King Shashanka (Bengali: শশাঙ্ক, romanizedŚaśāṃka) created the first separate political entity in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, called the Gauda Kingdom and is a major figure in Bengali history. He reigned in 7th century AD, and some historians place his rule approximately between 590 AD and 625 AD. He is the contemporary of Harsha and of Bhaskaravarman of Kamarupa. His capital was at Karnasubarna, in present-day Murshidabad in West Bengal. The development of the Bengali calendar is often attributed to Shashanka because the starting date falls within his reign.[1][2][3]

Royal Seal of Shashanka
The Royal Seal of Shashanka
King of Gauda
Reign590 CE - 625 CE


Contemporary sourcesEdit

There are several major contemporary sources of information on his life, including copperplates from his vassal j (king of Ganjam), copperplates of his rivals Harsha and Bhaskaravarman, the accounts of Banabhatta, who was a bard in the court of Harsha, and of the Chinese monk Xuanzang, and also coins minted in Shashanka's reign.

Extent of kingdomEdit

While Shashanka was known and referred to as the Lord of Gauda, his kingdom included more than just that region. By the end of his reign, his domain stretched from Vanga to Bhuvanesha while in the east, his kingdom bordered Kamarupa. Prior to Shashanka, Bengal was divided into three regions, Banga, Samatata and Gauda and was ruled by a feeble ruler belonging to the Later Gupta dynasty, Mahasenagupta. Shashanka was one of his chieftains who rose to power taking the advantage of the weak ruler. After the death of Mahasenagupta, Shashanka drove the later Guptas and other prominent nobles out of the region and established his own kingdom with a capital at Karnasubarna.

Suppression of BuddhismEdit

Coin of Śaśānka-deva, king of Gauda, circa 600-630. Shiva seated facing on bull seated left / Lakshmi seated facing on lotus; being watered by small elephants at either side.[4]

A 12th century text states that Shashanka destroyed the Buddhist stupas of Bengal and was an oppressor of Buddhism.[5] Shashanka is reputed to have cut the Bodhi tree where the Buddha found enlightenment, in the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya.[6]

Ramesh Chandra Majumdar states that this account is doubtful because it was written centuries after the alleged persecution,[7] and that it is "unsafe to accept the statements recorded in this book as historical".[8] Radhagovinda Basak states that there is no reason to believe that this 12th century Buddhist author had cherished any ill feeling about Shashanka, and he may have had reasons to describe the events as they occurred in the 7th century.[9]

War with HarshaEdit

Shashanka and his allies fought a major war with the then emperor of Thanesar, Harsha, and his allies. The result of the battle was inconclusive as Shashanka is documented to have retained dominion over his lands. The king of Malwa, Devgupta had an enmity with the ruler of Kannauj, Grahavarman who was also the brother-in-law of the Vardhan princes, by his marriage with the princess of Thanesar, Rajyashri. Devgupta attacked Kannauj and killed Grahavarman in the battle and imprisoned his wife Rajyashri. Rajyavardhana had recently become king in Thanesar upon the death of his father, Prabhakarvardhana. Rajyavardhana marched towards Kannauj to avenge the death of his brother-in-law. The battle was followed by the sudden assassination of Rajyavardhana. No conclusive evidence exists but it is possible that Shashanka, who joined the battle as an ally of Devgupta, murdered him. The only source available in this matter is the Harshacharita by Bāṇabhaṭṭa, who was a childhood friend and constant companion of Harsha; neither of these men were present at the death.

Harsha succeeded his brother as ruler of Thanesar and he once again gathered the army and attacked Kannauj. Though the results are not known clearly, but it is evident that Devgupta and Shashanka had to retreat from Kannauj. Shashanka continued to rule Gauda with frequent attacks from Harsha which he is known to have faced bravely.


Following his death, Shashanka was succeeded by his son, Manava, who ruled the kingdom for eight months. However Gauda was soon divided amongst Harsha and Bhaskaravarman of Kamarupa, the latter even managing to conquer Karnasuvarna.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Shashanka". Banglapedia. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Shashanka Dynasty". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  3. ^ Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India, ISBN 0203443454
  4. ^ CNG Coins
  5. ^ Basak, Radhagovinda (1967). The History of North-Eastern India Extending from the Foundation of the Gupta Empire to the Rise of the Pala Dynasty of Bengal (c. A.D. 320-760). Sambodhi Publications. p. 155.
  6. ^ Sharma, R. S. (2005). India's Ancient Past. Oxford University Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-19-566714-1.
  7. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra (1943). History of Bengal. Dacca: University of Dacca. pp. 73–74.
  8. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra (1943). History of Bengal. Dacca: University of Dacca. p. 64.
  9. ^ Basak, Radhagovinda (1967). The History of North-Eastern India Extending from the Foundation of the Gupta Empire to the Rise of the Pala Dynasty of Bengal (c. A.D. 320-760). Sambodhi Publications. p. 134.

Further readingEdit

  • R. C. Majumdar, History of Bengal, Dacca, 1943, pp 58–68
  • Sudhir R Das, Rajbadidanga, Calcutta, 1962
  • P. K. Bhttacharyya, Two Interesting Coins of Shashanka, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, London, 2, 1979