Ancient India

Pre Mauryan Period | The Sixteen Mahajanapadas

The Sixteen 16 Mahajanapadas

The sixteen century BC is often regarded as a major turning point in early Indian history. It is an era associated with early states, cities; the growing use of iron, the development of coinage etc. It also witnessed the growth of diverse systems of thought including Buddhism and Jainism. Early Buddhist and Jaina texts mention amongst other things, sixteen states known as Mahajanpadas. Although the lists vary, some names such as Vajji, Magadha, Koshala, Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur frequently. Clearly these were amongst the most important Mahajanpadas. While most Mahajanpadas were ruled by kings some known as ganas or sanghas were oligarchies where power was shared by a number of men often collectively called rajas. Both Mahavira and the Buddha belonged to such ganas. In some instances as in the case of the Vajji sangha the rajas probably controlled resources such as land collectively. Each mahajanpada had a capital city which was later fortified.

The Sixteen 16 Mahajanapadas

The list below provides the names of 16 Mahajanapadas:

  1. Kasi

  2. Kosala

  3. Anga

  4. Magadha

  5. Vajji

  6. Malla

  7. Chedi

  8. Vatsa

  9. Kuru

  10. Panchala

  11. Matsya

  12. Surasena

  13. Assaka

  14. Avanti

  15. Gandhara

  16. Kamboja

Anga

It roughly covered the modern districts of Monghyr and Bhagalpur. It had its capital at Champa. A mud fort belonging to 5th century BC has been found here. It was noted for its wealth and commerce.

Magadha

It covered the modern districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahabad. Its capital was Rajgriha. The earliest dynasty of Magadha was founded by Brihadratha. It grew to be the leading state under Bimbisara and Ajatshastru.

Kasi

It was situated on the banks of Ganges and on the confluence of Varuna and Asi. With its capital at Banaras, Kasi was at first the most powerful among the 16 states. It was involved in frequent wars with Kosala, Magadha and Anga.

Kosala

With its capital at Sharavasti it covered the present districts of Faizabad, Gonda, Bahraich etc. One of the important cities of Kosala was Ayodhya. Kosala also included the tribal republican territory of Shakays of Kapilvastu.

Vajji

It was a confederacy of 8 republican clans of whom the Videhans, the Lichchhavis, the Jnatrikas and the Vrijjis were the most important. It was a republican state in the time of Mahavira and Buddha. The powerful of them were the Lichchhavis with their capital at Vaishali.

Malla

It was situated north of Vajji state. It was a republican confederacy covering the moder n districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur and Siddharthnagar in eastern UP. Malla state was divided into two parts. The capital of the one was Kushinagar and of the other was Pavapuri.

Cheti

It was situated on the bank of river Ken, its capital was Shuktimati. It was in the present region of Bundelkhand. It was one of the ancient tribes.

Vatsa

It covered the modern districts of Allahabad, Mirzapur etc. It had a monarchical form of government. Its capital was Kaushambi. The Vatsas were a Kuru clan who had shifted from Hastinapur and settled down at Kaushambi.

Kuru

It covered the modern Haryana and Delhi to the west of river Yamuna with its capital at Indraprastha. It was the most important kingdom of the later Vedic period but during the 6th century BC they lost their political importance.

Panchala

It was another important kingdom of the later Vedic period which lost its importance during the 6th cen BC. It covered the area of western UP up to the east of river Yamuna in the Kosala janapada with its capital at Kapila.

Matsya

Its capital was Virat Nagari. It extended in regions of Jaipur, Alwar and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

Sursena

It was situated in the south of Matsya state with its capital at Mathura.

Assaka

It was situated between the rivers Narmada and Godawari with its capital at Potana.

Avanti

It was a big kingdom with its capital at Ujjaini. It was covered up to Malwa and MP. It ecame an important centre of Buddhism.

Gandhara

It covered the modern district of Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Its capital was Taxila. Taxila was not only an important trading centre but also a seat of learning.

Kamboja

During the early period Kamboja was ruled by the kings but during the Kautiliya’s time it transformed from a monarchy to republic. In the sixth century BC only 4 states -Kamboja, Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha survived. The political history of India from the 6th century BC onwards is the history of struggles between these states for supremacy. Ultimately the kingdom of Magadha emerged to be the most powerful and succeeded in founding an empire.

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