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Magadha

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Early History of India

mapThe core of the kingdom of Magadha was the area of Bihar south of the Ganges; its first capital was Rajagriha (modern Rajgir) then Pataliputra (modern Patna). Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and Bengal with the conquest of Licchavi and Anga respectively,[1] followed by much of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The ancient kingdom of Magadha is mentioned in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas. It is also heavily mentioned in Buddhist and Jain texts. The earliest reference to the Magadha people occurs in the Atharva-Veda where they are found listed along with the Angas, Gandharis, and Mujavats. Two of India's major religions started from Magadha; two of India's greatest empires, the Maurya Empire and Gupta Empire, originated from Magadha. These empires saw advancements in ancient India's science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy and were considered the Indian "Golden Age". The Magadha kingdom included republican communities such as the community of Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions.

 There is little certain information available on the early rulers of Magadha. The most important sources are the Puranas, the Buddhist Chronicles of Sri Lanka, and other Jain and Buddhist texts, such as the Pāli Canon. Based on these sources, it appears that Magadha was ruled by the Haryanka dynasty for some 200 years, c. 684 BC - 424 BC.

Siddhartha Gautama himself was born a prince of Kapilavastu in Kosala around 563 BC, during the Haryanka dynasty. As the scene of many incidents in his life, including his enlightenment, Magadha is often considered a blessed land. King Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty led an active and expansive policy, conquering Anga in what is now West Bengal.

The death of King Bimbisara was at the hands of his son, Prince Ajatashatru. King Pasenadi, king of neighboring Kosala and brother-in-law of King Bimbisara, retook the gift of the Kashi province and a war was triggered between Kosala and Magadha. Ajatashatru was trapped by an ambush and captured with his army. However, King Pasenadi allowed him and his army return to Magadha, and restored the province of Kashi. King Pasenadi also gave his daughter in marriage to the new young king.

Accounts differ slightly as to the cause of King Ajatashatru's war with the Licchavi republic, an area north of the river Ganges. It appears that Ajatashatru sent a minister to the area who for three years worked to undermine the unity of the Licchavis. To launch his attack across the Ganga River (Ganges), Ajatashatru built a fort at the town of Pataliputra. Torn by disagreements the Licchavis with many tribes that fought with Ajatshatru. It took fifteen years for Ajatshatru to defeat them. Jain texts tell how Ajatashatru used two new weapons: a catapult, and a covered chariot with swinging mace that has been compared to a modern tank. Pataliputra began to grow as a center of commerce and became the capitol of Magadha after Ajatashatru's death.

The Haryanka dynasty was overthrown by the Shishunaga dynasty. The last ruler of Shishunaga Dynsty, Kalasoka was assassinated by Mahapadma Nanda in 424 BC, the first of the so-called Nine Nandas (Mahapadma and his eight sons). The Nanda Dynasty ruled for about 100 years.

In 326 BC, the army of Alexander the Great approached the boundaries of Magadha. The army, exhausted and frightened at the prospect of facing another giant Indian army at the Ganges, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was persuaded that it was better to return and turned south, conquering his way down the Indus to the Ocean.

Around 321 BC, the Nanda Dynasty ended and Chandragupta became the first king of the great Mauryan Dynasty and Mauryan Empire with the help of Vishnugupta. The Empire later extended over most of Southern Asia under King Asoka, who was at first known as 'Asoka the Cruel' but later became a disciple of Buddhism and became known as 'Dhamma Asoka'. Later, the Mauryan Empire ended and the Gupta Empire began. The capital of the Gupta Empire remained Pataliputra, in Magadha.

The Mauryas

map2

In 321 BC, exiled general Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya dynasty after overthrowing the reigning Nanda king Dhana Nanda to establish the Maurya Empire. During this time, most of the subcontinent was united under a single government for the first time. Capitalising on the destabilization of northern India by the Persian and Greek incursions, the Mauryan empire under Chandragupta would not only conquer most of the Indian subcontinent, but also push its boundaries into Persia and Central Asia, conquering the Gandhara region. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara, who expanded the kingdom over most of present day India, barring the extreme south and east.

The Buddhist stupa at Sanchi, built during the Mauryan period

The kingdom was inherited by his son Ashoka The Great who initially sought to expand his kingdom. In the aftermath of the carnage caused in the invasion of Kalinga, he renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of non-violence or ahimsa after converting to Buddhism. The Edicts of Ashoka are the oldest preserved historical documents of India, and from Ashoka's time, approximate dating of dynasties becomes possible. The Mauryan dynasty under Ashoka was responsible for the proliferation of Buddhist ideals across the whole of East Asia and South-East Asia, fundamentally altering the history and development of Asia as a whole. Ashoka the Great has been described as one of the greatest rulers the world has seen.

Gupta dynasty

The Gupta Empire under Chandragupta II (ruled 375-415)

The Gupta dynasty ruled from around 240 to 550 AD. The Gupta Empire was one of the largest political and military empires in ancient India. The Gupta age is referred to as the Classical age of India by most historians. The time of the Gupta Empire was an Indian "Golden Age" in science, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. They had their capital at Pataliputra. The difference between Gupta and Mauryan administration was that the in the Mauryan administration power was centralised but in the Gupta administration power was more decentralised. The king occupied a powerful and important position and often took titles to assert his supremacy. A council of ministers and some officials helped him. The empire was divided into provinces and provinces were further divided into districts. Villages were the smallest units. The kingdom covered Gujarat, North-east India, south-eastern Pakistan, Orissa, northern Madhya Pradesh and eastern India. Art and architecture flourished during the Gupta age. People were mostly Vaishnavas. Temples devoted to Shiva and Vishnu were built during this period. Early temples had a large room where the idol of god was kept. Today these can be found in Deogarh in Jhansi. Temples were mostly made of brick or stone. The doorways were very decorative. Wall murals flourished during this age.These can be seen in Ajanta caves which are about 100 km from Aurangabad. These murals depict the life of Buddha.Yajnas were performed by Brahmins. All forms of worship were carried out in Sanskrit. Astronomy made rapid strides. Aryabhatta and Varahamihira were two great Astronomers and Mathematicians. Aryabhatta stated that the earth moved round the sun and rotated on its own Axis. Metallurgy too made rapid strides. Proof is the Iron Pillar near Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi. Ayurveda was known to the people of Gupta age. People led happy and prosperous lives. Most people lived in villages and led a simple life. Rest houses and hospitals were set up. Laws were simple and punishments were not very harsh. However there was a serious flaw. The bad, inhuman treatment of the Chandalas or Untouchables. They were made to live outside the city and even their shadows were considered capable of polluting. The material sources of this age were Kalidasa's works i.e Raghuvamsa, Meghdoot, Malavikagnimitram and Abhinjnana Shakuntalam, works of Fa-hein, the Chinese buddhist scholar, Allahabad pillar inscription called Prayag Prashsti, Books by Harisena and others.

 

 

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