The Great Magadha Empire From Vedic period to Modern time
Magadha had played very important role in Indian History, For many centuries it was the center of many large kingdoms, empires and culture heritage. It is the birthplace of Jainism and Buddhism. Magadha was located in north-eastern India, which is now west-central Bihar state.
Magadha’s root were found from the Atharvaveda, but at that time it was not the place liked by Aryans.
Magadha was mentioned in Ramayana as a place inhabited by opulent(Samruddhajanasevith – rich peoples). It was very fertile place richly filled with corns.
- 1 Magadha at the time of Mahabharata
- 2 Magadha during the time of Bimbisara to Dhana Nanda
- 3 Rise of the Maurya Empire
- 4 Post Mauryan time in Magadha
- 5 Golden time of Magadha
- 6 Power Struggle between Later Guptas and Maukhariys
- 7 Rise of the Pala Dynasty
- 8 Darkest Time in Magadha
- 9 Mughal rule to Modern Time
Magadha at the time of Mahabharata
Brihadratha was the earliest known dynasty who ruled Magadha. King Brihadratha or Maharatha was the founder of the dynasty and the first king who ruled Magadha. According to the Mahabharata and other Puranas he is the eldest son of Vasu (the kuru king of Chedi).
In the time of Mahabharata Magadha was ruled by Jarasandha son of Brihadratha . At that time it was considered very strong country and controlling the entire eastern part through alliances with its capital at Girivraj. Jarasandha was killed by Pandava Bheem in wrestling match. After that Sahadeva, son of Jarasandha succeeded the throne and later died in Kurukshetra War, fighting from the side of the Pandavas.
After the Kurukshetra war, the power of Magadha diminished but it was still continued to be an important kingdom and was counted among the 16 Mahajanpadas. According to the Vayu Purana, Jarasandha’s descendants ruled Magadha for 1000 years and After that Pradyota dynasty ruled for 138 years, however no significance evidence exists to prove this. The recent researches suggest that Pradyota dynasty never ruled from the Magadha, it was the ruling dynasty of neighbor Avanti. King Bimbisara or his father had established Haryanka (around 544 BCE) dynasty immediately after the last king of the Brihadratha dynasty.
Magadha during the time of Bimbisara to Dhana Nanda
Haryanka dynasty flourished under the rule of King Bimbisara. He expanded his empire with conquests and through matrimonial alliances. Bimbisara made Rajagriha (Girivraj) as his capital. In this time Gautam Buddha came to Magadha and attained enlightenment at Bodhgaya. Ajatashatru(son of king Bimbisara) took a throne around 491 BCE. His greatest success was, victory of the Licchavis after 16 years of war. In his time Magadha covered almost all of modern Bihar, Chandigarh , Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, One fourth Madhya Pradesh, tip of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. To strengthen the defenses of Magadha he bulit a fort near banks of Ganges river and named it Pataliputra. Eventually his Successor Udayin shifted capital from Rajgriha to Pataliputra.
There is nothing noticeable happened after that and Haryanka Dynasty was followed by Shihunaga dynasty around 413 BCE. Shishunaga(Previously minister of Haryanka Dynasty) was the founder of the dynasty and he made Vaishali a second capital of Magadha. Shishunaga Dynasty followed by Nanda Dynasty around 345 BCE. Founder of the dynasty was Mahapadma Nanda. He reconquered all the lands of Mahadha, which was lost by successors of Ajatashatru. When Alexander invaded India, Dhana Nanda (Son of Mahapadma Nanada) was ruling Magadha. At that time Magadha was very powerful state. Magadha’s army consisted of 20,000 calvary, 200,000 infantry, 2000 chariots and 3000 elephants.
Hearing about such a huge and strong army, Alexander’s soldiers had refused to fight and returned. Magadha was at greatest extent at the time of Dhana Nanda, extended from Bengal in the east, to Punjab in the West and as far south as the Vindhya Range.
Rise of the Maurya Empire
Nanda dynasty was over throne by Chandragupta Maurya around 322 BCE. He built strong and powerful army and started to conquer kingdoms in north and south. By the time he completed conquest, Magadha empire extended over most of the Indian subcontinent. This was the first time in the history of India that so many kingdoms came under the same royal umbrella. At the time of Chandragupta Mauryan Empire extended from Bangladesh to Afghanistan, and incorporate most of the Indian subcontinent except south most region(Now Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Nearby) and Kalinga(now Odisha). Chandragupta built such a vast empire ever known in history and maintained it with very professional administrative skills with the help of his Guru Chanakya. Bindusara inherited his father’s throne. He didn’t rest and continued his father’s conquest and annexed 16 states between Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea except Kaling.
After Bindusara, his son Ashoka came to the throne. In the world history many kingdoms made by the swords but kingdom of Ashoka was built by the peace. Ashoka conquered the Kalinga, but in that bloody conquest he changed thoroughly and became the lay discipline of Buddhism. He played very important role in spreading Buddhism throughout the enlarged Maurya empire and into neighboring lands such as Central Asia, beyond the Mauryas’ northwest border, China and to the island of Sri Lanka south of India.
Mauryan time was the most peaceful time of the Magadhan history. There wasn’t any war between kingdoms, so people were more concentrated on trade and commerce. At this time first time mining of Iron started and using iron many new tools and weapons were developed. Art and architecture were at their peak, Ashokan pillars are great examples of that. Maurya Dynasty gave India three consecutive great Kings ever known in history, they all completed remarkable tasks and made India Shine forever.
Post Mauryan time in Magadha
After Ashoka there were not any significant ruler and Magadha lost his glory and started to shrink. Pushyamitra Shunga revolted against the last Maurya king and founded Shunga dynasty. By the time when Pushyamitra sized throne, Magadha left only fraction of its original size, reduced only to three states Pataliputra, Ayodhya, Vidisha and some parts of Punjab.
Shunga Dynasty also faced the internal revolt and replaced by the Kanva dynasty. At the same time Satvahana Dynasty rose in south. They started to attack Magadha. The Second king of the Kanva dynasty was Bhumimitra , who fought many wars against Satavahanas. After that Satvahana got busy with their internal problems and stopped attacking Magadha. Kanva rulers after Bhumimitra, ruled peacefully. Around 30 BCE Satavahana again attacked Magadha, this time they defeated last Kanva king Susharman and annexed their kingdom. Even Though Satavahana conquered Magadha,but it is not possible to assign them in the history of the Magadha, because the Satavahanas was originally ruling dynasty from Deccan.
Here arose a two important questions.
Did they rule from Pataliputra for some time? Or
Did the political center of gravity shifted to Paithan, leaving northern India to its fate at hands of Sakas and Khusanas?
These questions cannot be satisfactory answered.
Golden time of Magadha
Magadha rose again in the Indian map with rise of the Guptas around 240 CE. Shri Gupta was the founder of the dynasty. Their original home was believed to be near Bengal. Some believes that they first concentrated in the region of Magadha and from there they extended their sway to Bengal. Whereas, others believes that from their original homeland in Bengal, they extended their empire to Magadha.
Gupta Empire came to known by grandson of SriGupta, Chandragupta -1. He started to expand the kingdom with conquests and matrimonial alliances. His empire included Prayaga(Modern Allahabad) and Saketa (Ayodhya), he also defeated the Magha kings of Kaushambi and Kosala and annexed them in to Gupta empire. With giving solid roots to the Gupta Empire he passed throne to his son Samudragupta. Samudragupta didn’t rest after getting large empire, he proved himself as great conqueror and expanded Gupta empire from Himalaya in the north to the river Nalanda in the south and from Brahmaputra in the east to the Yamuna river in the west. His greatest achievement was political unification of most of India into formidable Power. Although he conquered many provinces he still maintained the peace and amity among his people. During his rule, art and culture flourished and it is believed that he put roots for golden age of India.
After 40 years of peaceful ruling throne passed to his son Chandragupta-2. He also continue to expand kingdom with conquests and matrimonial alliances. After defeating Saka rulers he annexed Gujarat and Saurastra. He had also exercised indirect rule over the Vaktaka Kingdom. After winning Malwa, he made Ujjain his second capital. But Pataliputra was continue of being primary center for power. Chandragupta-II controlled vast empire from mouth of the Ganges to the mouth of Indus and noe what is north Pakistan down to the mouth of Narmada. Kumaragupta – I succeeded his father Chandragupta-II. He didn’t expand kingdom further but kept the vast empire intact. After that there were no significant Gupta rulers, and Empire started to decline.
Around 480 CE, Alcon Huns under Toramana and Mihirakula broke through the Gupta defenses in the North West and much of the empire was overrun by Huns during 500 CE. Gupta empire further weaken was undermined by the rise of the feudatories. The governors appointed by the Gupta kings in north Bengal and their feudatories in Samatata or south-east Bengal tended to declare themselves independent. The later Guptas of Magadha(They are totally different clan and no way related to imperial guptas) established their power in Bihar. Alongside them, the Maukharis rose to power in Bihar and UP and had their capital at Kanauj. It seems that by AD 550 Bihar and UP had passed out of Gupta’s hands and with that Gupta rules came to end. Time of the Gupta dynasty consider as the Golden age of India.
Power Struggle between Later Guptas and Maukhariys
Initially later guptas and maukhariys related through marriage, but later they develop rivalry. Kumaragupta(4th king of the Later Gupta Dynasty) defeated the Maukhari king Ishanaverman in 554 CE and laid foundation of the greatness of the family. Struggle continues and Damodaragupta, son of Kumaragupta achieved great victory over the Maukharies. Mahasenagupta (son of Damodaragupta) was under simultaneous attacks by Maukharis, the king of Kamrupa, Chalukya king Kirtiverman and Srong tsan, the king of Tibet. After these losses Mahasenagupta fled away and took a shelter in Malwa. Afterwards, Pushybhuti king Harshavardhana restored the Later guptas in Magadha and they ruled as Harsha’s vassals.
After the death of Harshavardhana, Later Gupta ruler Adityasena became the sovereign ruler of large kingdom extending from the Ganges in the north to Chhotanagpur in south and from Gomati Tiver in the west to Bay of Bengal in west. However he was defeated by Chalukyas. After the death of Harshvardhana, Later Guptas tried to retrieve the lost position of Magadha.
Yashoverman(He became king century after the death of Harshvardhana) of Kannuj severely defeated king of Magadha Jivigupta-II(Last known ruler of the Later Gupta Dynasty), makes the ultimate failure of Magadha to continue to hold the palm of the history of India. The center of gravity again shifted to Kaanuj. And with that the era of Magadha was over. After the end of the Later Gupta dynasty the history of Magadha became rickety. It losses much of its dynamism and becomes an appendage to the other powers. Now onwards our information about the political history are not full and find Magadha now not a hunter but prey to others ambitions.
Rise of the Pala Dynasty
Yashoverman’s campaign followed by the invasion of Lalitaditya – most powerful ruler of the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir. The eastern provinces – Magadha, Gauda and Vanga were soon after subjected to devastating raids by other strong powers. The net result was a long period of confusion, lack of security and feeling disgust. In such situation Gopala raised to the power who founded the Pala dynasty around 750 CE. Gopala conquered Magadha, and it remained the part of Pala empire for a centuries.
Dharmapala succeeded Gopala and ruled over present day Bengal and Bihar (Now onwards in history of Magadha written as the history of Bihar. There is no mention of the name Magadha in this latter part of dynasties. We need to follow the history of Bihar to know what happened at Magadha.) Pala rulers were the followers of the Buddhism. Dharmapala revived the Nalanda University and founded the Vikramshila university which later evolved in to a great learning center of Buddhism. He ruled for 40 years and then succeeded by his son Devpala.
Devpala was the most powerful ruler of the Pala Dynasty. His empire extended up to Vindhyas, the Himalayas and the two oceans(Presumably the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal). It also claims that Devpala exterminated the Utkalas(Rulers of current state Odisha), Conquered Pragjyotish, Shattered pride of Hunas, humbled the Loads of Gurjara and Dravidas. Devpala was a follower of Buddhism and he said to have built many temples and monasteries in Magadha. Devpala ruled for 40 years. The empire was considerably weaken by the 11th century with many areas engulfed in rebellion. The Hindu Sena dynasty dethroned the Pala empire in 12th century. The Palas were last major Buddhist imperial power, their period is considered one of the golden era of Bengali dynasty.
Darkest Time in Magadha
In the 6th-7th century Pataliputra was devastated by the migration of the Son river. The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang recorded that in 637, the city had few inhabitants. It regained its glory during Pala empire but it only once made the capital of Pala dynasty during region of Devpala. After that it declined and was deserted after the 7th century. The city was refounded as Patna by an Afghan ruler in 1541.
Right from 11th century, Magadha(Bihar) came to be attacked by Islamic invaders from middle east. It was attacked by Muhammad of Ghor several times. He destroyed a lot of Buddhist monasteries and killed many innocent people. The final blow was struck by Muhammad Bin Bakhtiar Khilji in 1203. He attacked Bihar and burnt Nalanda University and Vikramshila University, he burnt a lot of books which were about the glorious past of Great Magadha(Bihar).
When Bakhtiyar Khilji was came Magadha for searching booty. They tried to capture so called fortress of Bihar(which was in reality a buddhist monastery, possible the famous monastery of odantapuri). It was only after storming the massive structure of the vihara and killing the ‘shaven soldiers’ that invaders discovered that they were not soldiers but monks living in a monastery. It it this fortuitous event that Indian State of Bihar (Vihara) owe its name, as Turkish conquers started referring to the whole country as Bihar. After the conquest of Khilji the darkest time of Bihar started. No one or any writer has ever written a detailed record on it.
Medieval history of Bihar commemorated with the foreign invasion and dynasty that ruined the glory of Bihar. It saw some glory of about six years under the rule of Sher Shah Suri. He made some economic reforms such as introduction of the Rupee and Custom duties are still used by current Indian Government. He tries to restored the glory of Patna(Pataliputra) and made it his headquarter.
Mughal rule to Modern Time
After the time of Sher Shah Suri, Bihar again saw some peaceful time under the rule of Akbar (from 1557 to 1576). He divided Bihar and Bengal each into its original twelve subahs (imperial top-level provinces; Bihar with capital at Patna). With the decline of the Mughals Bihar passed into the control of Nawabs of Bengal. This period saw Bihar’s exploitation at the hands of the rulers in the form of high taxes, but the Nawabs of Bengal also allowed trade to flourish in the region.
After the Battle of Buxar (1764), the East India Company established direct control over Bihar, Bengal and Odisha. Due to the fertile soil, abundant water and skilled labour, this region had attracted colonial powers including the Dutch and the British in 18th Century.
In 1912, Bihar and Orissa were carved out as a separate province from the Bengal Presidency. Later on, in 1935, certain portions of Bihar were reorganised into the separate province of Orissa. At Independence in 1947, the State of Bihar, with the same geographic boundary, formed a part of the Republic of India, until 1956. The state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in the year 2000.