16 Great States: Mahajanapadas (600-300 BCE), their geography, capital and politics

February 22, 2018


  1. Buddhist and Jaina text list 16 Powerful states (solasa-mahajanapada).

Anguttara Nikaya and Mahavastu are major sources that inform about Mahajanapadas.


There were 16 Mahajanapadas namely:


  1. Kasi (Kashi):

    • Geography: Bounded by the Varuna and Asi rivers to the north and south respectively.

    • Capital: Varanasi

    • Politics:

      • Had rivalry with Kosala, Anga and Magadha.

      • Finally got absorbed into the Kosalan Kingdom.

  2.  Kosala

    • Geography:

      • Bounded by Sadnira (Gandak) on the east, Gomati on the west, Sarpita or Syandika (Sai) on the south and the Nepal hills to the North.

      • Saryu divided it into North and South part.

      • Important towns: Saketa and Ayodhya.

    • Capital:

      • Shravasti was the capital of North Kosala.

      • Kushavati was the capital of South Kosala.

    • Politics:

      • Conquered Kashi.

      • Important king was Prasenjit. He was contemporary of Buddha.

      • Magadha was linked through matrimonial alliance till the time of Bimbisara but later on a fight happened with Ajatashatru.

  3. Anga

    • Geography:

      • Present day Bhagalpur and Monghyr district of Bihar.

      • Ganga bordered it on north.  Champa river bordered it with Magadha.

    • Capital:

      • Champa was the capital of Anga.

    • Politics:

      • Important commercial centre. Merchants sailed from here to Suvarnabhumi (Probably in South East Asia).

  4. Magadha (Matsya):

    • Geography:

      • Covered modern Patna, Gaya.

      • Bounded by Ganga, Son, Champa rivers on the north, west and east with Vindhyan ranges to the south.

    • Capital:

      • Girivraja or Rajagriha. Later it was shifted to Pataliputra.

    • Politics:

      • As per Puranas, first king was Brihadratha. Dynasty came to an end in the 6th century BCE making way for Haryankas.

      • Ajatashatru hosted the first Buddhist council at Rajagriha after the Buddha's death.

      • This kingdom was succeeded by Shishunaga dynasty. Kalashoka, Shishunga's son and successor hosted the second Buddhist council at Vaishali. He also shifted the capital to Pataliputra.

      • Shishunaga dynasty was succeeded by Nanda dynasty through Mahapadma aka Ugrasen.

      • Purana refer to Ugrasen as ekarat (Sole sovereignty) and as an uprooter of the Kshatriyas (Sarva-kshatrantaka).

      • Nanda military victories in Kalinga is suggested by the later Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela which mentions a king named Nanda building a canal and either conquering a place or taking away a Jaina shrine or image from kalinga.

      • Dhana Nanda was ruling Magadha at the time of Alexander's invasion.

      • Reasons for Strength of Magadha:

        • Geographical position:

          • Capital was surrounded by five easily defendable hills.

          • Was connected to important trade routes.

        • Resources: Iron ore mines and Water.

        • Matrimonial alliances.

        • Effective extraction and deployment of resources by the state and the creation of a strong military force on this foundation.

  5.  Vajji (Vrijji)

    • Geography:

      • It was in eastern India, north of Ganga extending up to Nepal hills.

      • It was a confederacy of 8 or 9 states. Most important members of the confederacy were the Vajjis, Licchavi, Videhas and Nayas/Jnatrikas.

    • Capital:

      • Vaishali (modern Basarh).

      • Videhas had capital at Mithila (Janakpur, Nepal at present).

    • Politics:

      • Good terms with Kosala and Mallas but were in the conflict with Magadha.

      • Mahavira belonged to this Licchavi clan.

  6. Malla:

    • Geography:

      • West of the Vajjis.

    • Capital:

      • Two political centres at Kusinara and Pava.

    • Politics:

      • Vajjis were allies although some conflicts were there.

      • Buddha died at Kusinara.

  7. Chetiya (Chedi):

    • Geography:

      • Eastern part of Bundelkhand.

    • Capital: Sotthhivatinagara.

  8. Vamsa (Vatsa):

    • Geography:

      • South of Ganga.

    • Capital: Kaushambi

    • Politics:

      • Important king was Udayana.

      • He had rivalry with King Pradyota of Avanti. He had a love affair and finally married Vasavadatta, Pradyota's daughter.

      • There were matrimonial alliances with Anga and Magadha.

      • Udayana became romantic hero of three dramas- Svapna Vasavadatta of Bhasa and the Ratnavali and Priyadarshika of Harsha.

  9. Kuru:

    • Capital:

      • Indapatta or Indraprastha.

    • Politics:

      • Initially monarchy but later on became a Sangha.

  10. Panchala:

    • Geography:

      • Rohilkhand area and part of central doab region.

      • Divided into two parts by the Ganga.

    • Capital:

      • Uttara Panchala capital was Ahichchhatra (Ramnagar, Bareily, UP)

      • Dakshina Panchala capital was Kampilya.

      • Famous city was Kanauj.

    • Politics:

      • Later on turned towards Oligarchic form of Government.

  11. Machcha (Matsya):

    • Geography: Jaipur, Alwar and Bharatpur.

    • Capital: Viratanagar.

  12. Shurasena

    • Capital: Mathura.

    • Politics:

      • Important king was Avantiputra. He was disciple of Buddha.

  13. Assaka (Ashmaka):

    • Geography:

      • Situated near Godavari river.

    • Capital: Potana or Potali.

  14. Avanti:

    • Geography:

      • Malwa region of Central India.

      • Divided into two by Vindhyas.

    • Capital:

      • Both Nahishmati and Ujjayini are mentioned as its capital.

    • Politics:

      • Pradyota was the important king.

  15.  Gandhara :

    • Geography:

      • Consisted of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Kashmir Valley.

    • Capital:

      • Takshashila. It was a major centre of learning.

    • Politics:

      • King Pukkusati.

      • Gandhara was conquered by the Persians in late 6th century BCE.

  16. Kamboja:

    • Geography:

      • Included the area around Rajaori, Hazara district of NWFP and Kafiristan.

    • Politics:

      • There is confusion over whether it was monarchy or Sangha.


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