16 mahajanpadas political social structure and history

16 mahajanpadas in India sources of information - Angutara Nikaya, a Buddhist scripture mentions about 16 great kingdoms or Mahajanapadas during 6th century BCE in India. emerged during vedic age.
emergence of Mahajanapada in eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar during the 6th to 4th century BCE 

Reasons of emergence -agriculture flourished due to the availability of fertile lands and iron production increased due to availability of iron ore in large quantities.
expansion of the territories of the Janapadas (due to the use of iron weapons) and later addressed as 16 highly developed regions or the Mahajanapadas.

16 mahajanpadas location map

Emergence of mahajanpadas from janpadas

The Janapadas were the major kingdoms of Vedic India. During that period, Aryans were the most powerful tribes and were called ‘Janas’. This gave rise to the term Janapada where Jana means ‘people’ and Pada means ‘foot’.
By the 6th century BCE, there were approximately 22 different Janapadas. 

Socio-economic developments chiefly due to the use of iron tools in agriculture and military, along with religious and political developments led to the rise of the Mahajanapadas from small kingdoms or Janapadas.
The people gained a strong allegiance to the territory or Janapada they belonged to rather than the tribe or the jana. This period is also known as the era of second urbanisation, first being the Harappan civilisation.
During that period, the political centre shifted from the west of the Indo-Gangetic plains to the eastern side of it. This was due to better fertility of the land because of more rainfall and rivers. Also, this region was closer to iron production centres.

the list of 16 mahajanpadas : features and administration and their capitals

Anga Capital: Champao

  • Anga Mahajanapada finds reference in the Mahabharata and Atharva Veda.
  • During the rule of Bimbisara, it was taken over by Magadha Empire.
  • location - present-day Bihar and West Bengal.
  • capital - Champa was located at the confluence of the Ganga and
  • the Champa rivers.
  • It was an important commercial centre on the trade routes and
  • merchants sailed from here to Suvarnabhumi (South East Asia).

Magadha Capital: Girivraja/

  • Rajagriha Magadha finds mention in the Atharva Veda.
  • located - in present-day Bihar close to Anga, divided by river Champa.
  • Later, Magadha became a centre of Jainism and the first Buddhist
  • Council was held in Rajagriha.

Kasi/Kashi Capital: Kasio 

  • It was located in Varanasi.
  • This city got its name from rivers Varuna and Asi as cited in the Matsya Purana.
  • Kasi was captured by Kosala.

Vatsa Capital: Kausambi

  • Vatsa also known as Vamsa.
  • Located on the banks of the Yamuna.
  • This Mahajanapada followed the monarchical form of governance.
  • The capital was Kausambi/Kaushambi (which was at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna).
  • This was a central city for economic activities.
  • Trade and business prospered in the 6th century. After the rise of Buddha, the ruler Udayana made Buddhism a state religion.

kosala Capital: Shravasti (northern), Kushavati (southern)

  • modern awadh in uttarpradesh
  • The area also included Ayodhya, an important city associated with the Ramayana.
  • Kosala also included the tribal republican territory of Sakyas of
  • Kapilavastu. Lumbini in Kapilavastu is the birthplace of Gautama Buddha.
  • Important king – Prasenajit (Buddha’s contemporary)

Shurasena Capital: Mathurao

  • This place was a centre of Krishna worship at the time of Megasthenes.
  • There was a dominance of the Buddha’s followers also.
  • Important king – Awantipura (Disciple of Buddha).
  • Its capital Mathura was on the banks of the Yamuna.

Panchala Capital: Ahichchatra and Kampilyao 

  • Its capital for northern Panchala was Ahichchatra (modern Bareilly) and Kampilya (modern Farrukhabad) for its southern regions.
  • The famous city of Kannauj was situated in the Kingdom of Panchala.
  • Later the nature of governance shifted from monarchy to republic.

Kuru Capital:Indraprasthao

  • The area around Kurukshetra was apparently the site for Kuru Mahajanapada.
  • It moved to a republic form of governance.
  • The epic poem, the Mahabharata, tells of a conflict between two branches of the reigning Kuru clan.

Matsya Capital: Viratanagarao

  • It was situated to the west of the Panchalas and south of the Kurus.
  • The capital was at Viratanagara (modern Bairat).
  • It is situated around present-day Jaipur, Alwar and Bharatpur area of Rajasthan.
  • Founder – Virata

Chedi Capital: Sothivati

  • This was cited in the Rigveda.
  • The capital was Sothivati/Shuktimati/Sotthivatinagara
  • It located in the present-day Bundelkhand region (Central India).
  • King – Shishupala. He was killed by Vasudeva Krishna during the Rajasuya sacrifice of the Pandava king Yudhishthira.

Avanti Capital: Ujjaini or

  • Mahismatio Avanti was significant in relation to the rise of Buddhism.
  • The capital of Avanti was located at Ujjaini (northern part) and Mahismati (southern part).
  • It was situated around present-day Malwa and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Important king – Pradyota.
  • Father-in-law of Udayana (King of the Vatsas).

Gandhara Capital: Taxilao The capital was at Taxila (Takshashila).

  • Present-day location – Modern Peshawar and Rawalpindi, Pakistan and the Kashmir valley.
  • Gandhara is cited in the Atharva Veda.
  • The people were highly trained in the art of war.
  • It was significant for international commercial activities.
  • Important king – Pushkarasarin.
  • Gandhara was conquered by Persians in the latter part of the sixth century BCE.

Kamboja Capital: Poonch

  • location - present-day Kashmir and Hindukush.
  • Kamboja was a republic according to literary sources.
  • Kambojas had an excellent breed of horses.

Asmaka or Assaka Capital: Potali/Podanao

  • located - on the banks of Godavari.
  • It was the only Mahajanapada situated to the south of the Vindhya Range and was in Dakshinapatha.
  • It included the region of Pratisthan or Paithan.

Vajji Capital: Vaishalio

  • North of Ganga in the division of Tirhut was the state of the Vajjis.
  • It included eight clans, the most powerful being the Lichchhavis
  • (Capital – Vaishali), Videhans (Capital – Mithila), Jnatrikas (based in Kundapura).
  • Mahavira belonged to the Jnatrikas clan.
  • The Vajjis were defeated by Ajatashatru.

Malla Capital: Kusinarao

  • It finds a reference in Buddhist and Jain texts and in the Mahabharata.
  • Malla was a republic.
  • Its territory touched the northern border of the Vajji state.
  • Capitals – Kusinara and Pava.
  • Both capitals are important in the history of Buddhism. The Buddha took his last meal at Pava and went to Mahaparinirvana at Kusinara.

Political structure of mahajanpadas

Most of the states were monarchies but some were republics known as Ganas or Sanghas.
These Ganasanghas were oligarchies where the king was elected and he ruled with the help of a council.
Vajji was an important Mahajanapada with a Sangha form of government.
The founders of Jainism and Buddhism came from republican states.
Each Mahajanapada had a capital city.
Most of them had forts built around them for protection from other kings.
Regular armies were maintained by these new kings or Rajas.

monarchial mahajanpadas 

The king was hereditory and they gave importance to vedic sacrifices. some of the Monarchial Mahajanpadas were - Kosala and magadha, anga, vatsa, kasi Gandhara, Chedi, Saursena and Matsya were Monarchies

Republican Mahajanpadas or Gana sanghas

The head was elected by peoples or group of people and ruled with the help of assembly called Sabha. Republican Mahajanpadas were - Vajji, Malla, kuru, and kamboj.

Economy - mahajanpadas

taxes collected from the people. Usually, the tax on crops was 1/6th of the produce.
This was known as Bhaga or share. Even craftsmen, herders, hunters and traders were taxed.

Changes in Agriculture during mahajanpadas

The growing use of iron ploughshares, This increased production. The farmers began transplanting paddy. This means that instead of scattering seeds on the soil, saplings were grown and planted in the fields. This greatly increased the production but work also increased manifold.

Administrative system during mahajanpadas

  • The king was accorded the highest official status.
  • The king was chiefly a warlord who led his kingdom from one victory to another.
  • The king governed with the help of officials. Higher officials were known as ‘Amatyas’ or ‘Mahamatras’ and they performed several functions like those of Commander (Senanayaka),
  • Minister (Mantrin), chief accountant, judge and head of the royal harem.
  • Ayuktas were another class of officers who also conducted similar functions in a few states.
  • The Buddhist text mentions an influential minister named Varsakara who helped Ajatashatru conquer Vaishali by creating dissension among the Lichchhavis of Vaishali.
  • The village headmen (Gramini, Gramabhojaka or Gramika) were responsible for the villages’ administration.
  • The real enhancement in state power is evident by the establishment of huge professional armies.
  • robust fiscal system was required to maintain huge army.
  •  The peasants had also to pay a compulsory payment called ‘Bali’, which was collected by special officers called ‘Balisadhakas’. During Vedic times, this payment was voluntary and paid by tribesmen to their chiefs.
  • One-sixth of the produce was collected as tax by the king from the peasants.
  • The development of writing may have aided in tax assessment and collection. Tax was paid in both cash as well as kind. 
  • Popular assemblies i.e, the Sabha and the Samithi had practically disappeared and instead, a small body called Parishad, consisting exclusively of the Brahmanas, served as the advisory council to the king.

legal and social system during mahajanpadas

  • The Indian legal and judicial system originated in this period. 
  • The society or tribal community had been clearly divided into four classesBrahmanas (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (peasants and taxpayers) and Shudras (who served all other classes). 
  • The Dharmasutra- duties for each of the varna and the civil and the criminal law came to be based on the varna division.
  • The higher the varna, the purer it was and higher was the order of moral conduct expected.
  • All kinds of disabilities were imposed on the Shudras. They were deprived of all the rights and relegated to the lowest position in the society.
  • The law makers emphasized the fiction that Shudras were born from the feet of the creator.
  • The Shudras were specifically asked to serve the dvijas (twice-born – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas) as slaves, artisans and agricultural labourers.
  • Civil and criminal laws were administered by royal agents who inflicted rough and ready punishments such as scourging, beheading, etc.
  • In many cases, punishments for criminal offences were governed by the idea of revenge – a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye.
  • Despite the emergence of the socio-economic disparities, kinship ties continued to be extremely important, and were eventually incorporated in the caste hierarchy.
  • Extended kin groups were referred to as Nati and Nati-kulani.
  • Kula denoted extended patrilineal family, while Natakas included relatives on both mothers’ and fathers’ sides.
  • The strengthening of the patriarchal control within the household led to the increased subordination of women. Different Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Jain texts point towards the low status of women. They prescribe an ideal code of conduct and define their expected roles. The son was preferred over a daughter, as sons were thought necessary for the continuation of lineage.

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