Mahajanpada and Magadh Empire

There were sixteen of these Mahajanapadas: Kasi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Machcha, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kamboja. After the Mahajanpada, the Magadha Empire encompassed the rule of three dynasties over time: the Haryanka Dynasty, the Shishunaga Dynasty, and the Nanda Dynasty. The timeline of the Magadha Empire is estimated to be from 684 BCE to 320 BCE.


The widespread use of iron tools and the growth of the agricultural economy led to the formation of larger territorial states in the Gangetic plains. People owed strong allegiance to Janapada or territory. These states are mentioned in Buddhist and Jain literature. These were both Monarchical and Republican states.

Mahajanapadas and Magadha Empire
  • Magadha (Patna, Gaya, and Nalanda districts) – The first capital was Girivraj, Rajagriha and the later capital was Pataliputra.
  • Anga and Vanga (Munger and Bhagalpur) – The capital was Champa. It was a prosperous business center.
  • Malla (Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur region) – The capital was Kushinara and Pava. It was the seat of many other smaller kingdoms. Their main religion was Buddhism.
  • Vatsa (Allahabad and Mirzapur) – The capital was Kaushambi. The most important ruler of this kingdom was King Udayan.
  • Kashi (Benaras) – The capital was Varanasi. Though many battles were fought against the Kosala kingdom, eventually Kashi was merged with the Kosala kingdom.
  • Kosala (Ayodhya) – Though its capital was Shravasti which is identical to Sahet-Mahet but Ayodhya was an important town in Kosala. Kosala also included the tribal Republican territory of Sakyas of Kapilvastu.
  • Vajji (Muzaffarpur and Vaishali) – Vajji was the seat of a united republic of eight smaller kingdoms of which Lichchavis, Janatriks, and Videhas were also members.
  • Kuru (Thaneswar, Meerut, and present-day Delhi) – The capital city was Indraprastha.
  • Panchala (Western Uttar Pradesh) – The capital of North Panchala was Ahichhatra & South Panchala was Kampilya. Earlier a monarch state, it later became an independent republic. Kannauj was an important town in this kingdom.
  • Matsya Kingdom (Alwar, Bharatpur, and Jaipur) – Its capital was Viratanagar.
  • Ashmaka (Between Narmada and Godavari) – Its capital was at Patali/Potana and Brahamdatta was its most important ruler.
  • Gandhara (Peshawar and Rawalpindi) – Its capital Taxila was important as a trade and education center (Ancient Taxila University) during the later Vedic age.
  • Kamboj (Hazara dist. of Pakistan, North-east Kashmir) – Its capital was Rajapur. Hazara was an important trade and commerce center of this kingdom.
  • Avanti (Malwa) – Avanti was divided into two parts, north, and south. The northern part had its capital at Ujjayini and the southern part had its capital at Mahismati.
  • Chedi (Bundelkhand) – Shaktimati was the capital of Chedi. The Chedi Kingdom was spread between Yamuna and Narmada rivers. One of the families from this kingdom later merged into the Kalinga Kingdom from this royal family.
  • Shurasena (Brajmandal) – Its capital was Mathura and its most famous ruler was Avantiputra.

Sources of Sixteen Mahajanapadas

  • Anguttara Nikaya, Mahavastu (Buddhist Literature)
  • Bhagavati Sutta (Jain Literature)

Rise of the Magadha Empire Dynasties

Bimbisara followed the policy of Conquest and aggression and annexed various kingdoms to the Magadha empire. He also strengthened his position through marriage alliances. Rajgir was surrounded by hills and stone walls constructed to make it impregnable. The rich iron deposits led to the making of weapons, the clearing of forests, and the development of the agricultural economy. Elephants were also used on a large scale in their war against their neighbors.

Rise of the Magadha Empire Dynasties

Haryanka Dynasty

Bimbisara (544 B.C.- 492 B.C.)

  1. He was the founder of the Haryanka Dynasty. He was also called Seniya and was the first Indian king to have a regular and standing army.
  2. Bimbisara was a contemporary of Buddha.
  3. He married the Princess of Kosala- Kosaldevi/ Mahakosala (Sister of Kosala King Prasenjit) and gained a part of Kashi as a dowry.
  4. He sent a royal Physician Jivaka to Ujjain when Avanti King Pradyota was suffering from jaundice.
  5. Also known as Sreniya.
  6. Was the first king to have a standing army. Magadha came into prominence under his leadership.
  7. He had a rivalry with Avanti king Pradyota, but later became friends and Bimbsara even sent his royal physician Jivaka to Ujjain, when Pradyota had jaundice.
  8. He started the practice of using matrimonial alliances to strengthen his political position.
  9. He had three wives: Kosaladevi (King of Kosala’s daughter and the sister of Prasenjit), Chellana (daughter of the Lichchavi chief of Vaisali), and Khema (daughter of the king of Madra, Punjab).
  10. He followed a policy of conquest and expansion. The most notable conquest by Bimbisara was that of Anga.
  11. He had an effective and excellent administrative system. The officers occupying high posts were divided into three – executive, military and judicial.

Ajatashatru (492 B.C.- 460 B.C.)

  1. He followed a more aggressive policy. He killed his father Bimbisara. Gained control of Kashi and Vajji. Built the fort of Rajgir.
  2. Son of Bimbisara and Chellana.
  3. He convened the 1st Buddhist council.
  4. Won wars against Kosala and Vaishali.
  5. Ajatashatru waged a war against Vaishali despite the fact that his mother was a Lichchhavi princess. It took him 16 long years to destroy Vaishali and add it to his empire.
  6. He used a war engine to throw stones like catapults. He also possessed chariots to which maces were attached which facilitated mass killings.
  7. The ruler of Avanti tried to invade Magadha and to thwart this danger Ajatashatru began the fortification of Rajgriha. However, the invasion did not materialize during his lifetime.

Udayin (460 B.C. – 440 B.C.)

  1. He laid the foundation of Pataliputra and shifted the capital from Rajgir to Pataliputra.
  2. Son of Ajatasatru.
  3. Udayin’s reign is important because he built the fort upon the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Son at Pataliputra. This was done because Patna lay in the center of the Magadha Kingdom, which now extended from the Himalayas in the north to the hills of the Chotanagpur in the south.
  4. He was killed at the behest of Palaka, the king of Avanti.
  5. Succeeded by three kings – Aniruddha, Manda, and Nagadasaka.

Naga-Dasak was the last ruler of the Haryanka Dynasty.

Shishunaga Dynasty (412 B.C.- 344 B.C.)

  • People elected Shishunga over Nagadasaka (the last Haryanka ruler) thereby ending the Haryanka dynasty.
  • The most important achievement of Shishunaga was the destruction of the Pradyota dynasty of Avanti.
  • Shishunga was succeeded by Kalashoka who convened the 2nd Buddhist council in Vaishali (383 B.C.).
  • Mahanandin was the last king of the Shishunaga Dynasty.


  • Son of Sisunaga. Also known as Kakavarna.
  • Kalasoka shifted the capital to Pataliputra.
  • He conducted the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali.
  • He was killed in a palace revolution that brought the Nanda dynasty to the throne.

Nanda Dynasty (344 B.C. – 323 B.C.)

Mahapadma Nanda was the founder and the first king of the Nanda dynasty. He overthrew the Magadha dynasty and established the new Empire. He was known as Sarvakshatrantak and Ugrasena. Mahapadma was known as Ekrat – the sole monarch. Initially, the Nanda Dynasty inherited a large kingdom of Magadha and subsequently, the boundaries of the Nanda Dynasty were expanded in all directions by its rulers. Dhana Nanda was the last ruler of the Nanda Dynasty. During his rule, Alexander invaded North-West India by 326 B.C. In 322-21 B.C., Chandragupta Maurya founded the Mauryan dynasty.

Mahapadma Nanda

  • He is called the “first historical emperor of India.” (Chandragupta Maurya is the First Emperor of India)
  • He murdered Kalasoka to become the king.
  • His origins are not clear. As per the Puranas, he was the son of the last Sisunaga king from a Sudra woman. As per some Jain texts and Greek writer Curtius, he was the son of a barber and a courtesan.
  • Thus, the Nandas were considered adharmika (those who don’t follow the norms of Dharma). Buddhist texts describe the Nandas as belonging to annatakula (unknown lineage).
  • His reign lasted for twenty-eight years.
  • He is also called “Sarva Kashtriyantaka” (destroyer of all the Kshatriyas) and “Ekrat” (sole sovereign who destroyed all other ruling princes).
  • The empire grew under his reign. It ran from the Kuru country in the north to the Godavari Valley in the south and from Magadha in the east to Narmada in the west.
  • He conquered many kingdoms.
  • He added Kalinga to Magadha and brought an image of Jina as a victory trophy.
  • He also acquired Kosala which had probably rebelled against him.
  • Also called Ugrasena in Pali texts because of his large army. The Nandas were fabulously rich and enormously powerful.
  • They maintained 200,000 infantry, 60,000 cavalry, and 6000 war elephants. Such a huge army could be maintained only through an effective taxation system.

Dhana Nanda

  • He was the last Nanda ruler.
  • He is referred to as Agrammes or Xandrames in Greek texts.
  • Alexander invaded North-Western India during his reign, but he could not proceed toward the Gangetic plains because of his army’s refusal.
  • Dhana Nanda inherited a huge empire from his father. He possessed a standing army of 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalries, 3000 elephants, and 2000 chariots. He became a powerful ruler because of this.
  • He is said to be one of the 8 or 9 sons of Mahapadma Nanda.
  • He is credited with the invention of Nandopakramani (a particular measure).
  • He became unpopular with his subjects owing to an oppressive way of extorting taxes. Also, his Sudra origins and anti-Kshatriya policy led to a large number of enemies.
  • Finally, he was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya along with Chanakya, who took advantage of the public resentment and established the Maurya Empire in Magadha.

Causes for the rise of the Magadha Empire

Geographical factors

  • Magadha was located in the upper and lower parts of the Gangetic valley.
  • It was located on the mainland route between west and east India.
  • The area had fertile soil. It also received enough rainfall.
  • Magadha was encircled by rivers on three sides, the Ganga, Son, and Champa making the region impregnable to enemies.
  • Both Rajgir and Pataliputra were located in strategic positions.

Economic factors

  • Magadha had huge copper and iron deposits.
  • Because of its location, it could easily control trade.
  • Had a large population that could be used for agriculture, mining, building cities, and in the army.
  • The general prosperity of the people and the rulers.
  • The mastery over Ganga meant economic hegemony. Ganga was important for trade in North India.
  • With the annexation of Anga by Bimbisara, the river Champa was added to the Magadha Empire. Champa was important in the trade with South-East Asia, Sri Lanka, and South India.

Cultural factors

  • Magadhan society had an unorthodox character.
  • It had a good mix of Aryan and non-Aryan peoples.
  • The emergence of Jainism and Buddhism led to a revolution in terms of philosophy and thought. They enhanced liberal traditions.
  • Society was not so much dominated by the Brahmanas and many kings of Magadha were ‘low’ in origins.

Political factors

  • Magadha was lucky to have many powerful and ambitious rulers.
  • They had strong standing armies.
  • The availability of iron enabled them to develop advanced weaponry.
  • They were also the first kings to use elephants in the army.
  • The major kings also developed a good administrative system.


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