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Mahajanapadas in Bihar

Mahajanapadas in Bihar notes/study material for preparation of BPSC Prelims and Mains and other Bihar state examinations

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Arrival of Aryans to India: :

  • Aryans arrived in the north-western parts of India in around 1500 B.C.
  • Their initial settlements were in the valleys of the north-west and the Punjab plains. However during the later Vedic period (1000-600 BCE), Aryan started moving towards Eastern India and Indo-Gangetic plains. 
  • Satapatha Brahmana mentions their arrival and spread in Bihar. 
  • Gaya, Punpun, Rajgir have been referred to as auspicious places.
  • In later Vedic texts, ‘Kikat’ has been referred to as an inauspicious place. Kikatas were said to be ‘Anarya’ or non-vedic people who didn’t practice vedic rituals and were Nastikas. The leader of Kikatas has been called ‘Pramaganda’.  It is unclear whether Kikatas were already present in Bihar during the Rigvedic period or they migrated there later.

You can read more about the Aryans and their arrival in India here : Aryans in India

Mahajanapadas in Bihar :

In the beginning of the 6th century B.C., Northern India consisted of a large number of independent kingdoms. Some of them had monarchical forms of government, while others were republics. 

Buddhist and Jaina literatures mention about the 16 Mahajanapadas as mentioned below : 

  1. Assaka
  2. Avanti
  3. Kasi
  4. Kosala
  5. Anga 
  6. Magadha
  7. Vajii
  8. Malla 
  9. Chedi
  10. Vatsa
  11. Kuru
  12. Panchala
  13. Matsya
  14. Surasena
  15. Gandhara, 
  16. Kamboja

They stretched across the Indo-Gangetic plains from modern-day Afghanistan to Bengal and in central India till Maharashtra.

Out of 16 Mahajanapadas, three namely Magadha, Anga and Vajji were in Bihar. Let us study in more detail about these Mahajanapadas : 

Vajji Mahajanapada : 

  • The Vajji Mahajanapada was a group of eight clans. 
  • This kingdom was an important center of cultural and political activities. 
  • Capital of Vajji was Vaishali.
  • Vajji mahajanapada was spread over present day Champaran, Saran, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi and Darbhanga districts of Bihar.
  • Out of eight clans, the Licchhavis, the Videhas, the Jnatrikas and the Vajjis were the most important. Let us study in more details about them : 

The Licchavis : 

  • Licchhavi was the most important and powerful clan of the Vaiji confederacy. 
  • It was situated on the Northern banks of the Ganga, spread over present day Bihar and some regions of Nepal.
  • Its capital was at Vaishali. 
  • Vaishali was an important center of Buddhism and the headquarters of the Vaji republic.
  • Vaishali is considered to be the world’s first republic and had an elected assembly of representatives. 
  • Lichchavis and their capital Vaishali are associated with the following important historical events of Ancient History : 
    • Lord Mahavira was born at Kundagram in Vaishali. 
    • Kautilya in his Arthashastra has mentioned about the tribal confederation of licchavis.
    • Mother of Lord Mahavira, Trishala was sister of King Chetaka of licchavi. 
    • The Gupta emperor Chandragupta I married a licchavi princess Kumaradevi which is depicted in Kumaradevi coins of Gupta period. 
    • Amrapali was a famous dancer and royal courtesan of Vaishali.
  • The Licchhavis remained influential in Northern India and Nepal till the 4th century BCE. 
  • Later, the kingdom of Licchhavis was conquered by the Haryanka dynasty ruler and King of Magadha ‘Ajatashatru’.

The Videhas : 

  • Videha is mentioned in both Ramayana and Mahabharata as comprising parts of Bihar and extending till the southern parts of Nepal. 
  • It finds mention for the first time in Yajurveda. 
  • This kingdom was started by Ikshvaku’s son Nimi Videh. 
  • All the kings of this kingdom were called Janak. 
  • Hindu Goddess Sita was the princess of Videha and daughter of Raja Janak. 
  • The capital of Videha kingdom was Janakpuris which is now part of Nepal.

The Jnatrikas

  • Mahavir Jain belonged to the Jnatrika clan. His father was the head of Jnatrika clan and his mother was a Licchhavi princess.

Anga Mahajanapada

  • Anga was mentioned for the first time in Atharvaveda.
  • It was situated in the North-east of Magadha and comprised Khagaria, Bhagalpur and Munger of present time. 
  • Champa was the capital of Anga Mahajanapada which corresponds to Bhagalpur in present day Bihar. Earlier name of Champa was Malini. 
  • According to Buddhist scripture Digha Nikaya, this kingdom was designed by famous architect, Maha Govind.
  • Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang referred to Anga Mahajanapada as Chenanpo.
  • The first king of Anga was Titikshu.
  • Bimbisara killed Brahmadatta, the last king of Anga Kingdom and merged Anga into Magadha.

Magadha Mahajanapada : 

  • It was first mentioned in Atharvaveda. 
  • It was a strong kingdom which extended from Ganga in the North to Vindhayas in the South and Champa in the East to river Sone in the West. 
  • Initial capital of Magadha was Girivraja or Rajgir, which was surrounded from all sides by five hills. Later, the capital shifted to Patliputra by the Haryanka dynasty ruler Udayin.

In course of time, the small and weak kingdoms either submitted to the stronger rulers or gradually got eliminated. By the mid of 6th century B.C. Only four kingdoms namely Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala and Magadha survived.

Of all the above kingdoms, Magadha emerged powerful and prosperous. It became the nerve center of political activity in north India and Its history became the history of India.

Great empires like the Mauryan empire and Gupta empire, emerged and ruled in Magadha. 

We will read about the rise of Magadh and the different dynasties( and important rulers ) in the next chapter.

Bihar Ancient History MCQs

multiple choice questions with answer and explanation.

You can study complete ancient history of Bihar in a chapterwise format here : Ancient History of Bihar Chapter-wise notes

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You can study complete ancient history in a chapterwise format here : Ancient History Chapter-wise notes

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