Dr.Charles W Lefroy, Ph.D in Archaeology and Asian History (University of the Arts London, UK).
Dr.Lefroy is a historian and archaeologist. He teaches at University of Arts London and also contributes to historical research in spare time. He specializes in South Asian history and has published multiple research papers on various dynasties and empires in ancient South Asia.
“I accepted Buddhism as my religion in 1986. Buddhism has always fascinated me. There is a lot of historical material available about Buddhism but very less information was available about Buddha’s family and the royal Shakya Dynasty to which Buddha belonged. So while writing my book about ancient South Asian history, I decided to do more research in this field. This research paper for submission to the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), London as part of Ph.D program for South Asian History, is a small step in this direction.” – Dr.Charles W Lefroy.
Dr.Lefroy published his first book ‘South Asia Part I : Kingdoms of Ancient India’ in year 2009 based on many years of research on South Asian History. The book is available to purchase online at Amazon.com.
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The following research paper is part of this book.
Shakya Kingdom of Kapilavastu
Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Shakya, a Hindu Kshatriya (Rajput) prince of the Kingdom of Kapilavastu, who later came to be known as Gautam Buddha. Gautam, because the Shakya caste belongs to Gautama gotra, which is actually a Brahmin gotra and Buddha means ‘the enlightened one’.
The important point to note here is that even though Buddha founded a new religion (Buddhism), still his family and most of the Shakya clan remained Hindu. Only a very few Shakyans actually converted to Buddhism. Due to this even at present day the majority of Shakya people follow Hindu religion and not Buddhism. But unlike Jews and Christians (we all know that Jesus Christ was a Jew who founded Christianity) who are hostile towards each other, Buddhism is more like an extension of Hinduism rather than a separate religion. Buddha himself is considered as Ninth avatar of Hindu god Vishu in Hindu Puranas. Shakya caste in Hindus and Shakya caste in Buddhism, both still identify themselves as Hindu Kshatriyas as they originally did.
Shakya Dynasty or as they call, Shakya vansha, has origins in India. Shakya dynasty is part of Hindu religion and is one the many ruling Kshatriya dynasties of ancient times. Kshatriyas were the warrior clans in Hindus. The American/British readers who are not much aware of Hindu religion can just keep in mind that Hindus are divides into 5 varnas or castes: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors/kings), Vaishyas (merchants), Shudras (common people) and Dalits (untouchables). The status of Kshatriyas during Vedic period was considered highest but later Brahmins took an equivalent or maybe a slightly higher status due to their priestly and spiritual duties.
Shakya (Sanskrit: Śākya, Devanagari: शाक्य, Pāli: Sākya) is a Suryavanshi Kshatriya (Rajput) caste of Hindu religion. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word śakya which means “the one who can”. The Genealogy of Shakyas is found in Book IV of Vishnu Purana, the Shrimad Bhagavatam and the Brahma Purana.
The Śākyas formed an independent republican state, known as Sakya Gaṇa-rājya. The Śākya capital was Kapilavastu (Pāli: Kapilavatthu) lies near to the India-Nepal border of present-day Uttar Pradesh state of India. This system of administration is adopted by the Constitution of India which identifies India as a republican state or Ganatantra (republic).
The most famous Shakya was the prince Siddhartha Shakya (5th century BCE) who was the founder of Buddhism and came to be known as Gautama Buddha. Siddhartha was the son of Suddhodana. Suddodhana was the king of Shakya Republic. As Gautama Buddha founded a new religion and abdicted the throne, so the lineage continued with his son Rahula.
According to Garuda Purana (1.86.10-11), Buddha is the ninth avatar of lord Vishnu; Rama and Krishna were seventh and eighth avatars respectively.
The Geneology of Shakya Dynasty according to Puranas
The Genealogy of Shakya caste is found in Book IV of Vishnu Purana, the Shrimad Bhagavatam and the Brahma Purana.
King Shakya was one of the last descendants of Ikshvaku dynasty, commonly known as Suryavansha (sub-caste of Kshatriya). Rama was one of the earlier descendants of Ikshvaku. Other well known descendants include Satyavarta, Harishchandra, Bhagiratha, Raghu (after whom this dynasty/caste also came to be known as Raghuvansha), Dasharatha father of Rama etc.
Chapter 1 of Vishnupurana mentions that Brahma created Daksha out of his thumb. Daksha had a daughter Aditi, who was mother of Sun. From the Sun was born Manu. Since the Sun-god was Manu’s father, his lineage came to be known as the Suryavansha (the descendants of Sun). Manu had many sons of whom 50 perished quarelling with one another. Ten sons survived, one of whom was Ikshvaku.
The following image from 1876 book ‘Hindu Clans of India’ shows the genealogy from Lord Rama’s son Kusha till the last Suryavansha king Sumitra. King Shakya was the 6th last King of Suryavansha sub-caste. After King Shakya, his son Shuddhodana became the ruler. Shuddhodana’s son was prince Siddhartha Shakya. But since Siddhartha founded a new religion (Buddhism) and abdicated the throne, hence Siddhartha’s son Rahula (in Pali: Langala) became the next king of Suryavansha.
Ninth Avatar of Vishnu : Siddhartha Shakya / Lord Gautam Buddha
Lord Gautam Buddha belonged to Shakya caste of Suryavanshi Kshatriyas of Kapilavastu kingdom.
According to Garuda Purana (1.86.10-11), Buddha is the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Buddha’s real name was Siddhartha Shakya and belonged to Suryavanshi Shakya caste of Kshatriyas. Rama and Krishna were seventh and eighth avatars respectively. Just like Rama and Krishna, Buddha also belonged to a ruling family. The ten avatars of Vishnu are collectively known as the Dasavatara (a Sanskrit compound meaning “ten avatars”).
1. Matsya, the fish-avatar who saved Manu.
2. Kurma, the tortoise-avatar.
3. Varaha, the boar-avatar.
4. Narasimha, the half man-half lion avatar.
5. Vamana, the dwarf-avatar.
6. Parashurama, who killed the thousand-armed king Kartavirya Arjuna.
7. Rama, the king of Ayodhya and the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana.
8. Krishna, the king of Dwarka, a central character in the Bhagavata Purana and the Mahabharata and reciter of Bhagavad Gita.
9. Buddha, also known as Gautam Buddha, the enlightened one. He was born as Siddharth Shakya, the crown prince of the Kapilavastu, to King Suddhodana and Maya.
10. Kalki (“Eternity”, or “time”, or “The Destroyer of foulness”), who is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga. Story can be found in the Kalki Purana.
The Brahmin lineage of Shakya vansha : Gautama Gotra
The Shakya caste belongs to Gautama gotra, which is a Brahmin gotra.
This is because the Shakya caste, even though a Kshatriya caste, traces its lineage from Maharishi Gautam (Hindi: महर्षि गौतम) one of the great seven rishis or Saptrishi, who belonged to Brahmin Caste.
This is the reason why Buddha is known as Gautam Buddha. But not only Buddha himself, but also his father Shuddhodhana and his cousin Ananda, were addressed as Gautama; while Mahapajapati and her sister Maya, both belonging to Shakya clan(kula / caste), bore the name Gautami. That it was customary, in addressing the individuals in question, to use not the caste name (Shakya) but gotra (Gautama), shows how high a value was set – precisely in the ranks of Khattiya (Kshatriya) – upon membership in one of the ancient gotras. This finds expression also in a verse which frequently recurs in Buddhist Suttas: “The Khattiya is regarded as the best among people who set a value on gotta”.
Similar to Shakya caste, Lord Mahaveer, the founder of Jainism, was a Kshatriya but belonged to Kashyapa gotra which is also a gotra of Brahmin caste Maharishi Kashyapa, who was also one of the Saptrishis.
Kapilavastu : The Capital of Shakya Kingdom
The Śākyas formed an independent republican state, known as Sakya Gaṇa-rājya. The Śākya capital was Kapilavastu (Pāli: Kapilavatthu), which lies near the border of the present-day Uttar Pradesh state of India and Nepal.
King Suddodhana was the ruler of Shakya Republic.
Shuddhodana’s son was Siddhartha Shakya. Siddhartha Shakya founded a new religion, Buddhism and later came to be known as Gautama Buddha.
Buddha’s son was Langala Shakya (also known as Rahula). Since Buddha had found a new religion and abdicated the throne, hence Langala became the next ruler of Sakya Gaṇa-rājya.
According to the Mahavastu and the Lalitavistara, the seat of the Shakya administration was the saṃsthāgāra (Pali:santhāgāra) (assembly hall) at Kapilavastu. A new building for the Shakya samsthagara was constructed at the time of Gautama Buddha, which was inaugurated by him. The highest administrative authority was the sidharth , comprising 500 members, which met in the samsthagara to transact any important business. The Shakya Parishad was headed by an elected raja, who presided over the meetings.
The Śākyas formed an independent republican state, known as Shakya Ganarajya, at the foothills of the Himālayas. The Śākya capital was Kapilavastu (Pāli: Kapilavatthu). This system of administration is adopted by Constitution of India which identifies India as a republican state or Ganatantra (republic).
The Buddhist literature Mahabagga mentions that:
गण पूरकोवा भविस्सामीति Gaṇa pūrkovā bhavissāmīti
It indicates that there was an officer who used to see the number of ganas and their koram in the Rajasabha (state assembly).
During Buddhist period, the Buddhist books like Pali-pitaka, Majjhamnikaya, Mahabagga, Avadana-shataka have mentioned ganas and sanghas many times. During Buddhas period there were 116 republics or ganasanghas in India.
In Buddhist times, Gaṇas were assemblies of the Sanghas, early democratic republics known as Gaṇa-rājyas, literally “rule of the assembly”, a term paralleling demo-kratia or soviet republic. The term was revived in Bhārata Gaṇarājya, the official name of the Republic of India.