16 Mahajanapadas UPSC Ancient Indian History Notes

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During the Rigvedic period, the Aryans were divided into different ‘Jans’. “Jan” was considered as the descendant of one’s ancestors. These “jans” were not necessarily bound to a specific geographic region, and they moved from one place to another. Their identity was based on their caste. The Rigveda mentions the “jans”, but not their territories or permanent states.

There was a significant change in the political life during the post-Vedic period. Naming of “janpads” (provinces) began with the settlement of “jans” in different geographic regions. Now, the importance of “janpads” or provinces increased in place of “jans” or castes (tribes). The concept of the state became more geographical rather than based on caste. By the time of Mahatma Buddha, the janapadas were fully developed. The period between approximately 1000 BCE to 500 BCE can be called the “Janpad” or “Mahajanpad” era in Indian history.

Development of Mahajanapadas

With the establishment of the Janapadas, struggles began over the land, which resulted in weak states coming to an end and being absorbed into powerful states. These states were called Mahajanapadas due to their greater power and economic significance. The Buddhist scriptures of the Aṅguttara Nikāya provide a list of sixteen Mahajanapadas that are considered the most reliable. The Jain texts also contain references to the existence of sixteen kingdoms. The time of these Mahajanapadas is considered to be before the time of Buddha.

During the time of Buddha, many of these (Mahajanapadas) had lost their independence and had become absorbed into other powerful Janapadas, while the form of some new states had already changed. Based on available evidence, the period of Mahajanapadas can be considered from the 6th to the 3rd century BCE.

MahajanapadasPresent LocationsCapitals
AngaMunger and BhagalpurChampa
MagadhaGaya and PatnaRajagriha
KosalaEastern Uttar PradeshShravasti (northern), Kushavati (southern)
ShurasenaWestern Uttar PradeshMathura
PanchalaWestern Uttar PradeshAhichchhatra and Kampilya
KuruMeerut and Southeastern HaryanaIndraprastha
ChediBundelkhand regionSothivathi
AvantiMalwa and Madhya PradeshUjjaini or Mahishmati
KambojaNWFP (Pakistan) and Rajouri and Hajra (Kashmir)Poonch
AssakaBanks of GodavariPotali/Podana
MallaDeoria and Uttar PradeshKusinara

Detail about Sixteen Mahajanapadas


This Janapada was located in the northeastern part of Bihar. It included the present-day districts of Bhagalpur and Munger in Bihar. It was located to the east of Magadha, and the Champa River flowed between the two Janapadas. King Anga Vairocana was its founder.

The name of the capital of the Janapada was also Champa. Other than this, its prominent cities included Assapura and Bhaddiya. The kingdom was renowned for its flourishing trade and commerce.

The Atharva Veda mentions the Anga Kingdom, along with the Magadhas, Gandharis, and Mujavats. Champa Nagari was one of the six major cities during the time of Buddha. In the beginning, Anga Pradesh was a powerful Janapada. In the middle of 6th century BCE, Bimbisara, the crown prince of Magadha, sought revenge for his father’s defeat by defeating and killing Brahmadatta, the king of Anga and annexed it.

Excavations at Champa near Bhagalpur have yielded Northern Black Polished Ware culture in large numbers.


The Kingdom of Magadha was a flourishing Mahajanapada that held a prominent position. It was situated in southern Bihar or the southern part of the Ganges. It was protected by the rivers Son and Ganga on its North and West. Towards the South, it reached upto the Chotanagpur plateau. In the East the river Champa separated it from Anga. Present-day Patna and Gaya districts in Bihar were part of this state.

Its capital was Girivraj or Rajgriha. It was an impregnable city protected by five hills. Initially, the state was ruled by the Barhadrath dynasty. Two famous kings of this dynasty were Brihadrath and his son Jarasandh.

In the beginning, it was a small state, but its power continued to grow. During the time of Buddha, it was one of the four powerful kingdoms.

The Buddha achieved enlightenment in this area. The Magadhan monarchs Bimbisara and Ajatasatru were his friends and disciples.

Magadha as a Kingdom kept prospering with the extension of its control over the Vajjis of Vaisali. This was to culminate in the Mauryan Empire in the 4th century B.C.


Kasi was located in southeastern Uttar Pradesh. Its capital was Kasi or Varanasi, which was famous for its knowledge, craftsmanship, trade, and prosperity.

The economic importance of Kashi lay in the fact that it had emerged as a leading centre of textile manufacture in the time of the Buddha.

King Asvasena was known to the earliest king of Kasi. He was the father of twenty-third Jaina Tirthankara Parsvanath.

A long power struggle ensued between Kashi and the neighboring kingdoms of Kosala, Anga, and Magadha. Under the rule of Brahmadatta, the king of Kasi defeated King Dighiti of Kosala. But later King Kansa incorporated Kashi into Kosala.

The Buddha delivered his first sermon after enlightenment in Sarnath near Benaras.


The Mahajanapada of Kosala was bounded on the West by the river Gomati. To its East flowed the river Sadanira which separated it from the Videha Janapada. Towards the north, it skirted the Nepal hills.

Ayodhya was the capital of Kosala. Hiranyanabha, Mahakosala Prasenjita and Suddhodhana have been named as rulers of Kosala in the sixth century BC. These rulers are said to have ruled from Ayodhya, Saketa, Kapilvastuand Sravasti.

The Kings of Kosala favoured both Brahmanism and Buddhism. King Prasenjita was a contemporary and friend of the Buddha.

In the years to come, Kosala emerged as one of the most formidable adversaries to the emergent Magadha empire.


The literal meaning of Vajjis is pastoral nomads.

The Vajjis had a different kind of political organisation. The contemporary literature refers to them as Ganasamgha, a term which wsa earlier used for a republic or an oligarchy. The Ganasamgha of this period represented a joint rule by a group of Kshatriya chiefs. This ruling class, members of which were called rajas.

The Vajji state is said to have been a confederation of eight clans (atthakula) of whom the
Videhas, Licchavis and the Jnatrikas were the most well known.

The Videha had their capital at Mithila which has been identified with Janakpur in Nepal. Most of the area in Mithila region in northern Bihar includes Vriji. It also included Darbhanga, Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of present-day Bihar state.

Accordingly to a Jataka story, the Vajjis were ruled by many clan chiefs. This Mahajanapada was a major power in the 6th century B.C.


The republican state of Malla was situated to the North of Vrijian confederacy. It was divided into two parts by the river ‘Kuka’ one with its capital at Kusinara and the other with the capital at Pava respectively.

In Buddhism and Jainism, Kushinara and Pava are very important places.A Buddhist pilgrimage circle centered on Kushinagar is now centered on Kushinagar, the place where Buddha fell ill at Pava and attained Nirvana, while Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana at Pavapuri.

The Mallas like the Videhas had at first a monarchical constitution, which was replaced by what has generally been described as a republican form of government.

Mallas retained their independence till Buddha’s death and then became prey to Magadhan imperialism.


The Chedi territory roughly corresponds to the eastern parts of the modern Bundelkhand and adjoining areas. It might have stretched upto the Malwa plateau.

Their kings’ lists occur in the Jatakas, the Buddhist birth stories. Rigveda mentions about Chedis. Sisupala the famous enemy of Krishna was a Chedi ruler.

According to the Mahabharata, the Chedis seem to have been in close touch with the chiefs of Matsya beyond the Chambal, the Kasis of Benaras and the Karusas in the valley of the river Son.

Its capital was Sotthivati (Suktrimati) probably located in the Banda district of Madhya Pradesh. Other important towns in this territory were Sahajati and Tripuri.

The Vajji was located north of the Ganga and centered around Vaishali, Bihar. The Mahajanapada stretched all the way to the Nepal hills. The western boundary of the region was the river Gandak which separated it from Malla and Kosala. In the east, it extended upto the forests on the banks of the river Kosi and Mahanadi.


The Vatsa kingdom was situated on the banks of the river Yamuna. Its capital was at Kaushambi (modern Kosam) which lay at some distance from Allahabad.

Its most popular ruler was Udayana. He strengthened his position by entering into matrimonial alliances with Avanti, Anga and Magadha.

The Puranas say that the descendent of the Pandavas, Nichakshu shifted his capital to Kaushambi after Hastinapur had been washed away by floods.

Probably, Vatsa lost its importance in the ensuing struggle because the later texts do not refer to them with great importance.


The Kingdom of Kuru consisted of the present Delhi, Meerut, and Thaneswar. The kings of the Kurus were supposed to belong to the family of Yudhisthira.

Many political centres in this area prove that they did not have absolute monarchy.Hastinapura, Indraprastha, Isukara are mentioned separately as the capital of the Kurus with their own chiefs.

The Kurus maintained Matrimonial alliance with Yadavas, Bhojas, and Panchalas. In the Buddha’s time, the Kuru kingdom was ruled by a titular chieftain named Koravya who had no political importance.


The Panchala was located to the west of the Gomti river, and the north of the Chambal River. It consists of Rohilkhand and parts of central Doab which includes Bulandshahr, Bareilly, Pilibhit, Aligarh,Badaun etc.

The ancient texts make reference to the existence of two lineages of the Panchala – the northern Panchalas and the southern Panchalas with the river Bhagirathi dividing the two.The northern Panchalas had their capital at Ahichchatra located in the Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh. The southern Panchalas had their capital at Kampilya.

The Kurus allied with the Panchalas and their trade centre is said to have been visited by the Buddha. By the sixth century BC, they seem to have become an obscure power.


The Matsyas were located in the Jaipur-Bharatpur-Alwar region of Rajasthan. Their capital was at Viratnagara famed as the hiding place of the Pandavas.

Since it was primitive, Matsya could not compete with the powers which had settled agriculture as their base. It was therefore absorbed by the rising Magadha empire.

Some of the most famous Ashoka edicts have been found in Baurat (Jaipur district), the ancient Virat.


Surasena was situated to the South-West of Matsya territory and West of Yamuna River. Its capital was at Mathura, on the bank of the river Yamuna.

The Mahabharata and the Puranas refer to the ruling family of Mathura as belonging to the Yadava clan which was divided into smaller clans like the Andhakas,Vrishani, Mahabhogas, etc. They two had a Samgha form of government.

Mathura was strategically located at the junction of the two famous ancient Indian trade routes i.e. the Uttarapatha and the Dakshinapatha.

Avantiputra was the first king of Surasena. He was a follower of Buddhism. Due to his patronage, Buddhism spread in Mathura.


Assaka or Asmaka was located in Dakshinapath or South India on the bank of the river Godavari. Potali has been identified the capital of the Assaka. The Kaksina Patha or the southern route is supposed to have connected Pratishthana with the cities of the north.

The Mahabharata describes that king Asmaka had built the city of Potana. Asmaka is found associated with another king of the South named Mulaka.


The core area of this kingdom would roughly correspond to the Ujjain district of Madhya Pradesh, extending up to the river Narmada. In the sixth century BC, Avanti was one of the most powerful Mahajanapadas.

Divided into two parts, its southern capital was Mahasmati and its northern Ujjain, which became more important of the two. The Puranas attribute the foundation of Avanti to one of the clans of the Yadavas called the Haihaya.

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.


Gandhara was located between Kabul and Rawalpindi in North Western Province. Some parts of Kashmir might have been included in this territorial limit.

The capital Taxila was an important city for learning and trading. In the sixth century BC, Gandhara was ruled by a king Pukkusati who was a friend of Bimbisara but by late sixth century BC, the kingdom was conquered by Persians.


Kambhoja was located close to Gandhara probably around Afghanistan. The Kambhojas were regarded as uncultured by the Brahmanical texts of the seventh century BC.

The capital of Kamboja was Poonch. It is situated in present-day Kashmir and Hindukush.

The Arthashastra calls them vartasastropajivin Samgha meaning a confederation of agriculturists, Herdsmen, traders and warriors.


In the age of Buddha, sixteen territorial states flourished. A few were oligarchy while most were monarchical. As the Magadhan empire grew rapidly at the end of the 5th century B.C., the political situation underwent a change. Eventually, the Magadha emerged and engulfed most of these states, establishing herself as the dominant power of the entire Gangetic valley.

Important Readings:

Sources of Ancient Indian HistoryLiterary Sources Ancient History of IndiaNeolithic Age
Chalcolithic AgeHarappan CivilizationPalaeolithic Age
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