Menu Close

Mauryan Empire, Mahajanpadas

Age of Mahajanpadas

Jana (small kingdoms) in Vedic period developed into Janapadas, which eventually developed into Mahajanapadas. This is also called and 2nd phase of urbanization (1st phase was Indus Valley Civilization).

Factors behind rise of Mahajanapadas.

Agricultural factors
1] Settled life in Indo Gangetic plane
2] Irrigation
3] Knowledge of seasons
4] Bull and cow in agriculture.
5] It resulted in agriculture surplus and rise of urbanization

Secondary activity and trade and commerce.
1] Role of iron, increased number of crafts.
2] Monetization of economy (Punch marked coins).
3] Rise of guilds which were associations of craftsmen. They would keep check on prises, quality of goods, maintain standards etc.

Political factors
1] Unification happened and rise of Mahajanapadas.
2] Mahajanapadas promoted trade and commerce. Since they would gain taxes.
3] Capitals of Mahajanapadas became urban centres.
4] Rising demands of courts, would aid in urbanization.
5] Rise of Heterodox sects, which were more disposed towards merchants and peasants.
6] Spirit of territorial expansion and imperialism.
7] Weapons and implements became common because of invention of iron.
8] Rise in population.

Sixteen Mahajanpadas
1] AngaChampa9] VatsaKaushambi
2] MagadhaRajgriha, Pataliputra10] PancalaAcchihatra, Kampilya
3] MallaKusinara, Pawa11] MatsyaViratanagara
4] VajjiVaishali12] SurasenaMathura
5] KosalaSravasti13] AvantiUjjain, Mahishmati
6] KashiVaranasi14] AshmakaPratisthana/Paithan
7] ChediShuktimati15] KambojaRajapura
8] KuruIndraprastha16] GandharaTaxila
Sixteen Mahajanpadas and their capitals.

The age of Mahajanapadas was also called ‘Age of Republics’. Why?
Head of the state was elected. For ex. Shakya clan of Gautama Buddha, Licchavi clan of Mahavira, Vajji, Malla, Licchavi clan etc.

Features of Republic
Head of the clan ‘raja’ was elected by head of influential classes.
Method used was secret ballot.
Some officials were also elected along with King.
Legislatures would discuss and debate on common and imp issues.

However, most of the republics had got declined by 6th century BC.
They resided in foothills of mountains and not in Gangetic valley. That’s one of the reason for decline. Also since they were republics, there was lack of unity in command, this also became weakness of these states.

Rise of Magadh.

The rise of Magadh as first great empire was not result of any certain event but was facilitated by political and economic circumstances aided by typical geographical location of Magadh.

Economic strength
1] More resources because of agricultural surplus.
2] Iron mines available locally – contributing to arts and craft and weapons.
3] Timber from nearby forest – can be used for chariots and other ..
4] Access to Tamralipti port.
5] Also they controlled trade routes because of its geographical location.

Political strength.
1] Their capital like Rajagriha was surrounded by 5 hills.
2] Pataliputra was at confluence of 3 rivers. Ganga, Son, Punpun.
3] Access to elephants from forests made their army invincible.
4] Role of iron in making weapons and implements which added to their imperialistic spirit.

Rulers of Magadh


1] Bimbisara
2] Ajatashatru
3] Udayin


1] Shishunaga
2] Kalashoka


1] Mahapadmananda
2] Dhanananda


1] Chandragupta Maurya
2] Bindusara
3] Ashoka

Haryanka Dynasty

1] Bimbisara
First king to have standing army. He conquered Anga, set up matrimonial alliances like married Licchavi princess of Vaishali, sister of Prasanjit of Koshala. He also sent his physician to Ujjain (famous incident).

2] Ajatasatru
He killed his father and became king. Also defeated Prasanjit of Koshala. Fortified Rajagriha
Brought end to 16 yrs war with Vajji confideracy.
Contemporary of Gautam Buddha.
1st Buddhist council was held under him. Composition of Suttapitaka and Vinayapitaka.

3] Udayin
Transferred capital from Rajagriha to Pataliputra

Sisunag Dynasty.

1] Sisunag
Brought and end to 100 years war with Avanti.

2] Kalashoka
2nd Buddhist council was held under him, it divided Buddhism into Therawada and Mahasangikas.


1] Mahapadmanada
Also called as Ekchachatra – (brought entire world into one umbrella.)
Conquered Kalinga according to Hathi Gumfa (Udayagri caves, Orissa) inscriptions of King Kharevela and he had brought image of ‘Jina’ as victory trophy from Kalinga.

2] Dhananada
Alexander’s army deterred to approach Magadh during his reign.

Mauryan Kings

1] Chandragupta Maurya.
Founder of Mauryan empire
He negotiated with Selukus Nictator (Greek Viceroy) and forced him to give eastern Afghanistan, Balochistan to Mauryas.
Follower of Jainism.
Chandragupta’s viceroy, Pusyagupta constructed famous Sudarshan lake which is described in Junagarh inscriptions of Rudraman (Saka king)

2] Bindusara
Follower of Ajivikas.
Was in contact with Antiochus, King of Syria.

3] Ashoka
He conquered Kalinga which is described in 13th Rock edict of Ashoka (other areas were already won).
Became follower of Buddhism.
After that he carried out Ashoka Dhamma to consolidate Mauryan empire.
Buddhism also received patronage under him and the religion spread to Sri Lanka and other regions under him.

Literature under these rulers.

1] It was written by Kautilya, who was also known as Chanakya and Vishnugupta. Also called as Indian Machiavelli.
2] Arthashasra is a treatise on statecraft, economy and military strategy. It was discovered by R Shyamashasri. It contains 15 books and 180 chapters, divided into 3 parts.
A) King, Council of Ministers and Depts. Of govt.
B) Civil and criminal law.
C) Diplomacy of war.
3] Kautilya’s book contains info on trade and market, duties of a king, spies, city administration, social welfare, agriculture, mining, forest etc.

In the happiness of his subjects, lay the happiness of a ruler. And in their troubles, lay his troubles.


Megasthene’s INDICA
1] Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, sent by Selucus Niktator.
2] He says ‘there were no slaves in ancient India’. It implies condition of slaves was so better that he couldn’t recognise them.
3] He also talks about division of Indian population into 7 castes.
1_Philosophers 2_Farmers 3_Herders 4_Artisans
5_Military 6_Councillors 7_Overseers.
4] INDICA gives details about the administration of Capital city of Pataliputra.
5] He talks about Indian fertile plains with several crops grown like pulses, rice, millet, wheat etc. 2 crop cycles in a year.
6] He also talks about prosperity in terms of abundance of Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron etc. in India.

Vishakhadatta’s MUDRARAKSHASA play.
1] Drama, written during Gupta age ( ~ 400 AD), but talks about socio-economic conditions of Mauryan age.
2] It talks about how Chandragupta, with the assistance of Kautilya, overthrew Nandas.
3] Written in Sanskrit language.

Other literatures

Some Puranas were written down during this period.

Cylonese (Sri Lankan) chronicles – Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa.
They talk about role of Ashoka in spreading Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Mahavamsa also talks about Asoka killing his 99 brothers to acquire throne.

Fore detailed discussion about Mauryan polity and society and king Ashoka, kindly visit next page.

Posted in Ancient Indian History

Related Posts

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments