Notable facts on Mahajanpada Period and The Earliest Mechanism of Kingdoms in the Indian Subcontinent

Updated August 8, 2022

Importance of Mahajanpada Period lies in the fact that, it witnessed the rule over a fully settled mass for the first time. The life had turned from semi nomadic to settled in the period. Also, it has the genesis of modern concept of republic and democracy. The period succeeding the birth of Gautama Buddha (624 BC) marks Mahajanapada age.

The major political units of in the Vedic Period (late bronze age and fully Iron Age) were the Janapadas. These units by the 6th century BC had evolved into the sixteen classical Mahajanapadas. There is though divergent opinions about the precise time period of Mahajanpadas but 600 BC – 345 BC is the most acceptable.

A Primer on Mahajanpada Period & The Life

The term “janapada” derives from janas “tribe” and pada “foot”. The word means both “realm, territory, country” and “subject population”. A janapadin is the ruler of a janapada. By the late seventh century BC, these gradually gave way to a dozen or more larger units (mahajanapada) with powerful armies and impressive capital cities.

The Mahajanapanda were the great realms. Around the edges of the sixteen Mahajanapanda lay a ring of tribes who still resisted being enfolded into any one of the sixteen mahajanapada. Instead of coalescing into larger realms, these tribes formed independent alliances, called gana-sanghas.

At this time life became organized at many populous centers, and the whole country, from east to west, comprised autonomous Janapada polities. The mahajana- pada was a large settled territorial unit capable of bearing taxes and various impositions.

Certain material conditions favored the rise of the mahajana-padas. The lynchpin of the janapada had been the ruling clan, after which it was named, and this in turn ensured some linguistic and cultural commonality. But the mahajanapada was also incorporating varied cultures.

India History Map (600 BC)- Most of the historical details about the Mahajanapadas are culled from Sanskrit literature. Buddhist and Jaina texts refer to the Mahajanapadas only incidentally. The list of sixteen great countries (solasa-maha janapada) to be found in the early Buddhist texts of the Ahguttara Nikaya and the Mahavastu. The Amguttara-Nikaya speaks by name of sixteen great tribal people’s territories.

10+ Most Crucial Points on Mahajanpada Period

1. Budhist Literature (Anguttara Nikaya, Mahavastu) and Jain Literature (Bhagavati Sutta) presents a list of 16 Mahajanpada with minor variations of names.

2. There were two types of states- monarchial & non-monarchial/ republican. Monarchial states- Anga, Magadh, Kashi, Kosala, Vatsa, Chedi, Shursena, Matsya, Avanti, Gandhara.

Republican States- Vajji, Malla, Kuru, Panchal, Kamboja, Shakya (Kapilvastu), Koliyas (Ramgrama), Moriya (Pipplivana).

Rise of Magadh         

3. The political history of India from 6th century BC onwards is the history of struggle between four states- Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa & Avanti- for supremacy.

4. Ultimately the kingdom of Magadha emerged to be the most powerful and succeeded in founding an empire.

Causes of Maghadha’s Success

5. Magadh enjoyed an advantageous geographical position in the age of iron, because the richest iron deposits were situated not far away from Rajgir, the earliest capital of Magadha and could be used for weapons.

6. Magadh lay at the centre of the middle Gangetic plain. The alluvium, once cleared of the jungles, proved immense fertile and food surplus was thus available.

7. Magadh enjoyed a special advantage in military organization. Although the Indian states were well acquainted with the use of horses and chariots, it was Magadh which first used elephants on large scale in its war against its neighbor.

Haryanaka Dynasty (544 BC- 412 BC)

8. Bimbisara was the founder of Haryanaka Dynasty and ruled between the period of 544 BC- 492 BC. He was also known as Shronika.

9. Magadha came into prominence under the leadership of Bimbisara.

10. He was contemporary of Gautam Budha.

11. Bimbisara was succeeded by his son Ajatashatru and ruled between the period of 492 BC- 460 BC. Ajatashatru killed his father and seized the throne.

12. Ajatashatru followed more aggressive policy. He gained complete control Kashi and broke the earlier amicable relations by attacking his maternal uncle Prasenjit, the king of Kosala.

13. Ajatashatru was succeeded by his son Udayin and ruled between the period of 460 BC- 440 BC

List of 16 Mahajanpadas & Their Respective Capitals

Sl. No.Mahajanpadas (Modern Area)Capital
1.Anga (district of Munger & Bhagalpur in Bihar)Champa/ Champanagri
2.Magadha (district of Patna, Gaya & parts of Shahabad in Bihar)Girivraj, Rajriha/ Rajgir (Bimbisar), Patliputra (Udayin), Vaishali (Shishunaga), Patliputra (Kalashok)
3.Vajji (North of the river Ganges in Bihar)Videha, Mithila, Vaishali
4.Malla (district of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur & Sidharthnagar in U. P.)Kuishinara & Pawa
5.Kashi (district of Varanasi in U.P.)Varanasi
6.Kosala (district of Faizabad, Gonda, Bahraich in U.P.)North Kosal-Saket/ Ayodhya South Kosal-Sravasti/ Sahet-Mahet
7.Vatsa (district of Allahabad, Mirzapur etc. in U.P.)Kausambi
8.Chedi (Bundelkhand area)Shaktimati / Sotthivati
9.Kuru (Haryana & Delhi area)Indraprashtha (modern Delhi)
10.Panchala (Ruhelkhand, western U.P.)North Panchal-Ahichhatra 

South Panchal-Kampilya

11.Shursena (Brfijmandal)Mathura
12.Matsya (Alwar, Bharatpur & Jaipur in Rajsthan)Viratnagar
13.Avanti (Malwa)North Avanti- Ujjaini 

South Avanti- Mahishmati 

14.Ashmaka (between the river Narmada & Godavari)Potana / Patali 
15.Gandhara (western part of Pakistan & Afganishtan)Taxila & Pushkavati
16.Kamboj (Hazara district of Pakistan)Rajapur / Hataka

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