Ancient History: 16 Mahajanapadas

16 Mahajanapadas

Angutara Nikaya, a Buddhist scripture mentions 16 great kingdoms or Mahajanapadas in the beginning of the 6th century BC in India. They emerged during the Vedic Age. Socio-economic developments chiefly due to the use of iron tools in agriculture and military, along with religious and political developments led to the rise of the Mahajanapadas from small kingdoms or Janapadas.

By the 6th century BC, the political centre shifted from the west of the Indo-Gangetic plains to the eastern side of it. This was due to better fertility of the land because of more rainfall and rivers. Also, this region was closer to the iron production centres.

 

16 Mahajanapadas

Sl. No.

Mahajanapada

Capital

Present Location

1

Anga

Champa

Bhagalpur and Munger

2

Magadha

Girivraja/Rajagriha

Gaya and Patna

3

Kasi

Kasi

Varanasi

4

Vatsa

Kausambi

Allahabad

5

Kosala

Shravasti

Awadh, Eastern UP

6

Saurasena

Mathura

Mathura

7

Panchala

Ahichchatra and Kampilya

Western UP

8

Kuru

Indraprastha

Meerut and SE Haryana

9

Matsya

Virat

Jaipur

10

Avanti

Ujjain

Madhya Pradesh and Malwa

11

Chedi

Sothivati/Banda

Bundelkhand

12

Gandhara

Taxila

Peshawar

13

Kamboja

Pooncha

Rajori and Hajra (Kashmir)

14

Asmaka

Pratishthan

Godaveri banks

15

Malla

Kusinara

Deoria and UP

16

Vajji

Vaishali

Vaishali

In course of time, smaller or weak kingdoms, and the republics were eliminated by the stronger rulers. In the 6th century only 4 powerful kingdoms remained:

  1. Magadha (Important rulers: Bimbisara, Ajatashatru)
  2. Avanti (Important ruler: Pradyota)
  3. Kosala (Important rulers: Prasenjit)
  4. Vatsa (Important rulers: Udayana)

Later, all of them were annexed to or became part of Magadha.

 

Political structure of the Mahajanapadas
  • Most of the states were monarchies but some were republics known as Ganas or Sanghas. These Ganasanghas were oligarchies where the king was elected and he ruled with the help of a council. Vajji was an important Mahajanapada with a Sangha form of government.
  • The founders of Jainism and Buddhism came from republican states.
  • Each Mahajanapada had a capital city.
  • Most of them had forts built around them for protection from other kings.
  • Regular armies were maintained by these new kings or Rajas.
  • They also collected taxes from the people. Usually the tax on crops was 1/6th of the produce. This was known as bhaga or share.
  • Even craftsmen, herders, hunters and traders were taxed.

 

Changes in agriculture

There were two major changes in agriculture:

  1. Growing use of iron ploughshares. This increased the production.
  2. The farmers began transplanting paddy. This means that instead of scattering seeds on the soil, saplings were grown and planted in the fields. This greatly increased the production but work also increased manifold.

 

Significance of the 6th century

It is from the 6th century BC that a continuous political history of India can be stated.

 

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