What is called Mahajanapada?

Definition of Mahajanapada: In ancient India, states or administrative units were called 'Mahajanapadas'. Some Janapadas are mentioned in the later Vedic period. They are mentioned many times in Buddhist texts. Before the birth of Buddha, in the 6th century AD, India was divided into 16 districts.

Meaning of the word Janpada:

The word "janapada" literally means the foothills of the people. The fact that the Janapada originates from the Jana, which is in the initial stage of the Jana-Jana, to the systematic way of life of the Jana. This process of first settlement on land had completed its final stage before the time of Buddha and Panini. The pre-Buddhist north-west region of the Indian subcontinent was divided into a number of janapadas that were separated from each other by boundaries.

In Panini's "Ashtadhyayi", Janapada stands for the country and Janapada stands for its citizenry. Each of these Janapadas was named after the Kshatriya people (or Kshatriya Janas) who settled there. Buddhist and other texts only incidentally refer to the Sixteen Great Countries (Solsa Mahajanapadas) that existed before the time of the Buddha. They do not give any connected history except in the case of Magadha.

Who were the Mahajanapadas?

The Mahajanapadas were republics of Sixteen kingdoms or oligarchies that existed in Ancient India from the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE before the rise of Buddhism in India. Two of them were probably republics and the others had forms of Monarchy. Ancient Buddhist texts such as the Anguthara Nikaya make repeated references to sixteen great kingdoms and republics that developed in a belt stretching from the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent to Anga in the northwest and included some Vindhya parts of the Trans.

The 6th–5th centuries BCE is often considered a major turning point in Indian history; It saw the rise of India's first major cities after the demise of the Indus Valley Civilization, as well as the rise of Shramana movements (including Buddhism and Jainism) that challenged the religious orthodoxy of the Vedic period.

Capital of Mahajanapada:

Each Mahajanapada had a capital which was surrounded by a fort. The maintenance of the fortified capital, the army, and the bureaucracy required a great deal of money. Probably from the sixth century BC, the Brahmins started composing religious texts in Sanskrit language. The rulers used to collect taxes and tributes from farmers, traders and artisans.

One way to collect wealth was also to collect money by attacking neighboring states. Some states also maintained their own standing armies and bureaucratic apparatus and some depended on auxiliaries recruited from the peasantry.

Distinctive features and characteristics of Mahajanapadas:

In the early texts of Buddhism and Jainism, 16 kingdoms are mentioned by the name of Mahajanad. Generally, the names of these Mahajanapadas are not the same in these texts, yet the names of Vajji, Magadha, Kosala, Kuru, Panchal, Gangadhar and Avanti etc. are the same. This indicates that these Mahajanapadas must have been the most important.

  1. Most of the Mahajanapadas were ruled by a king. But the states known as Gana and Sangha were ruled by a group of many people. Everyone in this group was a king. Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha were related to these ganas. In the Vajji union and some other states, the kings had collective control over many economic resources including land.
  2. Each mahajanapada had a capital which was always surrounded by a fort. The maintenance of fortified capitals, early armies and servant royals required enormous financial resources.
  3. From around the 6th century BCE, the Brahmins began composing texts in Sanskrit called the Dharmashastras. In this, rules were laid down for other social classes including governance. It was expected that the rulers would be from the Kshatriya class.
  4. The task of rulers was to collect taxes and tributes from farmers, traders and artisans.
  5. It was also considered legal to attack neighboring states to raise wealth.
  6. Gradually some states developed their own standing armies and bureaucratic apparatus. The rest of the states were still dependent on auxiliary forces. Soldiers were always recruited from the peasantry.

Names and regions of the capital of 16 Mahajanapadas of India:

  • Avanti: The region of modern Malwa whose capitals were Ujjayini and Mahishmati.
  • Asmaka or Assak: The only Mahajanapada in South India. Patan was the capital of this state located between the Narmada and Godavari rivers.
  • Anga: Munger and Bhagalpur districts of present-day Bihar. Their capital was Champa.
  • Kamboja: Hazara district of Pakistan.
  • Kāsī: Its capital was Varanasi. Present Varanasi and surrounding area was included in it.
  • Kuru: The part of modern Haryana and Delhi west of Yamuna river was included. Its capital was modern Delhi (Indraprastha).
  • Kosala: Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, comprised the regions of Gonda and Bahraich. Its capital was Shravasti.
  • Gandhara: Western region of Pakistan and eastern region of Afghanistan. People sometimes make the mistake of associating it with modern Kandahar which was actually located somewhat south of this region.
  • Chedi: Presently the area of Bundelkhand.
  • Vajji or Vriji: It was a confederacy of eight republican clans situated to the north of the Ganges in north Bihar with Vaishali as its capital. It included Darbhanga, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of today's Bihar state.
  • Vatsa or Vamsa: Allahabad and Mirzapur districts of modern Uttar Pradesh.
  • Panchal: Western Uttar Pradesh. Its capital was Ahichhatra.
  • Magadha: Located in South Bihar. In Shatpath Brahmin it has been called 'Keekat'. Modern Patna and Gaya districts and surrounding areas.
  • Matsya: It included the areas of Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan.
  • Malla: This was also a ganasangha and the areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh were its territory.
  • Surasena (or Sourasena): Its capital was Mathura.

History of 16 Mahajanapadas of India

1. History of Anga Mahajanapada:

Anga was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. Its first mention is found in the Atharvaveda. In Buddhist texts, Anga and Vanga have been given the noun of the first Aryans. According to the evidence of Mahabharata, modern Bhagalpur, Munger and adjoining areas of Bihar and Bengal were the regions of Anga region. The capital of this state was Champapuri. This district was under Magadha.

In the beginning, the kings of this district had defeated some kings of Magadha with the help of Brahmadatta, but later their power weakened and they had to be defeated by Magadha. It was the kingdom of Karna during the Mahabharata period. Its ancient name was Malini. Its main cities were Champa (port), Ashwapur. And the last king of this Mahajanapada was Brahmadatta.

2. History of Ashmaka or Assak Mahajanapada:

Ashmaka or Assaka was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India in the 6th century BCE. Which is mentioned in the Buddhist text Angutara Nikaya. It was the only Mahajanapada situated to the south of the Vindhya Mountains. The modern period includes the regions of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. It was a neighboring kingdom of Avanti.

Initially the Asakas were settled on the banks of the Godavari and their capital was Potali or Pot. Which is identified as the current Bodhan in Telangana. Asmaka is also identified as Asaka and Avaka in Buddhist literature and the Gatha Saptashati of King Hala.

3. History of Avanti Mahajanapada:

Avanti was an ancient Indian mahajanapada (great region), belonging to present-day Malwa region. According to the Buddhist text, Anguttara Nikaya, Avanti was one of the sixteen great Kshetra Mahajanapadas of the (6th century BCE). This district was divided into two parts by the Vindhyas, the northern part with its capital at Ujjayini and the southern part with Mahishmati as its centre.

The ancient people belonging to this region were described as Mahavala (historical region) in Mahabharata's (Udyoga Parva book). According to the Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana and Brahma Purana, the Avantis were associated with the Malvas, Saurashtras, Abhiras, Suras, Karushasanas and were located along the Arbudas and Pariyatra (or circular) mountains (a western branch of the Vindhyas).

Avanti was a part of the Magadha Empire during the rule of the Shashunaga and Nanda Maurya dynasties. Avanti became the westernmost province of the Avantirah kingdom, with Ujjayini as its capital. The Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman (150 BCE) mentions Pushyagupta as the governor of the Western Province during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. During the reign of the next ruler, Bindusara, Prince Ashoka was the provincial governor. After the fall of the Mauryas, during the time of Pushyamitra Shunga, his son Agnimitra was Magadha's viceroy in Vidisha, but he ruled independent of Magadha for all practical purposes.

4. History of Chedi Mahajanapada:

The Chedis, Chetis or Chetias had two separate settlements, one in the hills of Nepal and the other in Bundelkhand near Kaushambi. According to old authorities, the Chedis were situated near the Yamuna between the kingdom of the Kauravas and the Vatsa. In the Madhyadev period, the southern frontiers of Chedi extended up to the banks of the river Narmada. Sukti or Suktimati of Mahabharata was the capital of Chedi.

The Chedis were an ancient people of India who were among the sixteen Mahajanapadas mentioned in the Buddhist texts. The Kalichuri dynasty also ruled here. Once upon a time Shishupala used to be the famous king here. The present Chanderi town in the Gwalior region of Madhya Pradesh is said to be the capital of the ancient Chedi kingdom.

5. History of Gandhara Mahajanapada:

Gandhara was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. The main center of this region was modern Peshawar and surrounding areas. The main cities of this Mahajanapada were Purushpur (modern Peshawar) and Taxila, which was its capital. It existed from 600 BC to the 11th century. Buddhism flourished here during the Kushan rulers but later it declined due to the Muslim invasion. Shakuni was the king here during Mahabharata period.

Dhritarashtra's wife Gandhari was the princess here, whose name was named after her. Takshashila University was a famous center of learning in ancient times, where scholars from all over the world came to pursue higher education. The Indian genius of Panini, Vyakaran and Kautilya are world famous products of Takshashila University. King Pukkasuti or Pushkarasarin of Gandhara was a contemporary of King Bimbisara of Magadha in the middle of the 6th century BCE.

Gandhara was situated on the grand northern high road (Uttarpath) and was the center of international commercial activity. According to a group of scholars, the Gandharas and the Kambojas knew each other. It is also said that the Kauravas, the Kambojas, the Gandharvas and the Bahliks were recognized among themselves.

6. History of Kamboj Mahajanapada:

Kamboja was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It is also mentioned in Panini's Ashtadhyayi as one of the 15 powerful Janapadas. Kambojas have also been mentioned many times in the 16 Mahajanapadas in the Buddhist text Anguttar Nikaya, Mahavastu, they were adjacent to the Gandharas. There must have been a close relationship between them, because at many places the names of Gandhara and Kamboja appear together. Its area is found in modern northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Rajpur, Dwarka and Kapishi were their main cities. It is also mentioned in Iranian ancient writings, in which it is linked to the territory of King Kambyges. In Valmiki-Ramayana, Kamboj, Valhik and Vanayu countries have been described as the best country for best horses and according to Mahabharata, Arjuna had defeated the Kambojs along with the residents of Dardars or Dardistan in the context of his Digvijaya-Yatra in the north. With which it is said in the Mahabharata that Karna reached Rajpur and won the Kambojas, which proves that Rajpur is a city of Kambojas.

7. History of Kashi Mahajanapada:

Its capital was Banaras or Varanasi. Here Parsvanath's father Ashwasen became one of the famous kings. The kingdom was located in the vicinity of its capital Varanasi, bounded on the north and south by the Varuna and Asi rivers which gave Varanasi its name. Before the Buddha, Kashi was the most powerful of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Several Jataka tales testify to the superiority of its capital over other cities in India and speak of its prosperity and opulence.

These stories tell of a long struggle for supremacy between the three kingdoms of Kashi and Kosala, Anga and Magadha. Although King Brihadratha of Kashi conquered Kosala, later Kashi was incorporated into Kosala by King Kansa during the time of the Buddha. Kashi along with Kosala and Videha are mentioned in Vedic texts and appear to have been a close ally. Matsya Purana and Alberuni have distinguished Kashi as Kashita and Kaushalya respectively.

8. History of Kaushal Mahajanapada:

Kaushal was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. Its territory was near modern Gorakhpur. Its capital was Shravasti. Magadha took over it in the fourth century BC. Even today pieces of its broken articles are found in Seth-Meth near Gonda. Kansa was also the ruler here whose struggle continued with Kashi and in the end Kansa took Kashi under his control. And in the 4th century BC, it used to be the main city here. It had river Ganges in its southern region, Gandak (Narayani) in its east and Himalaya Mountains in its northern border.

It is mentioned as the center of Vedic religion. Its kings allied with the Devas in various wars against the Daityas, Rakshasas and Asuras. Kosala and Ayodhya hold a central place in the Hindu scriptures, Itihas and Puranas. Raghuvansh-Ikshvakuvansh was the longest continuous dynasty in this dynasty Lord Rama was a king. Other great kings were Prithu, Harishchandra and Dilipa, who find mention in various Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

According to these texts, Kosala was by far the most powerful and largest kingdom in history. Later, the kingdom was ruled by the famous king Prasenjit during the era of Mahavira and Buddha, followed by his son Vidubha (Virudhaka). Ayodhya, Saket, Banaras and Shravasti were the major cities of Kosala.

9. History of Kuru Mahajanapada:

The origin of the Kauravas is traced to the Puru-Bharata family in the Puranas. Kuru was born after 25 generations of Puru's lineage, and Kuru was born after 15 generations of Kauravas and Pandavas. The Aitareya Brahmana locates the Kauravas in Madhyadesha and also refers to Uttarakhand as living beyond the Himalayas. According to the Buddhist text Sumangvilasini, the people of Kururashtra (Kauravas) came from Uttarakhand. The Vayu Purana states that Kuru, the son of Samvatsara of the Puru dynasty, was the ancestor of the Kurus of Kurukshetra and the founder of Kururashtra (Kuru Janapada).

The country of the Kauravas roughly corresponded to modern Thanesar, Delhi State and Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. According to the Jatakas, the capital of the Kauravas was Indraprastha (Indrapatta) near modern Delhi, which extended over several leagues. At the time of the Buddha, the Kuru country was ruled by a quadrangular chieftain (king consul) named Korayya.

10. History of Magadha Mahajanapada:

Magadha was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. Modern Patna and Gaya districts were included in it. Its capital was Girivraj (present-day Rajgir) Pataliputra. Before Lord Buddha, Brihadratha and Jarasandha were the eminent kings here. Now there is a pramandal in Bihar by this name which is known as "Magadha Pramandal". The first mention of Magadha is found in the Atharva Veda. According to Abhiyan Chintamani, Magadha has been called 'Keekat'.

Magadha was one of the powerful monarchies during the time of Buddha. It was situated in Southern Bihar which later became the most powerful Mahajanapada of North India. It became a world center of glorious history and political and religious. Magadha Mahajanapada's boundary extended from the Ganga in the north to the Vindhya Mountains in the south, from Champa in the east to the Son river in the west. The ancient capital of Magadha was Rajagriha. It was a city surrounded by five hills.

Later the capital of Magadha was established at Pataliputra. In the state of Magadha, the then powerful state Kaushal, Vatsa and Avanti were merged in their district. In this way, Magadha expanded in the form of Akhand Bharat and the history of ancient Magadha itself became the history of India.

11. History of Malla Mahajanapada:

Malla was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. The history of Malla Mahajanapada is mentioned in Anguttar Nikaya. The name 'Malla' is in the name of 'Malla Dynasty' which was the ruler of this Mahajanapada at that time. There were two branches of Mallas. The capital of one was Kushinara which is the present Kushinagar and the capital of the other was Pava which is the present Fazilnagar. Mallas are frequently mentioned in Buddhist and Jain works. He was a powerful figure living in northern South Asia.

Kushinara and Pava are very important in the history of Buddhism and Jainism since the time of Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara took his last meal at Kushinara and Pava (Pawapuri) respectively. The Buddha fell ill at Pava and died at Kushinara, while Lord Mahavira attained his Nirvana at Pawapuri.

It is widely believed that Lord Gautama died in the courtyard of King Sastipal Malla of Kushinagar. Kushinagar is now the center of the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit which is being developed by the Tourism Development Corporation of Uttar Pradesh.

12. History of Matsya/Machha Mahajanapada:

The Matsya kingdom was one of the solasa (sixteen) mahajanapadas (great kingdoms) during the Vedic era, as described in the Hindu epic Mahabharata and the 6th BCE Buddhist text Angutara Nikaya. The country of the Matsya or Machha gotra was to the south and west of the Kauravas of the Yamuna, which separated them from the Panchalas. It roughly corresponded to the Jaipur state of Rajasthan, and included the whole of Alwar along with parts of Bharatpur.

The capital of Matsya was at Viratnagar (modern Bairat), which is said to have been named after its founder king Virat. In Pali literature, Matsyasena is usually associated with Surasena. Western Matsya was a hilly tract on the northern bank of the Chambal. A branch of Matsya is also found in later days in Matsyagam area.

Matsyas did not have political importance in the time of Buddha. King Sujata ruled over both the Chedis and the Matsyas, thus showing that the Matsyas once formed a part of the Chedi kingdom.

13. History of Panchal Mahajanapada:

Panchala or Panchala kingdom was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It extended from the Bhabhar region of the Himalayas in the north to the plains between the northern bank of the Chermanvati river in the south. In its western region were the states of Kuru, Matsya and Surasena and in the east was Naimisharanya. Later it was divided into two parts.

Uttar Panchal was from the Himalayas to the northern bank of the Ganges and its capital was Ahichhatra and South Panchal was from the southern bank of the Ganges to Charmanavati and its capital was Kampilya. The power of Akhand Panchal was with Drupada, father-in-law of Pandavas and father of Draupadi. It is said that earlier there was a close friendship between Drupada and Dronacharya, the guru of the Pandavas and Kauravas, but due to some reason, there was a rift between the two. As a result, a war broke out between the two.

Drupad was defeated in the war and Panchal was divided. Ashwatthama, the son of King Dronacharya of North Panchal, was nominated and Drupada had to be content with South Panchal. The Ganges used to separate the two states.

14. History of Sursen / Shursen Mahajanapada:

Surasena's country was situated to the east of Matsya and west of Yamuna. Its capital was Mathura. Avantiputra, the king of Surasena, was one of the chief disciples of the Buddha, with whose help Buddhism was established in the country of Mathura. The Andhaks and Vrishnis of Mathura, Surasena are mentioned in Panini's Ashtadhyayi.

In Kautilya's Arthashastra, the Vrishnis are described as a sangha or republic. The Vrishnis, Andhaks and other allied tribes of the Yadavas have called one Sanga and Vasudeva (Krishna) Sanga-mukha. Mathura, the capital of Surasena, was also known as the center of Krishna worship during the time of Megasthenes. The Surasena Kingdom lost its independence by the Magadha Empire.

15. History of Vajji / Vriji Mahajanapada:

Vajji or Vrajji was a confederacy of neighboring clans including the Panchacharis and one of the 16 major Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It was a confederacy of eight republican clans situated to the north of the Ganges in north Bihar and with its capital at Vaishali. It included Darbhanga, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of today's Bihar state.

The area he ruled is the region of Mithila in northern Bihar. The Buddhist text Angadatta Nikaya and the Jain text Bhagavati Sutra both include Vajji in their list of sixteen mahajanapadas. The name of this mahajanapada was derived from one of its ruling clans, the Vijjis. The Vajji kingdom is indicated to be a republic. This gotra is also mentioned by Panini, Chanakya and Xuanzang.

16. History of Vatsa/Vansha Mahajanapada:

Vatsa was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It was centered around modern Allahabad. In the northeast, the land along the banks of the Yamuna was included in it. Its capital was Kaushambi (present-day Kosam), 30 miles from Allahabad, which was situated on the Yamuna, 38 miles southwest of Allahabad. Vats is also known as Vats country and Vats land.

The Vats fought on the side of the Pandavas in the war of Mahabharata. Udayana was the ruler of Vatsa in the 6th century. He was very powerful, warlike and fond of hunting. Initially King Udayana was opposed to Buddhism, but later became a follower of Buddha and made Buddhism the state religion. Udayana's mother, Queen Mrigavati, is one of the earliest known female rulers in Indian history.

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