after a long gap of anarchy in the history of India. In 430 BC, Shishunaga dynasty came into existence under the most capable ruler King Shishunaga after the decline of Harayanka dynasty. King Shishunaga ruled India for eighteen years and captured the kingdoms of Kosala, Kasi, Avanti and Vasta. Originated from Buddhists, this dynasty played the major role in organizing the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali during the reign of Kalasoka.

Political Condition during Shishunaga`s time
The political condition of India during the Sishunaga`s time was tumultuous. The northern part of India was divided into a number of small kingdoms called Mahajanapadas. While Avanti, Vatsa and Kosala were expanding their individual frontiers at the expense of their neighbouring states, Bimbisara of Haryanka Kula ascended the Magadhan throne. Bimbisara probably overthrew Brihadratha from the throne of Magadha and assumed the title of `Srenika` after his accession. Historian Bhandarkar has suggested that Bimbisara was a General before he ascended the Magadhan throne, as his title "Srenika" suggested. But this interpretation contradicts the evidence of `Mahavamsha` that Bimbisara was a scion of the Haryanka Kula. Hence Bhandarkar`s suggestion is generally rejected. Bimbisara was destined to initiate Magadha in the race for imperial supremacy. Bimbisara ruled Magadha for 52 years. After that his son Ajatsatru ascended the throne and ruled for not more than 32 years. During his reign, Gautam Buddhha was died.

There after a series of accession of throne by different kings of the same dynasty like Udayi, Anurudhha, Munda, Nagadasaka and after that Shishunaga came into existence by expelling the last king of Harayanha Kula dynasty, Nagadaska from the Magadhan throne.

Rise of Shishunaga Dynasty
It was 430BC when the King Shishunaga founded the Sishunaga Empire and trying to bring back the unification that was later done by Chandragupta Maurya. The accession of a new ruler on the Magadhan throne did not lead to the break of the process of imperial expansion of Magadha. That has started from the days of Bimbisara. Shishunaga had enough knowledge of Magadhan policy and administration. He had served as Viceroy of Varanasi while Nagadaksha was the ruler. He pursued the war with Avanti with zeal, as the war was left to him as a legacy by the former dynasty. Avanti became the only great rival of Magadha in North-India after the fall of Kosala. The civil war that rent the Avanti kingdom greatly facilitated his task. There he appeared to have humbled the pride of Avanti and perhaps annexed it to Magadha. For suitably conducting the war against Avanti he probably transferred his capital to Girivraja. From all available evidences it appears that Sishunaga captured the Vatsa and Kosala kingdoms to Magadha. King Sishunaga shifted his capital ultimately to Vaisali, where he was born. The historians opined that Sishunaga`s father was a chief of the Lichchhavis and his mother was a courtesan of Vaisali. He transferred the capital to this city in honour of his parents. Achievements of King Shishunaga were known to the modern historians from the Puranic literature of that time. Sishunaga, a predecessor of Bimbisara was capable in bringing some of the North Indian kingdom under his regime.


According to the Indian Puranas and the Buddhist records he was underwent in massive revolt and soon after ascended the throne. But there is a huge distortion between the Puranic account and the Buddhist account.

The Puranas in their current form are obviously corrupted. For they make Pradyota and his successors who were the contemporary of Bimbisara. It must be noted that Pradyata, his son Palaka etc were the rulers of the mighty empire of Avanti and Ujjain. Ujjain was the capital at that time. This was taken from "Brhatkatha" and Buddhist records. Also Buddhists state that Shishunaga destroyed the descendants of Pradyota and made Avanti as a part of the mighty Magadhan Empire. The Puranas themselves stated that Sishunaga defeated the Pradyota and their popularity among the kingdoms of North India. Thus, if Sishunaga defeated the descendants of Pradyota, obviously he must have come after Bimbisara as the Celoynese chronicles stated.

However, this was also insoluble to as held by MaxMuller. He revealed the truth after the detailed study of Puranas and the Buddhist records. Now in the context of Sishunaga, Puranic literature stated that after the time of Bimbisara, each of this hierchial has 4 kings. Now the Puranas themselves state that the kings of other like the Ikshvakus that is the Surya vamsa kings existed till the time of Sishunaga. They also stated that the Sishunaga also defeated the Avanti Pradyotas. Therefore, Sishunaga became the king as a fourth ruler of Magadha as mentioned in the Ceylonese, Buddhists and the Puranic records.

Successors of Shishunaga Dynasty
After Sishunaga, the political tension again rose regarding the accession of Magadhan kingdom. Then Kalasoka ascended the throne. He ruled for 28 years. But the Ceylonese chronicles place Kalasoka as the immediate successor of Sishunaga. This inconsistency has been explained by professors Jacobi, Geiser and Bhandarkar by the suggestion that "Kalasoka and Kakavarnin were one and the same person" The reign of Kalasoka is famous for two events like the transfer of the Magadhan capital permanently from Vaishali to Pataliputra and the convocation of the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali.

This tradition is also corroborated by Curtius who has pointed out that a barber, who was of a comely person, became a paramour of the queen of Kalasoka. By her influence he "advanced too near a place of confidence of the reigning monarch" and murdered him. The assassin then pretended to be the guardian of the royal children and ultimately usurped the supreme authority by putting the young princes to death. This usurper was Mahapadma Nanda, the founder of Nanda dynasty and the young princes slain by him were the ten sons of Kalasoka who probably ruled jointly.

Thus, the Sishunaga dynasty came to a tragic end in and about 364 B.C. and was followed by the new dynasty of the Nandas. This was proved by the Ceylonese and Puranic records at that time.

Successors of Kalasoka
Kalasoka had a tragic end. Bana in his `Harshacharita` has recorded a legend that Kalasoka was murdered by an assassin, who thrust the dagger into his throat in the vicinity of a city, which may be the city of Pataliputra. The successors of Kalasoka were his 10 sons. They were weak to rule the whole empire. This lasted up to 345BC. That period was well known for conspiracy against the kings and the anarchy in the sky of political arena. The names of the ten sons were Bhadrasena, Korandavarna, Mangura, Sarvanjaha, Jalika, Ubhaka, Sanjaya, Koravya, Nandivardhana and Panchamaka. Out of them one of Sishunaga`s ten sons Maha nandin captured the throne and ruled for a very short period of time. In 345 BC he was assassinated by the famous ruler of that time Mahapadmananda, who was his illegitimate son. He at that time established the era of Nanda dynasty.

Mahapadmananda`s rule in ancient Puranas is denoted as the milestone of the beginning of the new era called "Kaliyug". He is important in Indian history as he was the first Sudra ruler of Magadha. He was dethroned by Chandragupta Maurya with the help of Chanakya.

(Last Updated on : 19/10/2012)
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