Magadh With Special Emphasis On Uttar Pradesh

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Magadh with reference to Uttar Pradesh

All the states were perpetually at war with each other. Kaushal annexed Kashi  and Avanti grabbed Vats. Later on Kausha and Vats in turn were subjugated one by one by Magadh, which became most powerful in the entire region. Magadh was ruled in succession by Haryank, Shishunag and Nand Dynasty. The Nandas ruled from 343 BC to 321 BC. The Nanda empire was extended to whole of India except Punjab and Bengal. It was during their regime that Alexander invaded India in 326 BC. According to the great historians, Alexander the great could not even face the forceful Magadh army and had to return.

In the year 323 BC Chandragupta Maurya became the new emperor of Magadh. His grandson Ashoka the great created the statue of four lions in Sarnath. The Lion Capitol inscribed in the Ashoka pillar at Sarnath has been adopted by the government of India as the State Emblem. The Ashoka pillars petrography are found in Sarnath, Allahabad, Meerut, Kaushambi, Sakinssa, Basti and Mirzapur. All the cities are in Uttar Pradesh. In the  year of 232 BC, the death of Ashoka led to the downfall of Magadh dynasty.

His whole empire was divided among his five sons. The Mauryan dynasty ruled over 137 years. According to Vayu Purana the Mauryan dynasty ruled for 134 years.

The later ruler of Magadh dynasty was Brihdratha, who was assassinated by his chief commander Pushyamitra.


Detailed Political History of Magadha

Of all the Mahajanapadas, Magadha eventually emerged as most powerful mainly because of its peculiar geographical location. It was bordered by Ganga River in North, Son River in West, Vindhya ranges in south and Champa in East. The natural barriers protected Magadha from three sides and it was not easy to invade such a territory. Here is a brief account of the poltical history of Magadha since Rig-Vedic period accounts.

Earliest known king of Magadha was Brihadrath whose name appears in Rig-Veda as well as Puranas. His son Jarasandha was killed by Bhima in Mahabharata war.

The Brihadrath dynasty was followed by Pradyotas. By that time, the practice of killing one’s father to usurp the throne had crept in. The Pradyotas were notorious for patricide and irked people overthrew them in a civil revolt. Next in the line was Haranyaka dynasty, whose great King Bimbisara is remembered as most powerful King of Magadha before Mauryas. Bimbisara was a contemporary of Buddha as well as Mahavira. Bimbisara used matrimonial alliances and sending envoys to expand his power. Since patricide was in vogue those days, Bimbisara also became a victim of it. His son Ajatshatru starved him to death.

Ajatshatru was also a valorous king who expanded his empire by fighting war with Kashi, Licchhavis and others. During his reign, Mahavira, Buddha and also Makkhali Gosala or Gosala Maskariputta, the founder of Ajivikas path attained Nirvana.

Ajatshatru was a devout Buddhist as well as Jain. He enshrined the relics of Buddha in a stupa and also renovated many monasteries. Under his sponsorship, the first Buddhist Council was organized at Sattapani caves in Rajgir. By that time, Rajgir served as capital of Magadha. Ajatshatru built a fort at Pataliputra and his son Udayin developed Pataliputra as a city.

Ajatshatru was also a victim of patricide by his son Udayin. Same fate was shared by almost all kings of Haranyaka dynasty. Again there was a civil revolt and public placed Shishunaga on throne of Magadha. Shishunaga was amatya (minister) of last Haranyaka king Nagadasaka. Kalasoka, the son of Shishunaga made Pataliputra as new capital of Magadha. He may be of dark complexion as the contemporary Sri Lankan texts mention his name as Kakavarna (of color like a crow). Kalsoka sponsored second Buddhist council in 383 BC under monk Sabakami. His ten sons ruled simultaneously before Magadha slipped into hands of Nandas.

The founder of Nanda dynasty was Mahapadmananda. Since he had one of the largest standing armies in the history of world {2 Lakh infantry, 8000 war chariots, 6000 elephants!}, he is also called Ugrasena. His army was so large that he could arrange it in a lotus shape {Padmavyuh} and he was so wealthy that his wealth could be counted in Padma (One quadrillion). He subdued all the contemporary powers and consolidated power of Magadha.

Mahapadmananda, who is thought to be from humble origin {son of a barber} was the first non-kshatriya ruler in the history of India. Nandas were also the first empire builders of India.

The Nadas ruled for around 100 years. During the reign of last Nanda ruler Dhananada, Alexander invaded from west. Alexander was able to cross Beas but before he could cross Ganga, he heard that Dhananda’s 2 Lakh strong army is waiting for his men for a bloody massacre. He lost the confidence and moved back. While moving back, he died on the way probably due to Malaria.

However, this invasion along with several other such invasions from west had put the North-West on boil. In Magadha, the popularity of Dhananda had went down because of his lavishness and greed that led to extortion and corruption. The situation was such that any brave heart could seize the opportunity to topple the Nandas. This opportunity was cashed by Kautilya, who was once thrown out of Nanda’s court. To seek revenge, he groomed Chandragupta Maurya, the brave young man, who is thought to be the son of Dhananda’s shudra concubine Mura.

Chandragupta first gave a death blow to Greeks in north-west and then attacked and dethroned the Nandas. Nandas life was spared and they were asked to run with as much treasure as much their chariot could carry. The most important implication of rise of Chandragupta Maurya was that India was, for the first time perhaps, united politically. The below map shows the extent of Maurya empire at that time.

Meanwhile, Alexander was succeeded by his one of his generals Seleucus, who launched a campaign to get back the Greek territories lost to Mauryas. He was able to cross Indus, but could not succeed to defeat Chandragupta. An alliance was made in which Seleucus returned some of the won areas to Chandragupta. Chandragupta gifted some 500 war elephants to Seleucus and also some kind of matrimonial alliance was made in which son / daughter of one was married to the daughter / son of other. Seleucus also sent Megasthenes to court of Chandragupta.

In the old age, Chandragupta abdicated the throne in favour of his son Bindusara and became a disciple of Jain Monk Bhadrabahu. He spent his last days at Sharavanbelgola and supposed to have died practicing Santhara there.

Chandragupta’s successor Bindusara (also known as Amitraghata- destroyer of enemies) carried on the legacy of Mauryas and cemented good alliances with Greek King Antiochus-I. He ruled for some 25 years and was successes by Ashoka after a bloody battle of succession among his sons.

During the time of Ashoka, the boundaries of Maurya empire extended to maximum by that time. He invaded and annexed Kalinga mainly because Kalinga controlled land and sea routes to South India. However, this battle changed his mind and introduced a new element in the politics of India in the form of cultural coherence based on the moral values of Buddhism and a norm of benignity, civility and humanity in matters of governance.

However, such a policy was bound to have its side effects on polity after Ashoka’s death. Asoka died in 232 BC after ruling for four decades. His sons could not survive the waves of changes. His six successors including Jaluka, Samprati and Dasaratha could rule for only 52 years.

The life of last Maurya ruler Brihadrath was troubled. By this time, there were repeated attacks of Yavanas / Greeks from western side. His brave commander Pushyamitra Shunga was able to repel two attacks of Greeks but was not happy with the attitude of his master. He killed Brihadrath in 185-184 BC and thus closed the chapter of Mauryas from Indian history, thus founding Sunga dynasty.

Pushyamitra and his son Agnimitra ruled from Pataliputra. The later Shungas made Vidisha as their capital.  However, by the time of Shungas, many independent rulers had appeared in west as well as south. The most remarkable was rise of Satavahanas in south and Indo-Greeks, Kushanas, and many others in west and Kharvela in Kalinga (east).   Thus, the boundaries of Magadh by the time of Shunga had narrowed down to some parts of Central India.

The last Shunga ruler Devabhuti was killed by his own amatya (minister) Vasudeva Kanva around 73BC. Thus, Magadha slipped into hands of Kanvas, who were Brahmins by caste. Only few rulers of this Kanva dynasty are known on the basis of numismatics. This dynasty was finally overthrown by Satavahanas in 30BC and thus once mighty Magadha was broken into many small parts ruled by different dynasties at different periods.

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