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Magadha Kingdom - 600 BC-AD 600

India History Map - 500 BCNorth India's political landscape was transformed by the emergence of Magadha in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain. A rapid review some of the great Hindu kingdoms which flourished in the fourth century BC provides an idea of the spread of Hindu influence and power. Foremost among them was Magadha or South Behar, which became the first power in India. Beyond the States comprising the then Aryan India, there were States such as Magadha and Anga that were not yet wholly Brahmanised.

Though Ariga and Magadha were originally two distinct countries, they had a joint name Anga-Magadha at the time of the Buddha. Magadha is even mentioned under the name of Kikota in the Rig Veda. It was in Magadha that Buddha developed his religion and that Mahavira founded the cognate creed of the Jains. If the Mahajanapada of Magadha was most important commercially, it was the Mahajanapada of Taxila that dominated intellectually and culturally. Modern historians have felt that it is the geographical advantages that Magadha enjoyed which helped it to become strong and powerful. The short-lived Kanva dynasty, which was founded by Vasudeva after the Shunga dynasty, witnessed the complete decline of Magadha which relapsed to its earlier position of one mahajanapada among several others.

Bimbisara (546 - 494 BC)

Bimbisara belonged to the Haryanka dynasty. Bimbisara was a contemporary of both Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. However, both religions claim him as their supporter and devotee. He seems to have made numerous gifts to the Buddhist Sangha. Bimbisara also undertook many expeditions and added more territories to his empire. He defeated Brahmadatta of Anga and annexed that kingdom. He maintained friendly relations with Avanti. He had also efficiently reorganized the administration of his kingdom.

He consolidated his position by matrimonial alliances. His first matrimonial alliance was with the ruling family of Kosala. He married Kosaladevi, sister of Prasenajit. He was given the Kasi region as dowry which yielded large revenue. Bimbisara married Chellana, a princess of the Licchavi family of Vaisali. This matrimonial alliance secured for him the safety of the northern frontier. Moreover, it facilitated the expansion of Magadha northwards to the borders of Nepal. He also married Khema of the royal house of Madra in central Punjab.

Ajatasatru (494 - 462 BC)

Pasenadi's sister, the Kosala Devi, was the wife of Bimbisara, King of Magadha. When Ajatasattu, Bimbisara's son by another wife (the Videha lady from Mithila), put his father Bimbisara to death, the Kosala Devi died of grief. Pasenadi then confiscated that township of Kasi, the revenues of which had been granted to the Kosala Devi as pin money. Angered at this, Ajatasattu declared war against his aged uncle. At first victory inclined to Ajatasattu.

But in the fourth campaign he was taken prisoner, and not released until he had relinquished his claim. Thereupon Pasenadi not only gave him his daughter Vajira in marriage, but actually conferred upon her, as a wedding gift, the very village in Kasi in dispute. Three years afterwards Pasenadi's son Vidudabha revolted against his father, who was then at Ulumba in the Sakiya country. The latter fled to Rajagaha to ask Ajatasattu for aid ; but was taken ill and died outside the city gates. Both Vidudabha, and his brother-in-law Ajatasattu, were subsequently in conflict with the adjoining republican confederacies, the former with the Sakiyans, the latter with the Vajjians of Vesali.

The reign of Ajatasatru was remarkable for his military conquests. He fought against Kosala and Vaisali. His won a great success against a formidable confederacy led by the Lichchavis of Vaisali. This had increased his power and prestige. This war lasted for about sixteen years. It was at this time that Ajatasatru realised the strategic importance of the small village, Pataligrama (future Pataliputra). He fortified it to serve as a convenient base of operations against Vaisali.

Buddhists and Jains both claim that Ajatasatru was a follower of their religion. But it is generally believed that in the beginning he was a follower of Jainism and subsequently embraced Buddhism. He is said to have met Gautama Buddha. This scene is also depicted in the sculptures of Barhut. According to the Mahavamsa, he constructed several chaityas and viharas. He was also instrumental in convening the First Buddhist Council at Rajagriha soon after the death of the Buddha.

Saisunaga dynasty

The immediate successor of Ajatasatru was Udayin. He laid the foundation of the new capital at Pataliputra situated at the confluence of the two rivers, the Ganges and the Son. Later it became famous as the imperial capital of the Mauryas. Udayin’s successors were weak rulers and hence Magadha was captured by Saisunaga. Thus the Haryanka dynasty came to an end and the Saisunaga dynasty came to power.

The genealogy and chronology of the Saisunagas are not clear. Saisunaga defeated the king of Avanti which was made part of the Magadhan Empire. After Saisunaga, the mighty empire began to collapse. His successor was Kakavarman or Kalasoka. During his reign the second Buddhist Council was held at Vaisali. Kalasoka was killed by the founder of the Nanda dynasty.

The Nandas

The fame of Magadha scaled new heights under the Nanda dynasty. Their conquests went beyond the boundaries of the Gangetic basin and in North India they carved a well-knit and vast empire. Mahapadma Nanda was a powerful ruler of the Nanda dynasty. He uprooted the kshatriya dynasties in north India and assumed the title ekarat. The Puranas speak of the extensive conquests made by Mahapadma. The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga refers to the conquest of Kalinga by the Nandas. Many historians believe that a considerable portion of the Deccan was also under the control of the Nandas. Therefore, Mahapadma Nanda may be regarded as a great empire builder.

According to the Buddhist tradition, Mahapadma Nanda ruled about ten years. He was succeeded by his eight sons, who ruled successively. The last Nanda ruler was Dhana Nanda. He kept the Magadhan empire intact and possessed a powerful army and enormous wealth. The fabulous wealth of the Nandas is also mentioned by several sources. The enormous wealth of the Nandas is also referred to in the Tamil Sangam work Ahananuru by the poet Mamulanar. The flourishing state of agriculture in the Nanda dominions and the general prosperity of the country must have brought to the royal treasury enormous revenue. The oppressive way of tax collection by Dhana Nanda was resented by the people.

Taking advantage of this, Chandragupta Maurya and Kautilya initiated a popular movement against the Nanda rule. It was during this time that Alexander invaded India. In 322 B.C., Magadha, under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya, began to assert its hegemony over neighboring areas. Chandragupta, whose capital was Pataliputra, near modern-day Patna, in Bihar, where he ruled from 324 to 301 BC. Chandragupta was the architect of the first Indian imperial power--the Mauryan Empire (326-184 BC).

Maurya Dynasty (321-184 BC)

The exact course of the events which led to the overthrow of the Nandas and the establishment of the Mauryas in their royal seat is not fully ascertained. Many alleged incidents of the revolution in Magadha are depicted vividly in the ancient political, drama entitled the ‘Signet of Rakshasa ’ (Mudrd-Rdkshasa), written, perhaps, in the fifth century after Christ. But it would be obviously unsafe to rely for a matter-of-fact historical narrative on a Work of imagination composed some seven centuries after the events dramatized. The information gleaned from other authorities is scanty, and in some respects discrepant. It appears, however, to be certain that Chandra or Chandragupta, who when quite young had met Alexander in 326 or 325 BC, was a scion of the Nandastock. According to some accounts he was a son of the last Nanda king by a low-born woman. Acting under the guidance of his astute Brahman preceptor, Vishnugupta, better known by his patronymic Chanakya, or his surname Kautilya or Kautalya, Chandragupta, who had been exiled from Magadha, attacked the Macedonian ofiicers in command of the garrisons in the Indus basin after Alexander’s death, and destroyed them, with the aid of the northern nations.

The Maurya empire broke up in the early second century BC, but the monarchs of the Gupta state reunified much of the subcontinent in the fourth century CE. The Gupta dynasty (280-550 AD) presided over a rich period of scientific development, including development of a base-ten numerical system that incorporated positional notation and the concept of zero. Other enduring contributions of ancient Indian civilization include agriculture (cotton and cane sugar), architecture, metallurgy, collections of parables, and games (chess).

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