16 Mahajanapadas India History / Ancient History

16 Mahajanapadas India History / Ancient History-The Mahajanapadas were a group of sixteen kingdoms that existed in ancient India. It all started when the Adivasis (Jaans) of the Vedic period decided to form their own territorial communities. which eventually gave rise to new and permanent areas of settlements called ‘rajyas’ or ‘janapadas’.

16 Mahajanapadas And Their Capitals

In the 6th century BCE, present-day Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh became centers of political activity as the region was not only fertile but also close to iron production centers. The production of iron played an important role in the expansion of the regional kingdoms of the region. These vistaraks helped to transform some of these janapadas into big states or mahajanapadas. Most of these ‘Mahajanapadas’ were monarchical in nature, while some of them were democratic states. Several major ancient Buddhist texts make repeated references to the 16 great kingdoms (mahajanapadas) that flourished between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. These 16 kingdoms is included kingdoms like Anga, Gandhara, Kuru and Panchala, which are mentioned in the great Indian epic Mahabharata.

AgeIron Age
Time Period6th-4th century BCE
Type Of ReignRepublic and Monarchy
LanguagesPrakrit and Sanskrit
ReligionVedic Hinduism
16 16 Mahajanapadas India History / Ancient History 16 Mahajanapadas India History

History of Mahajanapadas

Simple land grabbing was initiated by the tribes for permanent settlement, 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 kingdoms is started expanding and hence came to be known as Mahajanapadas. Since expansion involved the activation of neighboring states, some Mahajanapadas started conquering other Janapadas to expand their kingdoms according to the prosperity of the state.

The initial stages of tribal settlement took place before the time of Buddha. Hence historical references to these ‘Mahajanapadas’ can be find in ancient Buddhist texts. Many such texts talk about the 16 great kingdoms that flourished between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. The period between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE is considered extremely important in early Indian history as it witnessed the emergence of large-scale Indian cities. which were built after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. These huge Indian cities were home to 16 great kingdoms mentioned in ancient texts. In the modern era the term ‘Mahajanapada’ is often used to refer to the 16 great kingdoms, which are mentioned below.

List of Mahajanapadas (16 Mahajanapadas in Ancient India)

16 Mahajanapadas India History
16 Mahajanapadas India History / Ancient History 16 Mahajanapadas India History


Magadha was one of the most prosperous kingdoms of ancient India and one of the most prominent Mahajanapadas. Pataliputra was the capital of Magadha for many years. The state was bounded by the Ganges in the north, the Champa river in the east and the Son river in the west. According to ancient texts, Brihadratha was the earliest known ruler of Magadha. The kingdom was also ruled by King Bimbisara, under which Magadha flourished. Great Indian empires including the famous Maurya dynasty arose in Magadha. Gautam Buddha spent most of his life in Magadha, so the region is considered to be of great importance to Buddhists. 16 Mahajanapadas History In Details


According to Hecateus of Miletus, Purushapura or present-day Peshawar functioned as a grand peace-loving city. Other references related to Gandhara have been made in ancient texts such as ‘Rigveda’, ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’. This great kingdom was humbly placed at the famous center of learning by the river Indus and its capital Taxila. Takshashila University Scholars from all over the world come to the university to gain more and more knowledge and knowledge. Although Gandhara itself was a vast kingdom, it is often considered part of an empire by modern-day scholars. Dr. T.L. Shah even argued that Gandhara and Kamboja, which were one of the 16 Mahajanapadas, were two provinces of the same kingdom. 16 Mahajanapadas History In Details


Kamboja state is known as Republic in many ancient scripts. These scripts also state that there were two Kamboja settlements, a theory supported by modern-day historians. It is said that the ancient Kamboj was situated on either side of the Hindukush mountain range. The descendants of Kamboja are believed to have crossed the mountain range to establish colonies in the southern direction as well. These tribes of people are associated with Gandhara and Darad and find mention in many Indian texts, including the texts of Ashoka the Great. Dr. T.L. Shah even argued that Gandhara and Kamboja, which were one of the 16 Mahajanapadas, were two provinces of the same kingdom. 16 Mahajanapadas History In Details


At the time of Buddha, Kuru rule was over Korayya, a prominent kingpin. Its capital was Indraprastha (present-day Delhi), which was known for people of sound health and deep intellect. The Kauravas were related to people from other communities, such as the ‘Panchalas’ and the ‘Yadavs’, as they had marital relations with them. Although the Kuru kingdom was a well-known monarchical state in the ancient world, the 6th and 5th centuries BC saw the formation of a republican form of government in the lands of the Kuru. Kautilya’s Arthashastra, written in Sanskrit in the 4th century BCE, also states that the Kauravas followed the Raja Bronze Constitution. 16 Mahajanapadas History In Details


The kingdom of Kaushal was located close to the kingdom of Magadha. With Ayodhya as its capital, Kaushal was bound by the Ganges River in the south, the Gandak River in the east and the Himalaya Mountains in the north. According to Vedic texts, Kosala was the largest and most powerful kingdom ever in history. At the time of Buddha and Mahavira, the kingdom of Kaushal was ruled by King Prasenjit. After a series of moves for supremacy by Kosala and Magadha, the kingdom of Kosala was finally merged with Magadha, when Kosala was ruled by Vidudhab. 16 Mahajanapadas History In Details


The Mallas of the Malla Empire are often described as powerful people who lived in northern South Asia. Many Buddhist texts refer to the state as the dominion of a republic which is composed of nine regions. Like the Kuru, the Malla Empire also had monarchical forms of government, but later moved to a republican form of government. Ancient cities like Kusinara and Pava, which belonged to the Malla Empire. Considered extremely important by Jains and Buddhists. Lord Mahavir had his last meal at Kushinara, Gautam Buddha had his last meal at Pava. Both Kusinara and Pava are believed to have hosted the Buddha for a long time.


The Panchala kingdom was situated to the east of the Kuru kingdom between the Ganges River and the Himalayan mountain ranges. Panchala was divided into two parts, namely Dakshina-Panchal and Uttara-Panchala. While Adhikshara (present-day Bareilly) served as the capital of Uttara-Panchala, Kampilya (present-day Farrukhabad) was made the capital of Dakshina-Panchala. Originally a monarchical state, Panchala is believed to have turned into a republican dominion during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. It is said in Kautilya’s Arthashastra that Panchala followed the Raja Bronze Constitution. The kingdom was later abolished by the Maurya Empire and then by the Gupta Empire.


The Matsya kingdom was located to the south of the Kuru kingdom and west of the Yamuna river, was founded by an Indo-Aryan tribe of the Vedic age. Apart from serving as the main water source, the Yamuna also separated the Matsya kingdom from the Panchalas. Biratnagar (present-day Bairat), named after the founder of the state, Virat, was the capital of Matsya. According to ancient texts, a king named Sujata ruled Chedis along with Matsya, which later became a separate kingdom. Although Matsya was described as a ‘Mahajanapada’ in various Buddhist texts, its political power had waned by the time of Buddha.


The kingdom of Chedi finds great prominence in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. According to the ancient text, Chedi ruled by a king named Shishupala, who was an ally of the kings of Magadha and Kuru. The city named Suktimati is described as the capital of the state. Although the exact location of modern-day Suktimati was yet to be ascertained, F. Prominent historians like E. Pargitar and Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri say that the ancient city was established near present-day Banda in Uttar Pradesh. An Indian archaeologist named Dilip Kumar Chakraborty has claimed that the ruins of a historic city near the outskirts of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh may unlock more information related to the state and its capital.


The earliest reference to the people of Anga is made in the ‘Atharvaveda’, which describes the Angas as a depressed people. The ‘Jain Prajapana’ claims that the Angas were among the earliest groups of Aryans. Over time, the kingdom of Anga became a major center of trade, attracting merchants from neighboring states. Anga and its rival Magadha were separated by the Champa River, which served as the main water source for both kingdoms. In the end the one and only victory of King Bimbisara was captured by Magadha.


After Mahavira and Buddha, the kingdom of Avanti was considered one of the four great monarchies along with Kosala, Magadha and Vatsa. Apart from serving as the state’s major source of water, the Narmada River also divided Avanti into two parts – North Avanti and South Avanti. However, North and South Avanti were unified at the time of Buddha and Mahavira, during which Ujjaini served as the common capital of the unified kingdom. Avanti was a great center of Buddhism. When King Shishunaga defeated Nandivardhana, Avanti became a part of Magadha.


The Vatsa or Vama, which was located near present-day Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, thrived under a monarchical form of government. King Udayana of the 7th century BC ruled Vatsa with Kaushambi as his capital. Although Udayana initially opposed the teachings of the Buddha but later in his life he became a follower of the Buddha and even made Buddhism the state religion of Kaushambi. The capital city of Vatsa attracted many wealthy merchants who made Kaushambi their home. Kaushambi was a major center for travelers and goods, which came from the south and north-west.


Asaka was located in southern India. In addition to serving as the state’s major source of water, the Godavari River separated the Aska from the Mulka, also known as the Alka. It is said that Mulka was once a part of Asaka. According to Buddhist texts, King Brahmadatta ruled over his capital Asaka in Potka (present-day Maharashtra). Asaka is described as one of the 16 Mahajanapadas’ in the ancient Buddhist text known as the ‘Anguttara Nikaya’.


The kingdom of Surasena was situated to the west of the Yamuna river and to the east of the Matsya kingdom. Surasena played an important role in the propagation of Buddhism as king of Avantiputra, one of the earliest known chief disciples of the Buddha. In the time of Megasthenes, Mathura, the capital of Surasena, was known as a city where the worship of Krishna was considered prominent. The kingdom of Surasena, which once flourished, was later annihilated by the Magadha Empire.


It was one of the most prominent ‘Mahajanapadas’ of ancient India. Vajji finds mention in Jain texts Bhagwati Sutras and Buddhist texts such as Angara Nikaya. Vajji was situated on the north of the river Ganges and was surrounded by the river Gandaki in the west. As the main source of water for Vajji, the Gandaki River is believed to have played an important role in separating Vajji from the Mallas and Kosalas. Apart from Vaishali, which was its capital, Vajji also housed popular ancient cities such as Hathtigama, Bhoganagara, and Kundapura.


Ancient Kashi was bound by the Varuna river in the north and the river Asi in the south. The kingdom of Kashi, with its capital at Varanasi, was the most powerful of the ‘Mahajanapadas’ before the time of Buddha. Many ancient texts speak a lot about Kashi, which was one of the most prosperous kingdoms during his heyday. Hence Kashi was in constant conflict with the kingdoms of Kaushal, Magadha and Anga, who were trying to besieged Kashi. Although Kaushal was once defeated by Kashi, it was later annexed by Kaushal under the rule of King Kansa, who ruled during the time of Buddha.

16 Mahajanapadas India History

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