Magadha Empire – Founder, Kings, Rise of Magadha Empire UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Magadha Empire, or the Magadha Dynasty, was one of the great kingdoms of the second urbanization that various great rulers ruled. During the reign of the Magadha Empire, ancient religions like Jainism and Buddhism prospered. The three main dynasties that ruled the region of Magadha were the Shishunaga Dynasty, the Haryanka Dynasty, and the Nanda Dynasty. The Magadha Empire was founded by Jarasandha.

The Magadha Empire came into existence from 684 BCE to 320 BCE. Between the sixth to the fourth centuries BCE, the major four Mahajanapadas – Magadha, Kosala, Avanti, and Vatsa searched for power. However, Magadha successfully gained statehood. This Mahajanapada also emerged as the most powerful state in ancient India. Magadha was situated in present-day Bihar. The Magadha Empire is an essential topic for the UPSC exam, the candidates can get the complete details, such as the founder of the Magadha Empire, the list of the Magadha dynasty, the Haryanka dynasty, etc, through this article.

Magadha Empire

The Magadha empire was established on the banks of the River Ganga. It led way to the nurturing of Buddhism and Jainism. The main rulers of the Magadha empire were Bimbisara, Ajatshatru, Udayin, Kalasoka, Mahapadma Nanda, and Dhanananda etc. The major success of the Magadha empire can be accredited to the strategic location of the empire. The major empires of the Magadha Empire are the Haryanka Dynasty, the Shishunaga Dynasty, and the Nanda Dynasty. It was located in west-central Bihar. Numerous factors attributed to the Magadha empire are geographical, political, cultural, and economic factors. The Magadha empire rose as a paramount political power.

Founder of Magadha Empire

In Mahabharata, it is mentioned that Jarasandha, who was a descendant of Brihadratha, established a vast empire in Magadha. He is known to have founded this great Magadha empire. Most of the Mahajanapadas were ruled by kings or groups of kings, popularly known as ganas or sanghas. The Oligarchy power or sanghas were seen in the empire of Vaishali. Magadha became the most powerful mahajanapada due to its strategic location.

During the time of Buddha, the subcontinent had sixteen large states called ‘Mahajanapadas’. The term ‘Janapadas’ simply means the land where a Jana(people) sets foot and settles. On the Indian subcontinent, the presence of realms, republics, and kingdoms was seen. The well known Mahajanapadas or janapadas were Vatsa, Vajji, Kuru, Magadha, Koshala, Gandhara, Panchala and Avanti. Such large states were mainly located north of the Vindhyas and stretched from the northwest frontier to Bihar.

List of Magadha Dynasty

Between 684 B.C – 320 B.C, the Magadha Empire ruled over India. The two Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, also mention the Magadha Empire. The empire was ruled by three dynasties from 544 BC to 322 BC.

  • The first dynasty to rule the empire was Haryanka between 544 BC to 412 BC.
  • The Shishunaga Dynasty was the second dynasty ruled from 412 BC to 344 BC and,
  • The third dynasty was the Nanda dynasty ruled between 344 BC-322 BC.

Haryanka Dynasty

Bimbisara was one of the earliest rulers of the Magadha Empire. Bimbisara was a powerful ruler of the Magadha kingdom, and he belonged to the Haryanka dynasty, which ruled until 326 BCE. At this time, India was captured by Alexander. The developmental works made by him and mainly his absorption of the kingdom of Anga to the east helped to provide the groundwork for the growth of the Mauryan empire. He is also popularised for his cultural achievements. Bimbisara maintained direct control from Girivraja, also called Rajagriha ( Present-day Rajgir).

At the age of 15, he was crowned king. Bimbisara was generous and a kind ruler. He was involved in several reliefs from the ninth century CE at Java, Borobudur, along with the Buddha and many other contemporaries. The administration system established by him was very efficient. The high-ranking officials were divided into three main categories: Executive, Military, and Judiciary.

Shishunaga Dynasty

The Magadha Kingdom was ruled by the Shishunaga Dynasty in ancient India between 413 BCE to 345 BCE. The Shishunaga Dynasty is the third imperial dynasty of Magadha, followed by Brihadratha and the Haryanka. This Dynasty was founded by Shishunaga, who was an amatya or “minister” of the last Haryanka emperor.

Between 413 BCE and 345 BCE, Magadha Empire was in control of the Shishunaga Dynasty. During the 5th century, Shishunaga became the first king of the Shishunaga dynasty after a series of revolts between people and the Haryanka Dynasty. The Shishunaga Dynasty formed a strong foundation for the Magadha Empire. It was expected that it could rule the Indian subcontinent for centuries. The inheritance of excellent land and riches to the Shishunaga Dynasty increased the chances for growth and province.

Nanda Dynasty of Magadha Empire

During the 4th and probably 5th centuries BCE, the Nanda Dynasty ruled over the Northern Part of India. In eastern India (the Magadha region), the Nandas removed the Shishunaga dynasty and later extended their areas of control to cover a larger section of northern India. According to ancient accounts, the legacy and the names of Nanda rulers vary from one source to another.

During 343 and 321 BCE, the Nanda dynasty ruled over Magadha in northern India. The capital state of the Nanda kingdom was situated near the Magadha area of eastern India, Pataliputra (present-day Patna). The Sanskrit drama- Mudrarakshasa along with Buddhist and Jain traditions are some of the achievements of the Nandas that have stretched over the pages of history from the time of Haryanka and Shishunaga forefathers. The Ancient texts depict that the main cause behind the prosperity of the Nandas was the adoption of a new currency and taxation system.

It is also said that the Nandas were disfavoured by their subjects because of their general misbehaviour, poor social rank, and high taxing. The founder of the Mauryan Empire– Chandragupta Maurya, and his adviser- Chanakya, overthrew the last Nanda Mahapadma.

Magadha Empire Kings

Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, and Udayin were the most powerful rulers of the Haryanka Dynasty. From 544 B.C. to 492 B.C, Bimbisara ruled the empire and continued to rule for 52 years.


  • He was one of the prominent Magadha Empire kings. He gained power and boosted the prosperity of his empire by introducing matrimonial alliances.
  • His initial alliance had ties with the family of Kosala, the lady was named Kosaladevi.
  • The region of Kasi was given to Bimbisara in the form of a dowry. Furthermore, he was married to a princess named Chellana, who belonged to the Licchavi family of Vaishali. With this marriage alliance, he established friendly relationships with the northern frontier.
  • He was also married to Khema who was from the royal house of Madra located in central Punjab. He won over Brahmadatta of Anga and annexed his empire. He formed healthy relations with Avanti.


  • Ajatshatru was the son of Bimbisara. He killed his father to rule the kingdom.
  • During his reign, he was devoted to the policy of expansion. Ajatshatru extended his control over Kashi and Koshala. He observed the existence of disputes and differences between Magadha and Kosala.
  • The Koshal king forcibly made peace with Ajatshatru by forming a marriage alliance between his daughter and Ajatashatru, he was also given Kashi.
  • He prepared a war against the Lichchavis of Vaishali and captured the Vaishali Republic. This war continued for sixteen years.
  • Initially, he was influenced by the ideas of Jainism and later supported Buddhism. He also claimed that he met Gautama Buddha. This is also depicted in the sculptures of Bharhut.
  • He ordered the construction of chaityas and viharas. After the death of Buddha, the First Buddhist Council at Rajagriha was attended by him.


  • The eldest son of Ajatashatru, named Udayin, became the emperor.
  • He was very specific in laying the foundations of the Patliputra and shifted the capital from Rajagriha to Pataliputra.


  • The last ruler of the Haryanka dynasty was Naga-Dasak.
  • His subjects were dissatisfied with his rule and thus forced him to give up his throne.
  • The people supported minister Shisunaga for the coronation.

Shishunaga Dynasty of Magadha Empire

During the reign of Shishunaga, a small mahajanapada named Avanti was captured and then taken under the Magadha empire. Kalashoka was defeated by the emperor Shishunaga. He conducted the Buddhist Council in Vaishali in 383 BC for the second time.

The province of the Magadha Empire (present-day Bihar) was abundant in natural resources. The iron ores were used for making weapons, forests provided woodlands and elephants were extensively used in the army.

The agricultural activities were efficiently producing enough grains to feed the huge armies. Throughout the reign of Shishunaga, he devoted most of his time to the development of the army. His well-trained army defeated the Avanti Kingdom. Avanti was considered the main part of Magadha after Shishunaga’s reign, and the Avanti Pradyota Dynasty vanished.

Nanda Dynasty

The founder of the Nanda dynasty, Nanda, defeated the last king of the Shishunaga dynasty. He was popularly known as Sarvakshatrantak or Puranas and Ugrasena, meaning the owner of a huge army.

To glorify his valour, the name Ekrat, meaning the sole monarch, was given to him. It is also mentioned in the Puranas. Probably, he was the first empire builder in the history of ancient India.

Rise of the Magadha Empire

Several reasons led to the rise of the Magadha Empire to a great extent. During that time, various factors contributed to the rise of Magadha as a paramount of political power. Both culturally and economically, the empire prospered. The geographical, political, economic, and cultural factors that led to the development of Magadha are described below:

Geographical Factors

The Magadha empire had a capital state named Rajagriha. It was also called Girivraja because of the five-hill fortification. The region of Pataliputra (modern-day Bihar) was also a capital state, popularly known as Jala Durga as it was situated at the confluence of the Ganga, Son, Gandak, and Ghagra. Such rivers facilitated communication, defence, trade, and commerce. The Magadha empire was blessed with abundant resources and fertile land. The dense forests around the empire provided elephants for the army.

Political Factors

The region of Magadha was ruled by powerful rulers like Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, and Mahapadma Nanda. These rulers were known for their effective systems of administration. They were the first rulers to take elephants in their armies. The Magadha Empire had a vast army with numerous soldiers, elephants, horses, and chariots. New weapons were introduced by Ajatashatru. The names of the weapons were rathamusula and mahasilakantika. Magadha had a great source of iron which was also extensively used in weaponry. A proper defence system provided the empire an edge over various other unwanted forces.

Cultural Factor

The cultural background of Magadha was unconventional. The ideas of Buddhism and Jainism created a philosophical image in the Magadha empire. These ideas were worked upon by liberal traditions. The rigid ideas of the Brahmanas could not penetrate the region of Magadha. There were many rulers of Magadha who had ‘poor’ ancestry like Kiratas and Magadhas. With time, Vedic literature was observed and led to racial differences and disputes in the empire. It is also said that the empire was different from the Vedic literature, as there were no orthodox cultural beliefs and rituals in the empire. Many powerful figures with the ideas of Buddhism and Jainism tried to assert control over the region of Magadha.

Economic Factor

The empire had a bulk of copper and iron resources. The location of the empire helped in the smooth running of the trade businesses. The large population of the empire could be easily used for agriculture, military service, mining, and city construction. The consideration of the empire was equivalent to its rulers and citizens. Economic hegemony meant control over the Ganga because the river was crucial to trade in North India. When Bimbisara annexed the Region of Anga, he also captured the river Champa. This newly annexed river played an important role in enhancing trading with South-East Asia, Sri Lanka, and South India.

Rise of Magadha as Paramount Political Power

The four mahajanapadas ( gigantic area of land )- Kosala, Avanti, Vatsa and Magadha. These four mahajanapadas were competing for attaining supremacy from the 6th Century BCE ( Before Common Era) to the 4th Century BCE. They became the most powerful and stable state in Ancient India. Due to the strong administrative ( political power ) and economic stability, these states became very powerful. Present-day Magadha is situated in the state of Bihar. The descendant of Brihadratha, i.e. Jarasandha, is known as the ‘founder of Magadha Empire’.

Magadha Empire UPSC

The Magadha Empire was one of the great mahajanapadas of the second urbanisation that various great rulers ruled. During the reign of this empire, ancient religions like Jainism and Buddhism prospered.

Magadha Empire is one of the important topics that is frequently asked at various levels of the UPSC examination. Candidates appearing for the UPSC exams can take a look at the UPSC Previous Year Question Papers to find out the different varieties of questions asked on this topic.

Magadha Empire UPSC Sample Questions

This section is very important for the candidates preparing for the UPSC exams as sample questions and previous year questions help candidates get an idea of the question that can be asked in the examination. Candidates preparing for the UPSC exam must solve the questions to get complete ideation of the exam, and the types of questions asked in it.

Question: Which ruler from the Magadha Empire gained power and boosted the prosperity of his empire by introducing matrimonial alliances? [A] Shishunaga, [B] Naga-Dasak, [C] Bimbisara, [D] Udayin
Answer: Option D (Udayin)

Question: Which ruler founded the Magadha Empire? [A] Bimbisara [B] Ajatshatru [C]
Dhana Nanda [D] Kalasoka

Answer: (Option A) Bimbisara

Question: Under whose reign the Magadha Empire expanded to Malwa Plateau? [A] Ajatshatru [B] Bimbisara [C] Virabhadra [D] Shishunaga

Answer: (Option D) Shishunaga

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