Who were the Mahajanapadas?

The Mahajanapadas were republics of sixteen kingdoms or oligarchs 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 of the Vindhya parts of the Trans was.

The 6th-5th centuries BCE are often considered to be 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), which challenged the religious orthodoxy of the Vedic period.

Who is called Mahajanapada?

Definition of Mahajanapada: In ancient India, the state or administrative units were called 'Mahajanapada'. There is mention of some Janapadas in the later Vedic period. He is mentioned many times in Buddhist texts. Before the birth of Buddha, in the 6th century BC, India was divided into 16 districts.

Meaning of the word Janapada:

The word "Janapad" literally means the foothills of the people. The fact that the Janapada originates from the Jana, which is at the initial stage of Jan-Jana for the systematic way of life of the people. This process of first settlement on the land had completed its final phase before the time of Buddha and Panini. The East-Buddhist North-West region of the Indian sub-continent was divided into several janapadas that were separated from each other by borders.

In Panini's "Ashtadhyayi", janapada stands for the country and janapada for its citizenship. Each of these Janapadas was named after the Kshatriya people (or Kshatriya Jana) who settled there. Buddhist and other texts only incidentally mention sixteen great countries (solasa mahajanapadas) that existed before the time of Buddha. They do not give any connected history except in the case of Magadha.

Capital of Mahajanapada:

Each Mahajanapada had a capital which was surrounded by forts. The maintenance of the fortified capital, the army and the bureaucracy required huge funds. Probably from the 6th century BC, the Brahmins started composing the scriptures in Sanskrit language. The rulers collected taxes and gifts from farmers, traders and craftsmen.

One of the ways to raise wealth was to collect money by attacking neighboring states. Some states also maintained their own standing armies and bureaucratic apparatus and some depended on the auxiliary-army, which were recruited from the peasantry.

Distinctive Characteristics and Characteristics of Mahajanapadas:

In the early texts of Buddhism and Jainism, 16 states are mentioned in 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, Panchala, Gangadhar and Avanti etc. are similar. 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 Sangh were ruled by a group of people. Everyone in this group was a king.
  2. Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha belonged to these ganas. In the Vajji Union and some other states, the kings had collective control over many economic sources including land.
  3. Each Mahajanapada had a capital which was always surrounded by forts. The maintenance of fortified capitals, early armies and servant royals required enormous financial resources.
  4. From about the 6th century BCE, the Brahmins began to compose a text called Dharmashastra in Sanskrit. In these, rules were laid down for other social classes including the government. It was expected that the rulers would be from the Kshatriya class.
  5. The work of the rulers was considered to be collecting taxes and gifts from farmers, traders and craftsmen.
  6. Invading neighboring states to raise money was also considered legitimate.
  7. Gradually some states prepared their own standing armies and bureaucratic machinery. The rest of the states still depended on the auxiliary army. Soldiers were always recruited from the peasantry.

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

  • Avanti: The region of modern Malwa with its capital at Ujjayini and Mahishmati.
  • Ashmaka or Assaka: The only Mahajanapada of South India. Patan was the capital of this region situated between the rivers Narmada and Godavari.
  • Anga: Munger and Bhagalpur districts of present-day Bihar. Their capital was Champa.
  • Kamboj: Hazara district of Pakistan.
  • Kashi: Its capital was Varanasi. Present-day Varanasi and the surrounding area were included in it.
  • Kuru: included modern Haryana and Delhi west of the Yamuna river. Its capital was modern Delhi (Indraprastha).
  • Koshal: Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, included the areas of Gonda and Bahraich. Its capital was Sravasti.
  • Gandhara: The western part of Pakistan and the eastern region of Afghanistan. Many times people mistake it to be associated with modern Kandahar which was actually located some south of this area.
  • Chedi: The area of ​​Bundelkhand at present.
  • 'Vajji' or 'Vriji': It was a union of eight republican clans located north of the Ganges in northern Bihar and with Vaishali as its capital. It included Darbhanga, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of present-day Bihar state.
  • Vatsa or Vansh: Allahabad and Mirzapur districts of modern Uttar Pradesh.
  • Panchal: Western Uttar Pradesh. Its capital was Ahichchatra.
  • Magadha: Situated in South Bihar. In the Shatapatha Brahmana it is referred to as 'Keekat'. Modern Patna and Gaya districts and surrounding areas.
  • Matsya or Mach: This included the areas of Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan.
  • Malla: This was also a Ganasangh and the areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh were its territories.
  • Surasena or Surasena: Its capital was Mathura.

16 Mahajanapadas of India:

Anga: Anga was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It is first mentioned in the Atharvaveda. In Buddhist texts Anga and Vanga have been named as the first Aryans. According to the evidences of Mahabharata, modern Bhagalpur, Munger and the adjoining areas of Bihar and Bengal were the areas of Anga region. The capital of this state was Champapuri. This district was under Magadha.

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

Ashmaka or Assaka: Ashmaka or Asak 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 which was situated to the south of Vindhya mountain. The modern period includes the regions of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. It was a neighboring kingdom of Avanti.

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

Avanti: Avanti was an ancient Indian mahajanapada (great region), belonging to the present-day Malwa region. According to Buddhist texts, the Anguttara Nikaya was one of the sixteen great Kshetra Mahajanapadas of Avanti (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 having its center Mahishmati.

The ancient people belonging to this region were described as Mahavala (historical region) in the (Udyog Parva Kitab) of the Mahabharata. According to the Vishnu Purana, the Bhagavata Purana and the Brahma Purana, Avanti, Malwa, Saurashtra, Abhiras, Suras, were associated with Karusasana and were situated on the banks of the Arbudasa and Pariyatra (or circular) mountains (a western branch of the Vindhyas).

Avanti was a part of the Magadha Empire during the rule of the Shaishunga and Nanda Maurya dynasties. Avanti became the western province of the Avantirah kingdom, with Ujjayini as its capital. The Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman (150 BC) 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, at the time of Pushyamitra Shunga, his son Agnimitra was the viceroy of Magadha at Vidisha, but he ruled independent of Magadha for all practical purposes.

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

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

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

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

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

Kamboja: Kamboja was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It is also mentioned in Panini's Ashtadhyayi as one of the 15 mighty Janapadas. In the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, Mahavastu, Kamboja is also mentioned several times in 16 Mahajanapadas, they were adjacent to the Gandharas. There must have been a close relationship between them, because in many places the names of Gandhara and Kamboj come together. Its territory is found in modern northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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

Kashi: Its capital was Banaras or Varanasi. Here Parshvanatha's father Ashwasen has been one of the famous kings. This kingdom was situated in the vicinity of its capital Varanasi, which was bounded on the north and south by the Varuna and Asi rivers which gave its name to Varanasi. Before Buddha, Kashi was the most powerful of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Many Jataka tales testify to the superiority of its capital in comparison to other cities of India and talk about its prosperity and affluence.

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

Kosala: Kosala was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. Its territory was near modern Gorakhpur. Its capital was Sravasti. Magadha took over it in the 4th century BC. Even today fragments of its broken objects are found in Seth-Meth near Gonda. Kansa also remained the ruler here, whose struggle continued with Kashi and in the end, Kansa subjugated Kashi. And in the 4th century BC, it used to be the main city here, in its southern region was the Ganges River, in its east the Gandak (Narayani) and in the north range the Himalaya Mountains.

It is mentioned as the center of Vedic religion. Its kings allied with the deity in various wars against Daityas, Rakshas and Asuras. Kosala and Ayodhya hold a central place in 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 Dilip, who are mentioned in various Puranas, Ramayana and 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.

Kuru: The origin of the Kauravas has been 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 traces the Kauravas to Madhyadesh and also refers to Uttarakhand as living beyond the Himalayas. According to the Buddhist text Sumangavilasini, 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, the state of Delhi, and the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. According to the Jataka, the capital of the Kauravas was Indraprastha (Indrapatta) near modern Delhi, which led to the expansion of several other leagues. At the time of Buddha, the Kuru country was ruled by a quadrilateral chieftain (king consul) named Korayya.

Magadha: 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 prominent kings here. At present there is a division in Bihar by this name which is known as "Magadha Division". Magadha is first mentioned in the Atharva Veda. According to Abhiyan Chintamani, Magadha has been called 'Keekat'.

Magadha was one of the most powerful monarchies in the time of Buddha. It was located in southern Bihar, which later became the most powerful Mahajanapada of North India. It became a proud history and a world center of political and religiosity. The extent of Magadha Mahajanapada extended from the Ganges 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 Magadha state, the then powerful kingdoms Kaushal, Vatsa and Avanti were merged into their district. Thus Magadha expanded in the form of Akhand Bharat and the history of ancient Magadha became the history of India.

Malla: Malla was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It is mentioned in the Anguttar Nikaya. The name 'Malla' is after the 'Malla dynasty' which was the ruler of this Mahajanapada at that time. The Mallas had two branches. The capital of one was Kushinara which is present Kushinagar and the capital of the other was Pava which is present day Fazilnagar. Malla is frequently mentioned in Buddhist and Jain works. He was a powerful man 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 (Pavapuri) respectively. Buddha fell ill at Pava and died at Kushinara, while Lord Mahavira took his Nirvana at Pavapuri.

It is widely believed that Lord Gautam died in the courtyard of Raja Sastipal Mall of Kushinagar. Kushinagar is now the center of Buddhist pilgrimage circle which is being developed by Tourism Development Corporation of Uttar Pradesh.

Matsya or Macha: The Matsya kingdom was one of the solasa (sixteen) mahajanapadas (great kingdoms) during the Vedic age, as mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharata and the Buddhist text Angutara Nikaya in the sixth BCE. The land of Matsya or Machcha tribe 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.

Matsya had its capital at Biratnagar (modern Bairat), which is said to have been named after its founder, King Virata. In Pali literature, Matsyasen is usually associated with Surasena. The 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 their own political importance during the time of Buddha. King Sujata ruled both the Chedis and Matsya, thus showing that Matsya once formed a part of the Chedi kingdom.

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

The North Panchal ranged from the Himalayas to the northern bank of the Ganges and its capital was Ahichhatra, and the Dakshina Panchal was from the southern bank of the Ganges to Charmanavati and its capital was Kampilya. The power of Akhand Panchal was with the father-in-law of the Pandavas and Drupada, the 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.

Drupada was defeated in the battle and Panchala was divided. Ashwatthama, the son of Dronacharya, the king of Uttara Panchal, was nominated and Drupada had to be content with the south Panchal. Ganga used to separate the two states.

Surasena or Surasena: The country of Surasena was situated to the east of Matsya and to the west of Yamuna. Its capital was Mathura. Avantiputra, the king of Surasena, was one of the chief disciples of the Buddha, with the help of whom Buddhism got the basis in the country of Mathura. The Andhakas and Vrishnis of Mathura, Surasena are mentioned in Panini's Ashtadhyayi.

In Kautilya's Arthashastra, Vrishnis are described as Sanga or Republic. The Vrishnis, Andhakas and other allied tribes of the Yadavas call a sangha and Vasudeva (Krishna) the sang-mukh. Mathura, the capital of Surasena, was also known as the center of Krishna worship in the time of Megasthenes. The Surasena kingdom had lost its independence by the Magadha Empire.

Vajji or Vrajji: 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 union of eight republican clans located north of the Ganges in northern Bihar and with Vaishali as its capital. It included Darbhanga, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of present-day Bihar state.

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

Vatsa or Vansh: Vatsa or Vansh was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of ancient India. It was centered around modern Allahabad. In the northeast, it included the lands along the banks of the Yamuna. Its capital was Kaushambi (present-day Kosam), 30 miles from Allahabad, which was situated on the Yamuna, 38 miles southwest of Allahabad. Vatsa has also been called Vatsa Desh and Vatsa Bhoomi.

The Vatsa people 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, war-loving 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.

Rise of the Most Powerful Empire Magadha:

The Mahajanapadas of sixteen large kingdoms had ceased to exist by the middle of the 6th century BC and when the rulers of Magadha were constantly trying to establish complete empires in northern India. At that time it was ruled by 4 powerful monarchies – Magadha, Kaushal, Avanti and Vatsa. In the past, Magadha established a huge and strong empire by taking control of these three monarchies. In the Vedic literature Magadha has been called a poor country.

This kingdom was founded by Brihadratha, who was the father of Jarasandha and Vasu Chaudha- the son of Uparichara. Brihadratha had laid the foundation of the Brihadratha dynasty. In this dynasty, Jarasandha, son of Brihadratha, has become a mighty ruler, his valor and power are described in detail in the Mahabharata. The dynasty of Brihadratha ended in the 6th century BC, because in that century when Gautam Buddha gave his sermons, Magadha was ruled by King 'Bimbisar', the ruler of the 'Shishunaga' dynasty, according to the ancients. But in the Buddhist literature, Magadha has been described as the rule of 'Haryaka dynasty' at that time and Bimbisara belonged to this clan.

Major rulers and dynasty who expanded Magadha:

Haryanka dynasty

  • Bimbisara – The first king of Haryanka dynasty was Bimbisara. He was the son of a simple noble named Bhatia and was coronated at the age of 15 in 544 BC. Bimbisara is also known as Shrenik according to the Puranas. Bimbisara had three marriages, with Kaushal Devi, sister of Kaushal king Prasenjit, with Chellana, daughter of Lichchavi king Chetak, and Ksema, daughter of Madra king. He defeated King Brahmdatta of Anga (Munger and Bhagalpur). Bimbisara was a follower of Buddhism, he built Rajagriha and made it the capital city. Mahagobind was the planner of this city. Bimbisara was killed in 492 AD by his son Ajatashatru. According to Buddhaghosa, there were 80 thousand villages in the kingdom of Bimbisara and their extension was more than 900 miles. Bimbisara had bestowed a Udana named Beluvan for the sake of Buddha and the Sangha.
  • Ajatashatru - Ajatashatru 492 BC I was sitting on the throne of Magadha. Ajatashatru was given the second name of Kunika because of the fatherhood. He killed his father at the behest of Gautam Buddha's cousin Devadatta. Ajatashatru was married to Vajira, the daughter of King Prasenjit, the king of Kosala. He entrusted the task of creating foot among the Lichchavi kings to his two worthy ministers Sunil and Vasskar, after which there was a war with the Lichchavi kings of Vaishali in which Ajatashatru was victorious. In this, Ajatashatru used two weapons named Mahashilakantaka and Rathmusal for the first time in the war against the Lichchhavis. It was first influenced by Jainism but later converted to Buddhism. He had built a huge son in Rajagraha. Ajatashatru was murdered by his son Udayin in 461 BC.
  • Udayin - Udayin was a follower of Jainism, he founded a city named Pataliputra at the confluence of the Ganges and Son rivers, in Buddhist texts Udayin is called Pitruhanta. In Jain texts, Udayin has been described as a paternal devotee. Nagdasaka was the last ruler of Haryanka dynasty.

Shishunaga dynasty

  • Shishunaga - Nagdashak was killed by his Amatya Shishunaga. After this he founded the Shishunaga dynasty in 412 BC. This proved to be a very brave and courageous emperor. As soon as he sat on the throne, he attacked the kingdom of Avanti and won. After this he established his authority over Vatsa State and Kaushal State also. Shishunaga made his capital at Vaishali. He died after successfully ruling for eighteen years.
  • Kalashoka - After Shishunag, his son Kalkosh sat on the throne of Magadha. He made his capital at Pataliputra. During the reign of Kalashoka, the second Buddhist council was organized in Vaishali. Nandivardhana was the last ruler of Shishunaga dynasty.

Nanda dynasty

  • Mahapadma Nanda - After the death of Nandivardhana, his son Mahapadma Nanda founded the Nanda dynasty (according to Puranas and Jain literature it was the first non-Kshatriya king). But he had assumed the title of second Parashurama. He conquered Kalinga and suppressed the rebellious Kosala kingdom, according to the Puranas, he ruled for 28 years.
  • Dhananand was the last ruler of the Nanda dynasty. Bhattasala Dhananand's general Shaktar and Rakshasas were his amatyas respectively. The Nanda dynasty was famous for the richest state and huge army. The contemporary ruler of Alexander was Dhananand. Chandragupta Maurya destroyed the Nanda dynasty. And Chanakya did it. The Nanda dynasty was one of the first few non-Kshatriya dynasties. The Nandas have got the name of the first empire builders of India. After this Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya dynasty.

Sixteen Mahajanapadas FAQs:

in West Bengal

Leonado Da Vinci

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