|Assaka [Ashmaka]||Potana (Potali)|
|Chedi (Cheti, Chetya)||Sotthivatnagara, Sukti, Suktimati|
|Machcha (Matsya, Mese)||Viratanagara|
|Magadha||Girivraja, Rajagriha, Pataliputra [Patna]|
|Panchala||Adhichhatra (Chhatravati) +|
|Vatsa (Vamsa, Vachcha, Batsa, or Bansa)||Kausambi|
The period preceding the birth of Gautama Buddha is generally called Mahajanapada age. The major realms or polities of the Indian subcontinent in the Vedic Period (Iron Age), the Janapadas, had by the 6th century BC evolved into the sixteen classical Mahajanapadas. The mahajanapada period could be classified as the period between 800-600 BCE. Others would date the Mahajanapada period to circa 1000 BC-600 BC. In case of the jana-pada polities in India, the period into may divided : (i) the Early janapada era and (ii) the Mahajanapada or later jana-pada era.
The term "janapada" derives from janas "tribe" (cf. Latin = genus, English = kin) and pada "foot" (cf. Latin = pedis). 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 [maha = great]. 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.
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 Mahdvastu. The Amguttara-Nikaya speaks by name of sixteen great tribal people's territories.
Another Buddhist text written in Pali, Digha Nikaya ("Collection of Long Discourses"), mentions only first 12 Mahajanapadas in this list and omits the last four. Chulla-Niddesa, another ancient text of the Buddhist canon, adds Kalinga to the list and substitutes Yona for Gandhara, thus listing the Kamboja and the Yona as the only Mahajanapadas from Uttarapatha. The Jaina Bhagvati Sutra gives a slightly different list of 16 Mahajanapadas: Anga, Banga (Vanga), Magadha, Malaya, Malavaka, Accha, Vaccha, Kochcha (Kachcha?), Padha, Ladha (Lata), Bajji (Vajji), Moli (Malla), Kasi, Kosala, Avaha and Sambhuttara. It is evident that the author of Bhagvati is interested in the countries of Madhydesa and of the far east and south, since the nations from Uttarapatha, like the Kamboja and Gandhara, are omitted. The more extended horizon of the Bhagvati and its omission of all countries from Uttarapatha suggests that the Bhagvati list is of later origin and therefore less reliable than the earlier texts.
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.
Each Mahajanapada had a capital city, which was often fortified. The state required resources for maintaining the fortified cities, for the armies and the bureaucrats. Each mahajanapada was characterised by, among others, an impress of the culture of a particular group of people. The expression of such a culture resulted in the characteristic cultural landscape of the mahajanapada.
When Buddhism arose there was no paramount sovereign in India. The kingly power was not, of course, unknown. There had been kings in the valley of the Ganges for centuries, long before Buddhism, and the time was fast approaching when the whole of India would be under the sway of monarchical governments. In those parts of India which came very early under the influence of Buddhism, there were besides a still surviving number of small aristocratic republics, four kingdoms of considerable extent and power. Besides, there were a dozen or more of smaller kingdoms, like the German dutchies or the seven provinces into which England was divided in the time of the Heptarchy. No one of these was of much political importance. And the tendency towards the gradual absorption of these domains, and also of the republics, into the neighbouring kingdoms, was already in full force.
The evidence at available is not sufficient to give an exact idea either of the extent of country, or of the number of the population, under the one or the other form of government; nor has much attempt been so far made to trace the history of political institutions in India before the rise of Buddhism. But the earliest Buddhist records reveal the survival, side by side with more or less powerful monarchies, of republics with either complete or modified independence.
As regards the monarchies, the four monarchies of importance were as follows:
- To the north-west there was the kingdom of Kosala — the Northern Kosala— with its capital at Savatthi, ruled over at first by King Pasenadi and afterwards by his son Vidudabha. Ayodhya was the capital of Kosala. King Prasenajit was its famous ruler. He was highly educated. His position was further strengthened by the matrimonial alliance with Magadha. His sister was married to Bimbisara and Kasi was given to her as dowry. Subsequently there was a dispute with Ajatasatru. After the end of the conflict, Prasenajit married the daughter of Bimbisara. After the death of this powerful king, Kosala became part of the Magadha.
- Southwards from Kosala was the kingdom of the Vamsas or Vatsas, with their capital at Kosambi on the Jumna, reigned over by King Udena, the son of Parantapa. The Vatsa kingdom was situated on the banks of the river Yamuna. Its capital was Kausambi near modern Allahabad. Its most popular ruler was Udayana. He strengthened his position by entering into matrimonial alliances with Avanti, Anga and Magadha. After his death, Vatsa was annexed to the Avanti kingdom.
- And still farther south lay the kingdom of Avanti, with its capital Ujjeni, reigned over by King Pajjota. The capital of Avanti was Ujjain. The most important ruler of this kingdom was Pradyota. He became powerful by marrying Vasavadatta, the daughter of Udayana. He patronized Buddhism. The successors of Pradyota were weak and later this kingdom was taken over by the rulers of Magadha.
- The kingdom of Magadha, with its capital at Rajagaha (afterwards at Pataliputta), reigned over at first by King Bimbisara and afterwards by his son Ajatasattu. Of all the kingdoms of north India, Magadha emerged powerful and prosperous. It became the nerve centre of political activity in north India. Magadha was endowed by nature with certain geographical and strategic advantages. These made her to rise to imperial greatness. Her strategic position between the upper and lower part of the Gangetic valley was a great advantage. It had a fertile soil. The iron ores in the hills near Rajgir and copper and iron deposits near Gaya added to its natural assets. Her location at the centre of the highways of trade of those days contributed to her wealth. Rajagriha was the capital of Magadha. During the reign of Bimbisara and Ajatasatru, the prosperity of Magadha reached its zenith.
The royal families of these kingdoms were united by matrimonial alliances; and were also, not seldom in consequence of those very alliances, from time to time at war. The royal families of Kosambi and Avanti were also united by marriage. The commentary on verses 21-23 of the Dhammapada gives a long and romantic story of the way in which Vasula-datta, the daughter of King Pajjota of Avanti, became the wife, or rather one of the three wives, of King Udena of Kosambi. The legend runs that Pajjota (whose fierce and unscrupulous character is there painted in terms confirmed by one of our oldest authorities) inquired once of his courtiers whether there was any king whose glory was greater than his own. And when he was straightway told that Udena of Kosambi surpassed him, he at once determined to attack him.
The daughter of one of the chiefs of a neighboring clan, equally free and equally proud, the Licchavis of Vesali, was married to Bimbisara, king of Magadha. It is, furthermore, almost certain that the royal family at Savatthi was simply one of the patrician families who had managed to secure hereditary consulship in the Kosala clan. For the chiefs among the Kosalas, apart from the royal family, and even the ordinary clansmen (the kulaputtti), arc designated by the very term (rajano), which is applied to the chiefs and clansmen of those tribes which had still remained aristocratic republics. And it is precisely in a very natural tendency to exaggerate the importance of the families of their respective founders that the later records, both of the Jains and of the Buddhists, differ from the earlier ones.
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