Mahajanapada-The sixteen great Ancient Kingdom

Mahajanapada-The sixteen great Ancient Kingdom

What is Mahajanapada?

Mahajanapada is a Sanskrit word, it literally means “Great Kingdoms”.
maha = Great
janapada = foothold for tribe, country
The word jana points to the early stage of land taking by the people for settled way of life. Prior to the times of Buddha and Mahavira settlement of the people completed its final stage. Time period during the 6th-5th century BCE is considered as the major turning point in Indian History as it saw the emergence of India’s first large kingdoms after the demise of the Indus Valley Civilization. Buddhist text like the Anguttara Nikaya frequently mentioned the sixteen great kingdoms and republics flourished in India.

How did Mahajanapada came in to exist?

Around sixth century BC, people started to use iron for making weapons and agriculture tools. With the development of new agriculture tools, farming was became more convenient and the rate of produce was increased. Eventually quantity of produce became higher than the consummation. Princes started to use these extra produce to maintain their army and remaining also distributed back to the people. so instead of wondering for foods people started to stabilized in one place and then group of such people form janapadas.

Eventually janapadas had gone through evolution, leading by the political bodies for land-grabbing process. this gave birth to many kingdoms, these small kingdoms eventually formed Mahajanapads.


Sixteen Mahajanapada

Buddhist texts mentioned 16 Mahajanapads of that time.

Beginning from east,

  1. Anga Capital – Champa

    Anga is situated at the bank of river Champa which covered the modern districts of Monghyr and Bhagalpur.
    Anga belived to be the oldest of all mahajanapads, Atharveda first mentioned the name Agna. According to the Ramayana this is the place where Lord Shiva burnt the kamadeva. In Mahabharata, Duryodhana gifted Anga to his friend Karna. Anga was eventually swallowed by Magadha. Currently It was covering parts of Bengal and modern central Bihar state.

  2. Magadha Capital – Pataliputra

    Magadha eventually grew to the most powerful kingdom. On its greatest extent under King Ashoka, it covered most of all subcontinent of India, South Asia and beyond stretching from present day Afghanistan, parts of Persia in the west to Bengal and Assam in east and Mysore in south. It had its first capital at Rajgir and later shifted to Pataliputra. Magadha was ruled by may powerful dynasties ever known in Indian history. For many centuries it was remained the center for large kingdoms and culture heritage. Many Ggeat kings like Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Samudragupta and Vikramaditya (Chandragupta – II ) were ruled from Magadha. It was the born place of Jainism and Buddhism. Currently It was covering west-central Bihar state.

  3. Vajji Capital- Vaishali

    Vajji was the repulic state and ruled by 8 smaller clans from which the Vajjis, the Licchavis, the Jñatrikas and the Videhas were the most important. Vajji was situated at North of the Ganges, in Tirhut division. Around 600 BCE Lichhavis were followers of Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. Both Mahavira and Gautama Buddha were visited Vaishali several times.

  4. Kashi Capital- Varanasi

    Kashi was situated at the bank of Ganges, currently area around Varanasi. Before the time of Buddha, Kashi was most powerful state among all mahajanapads, Many jataka tales of Buddhism talks about its prosperity and opulence. But eventually it succumbed to the power of Kosala and then annexed in to Magadha by Ajatashatru. It considered as the holiest city among the all seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism. According to the Hindu mythology this city was founded by Lord Shiva.

  5. Kosala Capital- Shravsti

    Kosala was located at the area occupied by eastern UP. Kosala had an important city called Ayodhya, related to the story of Ramayana. Kosala also included the tribal republican territory of the Shakyas of Kapilavastu. Gautam Buddha was born in Shakya clan and raised in Kapilavastu. During the 6th and 5th century BCE Kosala was on its peak in terms of power and culture. But it was weaken after the series of wars with neighboring state Magadha and In the 5th century BCE it was finally annexed by it.

  6. Malla Capital- Khushinara, Pawa

    Malla was the republic of 9 states. Its territories touches the northern border of the Vajji. One of its capital was at Kushinara and other at pawa, Both are very important places for Buddhism and Jainism. As Buddha took his final meal at Pawa and fallen ill then breathed his last at Kushinara. And the Jain founder Mahavira died at Pawa.

  7. Vastas Capital- Kaushambi

    Vastas was located near the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna river. It was the area around the modern city Allahabad. Vastas was ruled by Kuru clan who had shifted from Hastinapur.

  8. Kuru and Panchala

    Both were very important states during the Vedic period, but during and after the time of Buddha they lost their political significance . During Vedic period Kingdom of Kuru included modern-day states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand and the western part of Uttar Pradesh. Panchala kingdom located between the upper Himalayas and the river Ganges. It roughly corresponded to modern Budaun, Farrukhabad and the adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh.

  9. Avanti Capital- Ujjain

    Modern Malwa, Nimar and adjoining parts of the Madhya Pradesh lay the state of Avanti. Avanti was divided in two part, Northern part had its capital at Ujjain and Sothern part had it capital in Mahishamati. Both were very important parts of Avanti, but later Maheshamati swallowed by Ujjain and Avanti was took over by Magadha Empire.

  10. Gandhara Capital- Taxila

    Gandhara was situated in modern-day northern Pakistan, in the Peshawar valley and Potohar plateau, and extending to Jalalabad district of modern-day Afghanistan. Gandhara was located on the grand northern high road (Uttarapatha) and was a center of international commercial activities. Its capital Taxila was famous for having world’s first university and attracted students from all over the world. Gandhara was also a central location for the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and East Asia.

  11. Kamboja Capital- Rajpur

    It was the far north west region located in central Asia in the Pamir area which largely covered modern Tajikistan. Kamboja is frequently mentioned in Ashoka’s incriptions.

  12. Chedi Capital- Suktimati

    Chedi was resided near the Bundelkhand division of Madhya Pradesh. Chedi was ancient kingdom, it was mentioned in Rigveda. At the time of Mahabharata it was ruled by Shishupala.

  13. Matsya Capital- Viratanagara

    Current Jaipur, Alwar with portions of Bharatpur was covered by ancient Matsya kingdom. It was south of the Kuru kingdom and west of the Yamuna river.

  14. Surasena Capital- Mathura

    Surasena was located at southwest of the Mastya and west of the Yamuna river. Surasena had a great religious important, as Hindu Lord Krishna born, raised and ruled here. After Buddha Surasena eventually annexed by Magadha.

  15. Assaka Capital – Potana/Potali

    Among all of 16 kingdoms Assaka was the only one who located at the south of the Vindhya, around and between the bank of Godavari.

From 6th century BC onwards, Indian history is all about struggle between these all 16 Mahajanapadas, Eventually Magadha became most powerful and founded Empire.

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