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The Magadha Empire is considered as the first empire in Indian history. The Magadha Empire was founded when the four Mahajanapada-Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa, and Avanti were engaged in a struggle for domination from the 6th century BC to the 4th century BC. Magadha emerged as the most powerful and prosperous kingdom in northern India. The Magadha Empire encircled the rule of three dynasties over time – Haryanka Dynasty, Shishunaga Dynasty, and Nanda Dynasty. Finally, Magadha emerged victoriously and was able to gain sovereignty. It became the most powerful state in ancient India.
The timeline of the Magadha Empire is estimated to be from 684 BCE to 320 BCE. Magadha is situated in modern Bihar. Jarasandha, who was a descendant of Brihadratha founded the empire in Magadha. Both are talked about in the Mahabharata.
During the age of Buddha there were sixteen large states called Mahajanapadas. Janapadas means the land where a jana sets its foot and settles. They are the realms, republics and kingdoms of the Vedic period on the Indian subcontinent.
Among the great Janapadas or the Mahajanapadas, names such as Vajji, Vatsa, Magadha, Koshala, Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur frequently in the pages of History.
These large states were mostly situated north of the Vindhyas and extended from the north-west frontier to Bihar. While most of these Mahajanapadas were ruled by kings, some known as ganas or sanghas, were oligarchies. In Oligarchy power was shared among a number of men, often collectively known as rajas.
Among the sixteen Mahajanapadas, Magadha, Koshala, Vatsa and Avanti seemed to be most powerful. However in the fight of dominance and supremacy Magadha emerged as the most powerful kingdom.
The area of Magadha empire embraces the former districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahabad. Initially the capital of the Magadha empire was Rajgir and later it was shifted to Pataliputra.
|Brihadratha dynasty||Brihadratha||c. 1700 – c. 682 BCE|
|Pradyota dynasty||Pradyota||c. 682 – c. 544 BCE|
|Haryanka Empire||Bimbisara||c. 544 – c. 413 BCE|
|Shishunaga Empire||Shishunaga||c. 413 – c. 345 BCE|
|Nanda Empire||Mahapadma Nanda||c. 345 – c. 322 BCE|
Magadha was an ancient kingdom located on the Indo-Gangetic plains in eastern India and spread over what is today the modern state of Bihar. There were constant conflicts between various Mahajanapadas and ultimately Magadha emerged as the largest Empire. The 1st Dynasty to rule Magadha was Haryanka (founded by Bimbisara).
In 326 BCE, when Alexander the Great was camped at the river Beas on the westernmost part of India, his army mutinied, and they refused to march further east. They had heard about the great Magadha kingdom and were unnerved by stories of its might. Unwillingly, Alexander turned back. But this was not the first time that the might of Magadha had forced kings westwards. One of the earliest references to Magadha is in the epic Mahabharata, where we see the entire Yadava clan abandoning their homeland on the Gangetic plains to migrate south-westwards towards the desert-ocean land to avoid constant battles with their eastern neighbour, Magadha.
Ancient Magadha, & Jarasandha
The Magadha kingdom did not seem to have been liked by the Vedic people. In the Atharva Veda, a charm against virulent fever speaks somewhat sarcastically of banishing the fever to the people of Magadha.
- Magadha is the mightiest kingdom in the country, stronger even than the Kurus.
- Magadha controlled the entire eastern part of the country through alliances with smaller vassal states.
- It was constantly at war with its western neighbour’s, the Yadavas of Mathura, who ultimately migrated far west to the sea coast near the Rann of Kutchh (modern Gujarat).
- The capital of Magadha was Girivraj (modern Rajgir, Bihar). This city was surrounded by rings of mountains and was, therefore, difficult to lay siege to.
- Jarasandha had powerful allies around his main kingdom: to the southwest was the vassal state of Chedi (to the south of which was another ally, Vidarbh), to the east were the allies of Anga and Vanga, and further east was the friendly country of Pragjyotishpur (modern Assam), ruled by a demon whose borders extended right up to China.
Magadha at the Time of the Buddha
- Gautama Siddhartha became the Buddha, Magadha was a flourishing kingdom under its king Bimbisara.
- Magadha annexed the neighbouring eastern kingdoms, and made marriage alliances with the ones in the west and north.
- Bimbisara was succeeded by his son Ajatashatru, who shifted the capital of Magadha from Girivraj to Pataliputra.
- Ajatashatru also expanded his father’s territories considerably; he annexed Kosala, the Lichchhavi republic, Kashi, and Avanti.
- The last king of the Shishunaga Dynasty was killed in a palace conspiracy and was succeeded by Mahapadma Nanda.
The Dynasties of Magadha Empire
The extension of the Magadha Empire was seen through three dynasties. The first one was the Haryanka dynasty (544 BC to 412 BC). Then came the Shishunaga dynasty(412 BC to 344 BC). And the third one was the Nanda dynasty(344 BC to 322 BC). Let’s discuss the three dynasties that ruled during the Magadha Empire.
Haryanka Dynasty(544 BC to 412 BC)
Haryanka was the first important and powerful dynasty in the Magadha Dynasty. There were three rulers in the Haryanka Dynasty. The founder of the Magadha Empire Bimbisara was from the Haryanka dynasty. The other two rulers were Ajatashatru and Udayin.
According to the Buddhist chronicles, Bimbisara ruled roughly for fifty two years (544 BC to 492 BC). Magadha came into existence under the rule of Bimbisara.
The first Magadhan king used to follow the policy of conquest and aggression. He was a ruler who was not satisfied with what he had. To strengthen his position, he even used marriage as a policy. This helped him to gain enormous diplomatic prestige and paved the way for expanding Magadha westward and northward.
Bimbisara had three wives. His first wife was Koshaladevi, the daughter of the Koshalan King. He received a Kashi village in dowry that used to yield a revenue of 100,000(in terms of coins). This marriage calmed down the hostilities between Bimbisara and the King of Kosala.
His second wife Chellana was a Lichchhavi princess from Vaishali. She gave birth to his son Ajatashatru. With this relation he secured the northern frontier. The third marriage alliance was with the chief of Madra clan of Punjab. He married Khema, the daughter of the chief.
- Bimbisara was the son of Bhattiya.
- He ruled over Magadha from 544 BC to 493 BC.
- He was the contemporary and follower of the Buddha. Also he was said to be an admirer of Mahavira.
- Had his capital at Girivraja (Rajgir).
- He also known in the name Sreniya.
- He was the first king to have a standing army.
- He started the practice of using matrimonial alliances to strengthen his political position.
- He had an effective and excellent administrative system. The officers occupying high posts were divided into three – executive, military and judicial.
- Later on he was killed by his own son Ajatashatru.
Ajatashatru grasped the throne of Bimbisara by killing his father. He was son of Bimbisara and Chellana. He ruled Magadha from 492 BC to 460 BC. Ajatashatru followed the footsteps of his father. Throughout his reign he was an aggressive expansionist.
Ajatashatru looked towards conquering Koshala and Kashi. The war was fought between Ajatashatru and the Koshala King. The Koshala King was compelled to give his daughter to Ajatashatru to purchase peace. Kashi was also offered to him to end the war.
- After that Ajatashatru made war with Vaishali.
- It took sixteen years to win Vaishali.
- He expanded the Magadha empire by adding Kashi and Vaishali to it.
- He embraced Buddhism.
- He convened the First Buddhist Council at Rajagriha just after the death of Buddha in 483 BC.
- He won wars against Kosala and Vaishali.
- Ajatashatru was succeeded by Udayin.
Udayin was the son of Ajatashatru. He ruled Magadha from 460 BC to 444 BC. He was instrumental in building a fort at the confluence of the Ganges and Son at Patna. Later on he was succeeded by his son Anuruddha by assasination. Anuruddha was succeeded by his son Munda and Munda by Nagdosoka.
The people of Magadha started losing faith in Magadhan rulers due to the continuous dynastic feuding. So they imposed Shishunaga as their ruler. This was the foundation of the Shishunaga dynasty.
- He shifted the capital to Pataliputra (Patna).
- Last of the major Haryanka rulers.
- Succeeded by three kings – Aniruddha, Manda and Nagadasaka.
Shishunaga Dynasty(412 BC to 344 BC)
According to Sri Lankan chronicles, the people of Magadha revolted during the reign of Nagadasaka and placed an Amatya (minister) named Shishunaga as king. The Shishunaga Dynasty ruled Magadha from 412 BC to 344 BC. The two most popular rulers of the Shishunaga dynasty are Shishunaga and Kalasoka.
- Shishunaga was the viceroy of Kashi before becoming the king of Magadha.
- His greatest achievement was that he destroyed the power of Avanti and brought an end to the 100 year rivalry between Avanti and Magadha.
- The capital was at Girivraja.
- He annexed Avanti and brought an end to the long rivalry between Magadha and Avanti.
- Later shifted the capital to Vaishali.
- Shishunaga was succeeded by his son Kalasoka.
- Kalasoka shifted the capital back to Pataliputra.
- He conducted the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali.
- Kalasoka was the last Shishunaga ruler.
- He was succeeded by Mahapadma Nanda.
- He was killed in a palace revolution that brought the Nanda dynasty to the throne.
Nanda Dynasty(344 BC to 322 BC)
The Nandas were the last rulers of Magadha. During their rule Magadha had reached new heights of power and supremacy. The Nandas were very rich. This was the first non-Kshatriya dynasty and it lasted from 345 BCE to 321 BCE. The first ruler was Mahapadma Nanda who usurped the throne of Kalasoka.
Mahapadma Nanda was the first ruler of the Nanda dynasty. He is called the “first historical emperor of India.” (Chandragupta Maurya is the First Emperor of India). He killed Kalasoka to become the king.
- Mahapadma proved to be the most powerful ruler of Magadha.
- He extended the Magadha empire by conquering Kalinga.
- He murdered Kalasoka to become the king.
- He is also called “Sarva Kashtriyantaka” (destroyer of all the Kshatriyas) and “Ekrat”.
- He conquered many kingdoms including Kalinga, Koshala.
- His sovereignty lasted for twenty-eight years from 367 BC to 338 BC.
- He was succeeded by his son Dhana Nanda.
Dhana Nanda was the last Nanda ruler. He was so powerful that even Alexander dared not to move towards Magadha. At that time Alexander was invading North-Western India.
- He is said to be one of the 8 or 9 sons of Mahapadma Nanda.
- He proved to be weak and finally the rule of Magadha was supplanted by that of the Maurya dynasty.
- Dhana Nanda was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya. which led to the foundations of the Mauryan Empire in Magadha.
- He is referred to as Agrammes or Xandrames in Greek texts.
Kings in Magadha Empire
|Bimbisara (Founder; Capital: Rajagriha)||
Reasons for the Rise of Magadha
Magadha is located in the upper and lower part of the Ganges Valley. It is located on the continental route between west and east India. The soil in this area is fertile. Rain is enough. Magadha is surrounded by rivers on the three sides of Ganges, Son, and Campa, making the area unable to be occupied by the enemy. Rajgir and Pataliputra are both strategically located.
Magadha had huge deposits of copper and iron. Due to its location, you could easily control the trade. It had a large population that could be used for agriculture, mining, city building, and the military. The dominance of the Ganges meant economic hegemony. The Ganges was important to trade in northern India. With the annexation of Anga by Bimbisara, the Champa River was added to the Magadha Empire. Champa was important in trade with Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and South India.
Magadan society has an unorthodox character. It is a fusion of Aryans and non-Aryans. The emergence of that religion and Buddhism triggered a revolution in philosophy and thought. They strengthened the liberal tradition. The society is not ruled by Brahmins, and many of the kings of Magadha are from “low”
Magadha is fortunate to have many powerful and ambitious rulers. They have a strong standing army. The availability of iron allowed them to develop advanced weapons. They are the first kings to use elephants. The great king also established a good administrative system.
Magadha Empire UPSC Notes
Rise and Growth of Magadha empire which is important for the IAS Exam. In Prelims – Ancient History of Magadha empire is important topic and in Mains – GS I & Optional. Here you can access the Pdf of Magadha empire UPSC Notes.
Reasons for Magadha’s success
- Advantageous geographical position:
- Magadha’s strategic location provided its proximity to the rich iron deposits. Magadhan Army had the high-quality weapon
- Its capital Rajagriha: surrounded by 5 hills – provided a natural fortification
- Patliputra: On the confluence of Rivers Ganga and Son: provided route for trade and commerce
- Ganga plains provided rich ground for agriculture to feed its standing Army
- Used Elephants on large scale: Unlike horses (used by Magadha’s rivals), Elephants can be used for storming fortresses and marching over areas lacking roads
- Good leaders: E.g. Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, Mahapadma Nanda
- Enthusiasm for expansion: Magadhan society support for unorthodox religion led to the quest for expansion to other areas.
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