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INDIAN HISTORY: Mahajanapadas

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  1. MAHAJANAPADAS:

    • The sixth century BCE 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 mahajanapadas.

    • Janapada, meaning the land where a jana (a people, clan or tribe) sets its foot or settles. It is a word used in both Prakrit and Sanskrit.

    • These Mahajanapadas extended from the north-western Pakistan to east Bihar and from submontane region of the Himalayas to the river Godavari in the South.

    • According to Anguttara Nikaya, they were –

      1. Anga (East Bihar).

      2. Magadha (South Bihar)

      3. Kasi (Benaras)

      4. Kosala (Oudh)

      5. Vriji (North Bihar)

      6. Malla (Gorakhpur district)

      7. Chedi (between Yamuna and Narmada)

      8. Vatsa (Allahabad region)

      9. Kuru (Thanesar, Delhi and Meerut districts)

      10. Panchal (Bareilly, Buduan and Farrukhabad districts)

      11. Matsya (Jaipur)

      12. Surasena (Mathura)

      13. Asmak (on the Godavari)

      14. Avanti (in Malwa)

      15. Gandhara (Peshawar and Rawalpindi districts) and

      16. Kamboj (South-west Kashmir and parts of Kafiristan)

    • These Mahajana padas were either monarchical or republican in character.

    • The Mahajanapadas of Anga, Kashi, Kosala, Chedi, Vatsa, Matsya, Shursen, Ashmak, Avanti, Gandhar and Magadha were ruled by kings or monarchs. The kings in these states had the supreme authority.

  2. The Mahajanapadas of Vrijji, Malla, Kuru. Panchal and Kamboj were republican states and so were other smaller states like Lichhavi, Shakya, Koliya, Bhagga and Moriya. These repub-lican states had a Ganaparishad or an Assembly of senior and responsible citizens. This Gana-parishad had the supreme authority in the state.

  3. The four kingdoms of later Vedic age who grew most powerful were: Avanti, Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha. The kingdom of Avanti had its capital at Ujjain in modern Malwa.

  4. One prominent ruler of Vatsa territory was Udayana, a scion of the Bharat race. Kosala had its capital at Ayodhya and was ruled by a dynasty that claimed descent from illustrious Ishvaku, famed in Vedic and epic traditions. The Kosalas extended their boundaries in several directions, including Nepalese Tarai, but their ambitious designs were frustrated by Magadha power.

  5. Magadhan ascendancy began with Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty. He married the princesses of Kosala, Vaishali and Madia, which helped him in his expansionist policy. His one and only conquest was that of Anga. He also gained a part of Kashi as (he dowry in his marriage with the sister of King Prasenajit of Kosala. Bimbisara was murdered by his own son. Ajatasatru (492-460 BC). He defeated Prasenajit, married his daughter, and annexed Kashi.The capital of Bimbisar's kingdom was Girivraja. It was girded with stone walls which are among the oldest extant stone structuresin India.

  6. Gautama Buddha and Vardhaman Mahavira preached their doctrines during the reign of Bimbisara.

  7. The modern town of Rajgir in the Patna district was built by Bimbisara. He had named it Rajagriha or the king's house.

  8. Ajatasatru was succeeded by Udayin (460-444 BC), who founded the new capital at Pataliputra.

  9. The Haryanka dynasty was succeeded by the Sishunaga dynasty, which destroyed the power of Avanti and incorporated it in the Magadhan empire. Thus, the 100-year-old rivalry between Avanti and Magadha came to an end. They temporarily shifted the capital to Vaishali. The last ruler was Kalasoka who was murdered by the founder of Nandas.

  10. The Sisunagas were succeeded by the Nandas. Who annexed Kalinga to the empire. Mahapadma Nanda was the most important king of his dynasty. The Nandas are said to have checked Alexander’s army from advancing towards Magadha. Their rule was supplanted by that of the Mauryas.

  11. Mahapadam Nanda was the most powerful ruler. According to the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela, he conquered Kalinga and also annexed Koshala which had rebelled against him.

  12. Dhana-Nanda was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of a new and more illustrious dynasty.

  13. The armies of the period usually consisted of infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants.

  14. The oldest source of revenues was the bali. Bhaga, the king's share of reaped corn, became the most important source of State revenue in course of time. Among the most important revenue officials was the Grama-bhojaka or village head-man.

  15. The chief articles of trade during the Magadhan era were: silk, muslin, embroidery, ivory, jewellery and gold. The standard unit of value was the copper Karshapana, weighing a little more than 146 grains. Silver coins, called Purana or Dharana, were also in circulation.

  16. The early Magadhan period saw development of variant languages from Sanskrit. In the towns and the villages a popular form of Sanskrit, Prakrit, was spoken. This had local variations; the chief western variety was called Shauraseni and the eastern variety Magadhi. Pali was another local language.


    • Persian and Macedonian Invasions :

      • Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenian empire of Persia, destroyed the famous city of Kapisa near the junction of the Ghorband and Panjshir rivers northeast of Kabul and occupied Ghandhara in 530 B.C

      • The successor of Cyrus, Darius sent a naval expedition to the Indus under the command of Skylax. This expedition paved the way for the annexation of the Indus valley as far as the deserts of Rajputana.

      • Once the Persian hold over Indian possessions became weak, the old territory of Gandhara was divided into two parts. To the west of Indus river lay the kingdom of Pushkalavati in the modern district of Peshawar; to the east was Takshasila in present district of Rawalpindi.

      • Alexander finally crossed Indus river in 326 B.C. using a bridge of boats. Ambhi, the king of Taxila gave him valuable help in this. Alexander;s march faced a major hurdle when it reached the banks of Hydaspes (modern Jhelum) river, near the town of Jhelum. Here he faced stiff resistance from Paurava king (Porus). Greek sources mention that Porus was defeated but was restored to his dominion as a vassal of Alexander.

      • Alexander wanted to continue his advance but his soldiers mutinied and refused to go beyond river Hyphasis (Beas) and he had to retreat.He returned to Babylon after a long and treacherous journey and died soon after in 323 B.C.

    RETURN TO HISTORY INDEX

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