Ancient kingdom, India, situated in present-day Bihar and Jharkhand states, northeastern India. An important kingdom in the 7th century BC, it absorbed the kingdom of Anga in the 6th century BC. Pataliputra (Patna) was its capital. Its strength grew under the Nanda dynasty; under the Mauryan dynasty (4th–2nd centuries BC), it comprised nearly the entire Indian subcontinent. It afterwards declined. Revived in the 4th century AD under the Gupta dynasty, it was conquered by the Muslims in the late 12th century. It was the scene of many events in the life of the Buddha.
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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.
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.
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.
Dynasties: Brihadratha Dynasty, Pradyota Dynasty, Śiśunāga Dynasty (c. 684 - 424 BC), Nanda Dynasty, Maurya Dynasty, Sunga Dynasty, Kanva Dynasty, Gupta 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.
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.
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.