Magadha, Koshala, Vats, and Avanti were the four most important states in the 6th century B.C. Indian politics essentially became the history of a struggle for supremacy among these states from that period onwards. In the end, Magadha triumphed, and by the 5th century B.C., it had risen to become India’s most powerful state. Until the 4th century B.C., the Magadha empire was a significant player in Indian affairs.
The Magadhan empire’s march over the two centuries preceding the establishment of the Mauryas is similar to the Iranian empire’s march during the same time.
Causes of Magadha’s Success
- Magadha’s favourable geographical location aided in its expansion immensely. On the north, the Ganges; on the west, the Sone; and on the east, the Champa river surrounded the Magadha empire. In the south, the Vindhyas’ spurs guarded it. As a result, the Magadha empire was protected from all sides.
- Both the Rajgir and Pataliputra capitals of the Magadha empire were strategically located. Rajgir became impenetrable, surrounded by five hills.
- The Ganga, the Gandak, and the Sone confluence was known as Pataliputra. Pataliputra was thus in a strategic position, commanding communications from all sides.
- Another reason for Magadha’s ascent was its colossal army. According to legends, the Nandas had 200,000 soldiers, 60,000 cavalry, and 6000 war elephants. No other empire would be brave enough to look at Magadha, which had a large armed force. They were the first to deploy war elephants as a weapon.
- Early Buddhist and Jaina literature claim that emperors such as Bimbisar, Ajatshatru, and Mahapadam Nanda contributed significantly to the empire’s expansion. They grew and reinforced their kingdom through their policies, transforming it into a colossal empire.
- Huge iron reserves (in modern-day Jharkhand) were vital to the Magadha empire’s growth.
- Magadha was a prosperous kingdom. It had exceptionally fertile land due to its location in the central Gangetic plain. The forests were cleared using iron tools and devices, and the area had received adequate rainfall.
- In comparison to other nations, Magadha was more progressive and liberal, and the Magadhan people were highly enthusiastic about expanding their kingdom.
Magadha’s Rising Glory
Under the leadership of Bimbisara of the Haryana dynasty, a contemporary of the Buddha, Magadha rose to prominence.
He initiated a campaign of invasion and hostility that culminated in Ashoka’s Kalinga war.
Bimbisara acquired Anga and placed it under his son Ajatashatru’s viceroyalty at Champa.
Bimbisara attempted to increase his power by implementing a marriage alliance programme. He married Kosaladevi, the daughter of King Mahakosala of Kosala, and was given the Kasi village as a dowry, bringing in 100,000 revenue. His marriage to Chellana, the daughter of Chetak, the Lichchavi lord of Vaishali, is mentioned in “Mahavamsa.” He then married Vasavi, a princess from the northern kingdom of Videha. He also married Khema, the daughter of the ruler of Modra in Central Punjab. Establishing marriage links with these realms enhanced the Magadha empire’s prestige and laid the path for the empire’s westward expansion.
The conquest program was Bimbisara’s second strategy for expanding the Magadha kingdom. Bimbisara conducted an expedition against Anga’s kingdom, defeating its ruler, Brahmadatta. Anga was ceded to the Magadha kingdom and its capital city, Champa.
As a foresighted diplomat, Bimbisara had pursued a policy of friendship with distant neighbours to gain their cooperation for the empire’s safety and security.
Good Administrative System
Bimbisara solidified his victories by instituting a very efficient administrative system. His administration was extraordinarily well-organized and effective with three categories: executive, military, and high judicial officers.
From 684 B.C. to 320 B.C., India was ruled by the Magadha Empire. The two famous epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, reference the Magadha Empire. From 544 BC to 322 BC, the Magadha Empire was controlled by three dynasties.
- In the Haryana Dynasty, there were three significant kings: Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, and Udayin.
- From 544 B.C. to 492 B.C., Bimbisara ruled for 52 years. His son Ajatshatru (492-460 B.C.) imprisoned him, assassinated him, and grabbed the kingdom. Throughout his career, he pursued an ambitious expansion strategy. Udayin, Ajatshatru’s son, succeeded him.
- The Avanti kingdom was captured and absorbed into the Magadha empire under Shisunaga’s reign.
- Kalashoka was Shisunaga’s successor. In 383 BC, Buddha assembled the second Buddhist Council in Vaishali.
- Mahapadma, the founder of the Nanda Dynasty, deposed the final king of the Shishunaga Dynasty. Sarvakshatrantak (Puranas) and Ugrasena are his names. In the Puranas, he is also known as Ekrat (the lone monarch). He is credited with being India’s first empire builder.
- The Nanda dynasty’s last king was Dhanananda.
Magadha was considered the most powerful kingdom among the 16 mahajanapadas. The significant states were present north of the Vindhya and reached the northwestern border of the current state of Bihar. The former districts of Patna, Gaya and some parts of Shahbad formed the territory of Magadha. Initially, Rajgir was the capital of Magadha, but later it was shifted to Patliputra. Bimbisara was credited for the glory of the empire. His conquest policies, a precise administration system, and his relationship with his fellow rulers lead to the empire’s success.