ANCIENT INDIAN KINGDOMS (500-300 B.C.) AFTER THE ARYAN- VEDIC PERIOD

AFTER THE ARYANS

Northern India was divided into a vast number of feudal states that probably evolved from tribal groups. The Maagadha kingdom, formed in Bihar in 542 B.C., became the dominant power and was later ruled by the Maurya dynasty, founded by Chandragupta 321 B.C., that united most of Northern India in a centralized bureaucratic state. [Source: World Almanac]

From their original settlements in the Punjab region, the Aryans gradually began to penetrate eastward, clearing dense forests and establishing "tribal" settlements along the Ganga and Yamuna (Jamuna) plains between 1500 and ca. 800 B.C. By around 500 B.C., most of northern India was inhabited and had been brought under cultivation, facilitating the increasing knowledge of the use of iron implements, including ox-drawn plows, and spurred by the growing population that provided voluntary and forced labor. As riverine and inland trade flourished, many towns along the Ganga became centers of trade, culture, and luxurious living. Increasing population and surplus production provided the bases for the emergence of independent states with fluid territorial boundaries over which disputes frequently arose. [Source: Library of Congress *]

There were many states of the Aryans in North India, around the 6th century B. C. These states were called the 'Mahajanapadas'. 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. The Mahajanapadas of Vrijji, Malla, Kuru, Panchal and Kamboj were republican states and so were other smaller states like Lichhavi, Shakya, Koliya, Bhagga, Moriya. These republican states had a 'Gana-parishad' or an Assembly of senior and responsible citizens. This, Gana-parishad had the supreme authority in the state. All the administrative decisions were taken by this Parishad. Of all these states, Kosala, Vatsa, Avanti and Magadha were the most important ones. [Source: Glorious India <>]

The political process in India started with semi-nomadic tribal units called janas which coalesced into janapadas. The first Vedic realm mentioned in the Vedas is Videha, but its existence mostly falls into the category of the religious-legendary. During the 6th century B.C., the janapadas had formed larger political entities, possibly through a process not unlike the Greek synoecism, in which smaller settlements combined to form city-states with their hinterlands (mahajanapadas). Among the mahajanapadas five cities gained special importance: Rajagriha or Rajgir in Magadha (modern Bihar), Varanasi (formerly called Benares) in Kasi, Kausambi in Vatsa, Sravasti in Kosala, and Champa in Anga. All of these states were in the Gangetic plain of northern India. Other important centers were Ujjain in Avanti and Taxila in Gandhara (today part of Pakistan). [Source: Glorious India <>]

Early Kingdoms and Empires after the Aryans in India

The rudimentary administrative system headed by tribal chieftains was transformed by a number of regional republics or hereditary monarchies that devised ways to appropriate revenue and to conscript labor for expanding the areas of settlement and agriculture farther east and south, beyond the Narmada River. These emergent states collected revenue through officials, maintained armies, and built new cities and highways. By 600 B.C., sixteen such territorial powers--including the Magadha, Kosala, Kuru, and Gandhara--stretched across the North India plains from modern-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh. The right of a king to his throne, no matter how it was gained, was usually legitimized through elaborate sacrifice rituals and genealogies concocted by priests who ascribed to the king divine or superhuman origins. [Source: Library of Congress *]

1) Kosala: Shravasti Kushavati, Saket, and Ayodhya were the famous cities of Kosala. Ayodhya was the State capital. The Kosala king Prasenajit was - a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Kosala and Magadha went to war during his reign. The independent state of Kosala did not last -long after Prasenajit. 2) Vatsa: Kaushambi of the present day Bihar, was the capital of Vatsa. Vatsa was famous for its fine cotton cloth. The Vatsa king Udayana was very brave. He was the follower of Gautama Buddha. The independent status of- Vatsa was soon lost after king Udayana.

3) Avanti: The kingdom of Avanti comprised the area around the present day Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. Pradyota, the king of Avanti, was a very ambitloys ruler. He was constantly engaged in conflicts with Kosala, Vatsa and Magadha. In this constant warfare, the Magadha state ultimately proved superior. 4) Magadha: Expansion of the Magadha kingdom started during the reign of King Bimbisara. He annexed the kingdoms of Kashi, Madra and Anga to Magadha. There is a reference in the Buddhist works to 80,000 village in Bimbisara's kingdom. The capital of his kingdom was Rajagriha, the present day Rajgir in Bihar. The city of Rajagriha and King Bimbisara's palace were built by an architect named Mahagovinda. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Kosala Kingdom

Kosala was an ancient Indian kingdom, corresponding roughly in area with the region of Oudh. in what is now south-central Uttar Pradesh state, it extended into present-day Nepal. Its capital was Ayodhya. In the 6th century B.C. it rose to become one of the dominant states in northern India. Kosala formed one of the sixteen powerful realms of India (Mahajanapadas) of Buddhist traditions, and its cultural and political strength earned it the status of great power. The kingdom of Magadha conquered Kosala by c. 459 B.C., and it became known as Northern Kosala to distinguish it from a larger kingdom to the south known variously as Kosala, Southern Kosala, or Great Kosala. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Kosala was the setting of much Sanskrit epic literature including the Ramayana. Buddha and Mahavira taught in the kingdom. King Pasenadi was the king of Kosala, which was north of Magadha ruled by King Bimbisara. The capital of the kingdom of Kosala was called Savatthi. One of King Pasenadi's sisters was the chief queen of King Bimbisara, which made him the brother-in-law of King Bimbisara. <>

Ayodhya was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. Many Hindus believe it is the spot where the Hindu god Ram or Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) was born. Rama is the central character in the Ramayana (The Travels of Rama, or Ram in the preferred modern form) one of the two great Hindu-Indian epics. [Source: Glorious India]

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ram's story was exploited by Hindu militants and politicians to gain power, and the much disputed Ramjanmabhumi, the birth site of Ram, has become an extremely sensitive communal issue, potentially pitting Hindu majority against Muslim minority. Muslim versus Hindu hostility reached a high point in 1990 when the 400-year-old Babri mosque in Ayodhya was stormed by Hindu extremists. Thirty people died and police were called in to hold back the crowd. Hindus claimed the mosque was built on the site of a former Hindu temple believed to have placed on the spot where the Hindu god Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) was born. They say the temple was deliberately destroyed in 1526 by the Muslim Mughal ruler Babar, who used pillars from the temple to build the mosque. The ancient epic the Ramayana says that Ram was born in Ayodhya but many historians believed that Ayodhya was established after the Ramayana was written.

Kuru Kingdom

Kuru was the name of an Indo-Aryan tribe and their kingdom in the Vedic civilization of India. Their kingdom was located in the area of modern Haryana. They formed the first political center of the Indo-Aryans after the Rigvedic period, and after their emergence from the Punjab, and it was there that the codification and redaction of the Vedic texts began. Their capital was Indraprastha, which may have been the most powerful city in India, prior to the rise of the Magadhan city of Pataliputra. The Kuru kingdom figures prominently in the list of Mahajanapadas. At the time of Buddha, the Kuru realm was only three hundred leagues in extent, but was a cultural hub. The kingdom corresponds in name to the Kuru dynasty mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata. [Source: Glorious India]

The Kuru period is sometimes regarded as the period when the myths of the Hindu epics— the Ramayana and the Mahabharata—merged with historical reality. The victory of good over evil is epitomized in the epic Ramayana (The Travels of Rama, or Ram in the preferred modern form), while another epic, Mahabharata (Great Battle of the Descendants of Bharata), spells out the concept of dharma and duty. More than 2,500 years later, Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, the father of modern India, used these concepts in the fight for independence (see Mahatma Gandhi). The Mahabharata records the feud between Aryan cousins that culminated in an epic battle in which both gods and mortals from many lands allegedly fought to the death, and the Ramayana recounts the kidnapping of Sita, Rama's wife, by Ravana, a demonic king of Lanka (Sri Lanka), her rescue by her husband (aided by his animal allies), and Rama's coronation, leading to a period of prosperity and justice. In the late twentieth century, these epics remain dear to the hearts of Hindus and are commonly read and enacted in many settings. [Source: Library of Congress]

Kalinga

Kalinga is mentioned in the ancient scriptures as Kalinga the Braves (Kalinga Sahasikha). During the 3rd century B.C. the Greek ambassador Megasthenes in his tour of India had mentioned about the military strength of the Kalinga army of about one lakh which consisted of 60 thousand soldiers, 1700 horses and thousands of elephants. Kalinga was also powerful in the naval force. The vast military strength of Kalinga was the cause of jealousy for the Magadha empire. According to the historians the Magadha Emperor Ashoka invaded Kalinga in 261 B.C. Nearly one lakh soldiers lost their lives in the Kalinga War and one and half lakh soldiers were captured.

During Ashoka's invasion the capital of Kalinga was Toshali near Dhauli. The vast wealth, military power and the maritime activities of the Kalinga was the cause of jealousy for the Magadha empire. Though both Emperor Chandragupta Maurya and Bindusar wanted to conquer Kalinga, neither ventured a war with Kalinga.

After the death of Ashoka, the Great Kharavela became the emperor of Kalinga. He was the monarch of the Chedi Dynasty. The inscription found in the Elephant Caves of Khandagiri and Udaigiri mountains near Bhubaneswar describes in detail the reign of Emperor Kharavela.

Magadha

North India's political landscape was transformed by the emergence of Magadha in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain. In 322 B.C., Magadha, under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya, began to assert its hegemony over neighboring areas.Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 B.C., was the architect of the first Indian imperial power--the Mauryan Empire (326-184 B.C.)--whose capital was Pataliputra, near modern-day Patna, in Bihar. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Situated on rich alluvial soil and near mineral deposits, especially iron, Magadha was at the center of bustling commerce and trade. The capital was a city of magnificent palaces, temples, a university, a library, gardens, and parks, as reported by Megasthenes, the third-century B.C. Greek historian and ambassador to the Mauryan court. *

Magadha was mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The four strongest states - Kasi, Kosala, Magadha and Vrjji - were all along the Ganges River. Of those four, Magadha had several advantages that would help it to prevail in the struggle for supremacy. It has risen to power during the reigns of Bimbisara (544 - 491 B.C.) and his son Ajatashatru (491 - 460 B.C.). Bimbisara whose city of Rajagriha (modern Rajgir, near Gaya, Bihar) controlled nearby iron-mines. Bimbisara established dynastic relations by intermarriage with the nobility of neighbouring Kosala and Vrijji, and easily dominated the territory of Vanga to the southeast. He was, however, murdered by his son Ajatashatru in 493 B.C., who established a fort at Pataliputra (Patna), by the Ganga and near to her confluence with the Gandaki, Sona, and Ganghara Rivers. Ajatashatru was also murdered (461 B.C.) by his impatient heir and so too, the next five generations. <>

Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and much of Bengal with the conquest of Anga, and then expanded up the Ganges valley annexing Kosala and Kashi. Magadha formed one of the sixteen so-called Mahajanapadas. The Magadha empire included republican communities such as Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions. Bimbisara was friendly to both Jainism and Buddhism and suspended tolls at the river ferries for all ascetics after the Buddha was once stopped at the Ganges River for lack of money. <>

Magadha battled with all of its neighbours, and used its superior weaponry (e.g. the terrible Rathamushala, an armored chariot with fixed iron blades for mowing down opposing forces) to great effect. After the death of Udayan, the kingdom of Magadh declined rapidly and was replaced by the Shishunaga dynasty, which took over in 413 B.C. However, the Shishunaga dynasty did not last for more than 50 years and the Nanda dynasty took over. <>

Haryanka and Shishunaga Dynasties of the Magadha Empire

Pradyota became king of Avanti ending the Brhadratha Dynasty and commencing the Haryanka Dynasty of Magadha. The Haryanka king Bimbsara was responsible for expanding the boundries of his kingdom through matrimonial alliances and conquest. Bimbsara was the contemporary to Buddha. Bimbsara was imprisoned and killed by his successor, Ajatasatu, under whos rule, the dynasty reached its largest extent. Ajatasattu's son Udayabhadra succeeded Ajatasattu and ruled for the next sixteen years. He moved his capital to the bank of Ganges which was known as Pataliputra. The succession was followed by Udayabhadra's son Anuruddha and his son Munda in the same family tradition by slaying the father. Munda's son Nagadasaka slew his father and continued reigning through this dynasty. The citizens angered by the rule of Haryankas, revolted against Nagadasaka and anointed Shishunaga as the king. [Source: Glorious India <>]

The Haryanka dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 684 B.C., whose capital was Rajagriha, later Pataliputra. This dynasty was succeeded by the Shishunaga dynasty. There were many states of the Aryans in North India, around the 6th century B. C. These states were called the 'Mahajanapadas'. 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. The Mahajanapadas of Vrijji, Malla, Kuru, Panchal and Kamboj were republican states and so were other smaller states like Lichhavi, Shakya, Koliya, Bhagga, Moriya. These republican states had a 'Gana-parishad' or an Assembly of senior and responsible citizens. This, Gana-parishad had the supreme authority in the state. All the administrative decisions were taken by this Parishad. Of all these states, Kosala, Vatsa, Avanti and Magadha were the most important ones. <>

Pradyota’s assent to the throne of Avanti marks the Brhadratha Dynasty and commencing the Pradyota Dynasty of Magadha. The Mahavamsa states that Ajatasattu's son Udayabhadra succeeded Ajatasattu and ruled for the next sixteen years. He moved his capital to the bank of Ganges which was known as Pataliputra. The succession was followed by Udayabhadra's son Anuruddha and his son Munda in the same family tradition by slaying the father. Munda's son Nagadasaka slew his father and continued reigning through this dynasty of parricides'. The citizens angered by the rule of Haryankas, revolted against Nagadasaka and anointed Shishunaga as the king. <>

Nanda Dynasty

The first Magadha dynasty was overthrown by the usurper Mahapadna, founder of the Nanda dynasty, son of a low-caste woman. He established his capital in Pataliputra (eastern Bihar) at the time that Alexander was campaigning in the Indus river valley (327-324). The Nandas ruled Magadha between 364 B.C. and 324 B.C. Dhanananda was the last of the Nanda Kings. Magadha had become a very powerful kingdom by that time. It had expanded upto the Punjab in the West. Chandragupta Maurya, an ambitious young man, attacked and conquered Magadha. That was the end of the Nanda rule.

In the history of India, the Nanda period is considered to be important from many points of view. The Nanda kings had set up a good administrative system necessary to run the huge empire. This system continued even during the Maurya period. The Nanda Kings had a huge four-fold army of two lakh infantry, twenty thousand cavalry, two thousand chariots and three thousand elephants. The Nandas introduced the stem of standard weights and measures. The Nanda Kings were lovers of art and literature. They provided patronage to many scholars. The 'well-known grammarian Panini belongs to this period.

Traditions differ regarding Mahapadna's. According to the Puranas, he was bom of a Sudra woman, but in Jain works he is described as the son of a courtesan by a barber. The Greek writer, Curtius, gives a slightly different account. He deposes that Alexander’s Magadhan contemporary was the son of a barber, who by his good looks had won the queen’s heart, and who subsequently assassinated the reigning sovereign, perhaps KalAsoka or Kakavarna, represented in the Harsacarita to have been done to death with a dagger thrust into his throat in the vicinity of his capital. Whichever version may be true, there is no doubt that Mahapadma was low-born, and he owed his position to successful intrigue. At first, he pretended to be the guardian of the young princes, but eventually he killed them also and seated himself on the throne. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Mahapadma greatly extended the influence and the limits of the Magadha kingdom. He is said to have subverted many contemporaneous powers, like the Iksvakus, Kurus, Pancalas, Kasis, Surasenas, Maitliilas, Kalingas, Asmakas, Haihayas, etc., and implacably uprooted the Ksatriyas. Perhaps it is in allusion to his conquests that the Puranas call him Sarvaksatrantaka like ParaSurama, and an Ekardt (sole suzerain), although the latter term exaggerates his real position. Of course, Magadha had already absorbed the neighbouring states in the earlier reigns, and the fall of Avanti in the time of Sisunaga had left it without any rival in the North. We further know from a reference in the Kathasaritsdgara to Nanda’s camp that KoSala formed a part of Magadha, and the Hathigumpha inscription, which refers to the excavation of a canal by Nandaraja, identified with Mahapadma, doubtless proves that Kalingahad come under its domination. Incidentally, this epigraph also sheds light on his religious predilections, for Nandaraja (Mahapadma?) is represented as having removed to his capital a prized image of a Jain Tirthamkara. Presumably, it was on account of their leanings towards Jainism that the Nanda monarchs had Jain ministers like Kalpaka, Sakatala, etc. Thus, Magadha had step by step emerged as the premier kingdom, and thenceforth its history was that of India itself for a pretty long period.

Mahapadma was followed by his eight sons, of whom the last was the contemporary of Alexander. He is called Dhanananda in Buddhist literature, whereas the Greeks mention the name Agrammes or Xandrames (Augrasainya ?). He maintained, according to Curtius, a stupendous army, consisting of 200,000 foot, 20,000 horse, 2,000 chariots, and 4,000 elephants, and was reputed to be the possessor of immense riches. But Agrammes or Dhanananda was avaricious, irreligious (adhdrmika), and of tyrannical disposition, and this, along with his base ancestry, made him extremely unpopular among his subjects. Indeed, it was represented to Alexander by a chief named Phegelis

Mauryan Empire

Around 320 B.C., after Alexander's death, the Maurya family took power and a member of that family—Chandragupta (Sandrakottos) Maurya—founded the Maurya empire. The Mauryan emerged in the Vedic period from the Lower Ganges basin. Beginning in the 6th century B.C. there are references to them in the Vedic literature battling with other small states. They were influenced by the statecraft of Alexander the Great.

The Mauryan empire is regarded as India’s first and greatest empire. From its capital at near Patna, the empire extended across all of South Asia, with the exception of some areas in southern India and Afghanistan. At its height, according to the Roman historian Pliny, the Maurya empire, commanded an army with 600,000 foot soldiers, 30,000 cavalry and 9,000 battle elephants.

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: ““Under the rule of the Mauryas (ca. 323–185 B.C.), the political and cultural life of North India was once again unified under a central authority. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka (272–231 B.C.), a great military leader, conquered a large part of India. As a reaction to the horrors of war, he converted to Buddhism. To bring the Buddha’s teachings to his people, Ashoka built stupas throughout his kingdom. He also introduced a system of writing, which had been absent in India since the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization. When the Mauryan dynasty came to an end in the second century B.C., India was once again divided into smaller kingdoms. However, Buddhism continued to spread, and with it the building of stone stupas and meeting halls. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

After Alexander went back to Babylon in 324 B.C., Chandragupta was able to overthrow the old Aryan kingdom of Nanda under the powerful Nanda king Magdha in 323 - 322 B.C. He formed a big new empire over all of northern India and into Afghanistan. When people asked him how he had done it, he said (according to Greek historians) that he got the idea from Alexander. Chandragupta conquered the Indus valley back from the Greeks and as part of the peace treaty he married the daughter of Seleucus, who had succeeded Alexander. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Extending from Afghanistan to Bengal to Mysore, the Mauryan Empire became the subcontinent's first centralized power and also its most extraordinarily well-administered one, guided as it was by the authoritarian State-craft philosophy of Chanakya's 'Arthashastra'. The State owned all the farms, forests, mines, and industries, maintained a standing army and efficient spy system, followed a fair if strict judicial policy and a free religious one, had trade and diplomatic relations with foreign powers like Egypt, Syria, Rome, Greece, and China, encouraged art and culture, and patronized the famous Universities of Taxila and Pataliputra. The citizens, in general, were prosperous and content, and remained so for the next 136 years. <>

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2020

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