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Chapter 05. Emergence Of Mahajanapadas And Magadh (Indian History Notes)



Janapada literally means the place where the people put their feet. However, these were permanent settlements of the agricultural communities of the later vedic period. The term Mahajanapad was used to describe a large area capable of bearing taxes and various imposition. Several Janapadas included in a Mahajanpada. There were several thousand villages in a Janapada. The Kautilyan Janapada comprised 3200 villages..


Boundary and Army
• Most of Mahajanapadas had a capital city and were fortified.
• It means the entire areas were surrounded by huge walls of wood, brick or stones.
• The objectives of building forts were to protect the people and the kingdom from the attacks of other kings.
• To show how rich and powerful they were by building large, tall and impressive walls around their cities • To control the land and the people living inside the fortified area more easily.
• The rajas maintained armies to protect the people and the fort.
• The people lived in huts, and kept cattle as well as other animals.
• They used to grow a variety of crops like rice, wheat, barley, pulses, sugarcane, sesame and mustard.
• They knew making earthen pots, some were in grey and red colours.
• Some painted grey pots of geometric pattern are found.
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 the Shakyas, Kolia, Mallas, etc. or a confederacy of tribes such as the Vrijis, Yadavas, Panchala, etc.
The people in the lower Ganges Valley and Delta were outside the Aryan boundary were considered as mlecchas. There was a strong consciousness of the purity of the Aryans called Aryavarta. Each janapada tried to dominate and subjugate other janapadas to beome Mahajanapads.
Economic Life
Taxes of Mahajanapada
The rulers needed more resources for building huge forts and maintaining big armies. So, they started collecting regular taxes, instead of depending on occasional gifts brought by people which was in the case of the raja of janapadas. These taxes were collected from :
(i) Farmers on their crop production, (ii) Crafts persons in the form of labour, (iii) Herders in the form of animals and animal produce, (iv) Traders on goods that were brought and sold, (v) Hunters and gatherers on forest produce.
New Methods in Agriculture
There were two changes adopted in the practice of agriculture, that were:
(i) They used iron ploughshare at the place of wooden ploughshare. Its motive was to turn over the heavy clayey soil better to produce more grain.
(ii) People started developing nursery of paddy instead of scattering seed on the ground for final croping. In this nursery plants were sprouted, saplings were grown and then planted in the fields to increase production.


• The changes in economic and social events led in coexistent of religious thought.
• The creation of awakened groups of traders, industrialists and labour resulted in putting a challenge to the supremacy of the Brahmanas.
• The creation of sub-castes also did the same.
• Several of these groups were rich as well which gave them an advantageous position in the society. It led to religious awakening in the society which caused the formation of several religious sects.
• There is no doubt that the rise of Jainism and Buddhism during this period was a result of the changed economic and social circumstances also.
• We also find that both of these religious sects got support from the neo-rich trading and industrial classes which were eager to get a better social status so far denied to them.
• The same way, both Jainism and Buddhism drew large converts from new sub-castes who were interested in getting equal status for all castes thereby getting the facility of having better social status for themselves.


There were about sixteen Mahajanapadas (about 2500 years ago) according to Anguttara Nikaya in the sixth century B.C. namely:
Magadha (including the present districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahabad) with its capital at Girivraja or Rajgriha. (ii) Anga (including the present districts of Monghyr and Bhagalpur in Bihar) with its capital at Champa. (iii) Vajji (a confederacy of eight republican clans. To the north of the river Ganga in Bihar) with its capital, Vaisali. (iv) Malla (also a republican confederacy including the present districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur and Siddharthnagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh) with two capitals at Kusinagar and Pawa. (v) Kasi with its capital at Varanasi. (vi) Kosala (including the present district of Faizabad, Gonda, Baharaich, etc.) with its capital at Shravasti. (vii) Vatsa (including the present districts Allahabad, Mirzapur etc.), with Its capital at Kausambi. (viii) Chedi, (including the present Bundelkhand area) with its capital at Shuktimati. (ix) Kuru (including the present Haryana and Delhi area to the West of river Yamuna) with its capital at Indraprastha (modern Delhi). (x) Panchala (including the area of western Uttar Pradesh upto the east of river Yamuna upto the Kosala Janapada) with its capital at Ahichhatra. (xi) Surasena, (covering Brij Mandal) with its capital at Mathura. (xii) Matsya (covering the area of Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan). (xiii) Avanti (modern Malwa) with its capital at Ujjain and Mahishmati. (xiv) Asmaka (between the rivers Narmada and Godavari with its capital at Potana. (xv) Gandhara (area covering the western part of Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan) with its capitals at Taxila and Pushkalavati, and (xvi) Kamboja (identified with modern district of Hazara districts of Pakistan) with its capital at Rajpur.

MahajanapadasPresent areasCapitals
1.GandharaWestern Pakistan
& Afghanistan
3.AsmakaBetween Narmada
& Godavari
6.SurasenaBrij MandalMathura
7.ChediBundel khandShuktimati
8.MallaDeoria, BastiKushinara,
9.KurusHaryana, DelhiHastinapur/
10.MatsyaAlwar, JaipurVirat Nagari
11.Vajjis (Vrijji)BiharVaishali
14.KosalaFaizabad GondaShravasti
15.MagadhaPatna, GayaGirivraja/
16.PanchalaUttar PradeshAhichhatra
(W. Panchala)
(S. Panchala)

Important Janapadas Union (Republic)
Republican Manajanapada was ruled by a group of representatives elected by the common people. The Mahajanapadas of Vrijji, Mall, Kuru, Panchal and Kamboj were republican states and so were either smaller states like Lichhavi, Shakya, Kolya, Bhagga, and Moriya. All the administrative decisions of the states were taken by the Parisha. The republics were basically of two types:
(a) The republics comprising a single tribe like those of the Sakyas, the Kolias and the Mallas.
(b) The republics comprising a number of tribes or the republics of confederacy like the Vrijjis.
Emergence of Magadha
The first important king of Magadha was Bimbisara (542 B.C.
– 493 B.C.) 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 Kosala and the sister of Prasenajit. His second wife Chellana was a Lichhavi 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 invincible.
• He was succeeded by his son Ajatasatru (492–460 B.C.) • 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 B.C.).
His reign was 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.
• 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 Avanti with its capital at Ujjain. This brought to an end the 100 years old rivalry between Magadha and Avanti.
Causes for the Rise of Magadha
Advantageous geographical location either at Rajgir or Pataliputra situated at strategic locations.
► Advantageous natural resources such as iron enable Magadhan rulers to equip with effective weapons.
► The alluvial soil of Gangetic plains and sufficient rainfall was very conducive for agriculture produces.
► Rise of town and use of metallic money boosted trade and commerce.
► The princes could use tools and accumulate wealth to
pay and maintain their army.
► Use of elephants on a large scale in wars.
Liberal (Unorthodox) character of Magadhan society.
► Contribution of several enterprising and ambitious rulers.


Iranian Invasion
The Achaemenid rulers of Iran, who spreaded their kingdom at the same time as the Magadhan princes, took advantage of the political disunity on the north-west frontier.
The Iranian ruler, Darius penetrated into north-west India in 516 B.C. and annexed Punjab, west of the Indus, and Sindh. It gave a momentum to Indo-Iraninan trade and commerce. The Iraninan scribes brought into India a form of writing which came to be known as the Kharoshi script. It was written from right to left like the Arabic. Iranian coins are also found in the north-west region which points to the existence of trade with Iran. Iranian effect on the Maurya sculpture is clearly noticeable. The monuments of Ashokas time, especially the bell shaped capitals owed something to the Iranian models.
Iranian influence may also be witnessed in the preamble of Ashoka’s edicts as well as in certain words used in them.
Points to Remember
► In 516 B.C. Darius sent a naval expedition to explore the valley of the river Indus.
► He marked the province as 20th Straphy, which was considered to be the richest and the most populous province of the Persian Empire.
► Its annual tribute amounted to 360 Euboic talents of gold-dust.
► The Kharoshi script was used on the north-western frontier since then until about 4th century A.D.
Alexander’s Invasion
In the fourth century B.C., the Greeks and the Iranians fought for the supremacy of the world. Alexander, the king of Macedonia Grecce conquered not only Asia Minor and Iraq but also Iran. From Iran, he moved on to India, obviously attracted by its great wealth.
Alexander defeated Indian rulers one after another. Among the rulers of these territories, two were well-known Ambhi, the prince of Taxila, and Porus whose kingdom lay between the Jhelum and the Chenab.
After the victory of Iran, Alexander reached to Kabul, from where he marched to India through the Khyber Pass.
Ambhi, the ruler of Taxila, readily submitted to the invader, augmented his army and replenish his treasure.
When he reached the Jhelum, Alexander met the first and the strongest resistance from Porus. Although Alexander defeated Porus, he was impressed by the bravery and courage of the Indian prince. So, he restored his kingdom to him and made him his ally.
Then, he advanced as far as the Beas river. He wanted to move still further eastward but his army refused to accompany him.
Alexander remained in India for 19 months (326–325 B.C.), which were full of fighting. He had barely any time to organize his conquests. Still, he made some arrangements.
Most conquered states were restored to their rulers who submitted to his authority.
But his own territorial possessions were divided into three parts, which were placed under three Greek governors.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Alexander’s foreign policy was his encouragement of inter-racial marriages.
He dreamt of uniting the east and the west by the natural bonds of marriage, and ruling over it.
Results of Alexander’s Invasion
• Alexander’s campaign opened up and reinforces a number of trade routes between north-western India, via Afghanistan and Iran to Asia Minor and to the ports along the eastern Mediterranean.
• The date of Alexander’s campaign noted clearly in the chronicles left by the historians has helped establish the chronological order of subsequent events in India. It also opened a new door for Greek art and architecture.
• Thus, Alexander paved the way for the rise of a united empire under the Mauryas.
Summary of Alexander’s Invasion
Alexander marched to India through the Khyber Pass in 326 B.C.
Ambi, the ruler of Taxila, submitted to Alexander.
► He was bravely checked by the local chieftains despite the fact that they had no chance of success.
► He was resisted first strongest by Porus at Jhelum.
► His advance was checked on the bank of the Beas because of the mutiny of his soldiers.
► In 325 B.C., he began his homeward journey.
► In 324 B.C., he reached Susa in Persia and died the next year.
► The Greek invasion of India opened the trade route between north-west India and Western Asia.
Chronology of Foreign Invasions
• 518–486 B.C.: King Darius or Darus invaded India.
• 326 B.C : Alexander invaded India.
• 190 B.C. : India-Greeks or Bactrians invaded India.
• 90 B.C. : Sakas invaded India.
• A.D. 1st Century : Pahlavas invaded India.
• A.D. 45 : Kushanas or Yue-chis invaded India.
Points to Remember
► Increased in prosperity and growth of towns.
► Increased in prosperity was due to foreign trade.
One trade route was from Kosambi Gangetic plain PunjabTaxila to Iran, Central Asia, Europe.
Another trade route was from RajagrihaKosambi UjjainPort of Baroach through sea-route to western countries.
Another route from Gangetic plain to northern plains to Burma.
► Towns became centres of trade and industries.
► Indian rulers minted coins of different metals.
► Intellectual groups were created in towns which led the formation of several sub-castes.
► Sanskrit became the language of intellectuals and purohits.
► Regional languages were also formed like Prakrit, Pali, Magadhi, etc.


A number of religious sects came into existence in the middle Gangetic basin in the sixth century B.C. There were around 62 religious sects at that period. Out of these, Jainism and Buddhism were the most important, and they emerged as the most potent religious reform movements.
Introduction Society Jainism Buddhism Differences Teachings 24 Tirthankaras Jain Principles Jain Philosophy Jaina Councils 5 Categories of Siddhas Bhagavatism Saivism Buddhist Councils Spread of Buddhism Decline of Buddhism Hindu Revivalist Movement Religious Revolution


The society was clearly divided into four Varnas: brahmins, kshatriyas, vaisyas and shudras, in the Vedic period. Each Varna was allowed well-defined jobs, although it was emphasized that Varna was based on birth and two higher varnas were given some privileges.
Clearly the Varna seems to have created tension in the society.
The Kshatriyas, who acted as rulers, reacted against the domination of priestly class called brahmins, who enjoyed various privileges, was one of the causes of the origin of new religions. Vrdhamana Mahavira, who founded Jainism and Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism, belonged to the Kshatriya clan, and both disputed the authority of the Brahmins.
The trade of money-lending was established in the Vedic age. The practice of interest on loans was also legal but the

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