Angutara Nikaya, a Buddhist scripture mentions 16 great kingdoms or Mahajanapadas at the beginning of the 6th century BC in India. They emerged during the Vedic Age. The history of the emergence of mahajanapadas can be linked to the development of eastern Uttar Pardesh(Bihar) during the 6th to 4th century BCE where agriculture flourished due to the availability of fertile lands and iron production increased due to availability of iron ore in large quantities. This resulted in the expansion of the territories of the Janapadas and later addressed as 16 highly developed regions or the Mahajanapadas.
This is an important topic for IAS Exam and is also relevant for other government exams.
Emergence of Mahajanapads from Janapadas
The Janapadas were the major kingdoms of Vedic India. During that period, Aryans were the most powerful tribes and were called as ‘Janas’. This gave rise to the term Janapada where Jana means ‘people’ and Pada means ‘foot’.
By the 6th century B.C., there were approximately 22 different Janapadas. 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.
During that period, 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 iron production centres.
Which were the 16 Mahajanapadas
List of 16 Mahajanapadas that arose before the rise of Buddhism in India:
The list below provides you with the names of 16 mahajanapadas:
In the 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:
- Magadha (Important rulers: Bimbisara, Ajatashatru)
- Avanti (Important ruler: Pradyota)
- Kosala (Important rulers: Prasenjit)
- Vatsa (Important rulers: Udayana)
Later, all of them were annexed to or became part of Magadha.
16 Mahajanapadas – Facts for UPSC Exam
Ancient India had several kingdoms in the 6th century BC. This era saw socio-economic growth along with religious and political developments crossways the Indo-Gangetic plain.
These settlements led the growth from Janapadas to Mahajanpadas. By 6th BC, the focus of chief political activity moved from the western part of Gangetic plain to the eastern part. The eastern part of Gangetic plain consists of present-day Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The main reason for this shift was the fertile lands, better climate and topography condition bestowed with rainfall and rivers. In fact, it was the augmented use of iron tools and weapons that empowered small states to develop as a kingdom which is later known as Mahajanapadas.
The table gives you the details of 16 Mahajanapadas:
|16 Mahajanapadas||Capital of 16 Mahajanapadas||Modern Location of 16 Mahajanapadas||Facts about 16 Mahajanapadas|
|Anga||Champa||Munger and Bhagalpur||
|Magadha||Girivraja| Rajagriha||Gaya and Patna||
|Kosala||Sravasti||Eastern Uttar Pradesh||
|Saurasena||Mathura||Western Uttar Pradesh||
|Panchala||Ahichchatra and Kampliya||Western Uttar Pradesh||
|Kuru||Indraprastha||Meerut and Southeastern Haryana||
|Avanti||Ujjaini or Mahismati||Malwa and Madhya Pradesh||
|Kamboja||Pooncha||Rajori and Hajra||
|Ashmaka or Assaka||Pratisthan/ Paithan||Bank of Godavari||
|Malla||Kusinara||Deoria and Uttar Pradesh||
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:
- The growing use of iron ploughshares. This increased production.
- 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.