[muhg-uh-duh, mah-guh-]
Magadha, ancient Indian kingdom, situated within the area of the modern states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Its capital was Pataliputra (now Patna). The kingdom rose to prominence in the mid-7th cent. B.C. and rapidly extended its frontiers, especially under the rule of Bimbisara (c.540-c.490). Magadha fell (c.325) to Chandragupta, who made the kingdom the nucleus of the Mauryan empire. After a period of obscurity, it recovered importance in the 4th cent. A.D. as the power-base of the Gupta dynasty. Buddhism and Jainism first developed in Magadha, and the Buddha used the Magadhi dialect of Sanskrit.

Magadha (मगध) formed one of the sixteen Mahājanapadas (Sanskrit, "great countries") or regions in ancient India. The core of the kingdom was the area of Bihar south of the Ganges; its capital was Rajagaha (modern Rajgir). Magadha expanded to include Eastern Uttar Pradesh, most of Bihar, and Bengal with the conquest of Licchavi and Anga respectively. 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 as despised peoples. 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 advancments 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.


The kingdom of the Magadha roughly corresponds to the modern districts of Patna and Gaya in southern Bihar, and parts of Bengal in the east. It was bounded on the north by the river Ganga, on the east by the river Champa, on the south by the Vindhya mountains and on the west by the river Sona. During the Buddha’s time and onward, its boundaries included Anga. Dr. Ranajit Pal, however, maintains that modern Bihar in Eastern India became Magadha only after the Ashokan period. The earliest epigraphic record that mentions Magadha is Ashoka's Bairat edict far from Bihar. Magan in western Baluchistan must have been the ancient Magadha. The Sumerian records mention Dilmun, Magan, and Melukhkha which shows that Magan was nearer to Sumer than Melukhkha. The fact that the name Mogadham is common among Iranians show that Magadha was once in western Baluchistan area which was India. The Sisunaks of Magan were the Sishunagas. The Kak-kings like Kak-Siwe-Tempti were the Kakavarnas. Dr. Pal also maintains that Patali(28°19'58" La., 57°52'16" Lo.) near Kohnouj and Konarak in the Gulf area was the Palibothra of Megasthenes.


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 Pali Canon. Based on these sources, it appears that Magadha was ruled by the Śiśunāga 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 Śiśunāga Dynasty. As the scene of many incidents in his life, including his enlightenment, Magadha is often considered a blessed land.

King Bimbisara of the Śiśunāga 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 father-in-law of King Bimbisara, revoked 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 Pasendi 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 were easily defeated once the fort was constructed. 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 Śiśunāga dynasty was overthrown in 424 BC by Mahāpadma Nanda, 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 the 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. 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.

Magadha Dynasties

Dynasties: Brihadratha Dynasty, Pradyota Dynasty, Śiśunāga Dynasty (c. 684 - 424 BC), Nanda Dynasty, Maurya Dynasty, Sunga Dynasty, Kanva Dynasty, Gupta Dynasty.

Amongst the sixteen Mahajanapadas, Magadha rose to prominence under a number of dynasties that peaked with the reign of Asoka Maurya, one of India's most legendary and famous emperors.

Brihadratha dynasty

According to the Puranas,the Magadha Empire was established by the Brihadratha Dynasty, who was the sixth in line from Emperor Kuru of the Bharata dynasty through his eldest son Sudhanush. The first prominent Emperor of the Magadhan branch of Bharathas was Emperor Brihadratha. His son Jarasandha appears in popular legend and is slain by Bhima in the Mahabharatha. Vayu Purana mentions that the Brihadrathas ruled for 1000 years.

Pradyota dynasty

The Brihadrathas were succeeded by the Pradyotas who according to the Vayu Purana ruled for 138 years. One of the Pradyota traditions was for the prince to kill his father to become king. During this time, it is reported that there was high crimes in Magadha. The people rose up and elected Shishunaga to become the new king, which destroyed the power of the Pradyotas and created the Shishunaga dynasty.

Shishunaga dynasty

According to tradition, the Shishunaga dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 684 BC, whose capital was Rajagriha, later Pataliputra, near the present day Patna. This dynasty lasted till 424 BC, when it was overthrown by the Nanda dynasty. This period saw the development of two of India's major religions that started from Magadha. Gautama Buddha in the 6th or 5th century BC was the founder of Buddhism, which later spread to East Asia and South-East Asia, while Mahavira revived and propagated the ancient sramanic religion of Jainism.

Nanda dynasty

The Nanda dynasty was established by an illegitimate son of the king Mahanandin of the previous Shishunaga dynasty. Mahapadma Nanda died at the age of 88, ruling the bulk of this 100-year dynasty. The Nandas were followed by the Maurya dynasty.

Maurya dynasty

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 only region that was not under the Mauryan's were present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala (which was a Tamil kingdom then). There are references in one of the oldest Tamil Sangam literature, Purananuru, that a Mauryan army was driven out by a unified Tamil army under the leadership of Ilanchetchenni, a Chola King. This unified Tamil force is supposed to be broken by King Kharavela, a Kalinga ruler, as per one of his inscriptions.

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.

Sunga dynasty

The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka's death, when the king Brihadratha, the last of the Mauryan rulers, was assassinated by the then commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honour of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga then ascended the throne.

Kanva dynasty

The Kanva dynasty replaced the Sunga dynasty, and ruled in the eastern part of India from 71 BC to 26 BC. The last ruler of the Sunga dynasty was overthrown by Vasudeva of the Kanva dynasty in 75 BC. The Kanva ruler allowed the kings of the Sunga dynasty to continue to rule in obscurity in a corner of their former dominions. Magadha was ruled by four Kanva rulers. In 30 BC, the southern power swept away both the Kanvas and Sungas and the province of Eastern Malwa was absorbed within the dominions of the conqueror. Following the collapse of the Kanva dynasty, the Satavahana dynasty of the Andhra kindgom replaced the Magandhan kingdom as the most powerful Indian state.

Gupta dynasty

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 livedin a happy and prosperous life. 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.

Kings of Magadha

Brihadratha Dynasty

Semi-legendary rulers in Purana accounts.

  • Brihadratha
  • Jarasandha
  • Sahadeva
  • Somapi (1678-1618 BC)
  • Srutasravas (1618-1551 BC)
  • Ayutayus (1551-1515 BC)
  • Niramitra (1515-1415 BC)
  • Sukshatra (1415-1407 BC)
  • Brihatkarman (1407-1384 BC)
  • Senajit (1384-1361 BC)
  • Srutanjaya (1361-1321 BC)
  • Vipra (1321-1296 BC)
  • Suchi (1296-1238 BC)
  • Kshemya (1238-1210 BC)
  • Subrata (1210-1150 BC)
  • Dharma (1150-1145 BC)
  • Susuma (1145-1107 BC)
  • Dridhasena (1107-1059 BC)
  • Sumati (1059-1026 BC)
  • Subhala (1026-1004 BC)
  • Sunita (1004-964 BC)
  • Satyajit (964-884 BC)
  • Biswajit (884-849 BC)
  • Ripunjaya (849-799 BC)

Pradyota dynasty

Ruling 799-684 BC according to calculations based on the Vayu Purana.

  • Pradyota
  • Palaka
  • Visakhayupa
  • Ajaka
  • Varttivarddhana

Hariyanka dynasty (545 BC-346 BC) and Shishunaga dynasty (430-364 BC)

  • Bimbisara (545-493 BC), founder of the first Magadhan empire
  • Ajatashatru (493-461 BC)
  • Darshaka (from 461 BC)
  • Udayin
  • Shishunaga (430 BC), established the kingdom of Magadha
  • Kakavarna (394-364 BC)
  • Kshemadharman (618-582 BC)
  • Kshatraujas (582-558 BC)
  • Nandivardhana
  • Mahanandin (until 424 BC), his empire is inherited by his illegitimate son Mahapadma Nanda

Nanda Dynasty (424-321 BC)

  • Mahapadma Nanda (from 424 BC), illegitimate son of Mahanandin, founded the Nanda Empire after inheriting Mahanandin's empire
  • Pandhuka
  • Panghupati
  • Bhutapala
  • Rashtrapala
  • Govishanaka
  • Dashasidkhaka
  • Kaivarta
  • Dhana (Agrammes, Xandrammes) (until 321 BC), lost his empire to Chandragupta Maurya after being defeated by him

Maurya Dynasty (324-184 BC)

Shunga Dynasty (185-73 BC)

Kanva Dynasty (73-26 BC)

  • Vasudeva (from 73 BC)
  • Successors of Vasudeva (until 26 BC)

Gupta Dynasty (c. 240-550 AD)


See also

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