Magadha Empire

Magadha Empire

Contents of this Article

This article on Magadha Empire contains writings on the following :

  1. Ancient Magadha Empire
  2. Magadha Empire during King Bimbisara
  3. Magadha Empire during King Ajatsatru
  4. Magadha Empire after the death of King Ajatsatru
  5. Magadha Empire during the reign of King Mahapadma Nanda
  6. Magadha Empire during Dhana Nanda
  7. Magadh Empire during Chandragupta Maurya

Ancient Magadha Empire

Ancient Kingdom of Magadha Empire consisted of the modern districts of Gaya and Patna. The Magadha Kings were exceptionally able rulers.

In the Rigveda, there is no reference to Magadha Empire, but it is referred to in the Atharva Veda. But the manner in which Magadha Empire has been referred to in the Atharva Veda creates the impression that the Aryans disliked the people of Magadha. The main reason for this was probably the fact the Aryan civilization did not extend to Magadha even in the period of Atharva Veda.

In the days of Gautama Buddha, Magadha was one of the principal kingdoms of North India. Magadha Empire was locked in a political rivalry with such kingdoms as Kashi, Kosala, Vatsa, and Avanti for nearly hundred years and ultimately came out victorious from the conflict. Since that period, Magadha Empire came to be the centre of the North Indian politics for long. It is from the Puranas and ‘Mahavamsa’, the Ceylonese Buddhist scripture that details of Magadhan king can be found.

It was in Magadha that Buddhism and Jainism had originated. In the sphere of politics, too, an integrated kingdom in India with Magadha Empire as its centre arose. Four historically famous dynasties ruled Magadha, Haryanka, Shishunaga, Nanda and Maurya.

Magadha Empire during King Bimbisara

The Mahavamsa and Buddha Charita, written by Aswaghosa, state that the first famous king of Magadha, Bimbisara, belonged to the Haryanka dynasty. Bimbisara’s father was named Bhattia or Mahapadma. It is said that his father was defeated by the king of Anga, and that the kingdom of Magadha was annexed to that of Anga. Bimbisara, on becoming king of Magadha avenged the defeat of his father by overthrowing the Anga king and annexing Anga to his kingdom.

This victory laid the foundation for the Rise of Magadha Empire and the later kings succeeded in their bid to extend the empire. Emperor Asoka was the only man who refrained from a pursuit of war policy, and this marked the end of the history of Magadha expansion.

King Bimbisara enjoyed some such advantages as his contemporaries were denied. The geographical position of Magadha contributed for the Rise of Magadha Empire. Magadha was surrounded by hills and rivers. So, she enjoyed natural security. Moreover, the kingdom prospered thanks, largely, to the expansion of trade and commerce and the development of agriculture. Being thus secured, Bimbisara was able to proceed on his paths of conquests.

King Bimbisara concluded matrimonial alliances with the dynasties of Madra (Central Punjab), Kosala, and Vaisali. He married the Kosala princess, Kosaladevi and obtained, as dowry, a large slice of the kingdom of Kashi or Varanasi. Kashi constituted a prosperous region, and Bimbisara collected as revenue a huge sum amounting to one lakh. This was in addition to the collection of normal revenue. Kashi was a famous emporium and a place of pilgrimage of the Saivas. He married Chellana, the Vaisali princess. The alliance established with Licchavi (also Lichchhavi) and Vaisali strengthened the bond of friendship with, and enhanced the prestige of Magadha. King Bimbisara also married the princess of Videha, Vasabi, and Kshema, the Madra princess. This policy of concluding matrimonial alliance further uplifted the rise of Magadhan imperialism. Lichchhavi and Kosala remained neutral when Bimbisara made war with his neighbour, the king of Anga. Had it been otherwise, he would have invited hostility of Lichchhavi and Vaisali from the rear.

The episode of matrimonial alliances being over, Bimbisara attacked the neighbouring state, Anga. Brahmadata, the ruler of Anga defeated Bimbisara’s father. Bimbisara defeated and killed Brahmadata and annexed Anga to Magadha.

King Bimbisara was probably aware of a possible Persian invasion of India. Bimbisara sent envoy to Sukkasuttee, the king of Taxila or Gandhara. He also sent his court physician, Jivaka, to the kingdom of Avanti for treatment of a serious illness which king Pradyota had been suffering from. Bimbisara got land measured and fixed the amount of revenue on the basis of the measurement. The villages in his days enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. He dismissed the incompetent staff. He maintained contact with ‘Gramaks’ or high officials of the villages. For convenient conduct of administration, he created three departments, such as, judicial department (Bhoharik), the general administration (Sarbarthaka) and the war department (Senanayak). He reorganized the Magadhan army. Formerly, the army was under the control and administration of several clans or groups. Bimbisara abolished this system and recruited afresh soldiers, and officers. The soldiers vowed to show him personal allegiance. The army thus reorganized and strengthened stood him in good stead in his bid for territorial expansion. He adopted some special measures to ensure improvement of communication, and every care was taken of the expansion of trade and industry.

Nothing definite is known about Bimbisara’s religious faith. Both the Jainas and the Buddhists claim that he held their views. Of course, this is certain that his death, like that of Prasanjit, the king of Kosala, was extremely touching. According to Buddhist tradition, Ajatasatru, the son of Bimbisara, coveted the throne of Magadha and thereby starved his father to death. But the Jaina account states that Bimbisara’s relations with his son became so strained that he had to commit suicide by taking poison.

Magadha Empire during King Ajatsatru (Ajatshatru)

In 495 B.C. Bimbisara died. He was succeeded by his son, Ajatasatru ( also spelled Ajatshatru). The Buddhist tradition ascribes thirty two years to the period of his rule. Ajatsatru was an extremely ambitious and powerful king. It was during his reign, that Magadha experienced all-round expansion and development.

Ajatasatru started his career of conquests by declaring war against his maternal uncle, Prasanjit, the king of Kosala. But the war ended in a happy union of the two kings. Ajatasatru married Bijira, the daughter of Prasanjit and received the city of Varanasi as dowry. Thus with the increase of his power, Varanasi became permanently annexed to the empire of Ajatasatru.

Ajatasatru’s greatest achievement was his war with a powerful confederacy consisting of thirty six kingdoms and some republican territories. The chief among the republican states was the Lichchavis of Vaisali. Ajatasatru took sixteen years to conclude his war. It was not easy at all to conquer the Lichchavis, as they were not only a war like and powerful race but united also. Ajatasatru was well aware of these difficulties, yet he evolved out a well thought out plan in order to ensure his victory.

First, Ajatshatru sent to Vaisali his minister, Vasakar, with an instruction to cause a rift among the Lichchavis. Vasakar carried on with his mission for three toil some years and observed that the Lichchavis got divided because of mutual jealousy and feud. He came to realize that his mission had been a success.

Secondly, Ajatsatru built a fortress  near the Lichchavi kingdom, so that he might direct his attack upon the kingdom from the fortress. Thus was laid the foundation of the new capital at Pataliputra.

Thirdly, Ajatsatru reorganized and strengthened his army and equipped it with new weapons. Thus prepared fully, Ajatsatru attacked the kingdom of Lichchavi from all directions. The war continued for sixteen years, but at last Ajatsatru won and annexed Vaisali to Magadhan Empire. King Pradyota of Avanti grew very jealous of the success. Ajatshatru won against the Lichchavis, but could do nothing as Ajatasatru’s power and influence had increased tremendously. Thus, through conquests did Ajatsatru increase his power and extended the limit of Magadhan Empire.

It is difficult to say whether Ajatsatru was a Jaina or a Buddhist. Both the sects claimed that Ajatshatru belonged to their faith. It is generally said that Ajatshatru started his life as a Jaina, but later he gave up Jainism and embraced Buddhism.

Magadh Empire after the death of King Ajatsatru (Ajatshatru)

Kalasoka, the son and successor of Ajatsatru was assassinated in 368 B.C. The assassin was, most probably, Mahapadmananda, the founder of the succeeding dynasty. But Mahapadmananda took twenty two years more (i.e. 346 B.C.) for his ascent to the throne.

Magadha Empire during the reign of King Mahapadma Nanda

Mahapadma Nanda was a very powerful king. From the Jaina and Buddhist sources alike, we come to know that Mahapadma Nanda was of low birth. But it is certain that Mahapadma Naada extended the boundaries of Magadhan empire. There were several kingdoms in north India – Kkuru, Panchala, Ikshakshu, Ashmaka and Skurasen—ruled by the Kshatriyas. He overthrew and annexed them to Magadhan dominion. This further led to the rise of Magadhan Imperialism. In the Hathigumpha rock inscription of Kharvela, reference has been made to the conquest of Kalinga by a certain ruler belonging to Nanda dynasty. This ruler was, probably, Mahapadma Nanda.

Magadha Empire during Dhana Nanda

According to some historians, a portion of the Deccan was within the Nanda Empire. The Greek writers corroborate that the Nanda Empire was well-built and widespread. They came to India a few years after Alexander’s invasion of India. Mahapadmananda died after reigning ten years. He had eight sons. After his death, they partitioned the empire among them, and continued to rule, simultaneously for twelve years, their respective dominions. Dhanananda was the ruler of Magadha when Alexander invaded India in 327 B.C. everyone was aware of the fact that Dhanananda possessed enormous amount of wealth and a very powerful army. According to the Greek writers the Nanda kings had 200,000 infantrymen, horsemen, 2000 chariots drawn by four horses, and 30,000 elephants. The Buddhist sources inform us that the Nanda kings had strong attraction for wealth and that they resorted to unjust taxation from the people. The people were subjected to inhuman oppression. The burden of taxation was extremely heavy. This explains the people’s disaffection from the Nanda king and their cooperation with Chandragupta Maurya when the latter invaded Magadha in 323-322 B.C. Thus was the Nanda dynasty replaced by the Maurya dynasty.

Magadh Empire during Chandragupta Maurya

During Chandragupta Maurya‘s reign, the occupation of Punjab from the Greeks and the acquisition of Kabul, Kandahar, Makran and Herat from the Greek general Seleucus extended the frontier of Magadhan Empire in the north-west to that of the Persian Empire. According to Tamil evidences, the frontier of Maurya Empire extended to the outskirt of Madras. According to Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradamana  Saurashtra was under Chandragupta’s occupation. No evidence showing annexation of new territory or province during Bindusara’s reign is available. Only Kalinga was conquered during the reign of Asoka. Thus the empire established during Bimbisara’s reign got expanded almost India during emperors.

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