Wednesday, November 25, 2009



Magadhan ascendancy began with Bimbisara (544-492 Be) of the Haryanka dynasty. He was a resolute and energetic organiser, ruthlessly dismissing inefficient officers, calling his village headmen together for conferences, building roads and causeways, and travelling around his kingdom on tours of inspection. He cultivated friendly relations with the prominent kings of his time. He himself married the princesses of Kosala, Vaishali and Madra which helped him in his expansionist policy. His one and only conquest was that of Anga, the capital city of which (Champa) was already of considerable commercial importance. He also gained a part of Kasi as the dowry in his marriage with the sister of Prasenajit of Kosala. The Magadhan capital was at this stage at Rajagriha.

Bimbisara was deposed, imprisoned and murdered by his own son, Ajatasatru (492-460 Be) who was engaged in a prolonged conflict with Prasenajit. He defeated Prasenajit, married his daughter, and annexed Kasi. Just after this Prasenajit, like Bimbisara, was deposed by his son and he died at the gate of Rajagriha. The new king, Virudhak, then attacked and virtually annihilated the little autonomous tribe of the Sakyas to which Buddha belonged.

Probably, Virudhak, like Ajatasatru, had ambitions of empire and wished to embark on a career of conquest after bringing the outlying peoples, who had paid loose homage to his father, more directly under the control of the centre; but his intentions were unfulfilled for we hear no more of him except for an unreliable legend that he was destroyed by a miracle soon after his massacre of the Sakyas. A little later his kingdom was incorporated in Magadha.

Although his mother (Chellana) was a Lichchhavi princess, Ajatasatru did not hesitate from waging wars against the Lichchhavis. His prime minister, Vrihadarayan, sowed dissensions in their ranks and Ajatasatru finally destroyed their independence, though it took about 16 years. He succeeded in the battle because of a war engine which was used to throw stones like catapults, and a chariot to which a mace was attached, thus facilitating mass killings.Probably, the rise of Magadha aroused the jealousy of Avanti and the relations between the two were strained.

Ajatasatru was succeeded by Udayin (460-444 Be) who founded the new capital at Pataliputra. Situated at the confluence of the Ganga and the Son, it was commercially and strategically important. The Haryanka dynasty was succeeded by the Sisunaga dynasty, which destroyed the power of Avanti with its capital at Ujjain and incorporated it in the Magadhan empire. The Sisunagas also temporarily shifted the capital to Vaisali.

The Sisunagas were succeeded by the Nandas who annexed Kalinga to the empire. Mahapadma Nanda was the most important king of this dynasty. He claimed to be the ekarat, the sole sovereign who destroyed all the other ruling princes. The Nanda army was very strong-said to com­prise 2,00,000 infantry, 60,000 cavalry, and 6,000 war el­ephants. This is said to have checked Alexander's army from advancing towards Magadha. The last Nandas turned out to be weaklings. Their rule in Magadha was supplanted by that of the Maurya dynasty-Chandragupta Maurya overthrew the last Nanda ruler, Dhanananda.

The ascendancy of Magadha was facilitated by enter­prising and ambitious monarchs like Bimbisara, Ajatasatru and Mahapadma Nanda; the rich iron deposits in its land: the strategically situated capitals; fertile alluvium; devel­oped trade and commerce; use of elephants in wars; and unorthodox character of the Magadhan society.

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