Magadha, located in southern Bihar, was one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas, or ‘Great Kingdoms’ of ancient India that emerged in the 6th century BC. Before its expansion, the Magadha kingdom resembled the modern districts of Patna, Jehanabad, Nalanda, Aurangabad, Arwal, Nawada, and Gaya in southern Bihar. It was bordered by the Ganges River in the north, the Champa River in the east, the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the south, and the Son River in the west.
About Magadha Empire
- In the coming century, Magadha became the most powerful state in this region and it gained control over the rest of the states.
- Under Magadha were the territories of the present-day Patna, Nalanda, and Gaya districts. Its capital was at Grivraj or Rajgriha (present-day Rajgir).
- The flourishing of the Magadha Empire and the early history of the Magadha kingdom is discussed in the Mahabharata. The mention of Videha kingdom towards the north from the Ganges and the kingdom of Magadha towards the south has come in the Mahabharata. It mentions the ruler of Magadha, Jarasandha, who was defeated by Bhima in a duel. This incident happened shortly before the great war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. It is difficult to determine the exact chronology of this event.
- After the 6th century BC, the political position of Magadha began to strengthen. In this the contribution of two rulers was decisive, Bimbisara and Ajatashatru. Both were rulers of the Haryanka dynasty and were contemporaries of Mahatma Buddha.
- According to the Mahayana, Bimbisara ascended the throne at the age of fifteen and ruled for more than a half-century (544–492 BC). Under him, the expansion of Magam’s empire began. He was an ambitious ruler and also an able diplomat.
- To strengthen his political position, Bimbisara adopted the policy of matrimonial relations. His first wife was Kosala Devi, the princess of Kosala. In this marriage, Vidhisar got the territory of Kashi as a dowry. Simultaneously the ruler of Kosala became his friend. This strengthened Bimbisara’s position in conflict with other states.
- Bimbisara’s second child, Chellana, was a princess of the Licchavi ruling family of Vaishali. This marriage strengthened the relations of Bimbisara with the Vajjis. His third wife was the Madra princess of Punjab. Having secured the western and northern borders, Bimbisara attacked his eastern neighbor, the kingdom of Anga, and killed its ruler Brahmadatta.
- In the capital of Anga, Champa, he appointed his son Ajatashatru as the ruler.
- Bimbisara fought with Chand Pradyot Mahasen, the ruler of Avanti, which was inconclusive. Eventually, the two made friends and Bimbisara sent his physician Jeevak to Ujjain for the treatment of Pradyota.
- According to one account, Bimbisara had diplomatic contacts with the ruler of Gandhara.
- Thus Bimbisara expanded the territories of Magadha through war and diplomacy and increased his prestige.
- Bimbisara’s life ended in tragic circumstances. His ambitious son Ajatashatru took his father captive to take over the throne.
- In Buddhist sources, Ajatashatru is said to be the killer of his father but Jain sources do not agree with this.
Ajatashatru (492-460 BC)
- Ajatashatru carried forward the imperialist policy of his father.
- He fought two important wars. The first war took place with Prasenjit, the ruler of Kosala, who recaptured Kashi. Ajatashatru defeated Prasenjit and forced the treaty.
- Magadha regained the territory of Kashi and Vajira, the princess of Kosala, was married to Ajatashatru.
- The second war took place with the Republic of Vajji. For this, a military cantonment was built at the confluence of the Ganges, Gandak, and Son rivers, from where the campaign on Vaishali would be facilitated. This region came to be known as Patligrama which later became known as Pataliputra and became the capital of the vast empire of Magadha. In this war, deceit was also used. According to the Bhagwati Sutra, Ajatashatru, with the help of his minister Vasskar, weakened their power by dividing the members of the Vajji sangha.
- After that, he attacked Vaishali and conquered it.
- Thus Magadha became the suzerainty on both sides of the Ganges river.
- The kingdom of Avanti still remained a strong enemy of Magadha. At the end of the reign of Ajatashatru, the possibility of an invasion of Magadha by the king of Avanti presented itself. Ajatashatru built fortifications for the protection of Rajgir. The remains of these walls can still be seen. For some reason, Avanti’s attack was averted.
- By the death of Ajatashatru, the first phase of the expansion of Magadha had been completed and the position of Magadha was becoming paramount among the contemporary states.
Udayin (460-444 BC)
- Ajatashatru’s successor was Udayabhadra (Udayin). After the expansion of the empire’s territories to the north and west, Rajgir was no longer suitable as a capital.
- Being situated at the confluence of major rivers, Pataliputra was important from the point of view of communication, transport, and trade. So Udayin made Pataliputra his capital. With this, the rise of Pataliputra began.
Udayin’s successors were weak and unfit. According to the Mahavansh, all these were also paternalist. So the people got fed up with him and put an end to his power. The last ruler of this dynasty was Nagdasaka.
- The capital of Magadha was established at Vaishali by the next ruler, Shishunaga.
- He further expanded the boundaries of Magadha.
- His greatest success was the victory over the kingdom of Avanti. With this, almost a century-old rivalry between these two states ended.
- According to the Puranas, the army of the Pradyota dynasty was destroyed and the region of Avanti joined the Magadha Empire.
- Shishunaga also conquered the kingdoms of Vatsa and Kosala.
The second Buddhist council was organized at Vaishali under his successor Kalashoka. But the reign of Kalashok was short-lived. After that Mahapadmananda took power (344 BC).
- Mahapadmananda is said to be of low origin but he was a great conqueror and able ruler.
- Before the rise of the Mauryas, he expanded the boundaries of the Magadha Empire the most.
- He assumed the title of Ekarat, conquered Kalinga, suppressed the rebellion at Kosala and strengthened his control over it, and possibly extended his empire as far as northern Karnataka.
His last descendant was Dhanananda during whose reign Alexander’s campaign in India took place.
The Nanda Empire was in a powerful state during Dhanananda’s reign. It is said that due to the military force of the Nanda dynasty, especially the elephant army, Alexander’s soldiers refused to cross the banks of the river Vyas and Alexander’s Indian campaign remained incomplete. Dhananand was a tyrannical ruler and unpopular among the subjects.
Taking advantage of the political instability prevailing after the return of Alexander, Chandragupta Maurya killed Dhananand and took control of Pataliputra, and the power of the Maurya dynasty was established over the Magadha Empire.
Reasons for the rise of Magadha Empire
- Iron mines: There were many iron mines in this area that were helpful in the manufacture of good weapons.
- Weapons: Development of new weapons e.g. Mahashilakantaka and Rathmusal etc.
- Location: The kingdom of Magadha was situated in the center of the mid-Gangetic valley. The region was extremely fertile and prosperous. Due to the prosperous state of agriculture, it was also easy for the ruling class to get economic resources that were essential for the expansion of the empire.
- Trade in this region was also in a prosperous stage and due to this additional economic resources were also available.
- Elephants were also available in abundance in the region of Magadha, with the help of which it was easy to control the forts and cities of the rival rulers.
- Capitals: Both the capitals of Magadha, Rajgir, and Pataliputra were very secure and strong. Rajgir was a city surrounded by five hills whose entrances were protected by strong fortifications. Pataliputra was a safe fort surrounded by four rivers, which was not easy to conquer.
- Leadership: Apart from all this, such capable and ambitious rulers remained in power in Magadha who made possible the expansion of the empire with their indomitable enthusiasm and bravery.