From the UPSC point of view, not many questions have been asked in the past, but it’s important to remember the chronology and significant events during this period. We will try to be brief and highlight important points which will be important in your understanding of coming events and Dynasties.
The period of Mahajanpadas (600 BCE) is also known as the Period of 2nd urbanization (IVC was the 1st urbanization) as the center of polity and economy shifted from India’s North-west to Eastern states (mainly Bihar). Urban settlement and the use of Iron tools enabled the formation of large territories called Mahajanapadas. At that time there were 16 such Mahajanapadas (as per Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya)
Some of the Mahajanapada are (*arranged east to west)
Types of Government
There were two types of Government- Monarchy (in Kingdoms) and Republics (or Gana-Sangha) E.g. Vajji (Confederation of many clans); Shakya, and Malla (were made up of single clan) were Republics.
Difference between Kingdoms and Gana-Sangha
|Government||Centralized and Hereditary||Decentralized and was not hereditary
|Location||Most of them based in the foothills of the Himalayas||Most of them are located in the Great alluvial plains of Ganga and its tributaries|
|Decision-making||Through debate, discussion, and voting in the assembly called Santhagara||Through King, who was advised by Mantri-Parishad (ministers)|
|Views||Tolerant towards unorthodox views e.g. Mahavira and Buddha views were contrary to the Vedic system||The Brahmanical system did not tolerate other views|
|Loyalties||Clan loyalty||Caste and King loyalty|
There were constant conflicts between various Mahajanapadas and ultimately Magadha emerged as the largest Empire. The 1st Dynasty to rule Magadha was Haryanka (founded by Bimbisara).
Various Kings in Magadha Empire
|Bimbisara (Founder; Capital: Rajagriha)||
Reasons for Magadha’s success
- Advantageous geographical position:
- Magadha’s strategic location provided its proximity to the rich iron deposits. Magadhan Army had the high-quality weapon
- Its capital Rajagriha: surrounded by 5 hills – provided a natural fortification
- Patliputra: On the confluence of Rivers Ganga and Son: provided route for trade and commerce
- Ganga plains provided rich ground for agriculture to feed its standing Army
- Used Elephants on large scale: Unlike horses (used by Magadha’s rivals), Elephants can be used for storming fortresses and marching over areas lacking roads
- Good leaders: E.g. Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, Mahapadma Nanda
- Enthusiasm for expansion: Magadhan society support for unorthodox religion led to the quest for expansion to other areas
Different Aspects of the Age of Mahajanapads
Persian Invasion in India
In India’s North-west, the three Mahajanapadas of Kamboja, Madra, and Gandhara were continuously fighting with each other (there was no central authority as Magadha in the East). Taking advantage of political instability, the Persian Empire in the 6th century penetrated northwestern India. All Indian tribes west of the Indus River submitted to him and paid tribute.
Impact of the Persian Invasion:
- The impetus to Indo-Persian trade and commerce
- Persian Sigloi-type coins were copied in India
- The use of Kharoshti script (a form of Persian writing) became popular in India’s north-west
- Few of Ashoka’s edicts were also written in Kharoshti script.
Macedonian (Greek) Invasion in India
Alexander’s Invasion (326BC): Alexander (356-323 BC) after defeating Persian ruler Darius, captured most of North-West India. All the Kings submitted to him except for Porus who fought the battle of Hydaspas (near Jhelum River). His Armies were exhausted of battles and didn’t cross River Beas. On the Way to Greece, he died in Babylonia (323 BC)
Impact of Alexander’s Invasion to India:
- Established direct contact between India and Greece: Writings of Greek Historians provide an invaluable source of information for Indian historical events
- Greek merchants and craftsmen started trading with India
- Established Gandhara school of arts
- Exposed India to Invasion from the west: By opening four lines of communication (three routes by land and one by sea)
- Unification of North India under Chandragupta Maurya: Alexander’s Invasion destroyed smaller states and thus aided Mauryan Empire’s expansion to the north-west.
Not many MCQs have been asked about this topic in the UPSC exam. However, the Next Chapter Religious Reforms is very important for UPSC Prelims and Mains point of view. We will do that in Details.