The political condition of India during Sixth Century B.C



We have three classes of Materials as our sources of information for the study of political condition of India in the sixth century B.C. or shortly before the time of Gautama Buddha.

First we have the lists of kingdoms furnished by the Bralunanical sources like the puranas and the grammarian Panini.

Second, the Buddhist Angutara Nikaya and the Jataks provide some accounts of sixteen states or Sorasha Mahajanpadas which flourished in the period.

Third, the jain Bhagabati Sutra also provide a list of sixteen kingdoms of the same period.

There is some difference in the lists supplied by these sources. The puronic lists ignore the republican states while the Buddhist texts give special importance to those states.

The Buddhist list is supported by Panini. The list of the kingdoms mentioned by the Jaina texts include some eastern and southern kingdoms.

Therefore it is presumed that the Jaina text is of a later date. On the basis of such analysis, scholars extend their reliance on the Buddhist source in order to have a clear and reliable picture of the political condition of India in the 6th century B.C.

In the Sixth century B.C. India presented her chronic disintegrating tendency in politics. There was no paramount power.

North-India was divided into sixteen states, or Mahajanapadas Some of these states had monarchical and others had republican constitution. Unfortunately, the paucity of materials prevent us to present a connected history of these states. We shall merely present a few isolated facts known to us.


Kasi was also known as Varanasi. In the beginning it was a powerful state. Varanasi extended from river Varuna in the north to river Asi in the south and due to these two rivers the place was called Varanasi which was also the capital city.

Other historians say the name of the capital was Aswasena after the name of the earliest king. Aswasena who was also the father of the Jain Tirthankar Parsva.

Then Brahamadatta was the most powerfull king under whom Kasi attained the pinnacle of prosperity. There was prolonged rivalry between the kingdom of Kasi and Kosala.

Brahamadatta defeated king Dighiti of Kosala kingdom but subsequently returned it to his son. But in the later days Kasi was overpowered by Kosala and became a part of it.

Kosala :

The Kosala was the modern Oudh and a part of Sakya territory. It extended as far as river Gandhak in the East, Panchala on the West, river Sarpika on the South and the Nepal hills on the North.

Sravasti was the capital of Kosala. Two other important cities of Kosala were Saketa and Ayodhya which had also served as former capitals of Kosala before Sravasti.

In the beginning of the sixth century B.C. Mahakosala of Ikshvaku dynasty was the powerful king of Kosala. This kingdom reached the zenith of us power during his reign.

He gave the annexed kingdom of Kasi as dowry to his sister Kosaladevi on the occasion of her marriage to Bimbisara, the king of Magadha. Prasenjit was the worth son Mahakosala.

He was the contemporary and a personal friend of Lord Buddha. He even consulted Buddha regarding his political matters. Vidudabha son of Prasenjit captured the throne of Kosala forcefully by deposing his father from power.

The kingdom of Kosala had perpetual enemity with Magadha and in the later years Kosala was annexed by Magadha.

Anga :

To the East of Magadha there was situated the kingdom of Anga with its capital Champa near Bhagalpur. Anga acquired a prominent place in the field of trade and commerce.

The traders of Champa were famous for their overseas trade and they had their trade relations with Suvarnabhumi.

It was this prosperity which made Anga a rival of Magadha and finally. Anga was annexed with Magadha during the time of its king Bimbisara.

Magadha :

The kingdom of Magadha constituted the modern districts of Patna and Gaya of Bihar. Its capital was Girivraja or Rajagriha. But later on Pataliputra became the capital of Magadha.

It is known from Puranas and the Mahabharata that the king Brihadratha had laid the foundation of the earliest ruling dynasty of Magadha. His son Jarasandha was also a notable king.

It is known from the Buddhist texts that the Haryanka dynasty was railing over Magadha in the 6th century B.C. The important ruler of this dynasty was Bimbisara under whom Magadha attained its political ascendancy.

He annexed the kingdom of Anga, Kosala and Avanti to Magadha. His son Ajatasalru was also a great king. Bimbisara was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha.

Other sources say that Bimbisara and his son Ajatsatra were the rulers of Sisunaga dynasty. Later on the Nanda dynasty ruled over Magadhas and the Nanda kings established its paramountcy.


The kingdom of Chedi constituted the modern Bundelkhand and the adjacent tracts situated between the rivers Yamuna and the Narmada.

It had good relations with the Matsya and the Kasis of Benares Suktimati or Sotthivatinagara was its capital. It is known from the Hathi-Gumpha Inscription located on the Udayagiri near Bhubaneswar that a branch of the Cliedis had established an empire over Kalinga under Kharavela.

Vamsa or Vatsa :

The kingdom of Vktsa constituted on modern Allahabad the adjoining tracts. Its capital Kausambi or Kosambi was situated on the river bank of Yamuna near Allahabad. Kosambi has seen identified with modern village of Kosam located fifty kilometers south-west of Allahabad This kingdom was full of riches and prosperity.

It was also the center of Indian trade and commerce. In 6th century B.C. Udayana was the king of Vasta. He was powerful, ambitious and farsighted king. He preferred alliance to war and maintained good relations with his neighbouring states.

He established the matrimonial alliance with the king Ajatasatru of Magadha. A similar alliance established with Chandrapradyota, the ruler of Avanti by marrying his daughter. Udayana was a contempory of Gautama Buddha. He made Buddhism the state religion.

Kuru : The kingdom of Kuru was established over modern Delhi, Meerut and Tlianeswar district. Indraprashta and Hastinapur were two of its famous towns.

It is known from the Mahasutasoma Jataka that the kingdom of Kuru extended three hundred leagues. The Jain Uttaradhyayana Sutra refers of thinking named. Ishukara ruling at the town Ishukara in the Kuru country.

The Kuru had established matrimonial alliance with the Yadavas, Bhojas and the Panchala. In the vedic period the Kums were very powerful, but their power had declined towards 6th century B.C.

Panchala :

The kingdom of Panchala corresponds to the modern districts of Bareilly and Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh. The kingdom was divided into two by the river Ganges such as Northern Panchala and Southern Panchala. Ahichchtra and Kampilya were the capitals of Northern and Southern parts respectively.

The famous city Kanyakubja was in the kingdom of Panchala. It is known from the Buddhist literature that kingdom of Kuru had fought against Panchala to capture North Panchala. In the 6th century B.C. the Panchala had already lost their political importance.


The kingdom of Matsya corresponds to modern Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan. It was situated to the west of the river Yamuna and to the south of the kingdom of the Kurus. Its capital was Viratnagara.


The kingdom of Surasena was situated on the river bank of Yamuna to the south of the Matsya kingdom. It is known from the Puranas that the Yadavas were ruling over this kingdom in 6th century B.C. Mathura was the capital of Surasena.

This kingdom played a vital role in the political field of 6th century B.C. King Avantiputra made Buddhism the state religion of Surasena. In the later period Surasena kingdom became a part of Magadhan empire.

Assaka or Asvaka:

The kingdom of Assaka was located in between the states of Avanti and Mathura along the river Godavari. Potali or Potana was its capital. It is known from Vayupurana that the rulers of Asvaka were of Ikshwaku dynasty. This state had its political importance in 6th century B.C.

The kingdom of Avanti corresponds to modern Malwa and the tracts out he valley of river Narmada. This state was divided into two by Bindhya mountains. Ujjain and Mahismati were the capital of North Avanti and South Avanti respectively. Chanda Pradyata was the king of Avanti in 6th century B.C.

He was a fierce, ambitious and warmonger king. He attacked the kingdom of Vastsya but was defeated by its king Udayana. He established matrimonial alliance with Vasta kingdom by giving his daughter in marriage to Udayana. He also established the matrimonial alliance with the state of Surasena. Chanda Pradyata was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha.

The purana refers that the Avanti rulers belong to Yadav dynasty. Avanti attained its political ascendancy during the reign of Chanda Pradyota. Mahisinati. Bidarva, Kuraghara and Sudarsanapura were the important tides of Avanti.

Gandhara :

The kingdom of Gandhara corresponds to modern Peshwar and Rawalpindi regions in Pakistan. Probably a part of Kashmir also lay under its jurisdiction.

Taxila was its capital, which was a great centre of trade and commerce and also of learning. The ruler of Gandhara, king Pukkusati was a contemporary of king Bimbisara of Magadha. It is known from the Behistan inscription of king Dariks that a Persian king had captured Gandhara towards the end of 6th century B.C.

Kamboja :

Kamboja was an important state in the sixth century B.C. It was situated in the North-West frontier of India. Dwaraka was its capital. Another important town of Kamboja was Rajapura. The Mahabharata refers that monarchical form of government was there in the beginning but later on there came republican form of government of Kamboja.

Vajji :

Vajji was a republican state. It was situated in the North of river Ganges. It was a confederation of eight clans. Among these clans the most important were the Videhas, die Lichchavis, the Jantrikas and die Vrijis. Vajji confedeacy corresponds to North Bihar.

Vaisali was its capital. It rose to the pinacle of its glory during the time of Bimbisara and Ajatasatru of Magadha. Bimbisara had established matrimonial alliance with Vajji republic by marrying a Vaisali princess named Chellana.

Near Pataligrama on the confluence of the rivers Sona and Ganges. Ajatasatru had constructed a strong fort to protect himself from the Vajjian attack. Later on Pataligrama became famous as Magadha's capital. But in the later days the Vajjian confederacy became weak and was annexed to Magadha by Ajatsatru.

Malla :

The republican state of Malla was powerful confederation of nine clans in Eastern India. It has been identified by the historians with the modern Gorakjipur district of Uttar Pradesh.

The state-then was divided into two parts, one with its capital at Pawa. Both the places were linked with Gautam, Buddha and Mahavir Jain respectively.

So the Mallas were the followers of Buddhism as well as Jainism. According to Manu die Mallas were Vraty a Ksliatriyas. They were brave, freedom loving and war- like people. But in course of time they became weak and conquered by Magadha.

Other democratic or Autonomous clans:

Besides the monarchical states there were also a number of democratic or autonomous clans, who enjoyed considerable powers in 6th century B.C. The sources of information regarding these states are the Buddhist literature. The Mahabharata the accounts of foreign travellers and Arthasastra of Kautilya. The list of those clans are given below.

1. The Sakyas of Kapilvastu:

The Sakyas were settled on the border of Nepal. They were the descendants of Iksvaku dynasty. Their capital has been identified with the Tilaura-kot.

2.The Hhaggas of Sumsumagiri:

The Bhaggas were settled around the district of Mirzapur. It was a neighbouring state of Vatsa.

3.The Bulis of Allakappa :

They were established between modern Shahabad and Muzafforpur.

4.The Kalamas of Kasaputta:

The historians are not certain about the location of the Kalamas.

5.The Koliyas of Ramagama :

The Koliyas were to the east of the Sakyas.

6.The Videhas of Mithila:

Its corresponds to present Janakpurjugt within the Nepalese border.

7.The Lichchavis of Vaisali:

Its corresponds to modern Basarh in the Muzafarpur district.

So in the 6th century B.C. there emerged a number of Janapadas and Mahajanapadas in the extensive valleys of river Ganges and Yamuna in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and a part of the Punjab.

But the contemporary records are silent regarding the existence of any such states in Assam, Orissa, Bengal, Gujurat, Sind or Central Punjab. But the Purana and the Jain literature speak that Kalinga was then a powerful state.

Buddhist text Mahaparinirbanasutta refins that Kalinga king Brahmadatta had preserved a tooth of Buddha to worship by constructing a Stupa for it. Magadha was the perpectual enemy of Kalinga. So in this way India was not in its united from in 6th century B.C. and it was divided into so many independent states. "