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The Emergence Of Mahajanapadas

The origin of mahajanapadas dates back to around the sixth century B.C in the Indian subcontinent with a rise in their development. Here is a brief summary of the emergence of the 16 mahajanapadas.

The 16 great kingdoms or Mahajanapadas at the commencement of the 6th century B.C in India were cited by Angutara Nikaya, a Buddhist scripture. They appeared during the Vedic Age. The record of the appearance of Mahajanapadas can be correlated to the growth of eastern Uttar Pradesh(Bihar) during the 6th to 4th-century BCE, where agriculture thrived due to the accessibility of fertile lands and iron production improved due to the attainability of iron ore in enormous amounts. It resulted in the expansion of the territories leading to the 16 mahajanapadas flourishing.

Emergence of Mahajanapadas from Janapadas

  • The Janapadas were the prominent empires of Vedic India. During that era, Aryans were the most emphatic tribes and hence were called ‘Janas’. It gave birth to the term Janapada where Jana signifies people, and Pada means foot.
  • By the 6th century B.C., there were roughly 22 distinct Janapadas. Socio-economic expansions took place mainly due to the usage of iron tools in agriculture and the military, along with spiritual and political growths that led to the rise of the Mahajanapadas from small kingdoms or Janapadas.
  • During that time, the political base moved from the west of the Indo-Gangetic plains to the eastern side. It was due to adequate fertility of the land because of better rainfall and rivers. Furthermore, this region was nearer to iron production hubs.
  • The janapadas fought with one another for aid and political sovereignty. Some janapadas expanded their domains and obtained different Janas within their jurisdiction. Such janapadas developed into 16 mahajanapadas.

Which were the 16 Mahajanapadas?

List of 16 Mahajanapadas name that emerged before the peak of Buddhism in India:

  1. Kasi
  2. Kosala
  3. Anga
  4. Magadha
  5. Vajji
  6. Malla
  7. Chedi
  8. Vatsa
  9. Kuru
  10. Panchala
  11. Matsya
  12. Surasena
  13. Assaka
  14. Avanti
  15. Gandhara
  16. Kamboja

With time, smaller or weaker empires, and republics got eliminated by the more powerful rulers. In the 6th century, only 4 influential kingdoms stayed:

  1. Magadha (Important rulers: Bimbisara, Ajatashatru)
  2. Avanti (Important ruler: Pradyota)
  3. Kosala (Important rulers: Prasenjit)
  4. Vatsa (Important rulers: Udayana)

Later, all of them became part of Magadha.

The mahajanapadas were differentiated as Gana-sanghas and chiefdoms established on the essence of their nation.


The proto-states of the Gangetic province were understood as janapadas and included chiefdoms, republics, and small empires. The 16 mahajanapadas find their existence in the earlier texts. There were also gana-sanghas or oligarchies centered on clans. The Vrijjis were one of the most known out of all the gana-sanghas, and Vaishali was their capital in the Mithila region. The kingdoms were not under the single decision-making sovereignty of the king, but conclusions were taken on a collaborative basis by the heads of the various clans jointly. There were also more smallish kingdoms such as Kosala and Kasi.

It proves that the 16 mahajanapadas meaning the-great realms, were authentic and very important. 

Monarchies or Kingdoms

The mahajanapadas on the Gangetic plains were all cited as monarchies. Vedic orthodoxy was a conventional technique in these domains. The priestly category enjoyed a preeminent status in the mahajanapadas. The kingship was hereditary and the sequence was in most cases established on the law of primogeniture. Bali was a tax inflicted based on the size of cultivable land. Bhaga was obtained as an allocation of the crop. Thus the king increased revenue via taxes to sustain a detailed administrative structure and an army.

Political Structure of the Mahajanapadas

The 16 mahajanapadas named above had an elaborate political structure.

  • Most states were monarchies, but some were republics comprehended as Ganas or Sanghas. These Ganasanghas were oligarchies who were elected kings ruled with the aid of a council. Vajji was an important Mahajanapada with a Sangha form of administration.
  • The originators of Jainism and Buddhism arrived from republican states.
  • Each Mahajanapada had its own capital city.
  • Most of them had forts constructed near them for defense from other kings.
  • Rajas and kings maintained their regular armies.
  • They also managed taxes from the people. Usually, the tax on vegetables was 1/6th of the produce. It was understood as Bhaga or share.
  • Even the craftsmen, herders, hunters, and traders were taxed in these 16 mahajanapadas.

Changes in agriculture

There were two main modifications in agriculture:

  1. The growing usage of iron plowshares was seen in those times. It helped in increasing production.
  2. The farmers commenced transplanting paddy. This means that instead of dispersion of seeds on the soil, saplings were grown and cultivated in the fields. It increased production but work also increased manifold.


The mahajanapadas meaning great realm were the oligarchic republics existing from the sixth to fourth century B.C. 

It all started when the tribes (Janas) of the late Vedic period chose to form their territorial precincts, which ultimately gave rise to further and permanent areas of accommodations called ‘states’ or ‘janapadas. There was a firm consciousness of the pristine land of the Aryans called Aryavarta. The 16 mahajanapadas grew and flourished from the sixth century B.C to the fourth century B.C. It was also the period of the advancement of sramana movements (including Buddhism and Jainism), which questioned the spiritual orthodoxy of the Vedic Period.


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