16 Mahajanapadas

16 mahajanapadas

Knowing about the civilizations, dynasties, and kingdoms of ancient times is crucial to understanding the geography, history, political activities, and developments of a land. Such an area of learning within Indian history is the Mahajanapadas. Additionally, this is a part of the Ancient Indian History syllabus for UPSC exams.

How many Mahajanapadas were there? Which are these kingdoms that formed in the sixth century in India? Why were they known as Mahajanapadas? Who was the founder king of these regions? How did these powerful states come into being? Which texts or literature mentions these regions of India? How did they influence the formation of dynasties and modern districts of India?  Read through this article to learn more about the ancient history of India, the 16 Mahajanapadas, and their kings. 

What Is Mahajanapadas?

The Sanskrit word “MahaJanapada” is a composite word made up of the phrases maha and janapada, which signify “foothold of a people” and “great” respectively.

As per existing literature on ancient Indian empires, India was divided into sixteen regions or 16 Mahajanapadas each known by different names. These 16 regions were political bodies that ruled the Indian subcontinent from 6th Century BC onwards, that is, before the advent of Buddhism and Jainism. These ancient kingdoms of India were called Janas in Vedic texts and ancient literature. These Janas soon became big political bodies. Later, they merged and were renamed in the coming periods thereby giving birth to massive Indian cities.

Why Janapadas Extended To Mahajanpadas? The production of iron is a crucial component of the territorial state’s growth. Because of the manufacture of iron (or iron tools), Janapadas became Mahajanapadas. Buddhist literature mention 16 mahajanapadas list that developed between the sixth and fourth century.

How Many Mahajanapadas Were There?

Sixteen Mahajanapadas were there. Names of all such Mahajanpadas are:

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

This table will give you the details about mahajanapadas and their capitals:

Mahajanapada Mahajanapadas Capital City Modern Location of Mahajanapada Facts about Mahajanapada
Anga Champa Munger and Bhagalpur Anga is brought up in literary sources like the Mahabharata and the Atharva Veda. The Magadha empire overthrew the kingdom of Anga while it was ruled by the well-known king Bimbisara. Anga was an active center of trade and commercial activities with immense importance as it lay on principal trade routes and merchants of Anga regularly sailed to Suvarnabhoomi. It lies in the present-day states of Bihar and West Bengal in India.
Magadha Girivraja/ Rajagriha Gaya and Patna Magadha is mentioned in literature such as the Atharva Veda. In this literature, it is described as a semi-Brahmanical settlement. It bordered Anga in present-day Bihar of India, separated by the Champa River. Later on, it became a Jain center. As per Buddhist texts, the first-ever Buddhist Council took place in Rajagriha. 
Kasi Kasi Banaras (Uttar Pradesh) It was in Varanasi. According to the Matsya Purana, this city gained its name from Varuna and Asi rivers.
Vatsa Kausambi Allahabad Vatsa is referred to as Vamsa. This region was governed by a monarchical form of government. In the 6th century BC, Vatsa was a prosperous active center of trade located around the present-day city of Allahabad in India. The Vatsa capital was Kaushambi, a town that prospered because it served as a major gateway for goods and people.  This famous city served as a hub for economic activity. Vatsa’s ruler, the famous king Udyana, was a powerful king who adopted Buddhism as his official religion.
Kosala Sravasti (Northern Capital) Kushavati (Souther Capital) Eastern Uttar Pradesh It was in the present Awadh area of Uttar Pradesh in India. Sravasti and Kushavati were its capital. The renowned King Prasenajit governed Kosala, and his son Vidudabha took over after him. Ayodhya, Saketa, Banaras, and Sravasti comprised the Chief Cities of Kosala.
Saurasena Mathura Western Uttar Pradesh During Megasthenes’ time, this location was an active center of Krishna devotion. In addition, there was a strong presence of Buddhist traditions in the area.
Panchala Ahichchatra and Kampliya Western Uttar Pradesh The northern Panchala capital was Ahichchatra, and the southern Panchala capital was Kampilaya. It is in the present-day state of Uttar Pradesh’s western region. Later, the government transitioned from a monarchical form of government to a republican form of government. Kanyakubja, commonly known as Kanauj, was a part of Panchal.
Kuru Indraprastha Meerut and Southeastern Haryana Kuru is said to be based around Kurukshetra. Kuru later adopted a republican form of government.
Matsya Viratnagar Jaipur The location of Matsya was in the South of Kuru and West of Panchala Mahajanapada. The capital was housed at Viratnagar after the founder king Virata. The region around present-day Bharatpur, Alwar, and Jaipur of India was the Matsya Mahajanapada in ancient times.
Chedi Sothivati Jaipur Chedi Mahajanapada finds its mentions in the Rigveda. Sothivati served as Chedi Mahajanapada’s capital city. It was in the Bundelkhand region of present-day Central India.
Avanti Ujjaini or Mahismati Malwa and Madhya Pradesh Avanti Mahajanapada played a pivotal role in the growth of Buddhism. Ujjaini and Mahismati acted as its Capitals. The present-day Malwa region and Madhya Pradesh of India are where Avanti was situated.
Gandhara Taxila Rawalpindi Taxila was the capital of Gandhara Mahajanapada. Atharva Veda cites Gandhara. Gandhara Mahajanapada had many highly trained warriors and furious people. A significant center considering international trade and commercial activities.
Kamboja Pooncha Rajori and Hajra Poonch served as the capital city of Kamboja. Kamboja Mahajanapada stretched from present-day Kashmir to cis-Hindukush region. Kamboja was mentioned as a republic in several literary texts.
Ashmaka or Assaka Potali/Podana Banks of Godavari The only Mahajanapada located in the Dakshinapantha i.e. the southern part of the Vindhya Range. Assaka ranged from present-day Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra of India. It was located on Godavari banks. Pratisthan/Paithan region came under this Mahajanapada. One of its capital Potali was situated in present-day Nandura, Buldhana District., Maharashtra.
Vajji Vaishali Bihar This Mahajanapada that lay in the Trihut division, north of Ganga, was ruled by Vajjis. Vaishali was its capital. The main clans residing in this Mahajanapada were Licchavis, Vedehans, Jnatrikas, and Vajjis. Mahavira came from the Jnatrikas clan.
Malla Kusinara Deoria, Uttar Pradesh Buddhist texts like the Anguttara Nikaya and Jain scriptures and the Mahabharata make a note of this. Malla used to be a republic. Kusinara, its capital was a famous city located in what is now Deoria, Uttar Pradesh in India.

Features Of Mahajanapadas

There are seven features or main constituents of Mahajanapadas of India. They are listed below:

  1. The King
  2. The Minister
  3. The Country
  4. Fortified City
  5. Treasury
  6. Army, and
  7. Ally

Political Structure Of Sixteen Mahajanapadas

  1. Many states in ancient India had monarchical forms, but some of them, known as Ganas or Sanghas, had republic forms of governance. In ancient oligarchies known as Ganasanghas, the king was chosen and oversaw affairs of state with the aid of a council. Vajji was a well-known Mahajanapada who presided over the Sangha system of government.
  2. The founders of Buddhism and Jainism came from republican nations.
  3. There was a capital in each Mahajanapada.
  4. Most of them had forts constructed around them to protect them from other kings.
  5. These new rulers, known as Rajas, kept constant armies.
  6. Additionally, taxes were levied against the populace. Typically, crops were taxed at 1/6th of their worth. This practice was known as Bhaga or sharing.
  7. All tradespeople, including artisans, herders, hunters, and traders paid taxes.

Gana-Sanghas VS Kingdoms

Gana – Sanghas  Kingdoms
1. The chief post, referred to as Ganaraja or Ganapati, was not hereditarily determined. 1. The founder King along with his family had all of the power.
2. The Ganasanghas were situated in or around eastern India’s Himalayan foothills. 2. Many of these kingdoms were located in the lush alluvial expanses of the Ganga valley.
3. Under Ganasangha, a representative government system was in place. The council met in a space known as Santhagara to debate and examine the problems. Wooden blocks called Salakas were used for voting, and a Salaka-Gahapaka (vote collector) ensured accuracy and impartiality. 3. With the assistance of ministers and advisory bodies like the Parishad and Sabha, the king exercised political power. As the idea of the king’s divinity spread, the significance of public gatherings diminished while priestly rituals gained in importance.
4. Only two strata existed in the Gana-Sanghas: the Kshatriya Rajakula (ruling family) and the Dasa Karmakara (slaves and laborers). 4. Caste loyalty and kingly fidelity were emphasized. 
5. The Gana Sanghas were more hospitable than the kingdoms. Owing to this tolerance, Mahavira (Jainism, a member of the Vajji confederacy) and Buddha (Buddhism, a member of the Shakya clan) had more freedom to promote their ideas in Gana-Sanghas over Kingdoms. 5. The social, religious, and religious philosophy of the Brahmans was more deeply ingrained in the kingdoms.

Janapadas VS Mahajanapadas

The Vedic period in India had two contrasting realms: the Janapadas and the Mahajanapadas. Janapadas were little realms where different tribes lived and worked together, while Mahajanapadas were kingdoms. The Janapadas, which are the significant regions of Indian history, existed in the Vedic era (around 1500 BC) and were followed by the Mahajanapadas. The Mahajanapadas, on the other hand, were large and developed during the Vedic period in India, and had empires that stretched across the entire Indo-Gangetic Plain.

The name Janapada is extracted from the Sanskrit word “Jana” and hints at a tribal way of life. Several Janapadas existed before Buddha’s time and were situated in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. During the pre-Buddhist era, the northern part of India was carved out into Janapadas with distinct boundaries. The most notable Janapada was known as Mahajanapada, which means “foothold of the people” and was called so after a Kshatriya tribe.

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Although not a repeated question in UPSC exams, the Mahajanapadas of India along with their chronology and significance are a must-know for UPSC aspirants. This topic will enhance your knowledge of Ancient India and help you understand how the 16 Mahajanapadas map the various developments that come later in Indian history. 

FAQs about the 16 Region

Q.1 What are the names of 4 kingdoms that survived by the mid-6th Century BC?

The 4 out of 16 Mahajanapadas of India that survived by the mid-sixth century BC were: Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala, and Magadha.

Q.2 Which Mahajanapada had its capital alongside the Godavari river?

Ashmaka or Assaka Mahajanapada

Q3. Mathura Was The Capital Of Which Mahajanapada?

Mathura was the Capital of Saurasena Mahajanapada.

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