FORMATION OF STATES (MAHAJANAPADA): REPUBLIC AND MONARCHIES
- The political structure of the ancient Indians appears to have started with semi-nomadic tribal units called Jana (meaning “people” or by extension “ethnic group” or “tribe”). Early Vedic texts attest several Janas or tribes of the Indo-Aryans, living in a semi-nomadic tribal state and fighting among themselves and with other Non-Aryan tribes for cows, sheep and green pastures.
- The tribal political organisation (Jana) of the Rig Vedic phase gave way to the rise of territorial state (Janapada) towards the end of the Vedic period i.e. early Vedic Janas later coalesced into the Janapadas. The term “Janapada” literally means the foothold of a tribe. The fact that Janapada is derived from Jana points to an early stage of land-taking by the Jana tribe for a settled way of life.
- Permanent settlement in a particular area gave a geographical identity to a tribe or a group of tribes and subsequently this identity was given concrete shape in the possession of the area, which was generally named after the tribe. This process of first settlement on land had completed its final stage prior to the times of the Buddha and Paṇini. The Pre-Buddhist north-west region of the Indian sub-continent was divided into several Janapadas demarcated from each other by boundaries. In Paṇini’s writing, Janapada stands for country and Janapadin for its citizenry. Each of these Janapadas was named after the tribe (or the Jana) who had settled therein.
- To maintain this possession required political organization, either as a republic or a monarchy.
Formation of States: Mahajanapadas (Monarchies and Republics)
- Defined by Kautilya in his Saptanga theory, (Described in Arthasastra) a state was characterized by 7 principles.The king, the minister, the country, the fortified city, the treasury, the army and the ally are constituent elements of the state.
- No state formation satisfied all these 7 aspects till the end of 6th century BC.
- From the sixth century B.C. onwards, the widespread use of iron in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Western Bihar, as evidenced from excavations at Raj ghat and Chirand, led to the formation of large territorial states which were better equipped militarily and in which warrior class played the main role.
- The territorial idea was gradually strengthened in the sixth century B.C. with the rise of large state (Mahajanapada) with towns as their seats of power.
- New agricultural tools and implements enabled the peasants to produce a good amount of surplus which not only met the needs of the ruling class but also supported numerous towns. Towns came into existence as centres of industry and trade. Some such as Shravasti, Champa, Rajagriha, Ayodhya, Kausambi, Kashi and Pataliputra were of substantial importance to the economy of the Ganges plains.
- Others such as Vaishali, Ujjain, Taxila and the port of Bharukachchha (Broach) had a wider economic reach. A passage from Panini, makes it clear that the people owed their allegiance to the Janapada (territory) to which they belonged and not to the Jana or the tribe to which they belonged.
- In the post-Vedic period, the entire northern territory mostly situated north of the Vindhyas and extending from the North-West frontier to Bihar was divided into sixteen states called Sodasha Mahajanapadas. These Mahajanapadas were either monarchical or republican in character.
- The Buddhist and other texts only incidentally refer to sixteen great nations (Solasa Mahajanapadas) which were in existence before the time of Buddha. They do not give any connected history except in the case of Magadha. According to Buddhist texts, fourteen of the Mahajanapadas belong to Majjhimadesa (Mid India) while the two (Gandhara and Khamboja) belong to Uttarapatha or the north-west division of Jambudvipa. The Buddhist Anguttara Nikaya, at several places, gives a list of sixteen great nations:
- Assaka (or Asmaka)
- Machcha (or Matsya)
- Vatsa (or Vamsa)
- Another Buddhist text, the Digha Nikaya, mentions only the first twelve Mahajanapadas and omits the last four in the above list.
- The Jaina Bhagavati Sutra gives a slightly different list of sixteen Mahajanapadas. The author of Bhagvati has a focus on the countries of Madhydesa and of the far east and south only. It omits the nations from Uttarapatha like the Kamboja and Gandhara.The omission of all countries from Uttarapatha “clearly shows that the Bhagvati list is of later origin and therefore less reliable.
The capital city of Anga mahajanapad (around modern Bhagalpur and Munger districts in Bihar) was Champa.
Magadh was on its west and Raja Mahal hills on the east.
- It was a great center of trade and commerce and its merchants regularly sailed to distant Suvarnabhumi. Anga was annexed by Magadha in the time of Bimbisara. This was the one and only conquest of Bimbisara.
- The capital of the Assakas was Potana or Potali or Podana. (In modern Maharashtra)
- Assaka or the Ashmaka was located in Dakshinapatha or southern India. In Buddha’s time, the Assakas were located on the banks of the river Godavari (olny Mahajanapada south of the Vindhya mountains). The Ashmakas are also mentioned by Pāṇini.
- The country of the Avantis was an important kingdom of western 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 river Vetravati. Initially, Mahissati (Sanskrit Mahishamati) was the capital of Southern Avanti, and Ujjaini (Sanskrit: Ujjayini) was of northern Avanti, but at the times of Mahavira and Buddha, Ujjaini was the capital of integrated Avanti.
- Both Mahishmati and Ujjaini stood on the southern high road called Dakshinapatha which extended from Rajagriha to Pratishthana (modern Paithan).
- Avanti roughly corresponded to modern Malwa, Nimar and adjoining parts of the Madhya Pradesh.
- Avanti was an important center of Buddhism and some of the leading theras and theris were born and resided there.
- Pradyota dynasty ruled over Avanti. Pradyota was contemporary to Gautama Buddha. Ajatashatru, the king of Magadha fortified Rajagriha to protect it from an invasion led by Pradyota. Pradyota also waged war on Pushkarasarin, king of Takshashila.Pradyota’s chief queen was a disciple of Buddhist monk Mahakatyayana and constructed a stupa in Ujjayini.
- Last King Nandivardhana of Avanti was defeated by king Shishunaga of Magadha. Avanti later became part of the Magadhan empire.
- The Chedis, Chetis or Chetyaslay in eastern Bundelkhand near Yamuna midway between the kingdom of Kurus and Vatsas.
Sotthivati or Suktimati of Mahabharata was the capital of Chedi. Shisupala was a Chei ruler and enemy of Krishna. Slaying of Shisupala becaame the central theeme of a log poem by a poet Magha.
- A branch of Chedis founded a royal dynasty in the kingdom of Kalinga according to the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela.
Its capital was Taxila. Another main city was Pushkalavati. It covered the regions between Kabul and Rawalipindi in North Western Provinces, Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River.
- The Taxila University was a renowned center of learning in ancient times, where scholars from all over the world came to seek higher education. Paṇini, the Indian genius of grammar and Kautiliya are the world renowned products of Taxila University. King Pukkusati or Pushkarasarin of Gandhara in the middle of the sixth century BC was the contemporary of king Bimbisara of Magadha.
- Gandhara was located on Uttarapatha and was a centre of international commercial activities. It was an important channel of communication with ancient Iran and Central Asia.
- Gandhara was often linked politically with the neighboring regions of Kashmir and Kamboja.
Its capital Rajpur (modern Rajori). It was located around Punchh area of Kashmir.
- Kambojas are also included in the Uttarapatha. Ancient Kamboja is known to have comprised regions on either side of the Hindukush.
- The Mahabharata refers to several Ganas (or Republics) of the Kambojas. Kautiliya’s Arthashastra and Ashoka’s Edict No. XIII also attest that the Kambojas followed republican constitution. Paṇini’s Sutras, though tend to convey that the Kamboja was a Kshatriya monarchy, but “the special rule and the exceptional form of derivative” he gives to denote the ruler of the Kambojas implies that the king of Kamboja was a titular head only.
- In a struggle for supremacy that followed in the sixth/fifth century BC, the growing state of the Magadhas emerged as the most predominant power in ancient India, annexing several of the Janapadas of the Majjhimadesa(Madhyadesa).. Puranas laments that Magadhan emperor Mahapadma Nanda exterminated all Kshatriyas, none worthy of the name Kshatrya being left thereafter. This obviously refers to the Kasis, Kosalas, Kurus, Panchalas, Vatsyas and other tribes of the east Panjab.
- The Kambojans and Gandharans, however, never came into direct contact with the Magadhan state until Chandragupta and Kautiliya arose on the scene. But these nations also fell prey to the Achaemenids of Persia during the reign of Cyrus (558–530 BC) or in the first year of Darius. Kamboja and Gandhara formed the twentieth and richest strapy of the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus I is said to have destroyed the famous Kamboja city called Kapisi (modern Begram).
- The kingdom was located in the region around its capital Varanasi, bounded by the Varuna and Asi rivers in the north and south which gave Varanasi its name.
- Before Buddha, Kasi was the most powerful of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Several jataka tales bear witness to the superiority of its capital over other cities in India and speak highly of its prosperity and opulence. These stories tell of the long struggle for supremacy between Kashi and the three kingdoms of Kosala, Anga and Magadha.
- Kashi emerged as a leading extile manufacture in the time of Buddha, the Kashya, orange brown robes of Buddhist monk are said to be manufactured here.
- Although King Brihadratha of Kashi conquered Kosala, Kashi was later incorporated into Kosala during Buddha’s time.
- The Matsya Purana and Alberuni spell Kashi as Kausika and Kaushaka respectively. All other ancient texts read Kashi.
- According to Dasaratha jataka (one of the Buddhist birth stories), Ram was brother and husband of Sita was king of Kashi (not Ayodhya).
- Kosala was located to the north-west of Magadha, with its capital at Savatthi (Sravasti), about 60 miles north of modern Ayodhya in the Sahet-Mahet region. Its territory corresponded to the modern Awadh (or Oudh) in Central and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
- It had the river Ganges for its southern, the river Gandak (Narayani) for its eastern, and the Himalaya mountains for its northern boundary.
- Lord Rama was a king in this dynasty. Other great kings were Prithu, Harishchandra, Dilip, who find mention in different Puranas, Ramayan, and Mahabharat.
- Later, the kingdom was ruled by the famous king Prasenjit during the era of Mahavira and Buddha. King Prasenjit was highly educated. His position was further improved by a matrimonial alliance with Magadha: his sister was married to Bindhusara and part of Kashi was given as dowry.
- There was, however, a struggle for supremacy between king Prasenjit and king Ajatasatru of Magadha which was finally settled once the confederation of Lichchavis became aligned with Magadha. Kosala was ultimately merged into Magadha when Vidudabha was Kosala’s ruler. Ayodhya, Saketa, Banaras, and Sravasti were the chief cities of Kosala.
- Kurus roughly corresponded to the modern Thanesar, state of Delhi and Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. According to the Jatakas, the capital of the Kurus was Indraprastha (Indapatta) near modern Delhi.
- At Buddha’s time, the Kuru country was ruled by a titular chieftain (king consul) named Korayvya. The Kurus of the Buddhist period did not occupy the same position as they did in the Vedic period.
- The Kurus had matrimonial relations with the Yadavas, the Bhojas, Trigrata s and the Panchalas.
- Though a well known monarchical people in the earlier period, the Kurus are known to have switched to a republican form of government during the sixth to fifth centuries BC. In the fourth century BC, Kautiliya’s Arthashastra also attests the Kurus following the Rajashabdopajivin (king consul) constitution.
- The Magadha was one of the most prominent and prosperous of mahajanapadas. The capital city Pataliputra( Patna, Bihar) was situated on the confluence of major rivers like Ganga, Son, Punpun and Gandak.
- The alluvial plains of this region and its proximity to the iron rich areas of Bihar and Jharkhand helped the kingdom to develop good quality weapons and support the agrarian economy. These factors helped Magadha to emerge as the most prosperous state of that period.
- The kingdom of the Magadhas roughly corresponded to the modern districts of Patna and Gaya in southern Bihar and parts of Bengal in the east. During Buddha’s time its boundaries included Anga.
- Its earliest capital was Girivraja or Rajagaha (modern Rajgir in Bihar). The other names for the city were Magadhapura, Brihadrathapura, Vasumati, Kushagrapura and Bimbisarapuri. It was an active center of Jainism in ancient times. The first Buddhist Council was held in Rajagaha in the Vaibhara Hills. Later on, Pataliputra became the capital of Magadha.
- The Mallas are frequently mentioned in Buddhist and Jain works.During the Buddhist period, the Mallas/Malls Kshatriya were republican people with their dominion consisting of nine territories corresponding to the nine confederated clans. These republican states were known as Gana.
- Two of these confederations – one with Kusinara (modern Kasia near Gorakhpur) as its capital and the second with Pava (modern Padrauna, 12 miles from Kasia) as the capital – had become very important at the time of Buddha. Kusinara and Pava are very important in the history of Buddhism and Jainism since Buddha and Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara took their last breath at Kushinara and Pava/Pavapuri respectively.
- The Mallas originally had a monarchical form of government but later they switched to one of Samgha (republic), the members of which called themselves rajas.
- The Mallas appeared to have formed an alliance with the Licchhavis for self-defense but lost their independence not long after Buddha’s death and their dominions were annexed to the Magadhan empire.
- Malla along with other Sanghiya kshtriyas like the Licchhavis, Koliyas and Shakya were ruling from their Santhagara, which was like an assembly hall. These Santhagara kshatriyas were placed below Vedic kshtriyas in the social hierarchy.
- Matsya or Machcha tribe lay to the south of the Kurus and west of the Yamuna, which separated them from the Panchalas. It roughly corresponded to the former state of Jaipur-Alwar-Bharatpur region of Rajasthan. It was suitable for cattle rearing.
- The capital of Matsya was at Viratanagara (modern Bairat) which is said to have been named after its founder king Virata.
- In Pali literature, the Matsyas are usually associated with the Surasenas. The Matsyas had not much political importance of their own during the time of Buddha. King Sujata ruled over both the Chedis and Matsyas, thus showing that Matsya once formed a part of the Chedi kingdom.
- The Panchalas occupied the country to the east of the Kurus between the mountains and river Ganges. It roughly corresponded to modern Budaun, Farrukhabad and the adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh.
- It was divided into Uttara-Panchala and Dakshina-Panchala. The northern Panchala had its capital at Adhichhatra or Chhatravati (modern Ramnagar in the Bareilly District), while southern Panchala had it capital at Kampilya or Kampil in Farrukhabad District.
- The famous city of Kanyakubja or Kanauj was situated in the kingdom of Panchala.
- Originally a monarchical clan, the Panchals appear to have switched to republican corporation in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. In the fourth century BC, Kautiliya’s Arthashastra also attests the Panchalas as following the Rajashabdopajivin (king consul) constitution.
- Surasenas lay to the east of Matsya and west of Yamuna. This corresponds roughly to the Brij region of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. and Gwalior region of Madhya Pradesh. It had its capital at Madhura or Mathura.
- Avantiputra, the king of Surasena was the first among the chief disciples of Buddha, through whose help Buddhism gained ground in Mathura country.
- In Kautiliya’s Arthashastra, the Vrishnis are described as samgha or republic. The Vrishnis, Andhakas and other allied tribes of the Yadavas formed a samgha and Vasudeva (Krishna) is described as the samgha-mukhya.
- Mathura, the capital of Surasena was also known at the time of Megasthenes as the centre of Krishna worship. The Surasena kingdom had lost its independence on annexation by the Magadhan empire.
15. Vajji or Vrijjis
- The Vajjians included eight confederated clans (with 7707 Rajas) of whom the Licchhavis, the Videhans, the Jnatrikas and the Vajjis were the most important.
- Mithila (modern Janakpur in district of Tirhut) was the capital of Videha and became the predominant center of the political and cultural activities of northern India. It was in the time of king Janaka that Videha came into prominence. On the ruins of this kingdom arose the republics of the Licchhavis and Videhans and seven other small ones.
- The Licchavis were a very independent people. The mother of Mahavira was a Licchavi princess. Vaishali (modern Basarh in North Bihar) was the capital of the Licchavis and the political headquarters of the powerful Varijian confederacy. Vaishali was located 25 miles north of the river Ganges and was a very prosperous town. The Second Buddhist Council was held at Vaishali. The Licchavis were followers of Buddha. Buddha is said to have visited them on many occasions. They were closely related by marriage to the Magadhas and one branch of the Licchavi dynasty ruled Nepal until the start of the Middle Ages.
- Vaishali, the headquarters of the powerful Vajji republic and the capital of the Licchavis was defeated by king Ajatasatru of Magadha.
- Around 600 BCE, the Licchavis were disciples of Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. During their lifetimes, both Mahavira and Gautama Buddha visited Vaishali several times.
- Known as the Vajji Sangha (Vajji Confederation), Vajji consisted of several janapadas, gramas (villages) and gosthas (groups). The main gosthas were the Licchavis, Mallas and Śakyas.
- Eminent people were chosen from each khanda (district) as representatives to the Vajji gana parishad (people’s council of Vajji). These representatives were called gana mukhyas. The chairman of the council was titled gana pramukha but often he was addressed as a king although his post was neither dynastic nor hereditary.
- The other executives were the mahabaladhrikrita (a minister of internal security), the binishchayamatya or chief justice, dandadhikrita (other justices) etc.
16. Vamsa or Vatsa or Vachchas
- The Vatsas are stated to be an offshoot of the Kurus who had shifted from Hastinapur and settled down at Kaushambi. The Vatsa corresponded with the territory of modern Allahabad and Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.
- It had a monarchical form of government with its capital at Kausambi (identified with the village Kosam, 38 miles from Allahabad).
- Kausambi was a very prosperous city where a large number of millionaire merchants resided. It was the most important entreport of goods and passengers from the north-west and south. Ujjain and Kaushambi were connected by a major trae route.
- Udayana was the ruler of Vatsa in the sixth century BC, the time of Buddha. He was very powerful, warlike and fond of hunting. Initially king Udayana was opposed to Buddhism but later became a follower of Buddha and made Buddhism the state religion.
Republics and Monarchies:
- In a society of gana-sanghas, people were treated on equal basis, at least among the ruling clans. They rejected the Vedic philosophy because it divided the whole society into four distinct classes or varnas. New Buddhist and Jaina ideas were popular among the people. It was possible that some independent minded settlers of the plains did not like the Vedic orthodoxy or social division. They moved up towards the hills from the plains kingdoms and opened settlements there on equality.
- The gana sangaha were also called gana rajyas. The term gana means people of equal status, sangha means assembly and rajya means governance. In a gana sangha the heads of the families belonged to a clan or chiefs if there were more than one clan. There were some assemblies to govern the territories. The right to govern the territories was given only to a few ruling families. They alone were the members of the assemblies. Other members of the communities had no right of governance.
- The gana sanghas had only two divisions in the societies—the kshatriya rajakula or the ruling families and the dasa karmakara or slaves and labourers.
- Now a days, some scholars use the term ‘republic’ to refer to gana sanghas. A republic is different from monarchy but it may have social stratification. Some others prefer to use the term ‘oligarchy’ under which some ruling families govern the territory.
- The Mahajapandas of Vriji, Malla, Kuru, Panchal and Kamboj were republican states and so were other smaller states like Lichhavi, Shakya, Koliya, Bhagga, and Moriya.
- There are some important characteristics of the gana-sanghas. These are :
- Some gana sanghas consisted of a single clan, such as the Shakyas, Koliyas and Mallas.
- Some gana sanghas had many clans, such as Vrijjis and Vrishnis.
- Gana sanghas did not observe a varna society.
- Governance by the assemblies was the major political strength of the gana sanghas.These republican states had a Gana-parishad or an Assembly of senior and responsible citizens. This Gana-Parishad had the supreme authority in the state. All the administrative decisions were taken by this Parishad.
- The rajas sat as representatives in the assembly meetings of the ruling families. He enjoyed social and political powers.
- In a gana sangha land was owned by the clan, but the hired labourers and slaves worked on it.
- The gana sanghas tolerated individual and independent opinions and unorthodox views.
- The gana sanghas ruled over a small geographical area.
- Gana-sangha an be seen as a proto state. It was unlike a kingdom, since power was diffused, stratification of society was limited an ramification of administration and coercive authority was not extensive.
- Brahmanas had no place in the early republics nor did they recognize these states in their law-books because they did not get privilege in republics like they got in monarchies.
- Despite being conquered periodically, resilience of Gana-angha was demonstrated by their reappearance and continued presence until mid-1st millennium AD. Though The republican tradition became weak from maurya period onwards.
The Kingdom (Monarchy):
- A kingdom means a territory ruled by a king or queen. In the 6th century B.C. along with the gana sanghas some kingdoms also emerged particularly in the Ganges plains. The land of these kingdoms was more fertile and people settled there at a later period than the gana sanghas.
- In a kingdom, the king enjoyed the sovereign power. All functions of the government centered round him. The king could compel obedience to laws and use force if necessary. There were customary laws of jatis and the region. Obedience to these two types of laws continued throughout ages. In a kingdom a family which rules over a long period becomes a dynasty.
- A king was assisted by advisory councils such as sabha and parisad. Earlier, people were more loyal to the clans. It weakened in a kingdom. Loyalty was shifted to the caste of an individual and to the king. Kingdoms were expanded over a large area and it weakened the popular assemblies. Three important kingdoms of this period were Kasi, Kosala, and Magadha. They often fought for the control of the Ganges plains for strengthening defence and economy.
Important characteristics of a kingdom :
- Kingship was attributed to the wishes of God.
- Importance of the priests and Vedic rituals increased.
- Earlier, there was a rivalry between the brahmanas (priests) and kshatriyas(rulers), but in a kingdom they supported each other.
- Instead of voluntary tributes of the earlier period, kings started collecting compulsory taxes. like bali, bhaga, kara and sulka or toll duties.
- There was a clear division between the ruler and the ruled ,the rich and the poor.
- Some individuals or families possessed more lands than the others.
- The state had all rights over unused lands.
- After clearing wastelands or unused land the king received a tax from the cultivators, which was usually one sixth of the produce.
- In a kingdom the state generally controlled the means of production and distribution.
Administration in the monarchies:
- The most imp feature of the administrative machinery was the rise of a class of officials known as mahamatras.
- General affairs – sarvarthaka
Justice – vyavaharika
Army – sena nayaka
Work of cadastral survey or measurement of the king’s share in the produce – rajjugahakas
Chief accountant – ganaka
- The chariots were drawn by horses or wild asses and carried six men, of whom two were bowmen, two were shield bearers and two were charioteers.
- Bhaga was the most imp source of state revenue which gave the king an epithet known as shadabhagin.
Grama-bhojaka was the most imp revenue collecting authority.
Toll officer – shaulikika in the dharmasutras and shulkadhyaksha in the pali texts.
Difference between Republic and Monarchies:
- In republics, every tribal oligarch claimed share in revenues from peasants. In the monarchies, the king claimed to be the sole recipient of such revenues.
- In the tribal oligarchy or republic, each raja (tribal oligarch) was free to maintain his own little army under his senapati. In a monarchy, the king maintaind his regular standing army. He did not permit any other armed forces within his boundaries.
- Republics functioned under the leadership of the oligarchic assemblies, while a monarchy functioned under the individual leadership of the king.
- The Brahamanas had a considerable influence on the monarchial administration, while they were relegated to the background in the republics.
- Unlike monarchies, the kingship in the republics was not supposed to be hereditary. The chief was usually elected and was known as mahasammata, the great elect.
- Whereas the monarchies were concentrated in the Gangetic Plains, the republics were ranged round the northern periphery of these kingdoms-in the foothills of the Himalayas and just south of these, and in north-western India in modern Punjab. Size of states near foothill were maller in comparison to Gangetic plain and so it was easy to maintain republic form of government as kings would have been represented easily in the assembly of smaller states. If states become big, due to several factors like distance, it was not possible to have representative for of government.
Difference between Republic and Democracy:
- Many confuse a republic with a democracy. To know the difference between the two, let us first start with a monarchy. A monarchy is a form of government where the governance is carried out by a private individual (king or the emperor) who are not accountable to anybody else. A democracy is a form of government where the governance is carried out by representatives who are elected by the people. Now, if it is only a democracy, then again these elected representatives who rule the country will not be answerable to anybody as they will have not to follow any rules while governing the country.
- This is where a republic comes into picture. A republic is a government where the governance has to abide by a predefined set of rules, generally called as the “Constitution”. So those who govern the country in a republic should always abide by the rules defined in the Constitution and should never violate them.
- In republic Mahajanapadas, there was no real democracy as not everyone had right to choose their representatives. Only upper layer of society like Brahmanas, Kshatriyas had chance to have say in the representations.