Mahajanapadas

Mahajanapadas


     
   Conjectural reconstruction of the main gate of Kushinagar c. 500 BCE adapted from a relief at Sanchi .City of Kushinagar in the 5th century BCE according to a 1st century BCE frieze in Sanchi Stupa 1 Southern Gate.



Rajgir, old city walls 6th century BCE
From the time of the Mahajanapadas (600 BCE–320 BCE), walled and moated cities with large gates and multi-storied buildings which consistently used arched windows and doors and made an intense use of wooden architecture, are important features of the architecture during this period.[13] The reliefs of Sanchi, dated to the 1st centuries BCE–CE, show cities such as Kushinagar or Rajagriha as splendid walled cities during the time of the Buddha (6th century BCE), as in the Royal cortege leaving Rajagriha or War over the Buddha's relics. These views of ancient Indian cities have been relied on for the understanding of ancient Indian urban architecture. Archaeologically, this period corresponds in part to the Northern Black Polished Ware culture. Geopolitically, the Achaemenid Empire started to occupy the northwestern part of the subcontinent from c, 518 BCE.

Jetavana of Sravasti, Sanchi Stupa 1, Northern Gateway.
Various types of individual housing of the time of the Buddha (c. 563/480 or c. 483/400 BCE), resembling huts with chaitya-decorated doors, are also described in the reliefs of Sanchi. Particularly, the Jetavana at Sravasti, shows the three favourite residences of the Buddha: the Gandhakuti, the Kosambakuti and the Karorikuti, with the throne of the Buddha in the front of each. The Jetavana garden was presented to the Buddha by the rich banker Anathapindika, who purchased it for as many gold pieces as would cover the surface of the ground. Hence, the foreground of the relief is shown covered with ancient Indian coins (karshapanas), just as it is in the similar relief at Bharhut. Although the reliefs of Sanchi are dated to the 1st centuries BCE–CE, portraying scene taking place during the time of the Buddha, four centuries before, they are considered an important indication of building traditions in these early times.


Fast Facts
Era: Iron Age
Period: 6th – 4th centuries BCE
Type of Government: Republics & Monarchies
Languages: The Prakrits & Sanskrit
Religion: Vedic Hinduism
The Mahajanapadas were a set of sixteen kingdoms that existed in ancient India. It all began when the tribes (janas) of the late Vedic period decided to form their own territorial communities, which eventually gave rise to new and permanent areas of settlements called ‘states’ or ‘janapadas.’ In the sixth century BC, present-day Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh became centers of political activities as the region was not only fertile but also closer to the iron production centers. Iron production played a crucial role in expanding the territorial states of the region. These expansions helped some of these ‘janapadas’ turn into large states or ‘mahajanapadas.’ Most of these ‘mahajanapadas’ were monarchical in nature, while some of them were democratic states. Many prominent ancient Buddhist texts make frequent references to the ‘16 great kingdoms’ (mahajanapadas) that flourished between the sixth and the fourth centuries BCE. These 16 kingdoms included kingdoms like Anga, Gandhara, Kuru, and Panchala, which are mentioned in the great Indian epic ‘Mahabharata.’
History of the Mahajanapadas
In order to settle down permanently, simple land-grabbing process was started by the tribes, which eventually turned into well-planned communities. These communities gave rise to states or ‘janapadas’ and tribal identity became a major factor in defining the territory of a particular state. Gradually, some of these states began to expand and hence came to be known as the ‘mahajanapadas.’ Since expansion involved annexing of neighboring states, certain ‘mahajanapadas’ started conquering other ‘janapadas’ in order to extend their kingdoms as per the kingdom’s prosperity and wealth.
Early stages of settlement of the tribes happened before the time of the Buddha. Hence, historical references of these ‘mahajanapadas’ can be found in ancient Buddhist texts. Many such texts talk about ‘16 great kingdoms’ that flourished between the sixth and the fourth centuries BCE. The period between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE is considered extremely important in early Indian history as it witnessed the emergence of massive Indian cities, which were built after the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization. These massive Indian cities were home to the 16 great kingdoms described in the ancient texts. In the modern era the term ‘mahajanapadas’ is often used to refer the 16 great kingdoms, which are mentioned below.
List of Mahajanapadas
Magadha
Magadha was one of the most prosperous kingdoms of ancient India and one of the most prominent ‘mahajanapadas.’ For many years, Pataliputra was the capital of Magadha. The kingdom was bounded by Ganges in the north, river Champa in the east, and river Son in the west. According to ancient texts, Brihadratha was the earliest known ruler of Magadha. The kingdom was also ruled by King Bimbisara, under whom Magadha flourished. Great Indian empires including the famous Maurya Dynasty originated in Magadha. Gautama Buddha spent much of his life in Magadha, hence the region is believed to hold great significance to Buddhists.
Gandhara
According to Hecataeus of Miletus, Purushapura or present-day Peshawar served as a grand Gandharic city. Other references pertaining to Gandhara have been made in ancient texts like ‘Rigveda,’ ‘Ramayana,’ and ‘Mahabharata.’ This great kingdom was served graciously by river Indus and its capital Taksashila (Taxila) housed the renowned center of learning, the ‘Taksashila University.’ Scholars came to the university from all over the world in order to seek greater knowledge and wisdom. Though Gandhara was a huge kingdom on its own, it is often considered to be a part of an empire by modern-day scholars. Dr. T. L. Shah even argued that Gandhara and Kamboja, which was one of the 16 ‘mahajanapadas,’ were two provinces of a single empire.
Kamboja
The state of Kamboja is referred to as republican in several ancient scripts. These scripts also state that there were two Kamboja settlements, a theory which is backed by modern-day historians. It is said that ancient Kamboja was located on either sides of the Hindukush mountain range. But clans of Kamboja are believed to have crossed the mountain range to plant colonies in the southern side as well. These clans of people are associated with the Gandharas and Daradas and find mention in many Indian texts, including the edicts of Ashoka the Great.
Kuru
At the time of the Budhha, Kuru was ruled by Korayvya, a titular chieftain. Its capital was Indraprastha (present-day Delhi), which was known for people with sound health and deep wisdom. The Kurus were related to people of other communities like the ‘Panchalas’ and the ‘Yadavas’ as they had matrimonial relations with them. Though Kuru kingdom was a well-known monarchical state in the ancient world, the 6th and 5th centuries BCE saw the formation of republican form of government in the land of Kuru. Kautiliya’s ‘Arthashastra,’ which was written in Sanskrit in the 4th century BCE, also states that the Kurus followed the king consul constitution.
Kosala
The kingdom of Kosala was located close to the kingdom of Magadha. With Ayodhya as its capital, Kosala was bound by river Ganges in the south, river Gandak in the east, and the Himalaya mountains in the north. According to Vedic texts, Kosala was the biggest and most powerful kingdom ever in history. At the time of the Buddha and Mahavira, Kosala kingdom was ruled by King Prasenajit. After a series of tactical moves for supremacy by Kosala and Magadha, the kingdom of Kosala was eventually merged with Magadha, when Kosala was being ruled by Vidudabha.
Malla
The Mallas of the Malla kingdom are often described as powerful people who dwelled in Northern South Asia. Many Buddhist texts refer to the kingdom as a republican dominion made up of nine territories. Like Kuru, Malla kingdom too had monarchical forms of government, but later moved towards the republican form of government. Ancient cities like Kusinara and Pava, which belonged to the Malla kingdom, are considered extremely important by Jains and Buddhists. While Lord Mahavira had his last meal at Kusinara, Gauthama Buddha had his last meal at Pava. Both Kusinara and Pava are believed to have hosted Buddha for a long period of time.

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