Emergence of Mahajanapadas

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In the later Vedic period, the tribal organisations changed its identity and gradually shifted to the territorial identity, and the area of settlement were now regarded as janapadas or states.

In transition from tribe to monarchy, they lost the essential democratic pattern of the tribe but retained the idea of government through an assembly representing the tribes. These states consisted of either a single tribe such as Shakyas, Kolias, Malas etc.

The people in the lower Ganges Valley and Delta, which were outside the Aryan pale, were not incorporated. There was, therefore, a strong consciousness of the pure land of the Aryans called Aryavarta. Each janapada tried to dominate and subjugate other janapadas to become Mahajanapadas.

Ancient Buddhist texts like the Anguttara Nikaya make frequent reference to sixteen great kingdoms and republics which had evolved and flourished in a belt stretching from Gandhara in the northwest to Anga in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent and included parts of the trans-Vindhyan region, prior to the rise of Buddhism in India.

According to the Anguttara Nikaya, there were about sixteen Mahajanapadas in the sixth centuary BC. Their capitals and locations are given in a table on 16 Mahajanapadas.

The 16 Mahajanapadas
Mahajanapadas   Capitals Locations
Gandhara  Taxila   Covering the region between Kabul and Rawalpindi in North Western Province.
Kamboja Rajpur Covering the area around the Punch area in Kashmir
Asmaka Potana Covering modern Paithan in Maharashtra; on the bank of River Godavari
Vatsa  Kaushambi Covering modern districts of Allahabad and Mirzapur
Avanti  Ujjain Covering modern Malwa (Ujjain) region of Madhya Pradesh.
Surasena Mathura  Located in the Mathura region at the junction of the Uttarapath & Dakshinapath
Chedi Shuktimati Covering the modern Budelkhand area
Malla Kushinara, Pawa Modern districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhapur in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Later merged into Maghada Kingdom
Kurus Hastinapur/Indraprastha Covering the modern Haryana and Delhi area to the west of River Yamuna
Matsya Virat Nagari  Covering the area of Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan
Vajjis   Vaishali  Located to the north of the River Ganga in Bihar. It was the seat of united republic of eight smaller kingdoms of which Lichhavis, Janatriks and Videhas were also members.
Anga  Champa Covering the modern districts of Munger and Bhagalpur in Bihar. The Kingdoms were later merged by Bindusara into Magadha.
Kashi Banaras  Located in and around present day Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
Kosala   Shravasti Covering the present districts of Faizabad, Gonda, Bahraich, etc.
Panchala Ahichhatra (W. Panchala), Kampilya (S. Panchala) Present day Rohilkhand and part of Central Doab in Uttar Pradesh.
Magadha Girivraja/Rajgriha Covering modern districts of Patna,Gaya and parts of Sahabad

Rise of Magadha

Rise of MagadhaBetween the sixth and the fourth centuries BCE, Magadha (in present day Bihar) became the most powerful Mahajanapada.

The Haryankas: Magadha came into prominence under the leadership of Bimbisara (542-493 BC), who belonged to the Haryanka dynasty. He strengthened his position by marriage alliances.

He took three wives. His first wife was the daughter of the king of Kosala and the sister of Prasenajit. His second wife Chellana was a Lichchhavi Princess from Vaishali, and his third wife was the daughter of the chief of the Madra clan of Punjab.

Marriage relations with the different princely families gave enormous diplomatic prestige and paved the way for the expansion of Magadha westward and northward.

The earliest capital of Magadha was at Rajgir, which was called Girivraja at that time. It was surrounded by five hills, the openings in which were closed by stone walls on all sides. This made Rajgir impregnable. 

Bimbisar was succeeded by his son Ajatasatru (492-460 BC). Ajatasatru killed his father and seized the throne for himself. Throughout his reign, he pursued an aggressive policy of expansion.

Ajatasatru was succeeded by Udayin (460-444 BC), His reign is important because he built the fort upon the confluence of the Ganga and Son at Patna. This was done because Patna lay in the centre of the Magadhan kingdom.

The Sisunagas: Udayin was succeeded by the dynasty of Sisunagas, who temporarily shifted the capital to Vaishali. Their greatest achievement was the destruction of the power of the Avanti with its capital at Ujjain. This brought to an end the 100 years old rivalry between Magadha and Avanti.

The Nandas: The Sisunagas were succeeded by the Nandas, who proved to be the most powerful rulers of Magadha. So great was their power that Alexander, who invaded Punjab at that time, did not dare to move towards the east.

The Nandas added to the Magadhan power by the conquering Kalinga from where they brought an image of the Jina as a victory trophy. All this took place in the reign of Mahapadma Nanda.

He claimed to the ekarat, the sole sovereign who destroyed all the other ruling princes.The Nandas were the first non-kshatriya rulers. The last Nanda ruler was defeated by Chandragupta Maurya who founded the Maurya Empire.

Causes for the Rise of Magadha
  • Advantages geographical location with both Rajgir and Pataliputra situated at strategic locations.
  • Abudance of natural resources, such as iron, enabled Magadhan rulers to equip with effective weapons.
  • The alluvial soil of the Gangatic plains and sufficient rainfall were they conductive for agriculture produces.
  • Rise of town and use of metallic money boosted trade and commerce. The princess could levy tolls and accumulate wealth to pay and maintain their army.
  • Use of elephants on a large scale in wars with its proximity to ancient Kalinga.
  • Unorthodox character of Magadhan society.
  • Contribution of several enterprising and ambitious rulers.
  • Ambitious rulers and their policies.

Persian Invasion

Persian InvasionThe Achaemenian rulers of Iran, who expanded their empire at the same time as the Magadhan kings, took advantage of the political disunity on the north-west frontier.

The Iranian ruler, Darius, penetrated into north-west India in 518 BC and annexed Punjab, west of the Indus, and Sindh.

He divided the province in 20th Straphy, which was considered to be the richest and the most populous province of the Persian empire. According to Herodotus, Punjab and Sindh satrapy (province) was the twentieth in the Persian empire.

It was considered to be the richest and the most popular province of the Persian empire. Its annual tribute amounted to 360 Euboic talents of gold-dust.

The Kharosthi script was used on the north-western frontier since then uptil about 4th century AD. On the eve of Alexander's invasion, the hold of Persian emperors on their Indian provinces had become weak.

Effects of Persian Invasion
  • Introduction into India the Araminc form of writing, which later developed into the Kharoshthi alphabet.
  • Promotion of Indo-Iranian trade
  • Geographical exploration of the Indus and the Arabian Sea, leading to opening of a new water route.
  • Fusion of Iranian/Persian features in the Mauryan art.
  • Impact of Buddhism on the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia.

Effects of Greek Invasion
  • The Greek invasion of India opened the trade route between north west and Wester India
  • Eastwards trade went through the Ganga delta to the coast of Northern Burma and south along the east coast.
  • Guilds (Shreni) came into existence
  • Money was introduced. Punch-marked coins in gold and silver and of copper cast have been discovered.
  • Introduction of money facilitated the trade.
  • Divided his army during the last expedition at Patala and appointed Niyarkas as head of Navy.
  • Opening up of four distinct routes between India & Greek by land sea paving way for increased trade and cultural contacts between the two regions.
  • Establishments of more Greek settlements in north-western region
  • Ashokan pillars were also influenced by Greek Art.
  • Establishment of the coast and search for harbours from the mouth of the Indus to that of the Euphrates.
  • Promotion to expansion of the Mauryan empire in north-west India due to destruction of local powers by Alexander
  • India and Greek established trade contact.
  • Coins of India non inscribed on 'Uluk Model' of the Greeks
  • Many Greek scholars came to India with Alexander and wrote on Indian history which are relevant in constructions of contemporary socio-religious aspect.

Socio Economic Conditions During Mahajanapadas

Besides, the establishment of big empires, another important feature of the age was increased prosperity and the growth of towns. The primary reason of increased prosperity of India was its growth of foreign trade with the countries of the North-West, Western countries and several countries of Asia.

There were several trade routes and roads connecting different parts of India in all directions. One trade route was from Kosambi, through Gangetic plain, to Punjab and then Taxila joining the routes to Iran, Central Asia, European countries and several countries of Asia.

Another route started from Rajagriha and, passing through Kosambi and Ujjaini, was connected with the port of Baroach from where the trade was carried on with western countries through sea-route.

One important route passed through the entire Gangetic plain and reached the boundary of Burma and yet, another route connected northern plain with the sea-coast of south-east. These routes developed because of increased trade and, in turn, helped in enhancing internal as well as external trade.

The increased prosperity of the Indian affected their social structure as well. Towns became not only the centers of trade but centers of industries as well.

Various goods were produced on a large scale to feed the foreign trade and that could be possible only in town or vice versa. By that time, Indian rulers had started minting good coins of different metals.

It helped in the development of trade and growth of industries because coins proved to be a good medium of exchange and, thus, facilitated transactions. The growth of trade and industry formed rich trading and industrial communities which concentraded themselves in towns.

We find existence of different guilds formed by traders and industrialism during this period. It created various organised and consciously awakened groups in towns which, finally, resulted in the formations of several sub-castes.

Numerous religious sects arouse in the middle Gangetic Basin in the sixth century BC. We hear of as many as 62 religious sects in this period. Of these scets, Jainism and Buddhism were the most important, and they emerged as the most potent religious reform movements

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