What are the ancient Mahajanapadas

Mahajanapadas - Mahajanapadas

Kingdoms on the Indian subcontinent (approx. 600 BC - approx. 345 BC)
Map showing the kingdoms of ancient India in 540 BC

The Mahājanapadas (Sanskrit: great empire, from Maha , "big and Janapada "Foot of a People") were sixteen kingdoms or oligarchic republics that existed in northern ancient India from the 6th to 4th centuries BC. Existed during the second urbanization period.

The 6th to 5th centuries BC Often viewed as a major turning point in early Indian history. During this time India's first major cities emerged after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. It was also the time of the rise of the Sramana movements (including Buddhism and Jainism) that challenged the religious orthodoxy of the Vedic era.

Two of the Mahājanapadas were most likely ganatantras (oligarchic republics) and others had forms of monarchy. Ancient Buddhist texts like that Anguttara Nikaya often refer to sixteen great kingdoms and republics that developed and flourished in a belt that stretched from Gandhara in the northwest to Anga in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent. They covered parts of the Trans Vindhyan region and all of them had developed before the rise of Buddhism in India.

Archaeologically it has been established that this period corresponds in part to the culture of the Northern Black Polished Ware.


The term "Janapada" literally means the hold of a people . The fact that Janapada of Jana is derived, indicates an early stage of the Jana's land grab for a fixed way of life. This land settlement process had completed its final phase before the times of the Buddha and Pāṇini. The pre-Buddhist northwest region of the Indian subcontinent was divided into several Janapadas, which were separated from one another by borders. In Pāṇini's "Ashtadhyayi" it says Janapada for country and Janapadin for his citizenship. Each of these Janapadas was named after the Kshatriya people (or the Kshatriya Jana) who settled there. Buddhist and other texts refer only incidentally to sixteen great nations ( Solasa Mahajanapadas ) that existed before the time of the Buddha. They do not give a coherent story, except in the case of Magadha. The Buddhist Anguttara Nikaya gives a list of 16 great nations in several places:

Another Buddhist text that Digha Nikaya , mentions twelve Mahajanapadas from the list above and omits four of them (Assaka, Avanti, Gandhara and Kamboja).

Chulla-Niddesa , another ancient text of the Buddhist canon, adds Kalinga to the list, replacing Gandhara with Yona, listing the Kamboja and Yona as the only Mahajanapadas from Uttarapatha.

The Vyākhyāprajñapti (or that Bhagavati Sutra ), a Jain sutra, gives another list of 16 Mahajanapadas:

  1. Anga
  2. Banga (Vanga)
  3. Magadha
  4. Malaya
  5. Malavaka
  6. Accha
  7. Vaccha
  8. Kochcha
  9. Padha
  10. Ladha (Radh or Lata)
  11. Bajji (Vajji)
  12. Moli (Malla)
  13. Kasi
  14. Kosala
  15. Avaha
  16. Sambhuttara

The author of the Bhagavati Sutra (or des Vyākhyāprajñapti ) focuses only on the countries of Madhydesa and the Far East and South. He leaves out the Uttarapatha nations like the Kamboja and Gandhara. The expanded horizon of the Bhagvati and the omission of all countries from Uttarapatha "clearly shows that the Bhagvati list is of later origin and therefore less reliable."

List of Mahajanapadas


The first reference to the Angas can be found in the Atharva-Veda, where they are apparently mentioned as a despised people along with the Magadhas, Gandharis and Mujavats. The Jaina Prajnapana counts Angas and Vangas to the first group of the Aryans. It mentions the capitals of ancient India. It was also a major trading and trading center, and its merchants regularly sailed to distant Suwanabhumi. Anga was annexed to Magadha during the time of Bimbisara. This was the only conquest of Bimbisara.


The land of Assaka or the Ashmaka tribe was in Dakshinapatha or South India. It included areas in what is now Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. In Gautama Buddha's time, many of the Assakas were on the banks of the Godavari River (south of the Vindhya Mountains). The capital of the Assakas was Potana or Potali, which corresponds to today's Bodhan in Telangana and Paudanya of Mahabharata. In Maharashtra, the capital is in Potali, which corresponds to today's Nandura in the Buldhana district. The Ashmakas are also mentioned by Pāṇini. You are in the northwest in the Markendeya Purana and in Brhat Samhita . The Godavari River separated the Assakas' lands from that of the Mulakas (or Alakas). The land of Assaka was outside the pale Madhyadesa. It was on a southern elevated road, the Dakshinapatha . At one time, Assaka trapped Mulaka and came across Avanti.


Silver coin from Avanti Mahajanapada (4th century BC)

The land of the Avantis was an important kingdom of West India and was one of the four great monarchies in India in the post-era of Mahavira and Buddha, the other three being Kosala, Vatsa and Magadha. Avanti was divided into north and south by the Narmada River. Originally Mahishamati (Mahissati) was the capital of South Avanti and Ujjaini (Sanskrit: Ujjayini) was of North Avanti, but in the times of Mahavira and Buddha, Ujjaini was the capital of integrated Avanti. The land of Avanti roughly corresponded to modern Malwa, Nimar and adjacent parts of today's Madhya Pradesh. Both Mahishmati and Ujjaini stood on the main south street Dakshinapatha, which stretched from Rajagriha to Pratishthana (modern Paithan). Avanti was an important center of Buddhism and some of the leading ones Theras and Theris were born and lived there. King Nandivardhana of Avanti was defeated by King Shishunaga of Magadha. Avanti later became part of the Magadhan Empire.


The Chedis, Chetis or Chetyas had two different settlements, one of which was in the mountains of Nepal and the other in Bundelkhand near Kausambi. According to ancient authorities, Chedis was near Yamuna, halfway between the kingdom of Kurus and Vatsas. In the Middle Ages, the southern borders of Chedi extended to the banks of the Narmada River. Sotthivatnagara, the Sukti or Suktimati of Mahabharata, was the capital of Chedi. The Chedis were an ancient Indian people and are mentioned in the Rigveda with their King Kashu Chaidya.

The location of the capital, Suktimati, has not been determined with any certainty. Historians Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri and FE Pargiter believed it was near Banda, Uttar Pradesh. The archaeologist Dilip Kumar Chakrabarti has suggested that Suktimati be identified as the ruins of a great prehistoric city in a place now called Itaha on the outskirts of Rewa, Madhya Pradesh.


  • Coin of the early Gandhara Janapada: AR Shatamana and one eighth Shatamana (round), Taxila-Gandhara region, c. 600-300 BC

  • A coin from Takshashila depicts a tree flanked by a hill topped by a crescent moon and a nandipada over a swastika.

The wool of the Gandharis is mentioned in the Rigveda. The Gandharas and their king play a prominent role in the Mahabharata war as strong allies of the Kurus against the Pandavas. The Gandharas were angry people well trained in the art of war. According to Puranic traditions, this Janapada was made by Gandhara , the son of Aruddha, a descendant of Yayati. The princes of this land are said to come from the line of Druhyu, who was a famous king of the Rigveda period and one of the five sons of King Yayati from the lunar dynasty. The Indus River irrigated the land of Gandhara. Taksashila and Pushkalavati, the two cities of this Mahajanapada, are said to have been named after Taksa and Pushkara, the two sons of Bharata, a prince of Ayodhya, the younger brother of Lord Rama. According to Vayu Purana (II.36.107) the Gandharas became at the end of Kali Yuga destroyed by Pramiti (aka Kalika). Pāṇini mentioned both the Vedic form Gandhari and the later form Gandhara in his Ashtadhyayi. The Gandhara kingdom sometimes included Kashmira as well. Hecataeus of Miletus (549-468) called Kaspapyros (Kasyapura or Purushapura, ie today's Peshawar) as a Gandharic city. According to Gandhara Jataka, Gandhara was once part of the Kingdom of Kashmir. The Jataka also gives another name Chandahara for Gandhara.

Gandhara Mahajanapada of Buddhist traditions included areas in eastern Afghanistan and northwest of Panjab (modern districts of Peshawar (Purushapura) and Rawalpindi