The rise of 16 Mahajanapadas in the sixth century BC was a major landmark in the Ancient Indian History. The Ancient India (North India) had experienced far-reaching changes in political, socio-economic and cultural life. The regular use of iron implements enhanced the extension and improvement in agriculture. All these economic changes resulted in the formation of large territorial states which were better equipped militarily (due to enough availability of iron tools) and in which warrior class was main.
New agricultural tools and implements enabled agricultural workers to produce enough surplus not only fulfill the needs of rural class but also supported numerous towns. Towns came into existence as centres of trade and industry.
In the post-Vedic period, entire northern India was divided into sixteen states called 16 Mahajanapadas. These Mahajanapadas were either monarchical or republican in nature.
List of 16 Mahajanapadas & their Capitals:
The term “Janapada” literally means the foothold of a tribe. The term was derived from an early stage of land taken by the ‘Jana‘ tribe for a settled way of life. The name of16 Mahajanapadas are listed as –
Modern area: Districts of Munger and Bhagalpur in Bihar
Champa was one of the six principal cities in Ancient India. It was also a great center of trade and commerce and its merchants regularly sailed to Suvarnabhumi. Champanagari was noted for its wealth and commerce. Anga was annexed by Magadha in the time of Bimbisara. This was the one and only conquest of Bimbisara.
Modern area: Between the rivers Narmada and Godavari
Assaka was the country of Assaka or Ashmaka tribe who were located on the banks of the river Godavari. It became commercially important in course of time.
Modern area: Malwa
Avanti was an important kingdom in western India. It was one of the four great monarchies (other three were Kosala, Vatsa, and Magadha) in India in the post era of Mahavira and Buddha.
Capital: Shakti Mati/Sotthivati
Modern area: Bundelkhand area of Madhya Pradesh
According to the Mahabharata, Chedi was one of the Kingdoms where the Pandavas were spending their 13th year in exile.
Capital: Taxila (near Rawalpindi, Pakistan) and Pushkalavati
Modern area: Western part of Pakistan and Afghanistan
The state of Gandhara roughly corresponded to modern Kashmir and extended up to the Kabul Valley. Taxila and Pushkalavato were two Capitals of this Mahajanapada. Taxila was a famous place of learning where scholars came from all over the world. The Gandharas were furious people, well-trained in wars.
Modern area: Hazara district of Pakistan
Kambojas are included in the Uttarapatha (ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts use Uttarapatha as the name of the northern part of Jambudvipa, one of the continents in Hindu mythology). According to Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Ashoka’s Edict, this Mahajanapada followed Republican Constitution.
Modern area: District of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh
Kashi was located in the region bounded by the Varuna and Asi rivers in the north and south which gave its capital the name Varanasi. Kashi was the most powerful among the 16 Mahajanapadas. Kosala conquered Kashi sometime before Buddha.
Modern area: Districts of Faizabad, Gonda, and Bahraich in U.P.
Kosala was located to the north-west of Magadha. It was surrounded by the Ganga in the south, river Gandak (Narayani) in the east, and the Himalayas for its northern boundary. This janapada was the centre of the Vedic Dharma. Saketa, Sravasti, and Ayodhya were some important cities.
Modern area: Haryana and Delhi area
Capital: Rajgriha/Rajgir at the time of Bimbisara, Pataliputra during the time of Udayin & Kalashoka, Vaishali during Shishunaga
Modern area: Districts of Patna, Gaya, and Nalanda in Bihar
The earliest reference to Magadha was mentioned in Atharvaveda. The Maurya and Gupta, two greatest empires of India were originated in Magadha. This kingdom played an important role in the development of Buddhism and Jainism during sixth century B.C.Reasons behind the rise of Magadha Empire during sixth century B.C.
Capital: Kuishinara & Pawa
Modern area: Districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur, and Siddharthnagar in Uttar Pradesh
Modern area: Alwar, Bharatpur, and Jaipur in Rajasthan
Capital: North Panchal – Ahichhatra; South Panchal – Kampilya
Modern area: Ruhelkhand, and Western U.P.
Modern area: Brajmandal
15. Vajji or Vriji
Capital – Vaishali
Modern area: Districts of Muzaffarpur & Vaishali in Bihar
16. Vamsa or Vatsa
Modern area: Districts of Allahabad, Mirzapur in U.P.
Of the 16 Mahajanapadas, Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa, and Avanti were more powerful. They fought a fierce battle among themselves for political preeminence for about a hundred years. Ultimately, under the leadership of Bimbisara (542BC – 493BC) and Ajatshatru (493BC – 461BC), Magadha emerged victory.