Birth of Buddha, from out of his mother's side, near her armpit

Buddhism began with Gautama Siddhartha (563-480 B.C.), The Buddha. Regarded as both a real-life historical person and religious figure, he was the son of a rich Hindu raja from the Sayka clan and lived 500 years before Jesus Christ and was a contemporary of Confucius, Socrates and Plato.

The Buddha was born about 563 B.C., though the date is a matter of some dispute, in the town of Lumbini (in present-day Nepal near the Indian border). He was a Kshatriyas, the Hindu caste of nobles and warriors that traced its descent to the sun. Gautama was his family name, Siddhartha, his first name.

Guatama Siddhartha was a prince of Sakya, a kingdom in the fertile plains and foothills below the great Himalayas. He was brought up in luxury. During his youth he lived in three different palaces—one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season—where his father kept him entertained with beautiful dancing girls and musicians so that he would not be tempted to venture out into the world. Upon witnessing death, poverty and old age for the first time, Gautama was shocked that such suffering could exist in the world. Gautama renounced his rich upbringing and decided to become a monk. Before setting off on his quest "to win the deathless state" he looked in on his sleeping wife and child but failed to awaken them out of fear they would try to dissuade him.

The 29-year-old Gautama left loved ones and life of luxury behind, accompanied only his charioteer and horse. The choice to leave his family is known as the Great Renunciation or the Great Going Forth. It represented both his break from his family and his break from the world of pleasure and desire for a quest characterizes as "baffling episodes of mysticism” that were "interrupted by blinding flashes of common sense." Guatama tried Hinduism, the predominant religion at that time, and the Jain faith, but later abandoned these beliefs because their followers practiced sacrifices and rituals beyond the understanding of common people. He then became an ascetic.

During his period 40-year period as a monk and teacher Buddha wandered from place to place with a group of loyal followers. He became famous. Crowds showed up to see him. Sometimes he would sit and talk and then hit the road again. The Buddha covered much of northern India in what are now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states when he was an itinerant monk and a teacher after receiving enlightenment. During the rainy season, Buddha and his followers settled in one place and were dependent local people to provide them with food and shelter.

The Buddha established the Jetavana monastery near Savatthi, one of the largest cities in India in The Buddha’s time, and over the years spent he more and more time at there, supported by gifts from King Bimbisara, who provided support in return for the merit the king hoped such acts would give him.

The Buddha died in Kushinagar in Uttra Pradesh in northern India, lying on a bed under two trees. Buddha reportedly died after eating spoiled meat. His last words reportedly were, "All this decay. A Buddha can only point the way. Become a lamp unto yourself. Work out your salvation. Strive on diligently.” For The Buddha death was like the final fade out a movie. His human life was over. More rebirths were not required He therefore was finally free and could say goodbye to human bodies. He is said to have passed into “nirvana” seven days after his death.

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive ; Introduction to Buddhism ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA ; View on Buddhism ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism

Historical Sources from the Buddhist Era in India

In terms of addressing the history and life and government at the time of The Buddha lived, Buddhist and the Jain works are primarily devoted to the inculcation of religious ideas rather than the narration of political events. Occasionally, however, we obtain flashes of historical light from stories or anecdotes preserved in these books. It is thus incidentally that we learn of the sixteen great powers (solasa mahajanapadas), which must have existed in the seventh or the early sixth century B.C., as the list is given in the oldest Buddhist writings 1 and it does not exactly fit in with the conditions prevailing in the Buddha’s time. These states were at war, and one of the former, Kamsa, uniformly styled “Baranasiggaho” in Pali works, eventually succeeded in annexing the latter kingdom. At any rate, it is known beyond doubt that MahakoSala, father of Pasenadi, exercised complete sway over Kail. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Buddhist works naturally give us more details about the Sakyas, as the Buddha came of this stock. We are told that at the helm of the state was the President, who bore the title of Raja. It is uncertain whether he was drawn from one noble family only, and for what period he was elected. Thus, the Buddha’s father, Suddhodana, was a Raja, and we also hear of his cousin, Bhaddiya, holding this office. The business of the clan was carried on in the open assemblies in SantftSgaras or Mote-halls, where the young and the old, the rich and the poor alike were present. The Buddhist works give us a vivid idea of how deliberations were conducted in these assemblies, which were modelled on the religious SamghasJ We learn that there were regular meetings with proper seating arrangements made by a special officer called asanapahnapaka or asanaprajnapaka. Each meeting to be valid must have the requisite number of members present, but the chairman (Vinayadhara) was not counted for the purpose of the quorum. It was the duty of the whip (Ganapuraka) to complete the quorum by requisitioning the presence of members. The business began with the formal presentation (sthdpanam) of the motion (jhatti or jnapti), which was followed by a proclamation (amssdvanam). Discussion related to the motion only, and all cantankerous and irrelevant talk was avoided and checked. A resolution (pratijna) received one reading (J napti-dvitiya-kammd) and sometimes even three (jnapti-eatuttha-kammd). Silence of the members on the resolution was regarded as assent, but in case of disagreement they had recourse to various devices, like referring the matter to a committee, with a view to arriving at a unanimous decision. If no unanimity was possible, votes (chanda) were taken. Voting was by tickets (salaka), generally slips of wood, of various colours to indicate different views. The officer collecting votes was styled Salakagahapaka, who was expected to show no kind of prejudice, malice, or fear. Voting was perfectly free and unfettered, and the majority jview (ye-bhuyya sikatti) prevailed. A question, once decided, was not to be re-op^jed. Records of proceedings also appear to have been kept by clerks. The procedure was thus truly democratic, anticipating in many respects the working of modem popular assemblies.

The clan subsisted on the produce of the rice-fields, and the cattle grazed in the village common or the forests. The villages were grouped together, and persons following particular crafts generally lived at one place. For instance, potters, smiths, carpenters and even those following priestly avocations had their own settlements. On the whole, the Sakyas were a peaceful community, and cases of theft or other crimes were rare. Perhaps they also had, like the Koliyas, regular police officers, who were distinguished by a special headgear, and who were notorious for “extortion and violence.” When caught, the offenders were produced before a court of justice and carefully tried. The Vajjians, at any rate, had, as would appear from the Atthakatha or Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Maha parinibbana-Sutta, a very complicated judicial system; and punishments were awarded according to the Book of Precedents (Pavenu Potthaka), when the accused was uniformly adjudged guilty by a succession of officers, viz., Justices (Vi nkcaya Mahdmatas\ Lawyers (Vohdrikas), Doctors of Law (S fltra-dbaras), Council of Eight (. Aithakulakd), the General (Senapati), the Vice-Consul (Upa-raja), and the Consul (Raja). Each of these could, of course, let off the person charged, if considered innocent.

Steve Muhlberger wrote: “Brahmanical literature gives kingship a central place in political life, and seldom hints that anything else is possible. For moral philosophers and legislators such as Manu (reputed author of the Manu-Smrti between 200 B.C.-A.D. 200), the king was a key figure in a social order based on caste (varna ). Caste divided society into functional classes: the Brahmans had magical powers and priestly duties, the ksatriyas were the rulers and warriors, the vaisyas cultivators, and the sudras the lowest part of society, subservient to the other three. Moral law or dharma depended on the observance of these divisions, and the king was the guarantor of dharma , and in particular the privileges of the Brahmans. Another tradition is best exemplified by the Arthasastra of Kautilya (c. 300 B.C.), which alloted the king a more independent role but likewise emphasized his responsibility for peace, justice and stability Both Kautilya's work and the Manu-Smrti are considered classic expressions of ancient Indian political and social theory. A reader of these or other Brahmanical treatises finds it very easy to visualize ancient Indian society as one where "monarchy was the normal form of the state." [Source: “Democracy in Ancient India” by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University., World History of Democracy site]

Age of Buddha Was a Time of Change and Flux in India

The Buddha was born into a world of changing social structures and shifting religious ideals. There were sudden population increases, significant, increased urbanization, a rise of a monetary economy, and advancements in agricultural productivity as well as the development of urban commerce, a new and increasingly affluent middle class, and the beginnings of rational bureaucracy. and the founding of centralized kingdoms in place of traditional tribal and clan structures. [Source: A. S. Rosso,; Jones, C. B. New Catholic Encyclopedia,]

However, these advancements were offset by prolonged power struggles among states vying for territory and economic resources. These struggles led to the displacement and eradication of political minorities, as well as the erosion of traditional forms of community and religion. This situation provoked a profound spiritual malaise and intensified earlier innovative speculations about the meaning of the self and the world. The value of all worldly activities and life itself was questioned with unprecedented sharpness. [Source: Peter A. Pardue, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2000s,]

These changes and upheavals led many to question the traditional religious sacrifices of the Vedas and led to the first formulations of the doctrine of reincarnation and karma as found in the Upanishiads, and to the rise of many other new religious movements, of which Buddhism and Jainism are the only survivors. Many began to think for the first time about the fate of the individual after death. The advocates of these novel ideologies were itinerant ascetics who rejected the conventional structure of familial and societal bonds to pursue contemplation and philosophical discussion.

In this atmosphere ideas about absolute transcendence, personal salvation from bondage of existence and reincarnation took root. The concept of salvation was based on transmigrational metaphysic which involved the belief that the soul (atman) underwnt an endless cycle of rebirth (samsara), and in each life, the individual's physical form and status was determined by their ethical deeds (karma) in the previous life. Although there were agreements on basic theology there were also bitter sectarian disputes on the theoretical details. This conflict was heightened by disagreements over the caste system and the social and religious ideas that justified it.

Villages and Cities in the Time of Buddha

The Jatakas, the Pitakas, and other Pali works furnish interesting information on the economic condition of India at the time of the rise of Buddhism. As at present, the bulk of the people then lived in villages. The population of a village (grama) was concentrated within a relatively small area, as the dwellings (grihas) were all clustered together to ensure safety. Around the villages there were arable fields (gramaksetra), divided into plots by channels for water or marked by a common fence. The holdings were usually small, but larger ones were not altogether unknown. The village folk had common rights over the adjacent forest (vana or dava or daya) and the grazing grounds, where the cattle belonging to various householders were sent under the charge of a collectively hired herdsman (gopalaka). [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Very few cities (nagaras or nigamas) are mentioned in Buddhist literature. Of these, the most important were : Baranasi (Benares), Rajagaha (Rajagriha), KauSambI, Savatthi (SravastI), Vesali (Vais all), Campa, Taxila, Ayojjha or Ayodhya, Ujjeni (Ujjain), Mathura, etc. Imperial Pataliputra was yet to be founded. The towns were generally fortified, and the houses were built of wood and brick s The poor then, as now, lived in meagre dwellings, the rich in im- posing and sumptuous structures, well plastered and painted both inside and outside. In the cities the people enjoyed greater comforts and led a gayer life.

The rural economy was based on what may be called ‘peasant proprietorship’. But no owner could sell or mortgage his part of the land without the consent of the village council. He cultivated the fields himself, but often employed labourers or slaves for the purpose. There were no big estates or landlords. The king received the tithes and his share, varying from one-sixth to a twelfth, of the produce in kind through the headman ((gamabhojaka). The latter was an important person in the village. He carried on there the business of the government. At that time he was probably either a hereditary officer or was elected by the village council, which also helped him in maintaining local peace and security. The village residents were endowed with a sturdy civic spirit. They united of themselves in such undertakings as laying irrigation channels, building mote-halls, rest-houses, etc. The women extended their full co-operation in these works of public utility. On the whole, each village was selfsufficient, and life was simple and unsophisticated. There were few rich men and no paupers. Crime was rate, but people sometimes suffered greatly from famines occasioned by droughts or floods.

Economy of India in the Time of Buddha

The main industry of the people was, of course, agriculture. Besides, they had made considerable progress in such crafts as wood-work including cartmaking and ship-building, architecture, leather-dressing, pottery, garland-making, weaving, ivory-work, confectionery, jewellery, and work in precious metals. There were other occupations (hma-sippas), e.g., tanning, fishing, hunting, dancing, acting, snake -charming, rush-weaving, etc., to which was attached a social stigma. It was the general tendency of young men to follow their fathers’ callings, but exceptions are also recorded. For castes did not always determine crafts. Thus, we find a weaver turning an archer, Ksatriyas working in the fields, and Hindus taking to trade, carpentry, and even tending cattle. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942] The age of barter was almost drawing to a close. Now the ordinary medium of exchange or transactions was a coin called Kahapana (Karsdpana). It was of copper, 146 grains in weight, and marks were punched on it by merchants or guilds, guaranteeing its standard and fineness. Other coins referred to in Pali texts were Nikkba and Suvanm of gold. Smaller copper tokens are called Masaka and Kdkanikd. We also hear of instruments of credit and interest (yaddhi) paid on loans. Banks were then unknown, and surplus money was either converted into ornaments, or hoarded in jars and buried in the ground, or put in the custody of a friend and a written record was kept of it. Money-lending (Ina-dana) was, of course, regarded as a legitimate profession, but usury was strongly disfavoured.

Persons following the same profession normally organised themselves into guilds (drent), and often lived, or had their business centre, in one ward or street (yith'i) of the town. The Ja takas name at least eighteen such groups. Each bad a President (Pa/nukhd) or Aiderman (Jetthaka), whose position was one of great responsibility and honour. Sometimes, to ensure greater cohesion different vargas or guilds perhaps combined together under a common head.

In those days trade, both inland and foreign, was fairly brisk. Merchants made fortunes by dealing in articles like silks, muslins, cutlery, armour, brocades, embroideries, rugs, perfumes, drugs, ivory, ivorywork, jewellery, etc. They went long distances up and down the great rivers of the country, and even undertook coasting voyages to Burma and Ceylon from Tamralipti (Tamluk) on the east, and from Bharukaccha (Broach) on the west. There are also references to voyages as far as Baveru (Babylon). Inland, the traders followed certain well-established routes, connecting the various parts of India. One of them ran from Savatthi (SravastI) to Patitthana or Pratisthana (modern Paithan in the Nizam’s dominions); another linked Savatthi with Rajagaha; a third skirted along the base of the mountains from Taxila to SravastI; and a fourth connected Kasi with the ports of the western coast. In crossing the desert of Rajputana the caravans were guided in the cool of nights by stars under the direction of ‘land-pilots.’ Brigands infested these routes, especially the less frequented ones, and looted merchandise when they could safely do so. Such dangers, coupled with the taxes and octroi duties paid in each state that was crossed, must have raised the prices of commodities very high. These long routes had several intermediate halts, and there were ferries on the way for crossing rivers.

Republics and Democracy in Buddhist-Era India

worship of headdress, Sanchi 1st centuery BC

Steve Muhlberger wrote: research into the Buddhist Pali Canon during the nineteenth century confirmed this picture of widespread republicanism. The Pali Canon is the earliest version of the Buddhist scriptures, and reached its final form between 400-300 B.C. It contains the story of Buddha's life and teaching and his rules for monastic communities. The rules and teachings are presented in the form of anecdotes, explaining the circumstances that called forth the Buddha's authoritative pronouncement. Thus the Pali Canon provides us with many details of life in ancient India, and specifically of the sixth century (the Buddha's lifetime) in the northeast. In 1903, T.W. Rhys Davids, the leading Pali scholar, pointed out in his book Buddhist India that the Canon (and the Jatakas, a series of Buddhist legends set in the same period but composed much later) depicted a country in which there were many clans, dominating extensive and populous territories, who made their public decisions in assemblies, moots, or parliaments. [Source: “Democracy in Ancient India” by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University., World History of Democracy site]

“Though evidence for non-monarchical government goes back to the Vedas, republican polities were most common and vigorous in the Buddhist period, 600 B.C.-A.D. 200. At this time, India was in the throes of urbanization. The Pali Canon gives a picturesque description of the city of Vesali in the fifth century B.C. as possessing 7707 storied buildings, 7707 pinnacled buildings, 7707 parks and lotus ponds, and a multitude of people, including the famous courtesan Ambapali, whose beauty and artistic achievements contributed mightily to the city's prosperity and reputation. The cities of Kapilavatthu and Kusavati were likewise full of traffic and noise. Moving between these cities were great trading caravans of 500 or 1000 carts — figures that convey no precise measurement, but give a true feeling of scale: caravans that stopped for more than four months in a single place, as they often did because of the rainy season, were described as villages. Religion, too, was taking to the road. The hereditary Brahman who was also a householder, as in later Vedic tradition, saw his teachings, authority and perquisites threatened by wandering holy men and self-appointed teachers.

“There were warlord-kings who sought to control this fluid society, some with a measure of success. But the literature, Pali and Sanskrit, Buddhist and Brahmanical, shows that non-monarchical forms of government were omnipresent. There was a complex vocabulary to describe the different types of groups that ran their own affairs. Some of these were obviously warrior bands; others more peaceful groups with economic goals; some religious brotherhoods. Such an organization, of whatever type, could be designated, almost indifferently, as a gana or a sangha; and similar though less important bodies were labeled with the terms sreni, puga, or vrata. Gana and sangha, the most important of these terms, originally meant "multitude." By the sixth century B.C., these words meant both a self-governing multitude, in which decisions were made by the members working in common, and the style of government characteristic of such groups. In the case of the strongest of such groups, which acted as sovereign governments, the words are best translated as "republic."

“That there were many sovereign republics in India is easily demonstrated from a number of sources. Perhaps it is best to begin with the Greek evidence, even though it is not the earliest, simply because the Greek writers spoke in a political language that is familiar.

“Perhaps the most useful Greek account of India is Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander , which describes the Macedonian conqueror's campaigns in great detail. The Anabasis, which is derived from the eyewitness accounts of Alexander's companions, portrays him as meeting "free and independent" Indian communities at every turn. What "free and independent" meant is illustrated from the case of Nysa, a city on the border of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan that was ruled by a president named Aculphis and a council of 300. After surrendering to Alexander, Aculphis used the city's supposed connection with the god Dionysus to seek lenient terms from the king: “"The Nysaeans beseech thee, O king out of respect for Dionysus, to allow them to remain free and independent; for when Dionysus had subjugated the nation of the Indians...he founded this city from the soldiers who had become unfit for military service ...From that time we inhabit Nysa, a free city, and we ourselves are independent, conducting our government with constitutional order."

What Was Democracy Like in Ancient India

Steve Muhlberger wrote:“If we turn to the Indian sources, we find that there is nothing far-fetched about this idea. The most useful sources for mapping north India are three: The Pali Canon, which shows us northeastern India between the Himalayas and the Ganges in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.; the grammar of Panini, which discusses all of North India, with a focus on the northwest, during the fifth century; and Kautilya's Arthasastra, which is a product of the fourth century, roughly contemporaneous with Megasthenes. All three sources enable us to identify numerous sanghas and ganas, some very minor, others large and powerful. [Source: “Democracy in Ancient India” by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University., World History of Democracy site]

“What were these republican polities like? According to Panini, all the states and regions (janapadas ) of northern India during his time were based on the settlement or conquest of a given area by an identifiable warrior people who still dominated the political life of that area. Some of these peoples (in Panini's terms janapadins ) were subject to a king, who was at least in theory of their own blood and was perhaps dependent on their special support. Elsewhere, the janapadins ran their affairs in a republican manner. Thus in both kinds of state, the government was dominated by people classified as ksatriyas, or, as later ages would put it, members of the warrior caste.

“But in many states, perhaps most, political participation was restricted to a subset of all the ksatriyas . One needed to be not just a warrior, but a member of a specific royal clan, the rajanya. Evidence from a number of sources shows that the enfranchised members of many republics, including the Buddha's own Sakyas and the Licchavis with whom he was very familiar, considered themselves to be of royal descent, even brother-kings. The term raja, which in a monarchy certainly meant king, in a state with gana or sangha constitution could designate someone who held a share in sovereignty. In such places, it seems likely that political power was restricted to the heads of a restricted number of "royal families" (rajakulas) among the ruling clans. The heads of these families were consecrated as kings, and thereafter took part in deliberations of state.

States in Buddha-Era India

Ariga : It lay to the east of Magadha with Campa, near Bhagalpur, as its capital. Some of the Anga monarchs, like Brahmadatta, appear to have defeated their Magadhan contemporaries. Subsequently, however, Magadha emerged supreme. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Magadha : It comprised the modern districts of Patna and Gaya, and the capital was Girivraja. Among the notable pre-Buddhist rulers of Magadha were Brihadratha and his son Jarasandha.

Vaiji : It represented a powerful confederation of eight clans, and was called after one of them. The other prominent clans were the Licchavis, the Videhas, and the Jnatrikas. In Buddhist literature, the Vajjis, like the Licchavis, are often located at Vai6 all, which may accordingly be taken as the seat of the confederacy itself.

Malla : The territory of the Mallas was on the mountain slopes, probably to the north of the Vaijian confederation. They had two branches with their capitals at KuSinara and Pava. It is noteworthy that in Pre-Buddhist times the Mallas were a monarchy.

Ceti or Cedi : The land of the Cetis, identified with the Cedis of the older documents, lay near the Jumna, and roughly corresponded to modern Bundelkhand and adjacent tracts. Its metropolis was Suktimat! or Sotthivatl-nagara.

Vamsa or Vatsa : The country of the Vacchas was situated along the banks of the Jumna, to the northeast of Avanti, with its capital at KauSambl or KosambI (modern Kosam, about thirty miles from Allahabad). It was Nlcaksu who fixed ins residence here after the destruction of Hastinapura. To this Bharata dynasty belonged Parantapa, father of the Buddha’s contemporary Udena.

Kuru : The Kuru realm was in the neighbourhood of Delhi. Among its towns may be mentioned Indapatta (Indraprastha) and Hatthinlpura (Hastinapura). The Kurus had now lost their political importance.

Pancala : This region roughly corresponded to modern Rohilkhand and a portion of the Central Doab. It had two divisions. Northern and Southern, the Ganges forming the boundary line. Their capitals were Ahicchatra and Kampilya respectively. One of the early Pancala kings, Dummukha (Durmukha), is credited with conquests in all directions.

Maccha or Matsya : The Matsyas ruled to the west of the Jumna and south of the Kurus. Their capital was Virat-nagara (modern Bairat, Jaipur State).

Surasena : The Surasenas were masters of a kingdom, of which Mathura was the capital. It was here that the Yadava family played a great part.

Assaka : In the Buddha’s time the Assakas were settled on the Godavari with Potali or Potana as their chief town, but when the list was drawn up their territory appears to have been between Avanti and Mathura.

Avanti or Western Malwa : Its capital was Ujjain. The metropolis of its southern portion was Mihissati or Mahismati (modern Mandhata), where ruled the Haihayas in ancient times. Gandhara i.e., modern eastern Afghanistan: Its capital was TaksaSila (modern Taxila, Rawalpindi district). The kingdom perhaps also included Kashmir.

Kamboja : The Kambojas also held sway in the north-west, being usually associated with the Gandharas in epigraphic records and literature. We hear of Rajapura and Dvaraka as its important towns.

The list is curious in certain respects. It recognises Anga and Ka£! as still independent, and does not mention Orissa, Bengal, or any place south of Avanti.

Democratic, Autonomous Clans in Ancient India

We learn from works in Pali that at the time of the Buddha there were, besides monarchical states, a number of democratic or autonomous clans, some of little account, and others enjoying considerable power. Amongst such communities we learn of the following

1) The Sakyas of Kapilavatthu or Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s clan: They were settled on the border of Nepal. Their capital has been identified with the present Tilaura-kot. They traced their descent from Iksvaku of the Solar race. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

  1. The Bhaggas of Sumsumagiri : They were an ancient clan, being identical with the Bhargas of the Aitareja Brahmana. According to Dr. Jayasval, their seat of power was somewhere in or about the district of Mirzapur.

  2. The Bulis of Allakappa : Not much is known about them. They were located near the kingdom of Vethadlpa, presumably between modern Shahabad and Muzaffarpur.

  3. The Kalamas of Kesaputta : The location of their chief town is uncertain. Has it anything to do with the Kevins — a people mentioned with the Pancalas in the Satapatha Brahmana ? Alara, the great teacher of the Buddha, belonged to this tribe.

  4. The Koliyas of Ramagama : They were to the east of the Sakyas, and the river Rohini formed the dividing line between the two territories. Their relations were generally peaceful, but once the two clans came into conflict for the distribution of the waters of the Rohini.

  5. The Mallas of Pava, identified by Cunningham with Padrauna in the Gorakhpur district. Some, however, take Fazilpur to stand on the site of ancient Pava.

  6. The Mallas of Kusinara, corresponding to modern Kasia, where was discovered a small temple with a colossal statue of the Buddha in the Varinibbana (Varinirvana) posture.

  7. The Moriyas of Pipphalivana : The identification of the capital is doubtful. They are said to have been a branch of the Sakyas, and were so called because their place ever resounded with the cries of peacocks (mora).

  8. The Videhas of Mithila (present Janakapur just within the Nepalese border). It is noteworthy that Videha, once ruled by Janaka of Upanisadic fame, was no longer under a monarchical government.

  9. The Licchavis of VaiSali or modern Basarh in the Muzaffarpur district. They were an important people then. They were Ksatriyas, and as such got a share of the Buddha’s relics. They came into intimate contact with both Mahavira and the Buddha, and thus greatly profited by their exhortations and teachings. It is represented that the Licchavi oligarchy had a governing body comprising 7,707 Rajas. The Licchavis were noted for their full and frequent assemblies, and they carried on discussions in a spirit of confidence and concord.

Monarchical States in The Buddha’s Time

Kushinagar, where Buddha died, in the 5th century BC according to a 1st century BC frieze in Sanchi Stupa 1's Southern Gate

During the lifetime of the Buddha the most important development in the politics of the country was the rise of the four kingdoms of Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala, and Magadha. They were now ruled by vigorous personalities, who had launched a policy of aggrandisement and absorption of neighbouring states. It inevitably led to conflicts among these powers, and, as we shall presently see, they were ultimately welded into one mighty empire. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

I. The Vatsa kingdom : Its capital was Kausambi or Kosambi, identified with modern Kosam on the Jumna, to the south of Allahabad. The Buddha’s contemporary ruler of this land was Udena or Udayana, son of Satanika Parantapa, of the Bharata dynasty. Tradition has preserved many stories of Udena’s love adventures and wars. For instance, the Udenavatthu informs us how once, after being captured — perhaps in war — by Pajjota (Pradyota) of Avanti, Udena eloped by a clever ruse with his rival’s daughter, Vasuladatta or Vasavadatta, and married her in his capital. Similarly, other legends mention the daughter of Dhridhavarman, whom he restored to the throne of Anga, and Padmavati, sister of king DarSaka of Magadha, as Udena’s queens. Echoes of his digvijaya and victory in distant Kalinga, and enmity with a KoSala king come from later Sanskrit works like the Kathdsaritsagara and the PriyadarJikd. It is, no doubt, difficult to rely upon them implicitly, but that Udena was a powerful prince, who was at war with some of his contemporaries and formed matrimonial alliances with the ruling houses of Avanti, Magadha, and Anga, appears to be the substratum of truth.

We do not know whether his son, Bodhikumara, succeeded him. The Kathasaritsagara, at any rate, would have us believe that the kingdom of Kausambi was annexed to Avanti by Palaka, son of Pradyota. Lastly, it may be added that Kausambi became a centre of Buddhist activity from the time of the Buddha, who was himself often there. Udena was at first not favourably disposed towards the new teaching, but was subsequently much impressed by conversation with a celebrated Buddhist monk, named Pindola. II. Avanti : It was at this time ruled by Canda Pajjota (Pradyota), who had his capital at Ujjayinl. He had, as already noticed, matrimonial relations with Udena of KauSambI and perhaps also with the Surasena king of Mathura, called Avantiputto. Pajjota was a man of cruel disposition and inordinate ambition. According to the Pur anas, he had the “neighbouring kings subject to him.” We have referred above to his clash with Uclena, and his power apparently grew to such an extent that even Ajatatru had at one time to fortify his capital in expectation of an attack by Pajjota (Pradyota). His successors were weaklings, about whom history has not condescended to record anything of note. Of course, one of them, Palaka, appears to have annexed KosambI to his realm. He was overthrown by Ajjaka or Aryaka, son of Gopala, who did not ascend the throne in favour of his brother Palaka. The Purdnas, on the other hand, insert one ViSakhayupa between the two. Then followed Avantivardhana. Avanti was another important centre of Buddhism. It was the home of several ardent adherents of the Buddha, like Mahakaccana, Sona, Abhaya Kumara, etc. Indeed, Dr. Rhys Davids suggests that Buddhism, bom in Magadha, received its garb in Avanti, i.e., the Pali canon was composed in the form of speech then current there.

III. Kosala : The rise of Kosala in the very centre of Northern India was an important feature in the political situation of the sixth century B.C. Already during the time of Kamsa, who was one of the predecessors of Pasenadi (Prascnajit), the Buddha's Kosalan contemporary, the long-drawn struggle between this kingdom and Kasi had ended in the absorption of the latter. There are also references in Pali literature indicating that the Sakyas had accepted the hegemony of Kosala, and Pasenadi is often described as “the head of a group of five Rajas.” Besides, his sister’s marriage with Bimbisara, king of Magadha, must have further secured his position. But this very matrimonial alliance eventually became the cause of discord and conflict. For, as we shall see below, when Bimbisara was starved to death by his son Ajatasatru, the former’s wife, Kosaladevl, died of grief. Pasenadi then confiscated the township of KasI, which had been conferred on her as pin-money (nahana-cunnamula). This led to war between Kosala and Magadha, and it went on for some time with unvarying relentlessness but with varying fortunes. At last, a treaty was drawn up, and Pasenadi gave to Ajatasatru the hand of his daughter, Vajira, and also the revenues of the township of Ka&i in dispute.

IV. Magadha : The land of Magadha, regarded with aversion in Vedic literature, first owed its political importance to the dynasty founded by Brihadratha. His son, Jarasandha, who is the hero of many extravagant legends, appears to have been a powerful king. This line came to an end in the sixth century B.C., for when the Buddha lived and preached, Magadha was ruled by Bimbisara of the Haryahka-kula. He was the son of a petty chieftain, Bhattiya, and was also known as Seniya or Srenika. At first, he held his court at Girivraja, but later another capital, aptly called Rajagriha, arose around his new palace.

Image Sources:

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 January 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.