The Rise of Magadha Empire UPSC Ancient Indian History Notes

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Magadha was the most powerful and prosperous of the north Indian kingdoms. It became the center of political action in northern India. Nature bestowed certain geographical and strategic benefits on Magadha. These factors propelled her to imperial glory. Magadha was founded by Jarasandha and Brihadratha, but it improved under Haryankas, expanded under Sisungas and Nandas, and reached its pinnacle under the Mauryas. Magadha was located in modern-day Bihar. Students can check out Magadha Empire UPSC Notes to get a detailed overviews of the things happening during this period.

During the 6th to 4th centuries BCE, the four major Mahajanapadas – Magadha, Kosala, Avanti, and Vatsa struggled for power. The Magadha Empire was established during the period from 6th BCE to 400 BCE.

Causes for the rise of Magadha

From the sixth century B.C. to around 400 B.C., cultivation expanded across vast sections of the nation, towns grew, and kingdoms were formed.

The Varna system, also known as the caste system, which arose in the Vedic period, became well-established and eventually became the main type of social order throughout the country. The growth of towns, industries and commerce all contributed to the process of societal unification.

The Aryan civilization’s focus had shifted eastward to Magadha, Vatsa, Kosala, and Avanti. During this era, only four major kingdoms and the Vajji Republic of the Lichchhavis remained out of the sixteen principal states.

Avanti, one of the four kingdoms, was ruled by a remarkable monarch named Pradyota. He was a formidable ruler. Vasavadatta, his daughter, wedded Udayana, the monarch of Vatsa. Sisunaga, a governor of Magadha, defeated the authority of the Avanti kings in the early fourth century B.C.

Udayana was Vatsa’s most renowned monarch. He expanded his authority by marrying the daughters of the kings of Magadha, Anga, and Avanti. However, he left no suitable heir. Finally, Avanti’s king added it to his own kingdom.

Prasenajit ruled Kosala during the time of Lord Buddha. He married his sister Kosaladevi to Bimbisara, the king of Magadha, and granted her a portion of Kasi as pinmoney. Kosala was eventually merged with Magadha after Prasenjit died.

During the days of Ajatasatru, the Vajjis lost influence and were overshadowed by Magadhan expansion.

The geographical location of Magadha between the upper and lower Gangetic valleys was extremely advantageous. It had a fertile soil. Iron ores in the hills near Rajgir, as well as copper and iron deposits near Gaya, contributed to its natural resources.

Her wealth was aided by her location at the crossroads of commerce at the time. Magadha’s center was Rajagriha. Magadha’s wealth peaked during the reigns of Bimbisara and Ajatasatru.

Regardless of being half the area of Kosala, it had plentiful natural resources, metal, and thriving farmland. Its inhabitants were not socially conservative. In this system, a Brahmana could be friends with the Kshatriyas, and the Kshatriyas could even marry Sudra females.

Because they had enough troops and money, the monarch of Magadha constructed an impenetrable hilltop fort and assembled a powerful force. They were also wise enough to create an effective system of government based on formal officers and a permanent force bereft of clan life.

The bards of Magadha encouraged the people, and with their help, the rulers achieved the ideal of creating a kingdom under a Chakravarti monarch, which many of the writers of the Brahmanas and Upanishads had established for the rulers in pre-historic times.

Haryanka Dynasty (544 BCE-412 BCE)

Bimbisara (546 BCE-494 BCE)

Bimbisara lived at the same time as Buddha. He ascended to the throne sometime in the second part of the sixth century B.C. He was the first king to command a permanent force.

Bimbisara’s most noteworthy accomplishment was the conquest of the neighboring kingdom of Anga (East Bihar), which had its center at Champa near Bhagalpur. He placed it under the vice royalty of his son Ajatasastru.

The capture of Anga was significant. Anga dominated commerce and paths to sea harbors in the Gangetic Delta, which had economic connections with the coasts of Burma and India’s east coast.

Bimbisara strengthened his position through marital partnerships. He married three times. His first bride was the daughter of Kosala’s king. The Kosalan wife brought him a Kasi village as gift, worth 100,000. This union ended Kosala’s animosity and allowed him a free hand in interacting with other states. Chellana, his second bride, was a Lichchavi Princes from Vaisali. His third bride was the daughter of the head of the Punjabi Madra tribe. These marital ties provided tremendous political status and cleared the way for Magadha’s westward and northward growth.

Bimbisara established Magadha as the dominant force in the sixth century B.C. through battles and negotiation. His kingdom was said to have had 80,000 communities.

A Chinese traveler credits Bimbisara with constructing a new city at the foot of the hills to the north of Girivraja, which he called Rajagriha or the King’s home, the contemporary Rajagir in Patna district. It was encircled by five hills, the entrances of which were sealed off on all sides by stone walls.

As a Buddhist patron, Bimbisara donated the forest Veluvana to the Budha and the Sangha. Bimbisara was also respectful of Jainism. He was assassinated by his son Ajatasatru, who was keen to rule Magadha.

Ajatasatru (494 – 462 BCE)

Ajatasatru was resolved to carry on his father’s strategy of armed victories. He fortified Rajagriha and constructed Pataligrama, a minor fort near the Ganges (which eventually became the renowned Mauryan city of Pataliputra).

Kosala Devi died of sorrow following Bimbisara’s unfortunate demise. As a result, the Kosalan king, Presenajith, withdrew the giftof the Kasi town, which had been given to Bimbisara as tribute. The outcome was the start of conflicts between Magadha and Kosala, which lasted for a long period with different circumstances. Finally, peace was reached between the two, with Presenajith returning the contested village of Kasi to Ajatasatru and marrying his daughter Bajira to him.

Though his mother was a Lichchavi princess, he did not resist from waging war with the Lichchavis. The explanation was that the Lichchavis were Kosala’s friends.He sow discord among the Lichchavis and eventually destroyed their freedom by entering their land and defeating them in battle.It took him sixteen years to completely demolish Vaisali. Finally, Magadha triumphed and was acknowledged as the most powerful state in eastern India.

Ajatasatru rebuilt the 18 Mahavihars that had been abandoned after Buddha’s passing at Rajagriha. He supported Buddhism by attending its first general meeting at Rajagriha, which was attended by 500 prominent Bikshus.

Ajatasatru was succeeded by his son Udayibhadra in 459 B.C. according to Pali accounts. He established the city of Patliputra at the junction of the Sone and Ganges rivers. Anurudha, Munda, and Nagadasaka were Udayibhadra’s heirs. They were regarded as weak kings. As a result, Sisunaga, the last ruler’s minister, took the kingdom.

Sisunaga Dynasty (412 BCE-344BCE)

Sisunaga demolished Avanti’s power and thus became the uncontested kingof almost the entire Madhyadesa, Malwa, and other northern regions.

The powerful kingdom started to crumble after Sisunaga. Kakavarman or Kalasoka was his heir. He initially served as the viceroy of the important city of Varanasi during his father Shishunaga’s rule. He transferred the city to Pataliputra. In Vaishali, he ruled over the second Buddhist Council. He was assassinated in a coup that established the Nanda empire.

Nanda Dynasty (344-324 BCE)

The Sisunaga dynasty was deposed around the middle of the fourth century B.C. by the first Nanda king Mahapadma.

There are various stories about his ancestors. He was the son of a Sudra lady, according to the Puranas. In Jain writings, he is portrayed as the son of a courtesan by a barber. According to the Greek writer Curtius, Mahapadma was the son of a barber who captured the queen’s heart with his good features and later killed the monarch of the Sisunaga dynasty. (probably Kalasoka Kakavarna). All of these stories indicate that Mahapadma was of modest birth and obtained the Magadhan crown through political scheming and deception.

Mahapadma Nanda was a powerful ruler of the Nanda dynasty. Mahapadma is said to have uprooted the Ksahtriyas by defeating the Iksvakus, Kurus, Panchalas, Kasis, Surasenas, Maithlas, Kalingas, Asmakas and Haihayas.

The Nanda rule of sections of Kalinga, as well as the subjugation of Asmaka and other southern areas, does not appear to be implausible. The settlement of Nav Nand Dehra is located on the Godavari. This also indicates that the Nanda territories include a large part of the Deccan.

Mahapadma’s eight children are said to have reigned for twelve years in a row. Dhananada was most likely the last Nanda monarch. According to the Greek historian Curtius, he had a large force of 200,000 foot troops, 2000 horses, 20,000 carriages, and 4,000 elephants, as well as vast wealth.

He was, however, irreligious (adharmika) and despotic in nature. As a result, he was extremely disliked. Following Alexander’s exit, Chandragupta Maurya exploited the circumstance and crushed the authority of the Nandas of Magadha. (320-321 BCE).

Important Readings:

16 MahajanapadasHarappan CivilizationSources of Ancient Indian History
Indus Valley CivilizationChalcolithic AgeNeolithic Age
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