The Magadha Empire is considered India’s first empire. It governed from 544 B.C. until 322 B.C. Before we go into the Shishunaga and Nanda Dynasties, let’s look at the Magadha Empire and its dynasties. There were sixteen great states known as Mahajanapadas during Buddha’s time. The place where a Jana lays its foot and dwells is known as Janapadas. They are the Vedic period’s realms, republics, and kingdoms on the Indian subcontinent. Names like Gandhara, Koshala, Vatsa, Magadha, Vajji, Kuru, Avanti, and Panchala appear regularly in the pages of history among the major Janapadas or Mahajanapadas.
Shishunaga Dynasty (412 BC to 344 BC)
Various political groups arose in northern and northwestern India when Vedic civilisation took hold in the Indian subcontinent circa 1500 BCE. This changed in the 6th century BCE when some kingdoms arose in the rich Indo-Gangetic plains to the east. During this period, the Indian subcontinent was divided into two political units: the Janapadas (roughly translated as “common people’s footing”) and the Mahajanapadas (roughly translated as “common people’s foothold”) (the greater foothold of the people). There were 16 Mahajanapadas, and four of them rose to prominence in the 6th century BCE: Kosala, Avanti, Vatsa, and Magadha. The ancient kingdom of Kosala roughly corresponds to sections of modern-day Uttar Pradesh, India.
From 412 BC until 344 BC, the Shishunaga Dynasty governed Magadha. Shishunaga and Kalasoka are the most well-known monarchs of the Shishunaga dynasty.
The Kalashoka Rule
We don’t know anything about Kalashoka’s reign. During his father Shishunaga’s reign, he served as viceroy of the key city of Varanasi (Kashi). Apart from the Second Buddhist Council, which occurred during his reign about 383 BCE, his reign will be known for the crucial episode of the definitive move of the Magadhan capital to Pataliputra (modern Patna), a fortified town originally erected by Ajatashatru and his son Udaya. It was a period of rapid Magadhan development. Kalashoka had to maintain the existing administrative and military organisation, which included the four conventional units of cavalry, chariots, infantry, and elephants.
He was Governor of kasi before becoming King of Magada. He annexed Avanti, ending Magada and Avanti’s long-running feud. The capital was later moved to Vasari.
Kalashoka shifted the capital to Pataliputra. In Vaishali, he presided over the Second Buddhist Council. He was assassinated during the Nanda dynasty’s enthronement.
The Ascension of Shishunaga
Shishunaga’s life and childhood are mostly unknown. According to Buddhist traditions, he was a very effective Magadha official who would have pleased the population and thus risen to the pinnacle with hard work and honesty. The literature of the time paints a vivid picture of his ascension to power. The former Haryanka Dynasty warriors monarchs were succeeded to the throne one by one through patricides from the period of King Ajatashatru until the Shishunagas arrived. This internal family slaughter enraged the common people, who removed the dynasty’s final monarch, possibly named Nagadasaka, and replaced him with the kingdom’s most competent official.
Ancient Indian society had been split into four primary castes of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. It turned into a sphere of influence for the Brahmins since the arrival of the Vedas after 1500 BCE. However, because civilisation was concentrated mostly in the northwest during the period, the Vedic corpus did not extend to the east of India. This is most likely why various ideologies and ideas arose mostly in this portion of India.
Shishunaga inherited Magadha’s ample land and riches. The Magadha area, now Bihar, has always been rich in natural resources, iron ores for weapon making, and forests with woodlands and elephants to aid the army. Its fields, too, produced enough grain to feed vast armies, and the Haryanka monarchs, beginning with Bimbisara’s reign, took advantage of this. During Shishunaga’s reign, the Magadhan army was reinforced even further, and his greatest military triumph, which even topped that of his predecessors, was defeating the Avanti Kingdom.
Shishunaga’s son Kalashoka succeeded him, although nothing is known about his military exploits. He must have primarily basked in the glory of his father’s victories. Kalashoka had eleven sons who succeeded him, but records are few. Instead of appointing one capable brother to the throne, they were supposed to have split the country amongst themselves. The empire was greatly weakened in subsequent years, and it fell apart quickly.
The facts are murkier after the Shishunaga Dynasty’s reign than they were at the start. Mahanandin was the final Shishunaga ruler, according to Hinduism’s Puranas. Mahananda was most likely Kalashoka’s grandson; he might have been a son of Nandivardhan, one of Kalashoka’s sons, but without further archaeological evidence, it’s impossible to say if he was one of Kalashoka’s sons or a grandson. According to legend, Kalashoka was brutally slain by a Shudra, a low caste man who took the throne and founded the Nanda Dynasty.
Shishunaga Dynasty Successors
Following Sishunaga, political tensions arose over the Magadhan kingdom’s entry. Kalashoka then ascended the throne and ruled for the next 28 years. He is recognised as having shifted the Magadhan capital permanently from Vaishali to Pataliputra. He also organised the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali.
From c. 413 BCE until c. 345 BCE, the Shishunaga dynasty (also Sishunaga/Shishunaga Dynasty) controlled the Magadha Kingdom in ancient India (in some sources from 421 BCE). After the Brihadratha and the Haryanka, it is supposed to be Magadha’s third imperial dynasty, albeit the Brihadratha Dynasty is now regarded as mythological. Shishunaga, the dynasty’s first monarch, came to power when the people revolted against the older Haryanka Dynasty in the 5th century BCE and was named after him. The Shishunaga Dynasty had a brief reign before being superseded by the Nandas and later the Mauryas. Still, it contributed to the Magadhan Empire’s sturdy foundation, which would rule the Indian subcontinent for centuries.