Rise of Magadha

Rise of Magadha

This article deals with ‘Rise of Magadha’ . This is part of our series on ‘Ancient History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.


Among the 16 Mahajanapadas, Kasi was initially powerful. However, Kosala became dominant later. A power struggle broke out between Magadha, Kosala, Vrijji and Avanti. Eventually Magadha emerged as the dominant Mahajanapada and established the first Indian empire.

Rise of Magadha under the Haryanka Dynasty

1 . Bimbisara

  • Bimbisara is the first known ruler of Magadha .
  • He was the first ruler to introduce matrimonial alliances for strategic purposes . He married following
Khema   Daughter of Madra king of Punjab
Mahakosala Sister of Prasenjit of Kosala  & got kashi in dowry
Chellna Lichchhavi Princess
  • He had great  army (according to Jain texts).
  • Bimbisara was contemporary of both Mahavira & Buddha and met Buddha 7 years before enlightenment . Buddha visited his capital after enlightenment as he promised earlier.
  • His capital was Girivraja (identified as Rajgriha)
  • He was killed by his son Ajatshatru  .

2 . Ajatshatru

  • He killed Bimbisara &  Mahakosala  died in shock . Her brother, King Prasenjit took back Kashi which was earlier given in dowry . This

led to a military confrontation between Magadha and Kosala. The struggle lasted until Prasenjit was overthrown .

  • Ajatashatru also fought and won the battle against the Lichchhavis. During this war, he sent his minister Vassakara to  create dissension . He also used new weapons named (1) Mahshilakantaka i.e. catapult to  throw large stones and (2) Rathamusala (chariot with blades attached on wheels).
  • On Buddha’s demise , Ajatshatru is said to have gone to Kusinagara to claim portion of his relics . He built many stupas around Rajgriha and organised first buddhist council
When Immediately after death of  Buddha
Where At hall erected by him outside Sattapani caves in Rajgir
Presided by Elder Mahakasyapa
  • He was also killed by his own son Udayen .

3. Udayen

  • Udayen developed Pataliputra as city .
  • He was killed by his own son .

Later kings

  • Later kings like  Anurudha and  Nagadaska also suffered PATRICIDE .
  • Hence, revolt broke and Haryanka dynasty was thrown away by Shishunaga Dynasty

Shishunaga Dynasty

1 . Shishunaga

  • Shishunaga was the Governor of Haryanka & did  coup d’état.
  • He ruled from Girivraja & seemed to have second capital at Vaishali  .

2. Kalashoka

  • During his reign Pataliputra became capital of Magadha .
  • He organised & sponsored 2nd Buddhist Council
Where Vaishali
When 383 BC
Headed by Sabakami
Disputes There was dispute on 10 points Storing salt in horn Eating after mid day Eating once Going to villages for alms Eating sour milk after one’s meal etc
Outcomes No consensus emerged and Buddhist sects began to appear for first time.
  • Last king of this dynasty was Nandivardhana . Shaishunaga dynasty came to bitter end . King and his sons were killed , making way for Nanda dynasty

Nanda Dynasty (345-321 AD)

  • Puranic , Buddhist & Jaina tradition agree that there were 9 Nanda kings . Mahapadma Nanda was succeeded by his eight sons, and they were together known as the navanandas or the nine Nandas.
  • Nandas build on the foundations of Haryanka & Shishunaga dynasty & emerged as the first great empire in North India .
  • Nandas were thought  of low origin with some sources stating that  dynasty’s founder, Mahapadma Nanda, was the son of a Shudra mother.

Mahapadma Nanda = Empire Builder

  • Mahapadma Nanda usurped the throne by murdering the last of the Shishunaga kings.
  • Mahapadma Nanda has been described in  Puranas as “the destroyer of all the Kshatriyas”. He defeated many other kingdoms, including Panchalas, Haihayas, Kalingas, Asmakas, Kurus , Surasenas etc.
  • He is known as Ekrat (Sole king).
  • He conquered Kalinga . Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela (of Kalinga) also mentions the conquest of Kalinga by Nanda.
  • He also expanded his territory south of the Vindhya range, into the Deccan plateau .
  • Mahapadma Nanda is described as the first empire builder in the recorded history of India.
    • He inherited the large kingdom of Magadha built by Haryanka & Shishunaga dynasty .
    • But he wanted to extend it to yet more distant frontiers. For this he built up a vast army.  According to Diodorus and  Rufus (Roman historian) , his army consisted  of 2 lakh infantry, 20 thousand  cavalry, 2 thousand war chariots and 3,000 war elephants.
    • Such was the  fear of Nanda army that when Alexander  invaded India (Dhana Nanda was the ruler at that time ), he confined his campaign to the plains of Punjab as his forces were frightened by the prospect of facing Nanda army & mutinied at Hyphasis River (the modern Beas River) .
Rise of Magadha

Reasons why Magadha emerged as strongest of all Mahajanapadas

  1. In Republics of North-eastern India (Malla, Vajji) , there was no centralisation due to common ownership of land by the kshatriyas . On the other hand, in the Monarchies of upper Ganga , Vedic sacrifices led to wasteful consumption . Magadha  located in the mid Ganga plains had no such limitations.
  2. Magadha had the advantage of
    • Rich soil &  history of rice cultivation .
    • Good rainfall, irrigated land and bandhs used as water reserves .
    • It was close to the mines and minerals of Singhbhum .
    • Forest of Rajmahal hills for procuring timber and elephants.
  3. Geographical Position
    • Old capital Rajgriha was surrounded by perimeter of 5 easily defendable hills .
    • New capital Pataliputra was protected due to location at Ganga & Son .
  4. Both Uttarapatha & Dakshinapatha passed through Magadha leading to high volumes of trade . River Ganges  which flowed through the heart of Magadha was the high route of trade   .
  5. Due to foreign invasions like
    • Achaemenians in 6th century B.C
    • Macedonians in 4th Century B.C.
    • infiltration of foreign races
    • Demands started to raise that there was need of central paramount power on the subcontinent  to defend it from foreign invasions. It  prepared the country to submit to Magadhan hegemony.
  6. An unbroken chain of very able and extraordinary monarchs ascended the Magadhan throne like Shishunaga, Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Mahapadma and Chandragupta . They were fortunate in having great ministers and diplomats like Vassakara, Kautilya and Radha Gupta .

This marks the end of our article on topic ‘Rise of Magadha.’

Leave a Comment