Mahajanpadas & Rise of Magadha Empire

By Naveen Singh|Updated : April 17th, 2020

Ancient India had several kingdoms that emerged during the Vedic Age in the 6th century BC. This period saw socio-economic development throughout the Indo-Gangetic plain along with religious and political developments. The evolution from Janapadas to Mahajanpadas led to these permanent settlements.

By the sixth century BC, the center of major political activity shifted from the western part of the Gangetic plain to the eastern part which is now the Modern day Bihar and eastern UP.

The main reason for this shift was that this area's fertile lands with better rainfall, rivers & proximity to iron production centers.

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Mahajanpadas & Rise of Magadha Empire

The Buddhist literature Angutara Nikaya listed 16 great kingdoms or Mahajanapadas. The main reason for Janapadas ' formation was the use of Iron tools for agricultural and military purposes.

Here is a map showing the 16 Mahajanpadas that existed at that time:


The Mahajanpadas:

  1. Magadha (Patna, Gaya and Nalanda districts) – The first capital was Rajagriha and the later capital was Pataliputra.
  2. Anga and Vanga (Munger and Bhagalpur) – The capital was Champa. It was a prosperous business center.
  3. Malla (Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur region) – The capital was Kushinagar. It was the seat of many other smaller kingdoms. Their main religion was Buddhism.
  4. Vatsa (Allahabad and Mirzapur) – The capital was Kaushambi. The most important ruler of this kingdom was King Udayan.
  5. Kashi (Benaras) – The capital was Varanasi. Though many battles were fought against the Kosala kingdom, eventually Kashi was merged with the Kosala kingdom.
  6. Kosala (Ayodhya) – Though its capital was Shravasti which is identical with Sahet-Mahet but Ayodhya was an important town in Kosala. Kosala also included the tribal Republican territory of Sakyas of Kapilvastu.
  7. Vajji (Muzaffarpur and Vaishali) – Vajji was the seat of a united republic of eight smaller kingdoms of which Lichchavis, Janatriks, and Videhas were also members.
  8. Kuru (Thaneswar, Meerut and present-day Delhi) – The capital city was Indraprastha.
  9. Panchala (Western Uttar Pradesh) – Its capital was at Kampila. Earlier a monarch state, it later became an independent republic. Kannauj was an important town in this kingdom.
  10. Matsya kingdom (Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur) – Its capital was Viratanagar.
  11. Ashmaka (Between Narmada and Godavari) – Its capital was at Pertaii and Brahamdatta was its most important ruler.
  12. Gandhara (Peshawar and Rawalpindi) – Its capital Taxila was important as a trade and education center (Ancient Taxila university) during the later Vedic age.
  13. Kamboj (Hazara dist of Pakistan, North-east Kashmir) – Its capital was Rajapur. Hazara was an important trade and commerce center of this kingdom.
  14. Avanti (Malwa) – Avanti was divided into two parts north and south. The northern part had its capital at Ujjain and the southern part had its capital at Mahismati.
  15. Chedi (Bundelkhand) – Shaktimati was the capital of Chedi. Chedi kingdom was spread between Yamuna and Narmada rivers. One of the families from this kingdom later merged into the Kalinga kingdom from this royal family.
  16. Shurasena (Brajmandal) – Its capital was at Mathura and its most famous ruler was Avantiputra.

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In course of time small or weak kingdoms either submitted to stronger rulers or got eliminated. Finally, only 4 major kingdoms survived:

  • Vatsa
  • Avanti
  • Magadha
  • Kosala

Cause of Magadha’s Success

  • Advantageous geographical position & rich iron ores of Rajgir
  • Capitals: Rajgir (Surrounded by 5 hills) + Patliputra (Surrounded by Ganga, Gandhak, Son & Ghagra river True Jaladurga)
  • Magadha 1st used elephants in the war against enemies

Dynasties that ruled Magadha Empire:

Before the Maurya Dynasty, following ruled Magadha:

  • Haryanka Dynasty
  • Shishunaga Dynasty
  • Nanda Dynasty

We will be discussing these dynasties in the second part in detail.

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