Pre-Mauryan Period

Formation of states


In the later Vedic period the tribal organizations changed its identity and gradually shifted to the territorial identity. This territorial identity was gradually strengthened in the 600 BC with the rise of large states. The formation of bigger kingdoms made the king or the chief more powerful. Tribal authority became territorial and towns became the seat of the power. Instead of copper weapons the kings started using iron weapons and horse drawn chriots. Therefore from the 6th century BC the widespread use of iron in eastern UP and western Bihar led to the formation of large territorial states. 


The new agricultural tools and implements enabled the peasants to produce a good amount of surplus which not only met the military needs but also the administrative requirements. The people became content with these material advantages and started settling permanently in their land. Towns came into existence as centres of industry and trade. People owed their allegiance to the territory to which they belonged and not to the Jana or the tribe to which they belonged. These areas of settlements were now regarded as janapadas or states. In transition from tribe to monarchy, janapadas 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, Koliyas, Mallas etc or a confederacy of tribes such as Vrijis, Yadavas, Panchalas etc. Each janapada or state tried to dominate and subjugate other janapada to become mahajanapadas.

The Sixteen Mahajanapadas

The sixteen century BC is often regarded as a major turning point in early Indian history. It is an era associated with early states, cities; the growing use of iron, the development of coinage etc. It also witnessed the growth of diverse systems of thought including Buddhism and Jainism. Early Buddhist and Jaina texts mention amongst other things, sixteen states known as Mahajanpadas. Although the lists vary, some names such as Vajji, Magadha, Koshala, Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur frequently. Clearly these were amongst the most important Mahajanpadas. While most Mahajanpadas were ruled by kings some known as ganas or sanghas were oligarchies where power was shared by a number of men often collectively called rajas. Both Mahavira and the Buddha belonged to such ganas. In some instances as in the case of the Vajji sangha the rajas probably controlled resources such as land collectively. Each mahajanpada had a capital city which was later fortified.

Anga

It roughly covered the modern districts of Monghyr and Bhagalpur. It had its capital at Champa. A mud fort belonging to 5th century BC has been found here. It was noted for its wealth and commerce

Magadha

It covered the modern districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahabad. Its capital was Rajgriha. The earliest dynasty of Magadha was founded by Brihadratha. It grew to be the leading state under Bimbisara and Ajatshastru

Kasi

It was situated on the banks of Ganges and on the confluence of Varuna and Asi. With its capital at Banaras, Kasi was at first the most powerful among the 16 states. It was involved in frequent wars with Kosala, Magadha and Anga.

Kosala

With its capital at Sharavasti it covered the present districts of Faizabad, Gonda, Bahraich etc. One of the important cities of Kosala was Ayodhya. Kosala also included the tribal republican territory of Shakays of Kapilvastu.

Vajji

It was a confederacy of 8 republican clans of whom the Videhans, the Lichchhavis, the Jnatrikas and the Vrijjis were the most important. It was a republican state in the time of Mahavira and Buddha. The powerful of them were the Lichchhavis with their capital at Vaishali.

Malla

It was situated north of Vajji state. It was a republican confederacy covering the moder n districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur and Siddharthnagar in eastern UP. Malla state was divided into two parts. The capital of the one was Kushinagar and of the other was Pavapuri.

Cheti

It was situated on the bank of river Ken, its capital was Shuktimati. It was in the present region of Bundelkhand. It was one of the ancient tribes.

Vatsa

It covered the modern districts of Allahabad, Mirzapur etc. It had a monarchical form of government. Its capital was Kaushambi. The Vatsas were a Kuru clan who had shifted from Hastinapur and settled down at Kaushambi.


Kuru


It covered the modern Haryana and Delhi to the west of river Yamuna with its capital at Indraprastha. It was the most important kingdom of the later Vedic period but during the 6th century BC they lost their political importance.

Panchala

It was another important kingdom of the later Vedic period which lost its importance during the 6th cen BC. It covered the area of western UP up to the east of river Yamuna in the Kosala janapada with its capital at Kapila.

Matsya

Its capital was Virat Nagari. It extended in regions of Jaipur, Alwar and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

Sursena

It was situated in the south of Matsya state with its capital at Mathura


Assaka


It was situated between the rivers Narmada and Godawari with its capital at Potana.

Avanti

It was a big kingdom with its capital at Ujjaini. It was covered up to Malwa and MP. It ecame an important centre of Buddhism.

Gandhara

It covered the modern district of Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Its capital was Taxila. Taxila was not only an important trading centre but also a seat of learning.

Kamboja

During the early period Kamboja was ruled by the kings but during the Kautiliya's time it transformed from a monarchy to republic. In the sixth century BC only 4 states -Avanti, Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha survived. The political history of India from the 6th century BC onwards is the history of struggles between these states for supremacy. Ultimately the kingdom of Magadha emerged to be the most powerful and succeeded in founding an empire.

Republics

According Romila Thapar the republics grew out of monarchies. The more independent Aryans rebelled against the monarchical rule and established republics which were more in keeping with the tribal traditions. While some say republics predated monarchies. In ancient India these republics were given the term gana and sangha. According Panini the term 'samgha' and 'gana' had the same meaning. The Arthsashtra of Kautilya mentions a number of republics including those of Lichchhavis, the Vrijikas,the Kuru,the Panchalas, the kamboj etc. The most prominent and powerful of these republics was that of the Lichchhavis. It had its capital at Vaisali. Even the Greek writers are of the opinion that a large number of republics existed in India at the time of Alexander's invasion. The Buddhist literature is another source of these republics. It refers to a large number of republics which covered the area to the east of the kingdoms of Kosala and Kausambhi and to the west of Anga, to the north of Magadha and the south of the Himalayas. The republics were basically of two types-the republics comprising a single tribe like those of the Sakyas, the Kolias and the Mallas and the republics comprising a number of tribes or the republics of confederacy like the Vrijjis.


Government of the Republics: 


The kings in these states had the supreme authority. These republics or sanghs were governed on democratic lines. A chief was elected to act as the president of the administrative council. The administrative and the judicial matters of the republics were carried out in public assembly at which young and old are alike present in the common hall at Kapilavastu. It was called as Santhagara. The assembly of the people could also be called on special occasions. The president of the council was called a Raja. It is not known as to how he was elected and for how long he ruled but it appears that the office was not hereditary. The local administration was carried by local assemblies which played an important role in the administration of the state. In some of these republics villages were organized on professional basis e.g the potter, smiths of the clan used to have separate villages of their own. The small republics were gradually losing their importance and were being over-shadowed by kingdoms like Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala, Magadha etc. Soon the leadership became hereditary in certain families. The leaders took up the titles of Maharajas and Mahasenapatis in the 4th century. The ancient Indian republics flourished in Mauryan times and survived up to Gupta period.

Rise of Urban centres

The 6th century BC saw the growth of towns in every part of India. The establishment of big empires was one reason of the growth of town because several towns were built up as capital cities of empires while several others grew as centres of trade. The urban life was prosperous. The towns were populous and soon became markets and habitats of artisans and traders. These towns were encircled by four walls. The buildings were built of bricks and mud. The rich lived in ornamented and big houses. Wood was sufficiently used in the buildings. In Pali and Sanskrit text there are references to cities like Kaushambi, Sravasti, Patliputra, Kapilavastu, Varanasi, Vaishali etc. Most of these cities originated on river banks and trading routes and they were well connected with one another e.g Sravasti was well linked with Kaushambi and Varanasi. These towns became not only the centres of trade but centres of industries as well.

Haryanka Dynasty

Bimbisara (545-493 BC) Magadha came into prominence under the leadership of Bimbisara who belonged to Haryanka dynasty. He was a man of determination and political foresight. He became the king in second half of the 6th century BC. He added to the prestige and strength of Magadha by his policy of matrimonial alliance and annexations. Marriage relations with different princely families gave enormous diplomatic prestige and paved the way for the expansion of Magadha westward and eastward. Bimbisara built his capital at Rajgir which was called Girivraja at that time. It was surrounded by five hills and cyclopean walls which are examples of earliest Indian stone architecture. Bimbisara for the first time laid down the foundation of an efficient administration in Magadha. He himself appointed the ministers and never ignored their advice.


Officers were divided into various categories according to their work and the beginning of an administrative system took root. The chief officers were known as Mahamantras the executive as Sabhatthaka who was in charge of all affairs and interests; the judicial officer as Voharika and the military officer as Senanayak. The head of a village was called Gramika. A lot of autonomy was given to various provinces in the kingdoms. He constructed several canals and roads appointed several new officers for the regular collection of revenue. It helped him in increasing his financial resources and military strength. Both Jains and Buddhists claim Bimbisara as a follower of their respective religions. It is stated in the Mahavamsa that Bimbisara ruled for 52 years. Ajatashatru the son murdered his father in about 493 BC and became the king. 


Bimbisara (545-493 BC)

Magadha came into prominence under the leadership of Bimbisara who belonged to Haryanka dynasty. He was a man of determination and political foresight. He became the king in second half of the 6th century BC. He added to the prestige and strength of Magadha by his policy of matrimonial alliance and annexations. Marriage relations with different princely families gave enormous diplomatic prestige and paved the way for the expansion of Magadha westward and eastward. Bimbisara built his capital at Rajgir which was called Girivraja at that time. It was surrounded by five hills and cyclopean walls which are examples of earliest Indian stone architecture. Bimbisara for the first time laid down the foundation of an efficient administration in Magadha.


He himself appointed the ministers and never ignored their advice. Officers were divided into various categories according to their work and the beginning of an administrative system took root. The chief officers were known as Mahamantras the executive as Sabhatthaka who was in charge of all affairs and interests; the judicial officer as Voharika and the military officer as Senanayak. The head of a village was called Gramika. A lot of autonomy was given to various provinces in the kingdoms. He constructed several canals and roads appointed several new officers for the regular collection of revenue. It helped him in increasing his financial resources and military strength. Both Jains and Buddhists claim Bimbisara as a follower of their respective religions. It is stated in the Mahavamsa that Bimbisara ruled for 52 years. Ajatashatru the son murdered his father in about 493 BC and became the king.

Ajatsatru

Ajatsatru is stated to have ruled from 493 BC to 461 BC. It was during his reign that the Haryanka dynasty reached its highest watermark. He continued his father's policy of expansion through military conquests. He turned his attention to the north and the west. His first campaign was against Kosala. The war remained indecisive for a long time and ultimately the ruler of Kosala ended his conflict with Ajatsatru. The war with Vriji confederacy continued for 16 years. Finally Magadha was victorious and was recognized as the most powerful force in eastern India. Ajatsatru was of liberal religious opinion. jaina texts represent him as a Jaina and Buddhist texts as a Buddhist. he was probably inclined to Jainism but later on became Buddhist.The first General Council of the Buddhist was held under his patronage near Rajgriya. He also built several Buddhist Chaitayas. he died in 461 BC and was succeeded by five kings. The Ceylonese Buddhist Chronicle called Mahavamsa tells us that all of them ascended the throne after killing their fathers.

Successors of Ajatsatru (462-413 BC)

Ajatsatru was succeeded by his son Udayabhadra. The rivalry between Magadha and Avanti continued his time. He was at constant war with Avanti whose king Palaka was defeated by him. He built a town called Kusumapura and a Jain Chaityagriha inside it. According to Buddhist texts Deepvamsa and Mahavamsa, Udayabhadra was succeeded by Anurudha, Munda and Nagadasaka respectively. None of them proved himself capable of ruling and according to the Buddhist texts each of them was a patricide. The people of Magadha deposed the last five in 413 BC and appointed a Viceroy Shishunaga as King.

Shishunaga Dynasty

According to the Ceylon chronicles he was placed on the throne by the people rebelling against the previous kings. He was the King's Amatya or Minister. But he had gained respect under the weak successors of Ajatsatru and probably became the ruler in 413 BC. he proved to be a capable ruler and extended the territories of Magadha. The neighbouring rival state of Avanti, Vatsa and Kosala were defeated by him and their territories annexed to Magadha. He ruled for 18 years.

Shishunaga

According to the Ceylon chronicles he was placed on the throne by the people rebelling against the previous kings. He was the King's Amatya or Minister. But he had gained respect under the weak successors of Ajatsatru and probably became the ruler in 413 BC. He proved to be a capable ruler and extended the territories of Magadha. The neighbouring rival state of Avanti, Vatsa and Kosala were defeated by him and their territories annexed to Magadha. He ruled for 18 years.

Kalasoka

Sishunaga was succeeded by his son Kalasoka in 395 BC. He transferred his capital from Vaishali to Patliputra. The second Buddhist General Council was held during his time at Vaishali. He ruled for 28 years. According to the Buddhist literature Mahavamsa the 10 sons of Kalasoka ruled one after the other for 22 years. The Shishunaga dynasty came to an end in 344 BC.

Nanda Dynasty

The Nandas were the successors of the Shishunaga dynasty. The Puranas refer to 9 Nandas. The Mahabodhivamsa also refer to nine Nandas and their names are Ugrasena, Pundak, Pandugati, Bhootpal, Rashtrapal, Govishank, DasSiddhak, Kaivest and Dhan. The Puranas describe the first Nanda king named Mahapadma as the son of a Shudra mother while the Greeks say that he was born of the union of a barber with a courtesan. Mahapadmananda according to Puranas destroyed all kshatriya rulers. The Nandas belonged to castes other than Kshatriya. He defeated the kingdoms of Aikshvakus, Panchalas, Kasis, Haihayas, Kalinga, Asmaka, Kuru, Maithilas, Sursenas etc and annexed these territories to Magadha. He has been described as Eka-rata or sole sovereign. 


The Nandas succeeded in establishing a great empire which covered a large part of northern India and part of the south. Little is known about the history of Nandas after Mahapadmananda except the last ruler Dhana Nanda. It is accepted by all that nine rulers of Nanda dynasty ruled over Magadha. Dhan Nanda was the last ruler of this dynasty. During his time Alexander invaded India. He was a powerful king and kept a large army. He was unpopular among his subjects by means of excessive taxation and extraction. Chandragupta Maurya took advantage of his unpopularity and misgoverance and succeeded in killing him and captured the throne of Magadha.

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