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The approximate extent of the Magadha state in the 5th century BC

Magadha ( ) formed one of the sixteen Mahājanapadas (Sanskrit "Great Countries") or regions in ancient India. The core of the kingdom was the area of Biharmarker south of the Gangesmarker; its first capital was Rajagaha (modern Rajgir) then Pataliputramarker (modern Patnamarker). Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and Bengalmarker with the conquest of Licchavi and Anga respectively, followed by much of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The ancient kingdom of Magadha is mentioned in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas. It is also heavily mentioned in Buddhist and Jain texts. The earliest reference to the Magadha people occurs in the Atharva-Veda where they are found listed along with the Angas, Gandharis, and Mujavats as despised peoples. Two of India's major religions started from Magadha; two of India's greatest empires, the Maurya Empire and Gupta Empire, originated from Magadha. These empires saw advancements in ancient India's science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy and were considered the Indian "Golden Age". The Magadha kingdom included republican communities such as the community of Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions.


The Magadha state circa 600 BC, before it expanded
The kingdom of the Magadha roughly corresponds to the modern districts of Patnamarker and Gayamarker in southern Biharmarker, and parts of Bengalmarker in the east. It was bounded on the north by the river Gangamarker, on the east by the river Champa, on the south by the Vindhyamarker mountains and on the west by the river Sone. During the Buddha’s time and onward, its boundaries included Anga.


There is little certain information available on the early rulers of Magadha. The most important sources are the Puranas, the Buddhist Chronicles of Sri Lankamarker, and other Jain and Buddhist texts, such as the Pāli Canon. Based on these sources, it appears that Magadha was ruled by the Haryanka dynasty for some 200 years, c. 684 BC - 424 BC.

Siddhartha Gautama himself was born a prince of Kapilavastumarker in Kosala around 563 BC, during the Haryanka dynasty. As the scene of many incidents in his life, including his enlightenment, Magadha is often considered a blessed land. King Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty led an active and expansive policy, conquering Anga in what is now West Bengalmarker.

The death of King Bimbisara was at the hands of his son, Prince Ajatashatru. King Pasenadi, king of neighboring Kosala and brother-in-law of King Bimbisara, retook the gift of the Kashi province and a war was triggered between Kosala and Magadha. Ajatashatru was trapped by an ambush and captured with his army. However, King Pasenadi allowed him and his army return to Magadha, and restored the province of Kashi. King Pasenadi also gave his daughter in marriage to the new young king.

Accounts differ slightly as to the cause of King Ajatashatru's war with the Licchavi republic, an area north of the river Gangesmarker. It appears that Ajatashatru sent a minister to the area who for three years worked to undermine the unity of the Licchavis. To launch his attack across the Ganga River (Ganges), Ajatashatru built a fort at the town of Pataliputramarker. Torn by disagreements the Licchavis with many tribes that fought with Ajatshatru. It took fifteen years for Ajatshatru to defeat them. Jain texts tell how Ajatashatru used two new weapons: a catapult, and a covered chariot with swinging mace that has been compared to a modern tank. Pataliputra began to grow as a center of commerce and became the capitol of Magadha after Ajatashatru's death.

The Haryanka dynasty was overthrown by the Shishunaga dynasty. The last ruler of Shishunaga Dynsty, Kalasoka was assassinated by Mahapadma Nanda in 424 BC, the first of the so-called Nine Nandas (Mahapadma and his eight sons). The Nanda Dynasty ruled for about 100 years.

In 326 BC, the army of Alexander the Great approached the boundaries of the Magadha. The army, exhausted and frightened at the prospect of facing another giant Indian army at the Ganges, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was persuaded that it was better to return and turned south, conquering his way down the Indus to the Ocean.

Around 321 BC, the Nanda Dynasty ended and Chandragupta became the first king of the great Mauryan Dynasty and Mauryan Empire with the help of Vishnugupta. The Empire later extended over most of Southern Asia under King Asoka, who was at first known as 'Asoka the Cruel' but later became a disciple of Buddhism and became known as 'Dhamma Asoka'. Later, the Mauryan Empire ended and the Gupta Empire began. The capital of the Gupta Empire remained Pataliputra, in Magadha.

Magadha Dynasties

Brihadratha Dynasty, Pradyota Dynasty, Harayanka Dynasty, Śiśunāga Dynasty ruled Magadha from 684 - 424 BC. Afterwards the Nanda Dynasty, Maurya Dynasty, Sunga Dynasty, Kanva Dynasty, Gupta Dynasty expanded beyond Magadha.

Amongst the sixteen Mahajanapadas, Magadha rose to prominence under a number of dynasties that peaked with the reign of Asoka Maurya, one of India's most legendary and famous emperors.

Brihadratha dynasty

According to the Puranas, the Magadha Empire was established by the Brihadratha Dynasty, who was the sixth in line from Emperor Kuru of the Bharata dynasty through his eldest son Sudhanush. The first prominent Emperor of the Magadhan branch of Bharathas was Emperor Brihadratha. His son Jarasandha appears in popular legend and is slain by Bhima in the Mahabharatha. Vayu Purana mentions that the Brihadrathas ruled for 1000 years.

Pradyota dynasty

The Brihadrathas were succeeded by the Pradyotas who according to the Vayu Purana ruled for 138 years. One of the Pradyota traditions was for the prince to kill his father to become king. During this time, it is reported that there was high crimes in Magadha. The people rose up and elected Haryanka to become the new king, which destroyed the power of the Pradyotas and created the Haryanka dynasty. Due in part to this bloody dynastic feuding, it is thought that a civil revolt led to the emergence of the Haryanka dynasty.

Haryanka dynasty

According to tradition, the Haryanka dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 684 BC, whose capital was Rajagrihamarker, later Pataliputramarker, near the present day Patnamarker. This dynasty lasted till 424 BC, when it was overthrown by the Shisunaga dynasty. This period saw the development of two of India's major religions that started from Magadha. Gautama Buddha in the 6th or 5th century BC was the founder of Buddhism, which later spread to East Asia and South-East Asia, while Mahavira revived and propagated the ancient sramanic religion of Jainism.Bimbisara was responsible for expanding the boundaries of his kingdom through matrimonial alliances and conquest. The land of Kosala fell to Magadha in this way. Bimbisara (543-493 BCE ) was imprisoned and killed by his son Ajatashatru (ruled 491-461 BCE) who then became his successor, and under whose rule the dynasty reached its largest extent.

Licchavi was an ancient republic which existed in what is now Biharmarker state of Indiamarker, since the before the birth of Mahavira (b. 599 BC), Vaishalimarker was the capital of the Licchavis and the Vajjian Confederacy. Its courtesan, Ambapali, was famous for her beauty, and helped in large measure in making the city prosperous. Ajatashatru went to war with the Licchavi several time. Ajatashatru, is thought to have ruled from 491-461 BCE and moved his capital of the Magadha kingdom from Rajagrihamarker to Patliputramarker. Udayabhadra eventually succeeded his father, Ajatashatru, under him Patliputramarker became the largest city in the world.

Shishunaga dynasty

According to tradition, the Shishunaga dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 430 BC, whose capital was Rajagrihamarker, later Pataliputramarker, near the present day Patnamarker in India. This dynasty was succeeded by the Nanda dynasty.Shishunaga (also called King Sisunaka) was the founder of a dynasty of 10 kings, collectively called the Shishunaga dynasty. He established the Magadha empire (in 430 BC). This empire, with its original capital in Rajgriha, later shifted to Pataliputra (both currently in the Indian state of Bihar). The Shishunaga dynasty in its time was one of the largest empires of the Indian subcontinent.

The kingdom had a particularly bloody succession. Anuruddha eventually succeeded Udaybhadra through assassination, and his son Munda succeeded him in the same fashion, as did his son Nagadasaka. Due in part to this bloody dynastic feuding, it is thought that a civil revolt led to the emergence of the Nanda dynasty.

Shishunaga dynasty Rulers

Shishunaga (430 BC), established the kingdom of Magadha,Kakavarna (394-364 BC),Kshemadharman (618-582 BC),Kshatraujas (582-558 BC),Kalasoka,Mahanandin (until 424 BC), his empire is inherited by his illegitimate son Mahapadma Nanda.

Nanda dynasty

The Nanda dynasty was established by an illegitimate son of the king Mahanandin of the previous Shishunaga dynasty. Mahapadma Nanda died at the age of 88, ruling the bulk of this 100-year dynasty. The Nandas are sometimes described as the first empire builders of India. They inherited the large kingdom of Magadha and wished to extend it to yet more distant frontiers. The greatest extent of the empire was led by Dhana Nanda. The Nandas were followed by the Maurya dynasty.

Maurya dynasty

In 321 BC, exiled general Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya dynasty after overthrowing the reigning Nanda king Dhana Nanda to establish the Maurya Empire. During this time, most of the subcontinent was united under a single government for the first time. Capitalising on the destabilization of northern India by the Persian and Greek incursions, the Mauryan empire under Chandragupta would not only conquer most of the Indian subcontinent, but also push its boundaries into Persiamarker and Central Asia, conquering the Gandhara region. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara, who expanded the kingdom over most of present day India, barring the extreme south and east.

The kingdom was inherited by his son Ashoka The Great who initially sought to expand his kingdom. In the aftermath of the carnage caused in the invasion of Kalinga, he renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of non-violence or ahimsa after converting to Buddhism. The Edicts of Ashoka are the oldest preserved historical documents of India, and from Ashoka's time, approximate dating of dynasties becomes possible. The Mauryan dynasty under Ashoka was responsible for the proliferation of Buddhist ideals across the whole of East Asia and South-East Asia, fundamentally altering the history and development of Asia as a whole. Ashoka the Great has been described as one of the greatest rulers the world has seen.

Extent of the Sunga Empire

Sunga dynasty

The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka's death, when the king Brihadratha, the last of the Mauryan rulers, was assassinated by the then commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honour of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga then ascended the throne.

Kanva dynasty

The Kanva dynasty replaced the Sunga dynasty, and ruled in the eastern part of India from 71 BC to 26 BC. The last ruler of the Sunga dynasty was overthrown by Vasudeva of the Kanva dynasty in 75 BC. The Kanva ruler allowed the kings of the Sunga dynasty to continue to rule in obscurity in a corner of their former dominions. Magadha was ruled by four Kanva rulers. In 30 BC, the southern power swept away both the Kanvas and Sungas and the province of Eastern Malwa was absorbed within the dominions of the conqueror. Following the collapse of the Kanva dynasty, the Satavahana dynasty of the Andhra kingdom replaced the Magandhan kingdom as the most powerful Indian state.

Gupta dynasty

The Gupta Empre under Chandragupta II (ruled 375-415)
The Gupta dynasty ruled from around 240 to 550 AD. The Gupta Empire was one of the largest political and military empires in ancient Indiamarker. The Gupta age is referred to as the Classical age of India by most historians. The time of the Gupta Empire was an Indian "Golden Age" in science, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. They had their capital at Pataliputra. The difference between Gupta and Mauryan administration was that the in the Mauryan administration power was centralised but in the Gupta administration power was more decentralised. The king occupied a powerful and important position and often took titles to assert his supremacy. A council of ministers and some officials helped him. The empire was divided into provinces and provinces were further divided into districts. Villages were the smallest units. The kingdom covered Gujarat, North-east India, south-eastern Pakistan, Orissa, northern Madhya Pradesh and eastern India. Art and architecture flourished during the Gupta age. People were mostly Vaishnavas. Temples devoted to Shiva and Vishnu were built during this period. Early temples had a large room where the idol of god was kept. Today these can be found in Deogarh in Jhansi. Temples were mostly made of brick or stone. The doorways were very decorative. Wall murals flourished during this age.These can be seen in Ajanta caves which are about 100 km from Aurangabad. These murals depict the life of Buddha.Yajnas were performed by Brahmins. All forms of worship were carried out in Sanskrit. Astronomy made rapid strides. Aryabhatta and Varahamihira were two great Astronomers and Mathematicians. Aryabhatta stated that the earth moved round the sun and rotated on its own Axis. Metallurgy too made rapid strides. Proof is the Iron Pillar near Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi. Ayurveda was known to the people of Gupta age. People lived in a happy and prosperous life. Most people lived in villages and led a simple life. Rest houses and hospitals were set up. Laws were simple and punishments were not very harsh. However there was a serious flaw. The bad, inhuman treatment of the Chandalas or Untouchables. They were made to live outside the city and even their shadows were considered capable of polluting. The material sources of this age were Kalidasa's works i.e Raghuvamsa, Meghdoot, Malavikagnimitram and Abhinjnana Shakuntalam, works of Fa-hein, the Chinese buddhist scholar, Allahabad pillar inscription called Prayag Prashsti, Books by Harisena and others.

Kings of Magadha

Brihadratha Dynasty

Semi-legendary rulers in Purana accounts.

  • Brihadratha
  • Jarasandha
  • Sahadeva
  • Somapi (1678-1618 BC)
  • Srutasravas (1618-1551 BC)
  • Ayutayus (1551-1515 BC)
  • Niramitra (1515-1415 BC)
  • Sukshatra (1415-1407 BC)
  • Brihatkarman (1407-1384 BC)
  • Senajit (1384-1361 BC)
  • Srutanjaya (1361-1321 BC)
  • Vipra (1321-1296 BC)
  • Suchi (1296-1238 BC)
  • Kshemya (1238-1210 BC)
  • Subrata (1210-1150 BC)
  • Dharma (1150-1145 BC)
  • Susuma (1145-1107 BC)
  • Dridhasena (1107-1059 BC)
  • Sumati (1059-1026 BC)
  • Subhala (1026-1004 BC)
  • Sunita (1004-964 BC)
  • Satyajit (964-884 BC)
  • Biswajit (884-849 BC)
  • Nipunjaya (849-799 BC)

Pradyota dynasty

Ruling 799-684 BC according to calculations based on the Vayu Purana .
  • Pradyota
  • Palaka
  • Visakhayupa
  • Ajaka
  • Varttivarddhana

Hariyanka dynasty (545 BC-346 BC)

  • Bimbisara (545-493 BC), founder of the first Magadhan empire
  • Ajatashatru (493-461 BC)
  • Darshaka (from 461 BC)
  • UdayBhadra
  • Anurudhra
  • Mund
  • NagDasak

Shishunaga dynasty (430-364 BC)

  • Shishunaga (430 BC), established the kingdom of Magadha
  • Kakavarna (394-364 BC)
  • Kshemadharman (618-582 BC)
  • Kshatraujas (582-558 BC)
  • Kalasoka
  • Mahanandin (until 424 BC), his empire is inherited by his illegitimate son Mahapadma Nanda

Nanda Dynasty (424-321 BC)

  • Mahapadma Nanda (from 424 BC), illegitimate son of Mahanandin, founded the Nanda Empire after inheriting Mahanandin's empire
  • Pandhuka
  • Panghupati
  • Bhutapala
  • Rashtrapala
  • Govishanaka
  • Dashasidkhaka
  • Kaivarta
  • Dhana (Agrammes, Xandrammes) (until 321 BC), lost his empire to Chandragupta Maurya after being defeated by him

Maurya Dynasty (324-184 BC)

Shunga Dynasty (185-73 BC)

Kanva Dynasty (73-26 BC)

  • Vasudeva (from 73 BC)
  • Successors of Vasudeva (until 26 BC)

Gupta Dynasty (c. 240-550 AD)


  1. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar (1977). Ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 81-208-0436-8.
  2. "Licchavi", Encyclopedia Britannica Online
  3. Vaishali, Encyclopedia Britannica Online
  4. Vin.i.268
  5. Rawlinson, Hugh George. (1950) A Concise History of the Indian People, Oxford University Press. p. 46.
  6. Muller, F. Max. (2001) The Dhammapada And Sutta-nipata, Routledge (UK). p. xlvii. ISBN 0-7007-1548-7.

See also

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