The Shakya (Pali in the Brahmi script: 𑀲𑀓𑁆𑀬 Sakya, Sākiya, or Sakka,[1][2][3] Sanskrit: Śākya, Devanagari: शाक्य) were a clan of Iron age India (1st millennium BCE), inhabiting an area in Greater Magadha, situated at present-day southern Nepal and northern India, near the Himalaya. The Shakyas formed an independent oligarchic[note 1] republican state known as Śākya Gaṇarājya.[4] Its capital was Kapilavastu, which may have been located either in present-day Tilaurakot, Nepal or present-day Piprahwa, India.[5][6][7]

Gautama Buddha (c. 6th to 4th centuries BCE), whose teachings became the foundation of Buddhism,[note 2] was the best-known Shakya. He was known in his lifetime as "Siddhartha Gautama" and "Shakyamuni" (Sage of the Shakyas). He was the son of Śuddhodana, the elected leader of the Śākya Gaṇarājya.

Some scholars argue that the Shakya were Scythians from Central Asia or Iran, and that the name Śākya has the same origin as “Scythian”, called Sakas in India.[10][11] According to Chandra Das, the name "Shakya" is derived from the Sanskrit word "śakya," which means "the one who is capable".[12]

The Shakyas were an eastern sub-Himalayan ethnic group on the periphery, both geographically and culturally, of the eastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE.[13][14] Bronkhorst calls this eastern culture Greater Magadha and notes that "Buddhism and Jainism arose in a culture which was recognized as being non-Vedic".[15] According to Levman, the Shakyas were considered outside of the Āryāvarta and of ‘mixed origin’ (saṃkīrṇa-yonayaḥ, possibly part Aryan and part indigenous). The laws of Manu treats them as being non Aryan. As noted by Levman, "The Baudhāyana-dharmaśāstra (–4) lists all the tribes of Magadha as being outside the pale of the Āryāvarta; and just visiting them required a purificatory sacrifice as expiation" (In Manu 10.11, 22).[13] This is confirmed by the Ambaṭṭha Sutta, where the Sakyans are said to be "rough-spoken", "of menial origin" and criticised because "they do not honour, respect, esteem, revere or pay homage to Brahmans."[16] Some of the non-Vedic practices of this tribe included incest (marrying their sisters), the worship of trees, tree spirits and nāgas.[17]

According to Levman "while the Sakyans’ rough speech and Munda ancestors do not prove that they spoke a non-Indo-Aryan language, there is a lot of other evidence suggesting that they were indeed a separate ethnic (and probably linguistic) group."[18]

Some scholars, including Michael Witzel[19] and Christopher I. Beckwith[20] argue that the Shakya were Scythians from Central Asia or Iran. Scythians were part of the Achaemenid army in the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley from the 6th century BCE.[21] Indo-Scythians were also known to have appeared later in South Asia in the Middle Kingdom period, around the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE.[22]

The Shakyas are mentioned in later Buddhist texts as well, including the Mahāvastu (c. late 2nd century BCE), Buddhaghoṣa and Sumaṅgalavilāsinī, a commentary by Buddhaghoṣa on the Digha Nikaya (c. 5th century CE), mostly in the accounts of the birth of the Buddha, as a part of the Adicchabandhus (kinsmen of the sun)[23] or the Ādichchas and as descendants of the legendary king Ikshvaku:

There lived once upon a time a king of the Śākya, a scion of the solar race, whose name was Suddhodana. He was pure in conduct and beloved of the Śākya like the autumn moon. He had a wife, splendid, beautiful, and steadfast, who was called the Great Maya, from her resemblance to Maya the Goddess.

Buddhaghoṣa's work (II, 1–24) traces the origin of the Shakyas to king Ikshvaku and gives their genealogy from Maha Sammata, an ancestor of Ikshvaku. This list comprises the names of a number of prominent kings of the Ikshvaku dynasty, which include Mandhata and Sagara.[23] According to this text, Okkamukha was the eldest son of Ikshvaku. Sivisamjaya and Sihassara were the son and grandson of Okkamukha. King Sihassara had eighty-two thousand sons and grandsons, who were together known as the Shakyas. The youngest son of Sihassara was Jayasena. Jayasena had a son, Sihahanu, and a daughter, Yashodhara (not to be confused with Prince Siddhartha's wife), who was married to Devadahasakka. Devadahasakka had two daughters, Anjana and Kaccana. Sihahanu married Kaccana, and they had five sons and two daughters; Suddhodana was one of them. Suddhodana had two queens, Maya and Prajapati, both daughters of Anjana. Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) was the son of Suddhodana and Maya. Rahula was the son of Siddhartha and Yashodara (also known as Bhaddakaccana), daughter of Suppabuddha and granddaughter of Añjana.[25]

Pali canon traces Gautama gotra (patriline) of Shakya to Rigvedic sage Angirasa.[26][27]

The Shakya republic functioned as an oligarchy,[note 1] ruled by an elite council of the warrior and ministerial class that chose its leader.[35][36][37][38]

According to the Mahāvastu and the Lalitavistara Sūtra, the seat of the Shakya administration was the santhagara ("assembly hall") at Kapilavastu. A new building for the Shakya santhagara 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 santhagara to transact any important business. The Shakya Parishad was headed by an elected raja, who presided over the meetings.[23]

By the time of Siddharta's birth, the Shakya republic had become a vassal state of the larger Kingdom of Kosala.[39][40] The raja, once chosen, would only take office upon the approval of the King of Kosala. While the raja must have held considerable authority in the Shakya homeland, backed by the power of the King of Kosala, he did not rule autocratically. Questions of consequence were debated in the santhagara, in which, though open to all, only members of the warrior class ("rajana") were permitted to speak. Rather than a majority vote, decisions were made by consensus.[41]

Virudhaka, son of Pasenadi and Vāsavakhattiyā, the servant of a Shakyan chief named Mahānāma, ascended the throne of Kosala after overthrowing his father. As an act of vengeance for cheating perceived slights against his mother, a servant before her royal marriage, he invaded the Shakya territory, massacred them and annexed it.[42][43]

The Shakyas were by tradition sun worshippers,[46][47] who called themselves Ādicca nāma gottena ("kinsmen of the sun")[48] and descendants of the sun. As Buddha states in the Sutta-Nipāta, "They are of the sun-lineage (adiccagotta), Sakiyans by birth."[49][50] It is uncertain whether, by the time of Siddhartha's birth, Vedic Brahmanism had been adopted to any significant extent by the Shakyans. Scholar Johannes Bronkhorst argues, "I do not deny that many vedic texts existed already, in oral form, at the time when Buddha was born. However, the bearers of this tradition, the Brahmins, did not occupy a dominant position in the area in which the Buddha preached his message, and this message was not, therefore, a reaction against brahmanical thought and culture."[51]

Purportedly, many Shakyans joined people from other regions and became followers of the Buddha during his lifetime, and many young Shakyan men left their homes to become monastics.[52][53]

Significant population of Newars of Kathmandu valley in Nepal use the surname Shakya and also claim to be the descendants of the Shakya clan with titles such as Śākyavamsa (of the Shakya lineage) having been used in the past.[54]

According to Hmannan Yazawin, first published in 1823, the legendary king Abhiyaza, who founded the Tagaung Kingdom and the Burmese monarchy belonged to the same Shakya clan of the Buddha.[55] He migrated to present-day Burma after the annexation of the Shakya kingdom by Kosala. The earlier Burmese accounts stated that he was a descendant of Pyusawhti, son of a solar spirit and a dragon princess.[56]