Shalishuka Maurya 215 BCE – 202 BCE is often considered as the least favorite Mauryan ruler amongst the nine kings who ruled the Empire. Shalishuka was a patron of Jainism. Shalishuka Maurya ruled from 215 BCE to 202 BCE. In 206 BCE, Seleucid emperor Antiochus III the Great (222 – 187 BCE), led his army to the valleys in Kabul, where he received almost a hundred and fifty war elephants from the local Mauryan king, Subhagasena (Shalishuka Maurya). Antiochus III the Great followed the footsteps of Alexander, the Great and came to India to renew friendship with the local kings. Subhagasena might have been a possible successor to Virasena, a Mauryan prince. There are vague references in many ancient texts that Subhagasena might have been another name for Suyasas, Jaluka, Somasarman or Shalishuka. These vague sources do not give any concrete evidence regarding the identity of Subhagasena.
Shalishuka ascended the throne from Samprati, Asoka’s grandson. Samprati’s father Kunala (263 BCE) was blinded at a very young age in a conspiracy to deny him the throne. Asoka (268 – 232 BCE) was helpless and had to hand over the throne to Dashratha, but promised Kunala that Samprati would ascend the throne next. During this period, the Mauryan Empire was divided into two parts, with two separate capitals. But after the death of Dashratha, Samprati unified the two regions and did his best to rectify and maintain the empire.
Shalishuka Maurya – Rule – Unrighteous Rule over a Declining Empire
If we refer to the of Asoka’s rule as the Golden Age for the Mauryan Empire, then Shalishuka’s rule could be referred to as the Dark Age. There are a few references in the Yuga Purana of the Garga Samhita, which has been translated by John.E.Mitchiner. It talks about Shalishuka Maurya in derogatory terms and refers to him as someone who causes damage to his own kingdom, someone who is very fond of conflict and who was born for the destruction of truth. It describes him as a quarrelsome, unrighteous ruler. Despite his flaws, he was credited for his patronage of Jainism.
This is most probably the only written reference of Shalishuka Maurya. But we must also note that the Yuga Purana condemned those who patronized non-Brahmanical sects. Shalishuka’s eldest brother, referred to as Sadhuketa, was a supporter of sadhus and is said to have established a righteous person, Vijaya. ‘Sadhu’ is a term used for Jain ascetics and this might’ve been the reason why the Yuga Purana of the Garga Samhita condemns Shalishuka. It can never be ascertained for sure whether Shalishuka really was an unjust and unrighteous ruler, as mentioned in the Purana.
Shalishuka Maurya – Successor – Devavarman
The Yuga Purana states that Shalishuka was an unrighteous and evil ruler. However, he had ruled for 13 years, which is 5 years more than Samprati. According to the Puranas, Shalishuka was succeeded by Devavarman (202 – 195 BCE). The decline of the Mauryan Empire is believed to have been due to the Empire’s association with Jains and Buddhists, which alienated the Brahmans. This might have been the reason why the last Mauryan King, Brihadratha, was assassinated by his army general, Pushyamitra Shunga. Shalishuka left the throne in 202 BCE to Devavarman Maurya who ruled for the next eight years. It is disappointing that after the death of Asoka, the largest Empire of India, the Mauryan Empire, which reigned over almost the entire Indian subcontinent, crumbled within a span of 52 years. Shalishuka Maurya indeed was a weak ruler.
By: Rajeev Aswin