List of 16 Mahajanapadas: History, King, Capital

List of 16 Mahajanapadas: History, King, Capital

After the decline of Indus Valley Civilization, there was a genesis of multiple economic and political activity-centric urban centres in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The Indo-Gangetic Plain was fertile, thus agricultural activity flourished, resulted in the formation of Mahajanapadas. Here we will discuss the List of 16 Mahajanapadas: History, King, Capital for SSC, UPSC, Railways and other Government examinations.

Let’s learn.

Do You Know?

Buddhist Texts Anguttara Nikaya states that the land between Himalayas and Narmada was divided into 16 independent states or Mahajanapadas.

What is Mahajanapadas?

Mahajanapada is made up of 2 words one is “Maha” which means “Great” and janapada which means “foothold of a people“. In between the sixth to fourth centuries sixteen kingdoms existed in Northern ancient India. Mahajanapada was the combination of 16 kingdoms. ‘Jana‘ means ‘tribe’. Janapadas are the permanent residents of the tribes of the later Vedic period. The important part of the expansion of the territorial state is the production of iron. Due to iron production, Janapadas’ extended to ‘Mahajanapadas. There are sixteen great kingdoms that grew between the sixth and the fourth centuries according to Buddhist texts.

Era: Iron Age
Period: 600-300 BCE
Type of Government: Republics & Monarchies
Languages: The Prakrits & Sanskrit
Religion: Vedic Hinduism

History of Mahajanapadas

Ancient tribes were in the search of permanent settlements which was later become well-established colonies. These colonies became ‘Janapadas’ later on. These Janapadas had specific territory. “Mahajanapadas” were formed after the expansion of Janapadas. Various janapadas were connected in order to expand and make Mahajanapadas for kingdom prosperity and wisdom.

Mahajanapadas grew between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. Many huge Indian cities were built during this period hence making it a very important period. According to various texts, these cities hosted 16 great kingdoms. There was a boom in agriculture during the 6th to 4th century BCE in eastern Uttar Pardesh (Bihar) due to ample fertile land. There was also increased iron production in the area of eastern Uttar Pradesh. These developments are linked to the origin of Mahajanapadas. Many Janapadas came and joined and this led to the formation of ‘16 Mahajanapadas 2500 years ago’.

Factors Leading To the Rise of Mahajanapadas

  •  Strategic locations and geographical convergence were one of the crucial factors that were responsible for the rise of Mahajanapadas.
  • Due to fertile soil, there were great profits in agriculture that led to the rise of multiple strong states.
  • The availability of minerals such as iron helped in the flourishment of the states. 
  • The combined growth of agriculture, cattle wealth and iron technology led to the flourishment of Mahajanapadas.
  • Dynasties such as Haryanka, Saisunaga, and the Nanda dynasties played a major role in the rise of Mahajanapadas.

The Factors Which Led To The Rise of Magadha

  • Political conflicts among the Mahajanapadas ultimately paved the way of the genesis of super-power Magadha.
  • Magadha became the most powerful and centre of the vast empire due to the far-sighted policies of Bimbisara.
  • Bimbisara belonged to the Haryanka Dynasty.
  • Bimbisara ruled for 52 years.
  • Bimbisara primarily focused on three policies like matrimonial alliances, friendship with strong kings, and conquest of weak states to make the Magadha at its supremacy.

Magadhas’s rise started under Haryanka dynasty, followed by Shishunaga and Nanda Dynasty

Haryanka Dynasty

  • Founded by the grandfather of Bimbisara.
  • Contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira.
  • Capital: Rajgriha
  • Bimbisara used matrimonial alliances. His second wife was the Lichchhavi Princes Chellana who was the mother of Ajathsatru.
  • Ajathsatru was very aggressive ruler and annexed Kosala.
  • The king Udayin founded the capital Pataliputra at the confluence of Ganga and Son rivers. 

Shishunaga Dynasty

  • Shishunaga was the successor of Udayin.
  • Shishunaga shifted the capital to Vaisali.
  • kalsoka the king organised the second Buddhist council at Vaisali.

Nanda Dynasty

  • It is the first non-Kshatriya dynasty.
  • Founded by Maha Padmananda.
  • He acquired Kosala and Kalinga into Magadha.
  • Dhana Nanda was the ruler during the time of Alexander’s invasion.
  • He was a very arrogant and oppressive ruler.

The Political Structure Mahajanpadas

  • The majority of the states were monarchical and the minority were republics.
  • Republics were known as ‘Ganasangha’. These Ganasangha used to work on the oligarchic system for governance. In such a system, an elected king used to administrate a large council.
  • Vajji is the most prominent Mahajanapada with the Sangha form of governance.
  • Republican states gave rise to the founders of Jainism and Buddhism.
  • Forts were built around kings to provide them protection. New kings or Rajas were in charge of deployment armies.

The Economic Life of The Mahajanapadas

  • Agriculture was the main source of economic revenue during the time of Mahajanapadas.
  • 1/10th of the production of soil has to pay as land revenue.
  • Rajas have also had the duty of collecting taxes of people.1/6th of the taxes were taken from the crop produced.
  • Taxes were known as Bhaga or share. Taxes were also given by craftsmen, herders, and hunters.
  • Agricultural land was divided into small portions and each portion was dedicated to certain activities such as irrigation, cultivation, and conservation of water.
  • Animal husbandry was the secondary income source in mahajanpadas. It was as important as agriculture.
  • People at that time where specialized in arts also like ivory work, mural paint¬ing, stone-carving, etc.
  • Business used to happen inside as well as outside the country. Imports from Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, Babylonia, etc used to get on famous ports of that time such as Bharuch, Tamralipti, Sopara etc.
  • Silk, gold, embroidered cloth were important trade materials.
  • Copper and silver Karshapana was the currency of that time. The silver Karshapana was also called Dharan. A Vedic Niska was 10 times the value of the silver Karshapana. 

Administration of Mahajanapadas

  • King is the highest official rank in the system assisted by other officials.
  • Judicial, Military, executive people with higher official status were called as Mahmatras or Amatyas.
  • Royal household ministers were called Mantrin and commanders were called Senanayaka.
  • A robust fiscal system was there to run such a huge professional army. In the Vedic age, Bali was a voluntary payment made by tribesmen, but it was made mandatory during Mahajanapadas. 
  • Balisadhakas were in charge to collect Bali.  
  • Sabha, Samiti were absent in the time, instead, the smaller body like Parishad was there to assist the kings.

List of 16 Mahajanapadas

Here is the list of 16 Mahajanapadas

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

Mahajanapadas Map
Mahajanapadas Map

List of 16 Mahajanapadas and their Capital and Present Location

Mahajanapadas and their capitals are listed below. 

MahajanapadasCapitalPresent Location
AngaChampaMonger and Bhagalpur in Bihar
MagadhaGirivraja/RajagrihaPatna, Gaya, and parts of Shahabad in Bihar
VatsaKausambiAllahabad, UP
KosalaSravastiFaziabad, Gonda, Bahraich of eastern Uttar Pradesh
PanchalaAhichchatra and KampliyaWestern UP
KuruIndraprasthaHaryana and Delhi.
MatsyaViratnagarAlwar, Bhartpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan.
ChediSothivatiBundelkhand region.
AvantiUjjaini/ MahismatiMalawa
GandharaTaxilaWestern part of Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.
KambojaPoonchaHazara districts of Pakistan
VajjiVaishaliNorth of the river basin Ganga in Bihar
AshmakaPratisthan/ PaithanBetween the rivers Narmada and Godavari.
MallaKusinaraDeoria, Basti, Gorakhpur and Siddarthnagar in eastern UP.

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List of 16 Mahajanapadas with a brief description including King and Capital

Magadha Mahajanapada

Magadha region was covered by the Ganges in the north river Champa in the east. River son surrounded this region from the west. The earliest capital of Magadha was Rjagriha or Girivraja. The capital of Magadha was Pataliputra for a long period of time. Patna, Gaya, and parts of Shahabad were the part of the Magadha region. Magadha the hub of Jainism. According to Atharva Veda, Magadha was a semi-Brahmanical habitation. This is one of the most auspicious Mahajanapadas and was a leading one among other Mahajanapadas. Magadha is very auspicious among Buddhists as Buddha used to live here. Maurya Dynasty also flourished from Magadha.

Kuru Mahajanapada

Kuru’s capital was Indraprastha which is present-day Delhi Communities like ‘Panchalas’ and the ‘Yadavas’ were related to Kuru as they had matrimonial relations. During the time of 6th and 5th centuries BCE, Kuru was ruled by a republican type of government. Kurus had matrimonial relations with the ‘Panchalas’ and the ‘Yadavas’.Currently, the Kuru region in Meerut and Southeastern Haryana. Kurukshetra is known as the site of Kuru.

Avanti Mahajanapada

Currently, the Avanti region is known as Malwa and some parts of Madhya Pradesh. River Narmada divides Avanti into 2 regions North Avanti and South Avanti. Narmada was the prominent water source during that time. During the time of Buddha and Mahavira, both eras had a common capital known as Ujjaini. Avanti region was the prime location for the rise of Buddhism. Ujjaini or Mahismati was the capital of Avanti. Avanti got integrated with Magadha after the defeat of Nandivardhana by King Shishunaga.

Surasena Mahajanapada

Surasena is currently the region of Western Uttar Pradesh. During the time of Megasthenes, it was the place of Krishna worship. The domination of Buddha was also seen in this region. Surasena was located on the banks of Yamuna towards the east of Matsya kingdom. Surasena had a major role in the spread of Buddhism. Later on, Surasena was connected with the Magadhan Empire.

Kashi Mahajanapada

Various ancient texts depict the writings about Kashi. Kashi had Varanasi as its capital and was very prominent ‘Mahajanapadas’.There was a constant rivalry between Kosala, Magadha, and Anga in order to take Kashi under their region. During the rule of King Kansa, even after the defect of Kosala by Kashi, Kosala acquired Kashi. According to Matsya Purana, Kashi was named after the rivers Varuna and Asi.

Vajji Mahajanapada

Vajji is currently known as Bihar. Probably the most outstanding races of this Mahajanapada have been Licchavis, Vedehans, Jnatrikas, and Vajjis. . Vajji was a very significant kingdom of ancient India. In texts like ‘Bhagavati Sutra’ and ‘Anguttara Nikaya’ have mentioned Vajji. River Gandaki was the main water source for this region and it separated the region from Malla and Kosala. Vajji had Gandaki river in the west and river Ganges in the north. Vaishali was the capital of Vajji.

Asmaka Mahajanapada

This kingdom is associated with southern India. It is also known as ‘Ashmaka’. The capital was situated at Pratisthan. This region was located on the banks of the bank of Godavari. River Godavari was the primary water source of this region which divided it into Assaka and Mulaka. With the capital Potali, King Brahmadatta ruled over this region. According to the ancient Buddhist text ‘Anguttara Nikaya’, Assaka was part of 16 ‘Mahajanapadas’.

Vatsa Mahajanapada

The Vatsa Kingdom is also known as Vamsa. Currently, the Vatsa region is known as Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. This region was dominated by King Udayana. He made Kausambi it’s capital. He made Buddhism the state religion of Kausambi after he became a preacher of Buddha. monarchical form of governance was followed in this region. The region was the hub of economical activities. During the 6th century BCE, Vatsa was flourishing with business and trade and many wealthy merchants made Vasta their trade center. Import and export of goods was a prominent trade in this region.

Anga Mahajanapada

The Anga Kingdom was the trade capital and attached rich merchants from around the kingdoms. River Campa separated Anga and Magadha which were rivals. The main source of water supply was giving my river Champa in these regions. Under the rule of King Bimbisara, Anga was connected to Magadha.

Chedi Mahajanapada

This place holds significance in Hindu Mahabharata. This region was ruled by king Shishupala. Suktimati was the capital of this region. According to historians like F. E. Pargiter and Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri, Banda in Uttar Pradesh is considered a present region.

Matsya Mahajanapada

This region was discovered by the Indo-Aryan tribe of the Vedic age. The Yamuna is the main water source in his region and separates it in Matsya the Panchalas. After the name of the kingdom’s founder, Viratanagara was kept as the capital of this region. The political power of this region was decreased during the time of Buddha according to various Buddhist texts.

Matsya Capital: The Viratanagara was the capital of Matsya. The city was founded by Virata.

Panchala Mahajanapada

This region was situated in the east of the Kuru kingdom. It was located between the river Ganges and the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. Kampilya was the capital of Dakshina-Panchala whereas Adhichhatra was the capital of Uttara-Panchala. During the 6th and 5th centuries, BCE this region was converted into a republican dominion.

Malla Mahajanapada

This region had monarchical forms of government before moving to the republican form of government. The cities of Kusinara and Pava were very significant for Jains and Buddhists. Kusinara and Pava were the places where Buddha lived for a long time. ‘Mahabharata’ too had texts on Malla. Malla was related to the republic (Samgha).

Kosala Mahajanapada

Ayodhya was the capital of Kosala. This region was surrounded by the Himalaya mountains in the north, the River Ganges in the south, river Gandak in the east. During the time of Buddha and Mahavira, this region was ruled by King Prasenajit. Kosala was later connected with Magadha.

Note: Rama’s sons Lava and Kusha were connected with this kingdom. Lava ruled from the Kosala capital Ayodhya and Kusa from the city called Kushavati.

Gandhara Mahajanapada

‘Rigveda,’ ‘Ramayana,’ and ‘Mahabharata’ have text related to Gandhara. The capital of this region was Taksashila and Indus was the prime river of this region. It was assumed to be the part of modern-day scholars even though it was a large kingdom.

Kamboja Mahajanapada

there were two Kamboja settlements according to modern-day historians. Kamboja was situated on either left or right side of the Hindukush mountain range. Gandharas and Daradas are the people linked to Kamboja according to various auspicious texts. During that time, the capital of Kamboja was Poonch. Kamboja was a republic in response to varied sources.

Salient Features of Mahajanapadas

  • Mahajanapadas were famous for their professional, large and powerful armies.
  • The taxation system was very rigid and was collected in an aggressive way from the people.
  • Ruled by both the Kshatriya and Non-Kshatriya rulers.
  • Mahajanapadas were featured by its governance system i.e Monarchies and Republics system.
  • The status of women was low according to many Buddhist sources. Society was patriarchal in nature.
  • Civil and crimal laws during Mahajanapada era was based on varna system. The Varna system was very stringent.
  • The coins were characterised by the symbols like trees, bulls, fish etc.
  • Due to agrarian expansion, agriculture became the primary source of income.
  • Northern Black Polished Ware or NBPW was very popular. It is a shining type of unpainted pottery style.
  • Mahajanapada era is also featured by the impact of ancient Europe on the Indian sub-continent. The convergence originated through the Persian invasion and later through Alexandar’s. Persian invasion introduced the Kharoshthi Script, derived from the Persian script Aramaic. Later Indo-Greek art gave rise to the Gandhara school of arts.  

Persian Invasion of India

Although the Magadha emerged as the most powerful state, the other Mahajanapadas like Kamboja, Gandhara was continuously involved in the battle with each other. That is the reason the Magadha could never become the North-West frontier of India. Persian or Iranian empire took the advantage of the political disunity among the Mahajanapadas and invaded India.

  • The Achaemenid King Cyrus was the first foreigner (Persian ruler) to Invade the Indian sub-continent.
  • Later the Persian King Darius attacked Punjab.
  • King Darius was defeated by the great Alexander.

Do You Know?

Historian Herodotus stated that Persian kings used to hire Indian Mercenaries from Gandhara, Kamboja to fight against Greek rulers.

Alexander’s Invasion of India

Alexander (356-326 BCE), who invaded India in 326 BCE, was the son of the great Philip of Macedonia. He defeated the Persian army led by Darius. After that, he entered into Indian province in pursuit of India’s wealth. Alexander invaded India through the Khyber Pass in 326 BCE. The region was split into small kingdoms like Taxila, Punjab, Gandhara. The small kingdoms put no resistance across Alexander’s path except the Porus of Punjab. The Porus of Punjab fought the Battle of Hydaspas (The name of the Jhelum river). King Ambhi of Taxila was the first king who surrendered in front of Alexander among Indian provinces. 

When Alexander reached the Beas rive, his soldier refused to proceed further as they were homesick and diseased after prolonged battles.

Which Dynasty Was Ruling Over North India at the time of Alexander’s Invasion?

Alexander invaded India in 326 BC. Nanda dynasty was ruling over India at the time of Alexander’s Invasion. Dhana Nanda was the king of the Nanda Dynasty at that time.

Chronology of Kingdoms

Haryanka Dynasty-Shishunaga Dynasty- Nanda Dynasty- Maurya Dynasty-Sunga Dynasty- Kanvas Dynasty

Question Answer on Mahajanapada Period

These short question answers will help you to prepare Mahajanapadas for UPSC as well as Mahajanapadas for SSC.

  • Which Janapada was the most powerful?

Among the sixteen Mahajanapadas, Kasi was considered as the most powerful Janapada.

  • Which two types of governance systems were there in Mahajanapadas?

Mahajanapadas can be divided into Monarchies and Republics, according to Buddhist texts.

  • Which Mahajanapadas was a republic?

Malla, Vajji, Kamboja and Kuru were Republican states.

  • Taxila was the capital of which ancient Mahajanapada?

Taxila was the capital of Gandhara

  • Which Mahajanapadas were monarchical in nature?

Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa, Avanti, Anga, Kashi, Gandhara, Shursena, Chedi, and Matsya were monarchical in nature.

  • What kind of money was used in trade in the Mahajanapadas?

Coins with punched marks were used as money in trade. Coins were used to made of silver or copper.

  • What is the difference between Janapadas and Mahajanapadas?

Janapadas were the small residential area of tribes of the Vedic Age period. Later on, Janapadas expanded and became permanent residents for the tribes which were later known as Mahajanapadas.

  • Why focus of chief political activity moved from the western part of the Gangetic plain to the eastern part?

There was ample rainfall in the Gangetic plains which made the land very fertile. The better topography and climate added Gangetic plains with plus points.

Mahajanapadas UPSC questions for Prelims

Here are some questions on Mahajanapada Period for UPSC prelims. Try to attempt the questions.

1. Match the following

A. Mahamatras              i. Tax Collector

B. Balisdhaka                 ii. Wealthy Landlord

C. Gahapti                       iii. High-rank officer

D. Setthi                          iv. Rich Merchant

a) A-ii, B-i, C-iii, D-iv

b) A-i, B-ii, C-iii, D-iv

c) A-iii, B-i, C-ii, D-iv

d) None of the above

Ans: c

2. Consider the following statements about Alexander’s Invasion and state which is correct
(i) Through the Persians, the Greeks came to know about the great wealth of India
(ii) Alexander invaded India around 326 BCE.
(ii) The ruler of Taxila, Porus, fought gallantly with Alexander, while King Ambhi submitted meekly before Alexander.
(iv) Alexander conquered Magadha.

(a) i, ii and iv (b) ii, iii and iv
c) i and ii (d) All of these

Ans: c 

Solution: King Porus was the king of the Punjab region and Alexander returned Babylon from the Beas river.

3. Consider the following statements about the Persian invasion and state which is correct.
(i) Indo-Persian contact lasted almost 200 years before the Greeks invaded
(ii) Cyrus was the first ruler to invade India.
(iii) The north-western province of Gandhara was the 20th satrapy of Persian
(iv) Indian subjects were also enrolled in the Persian Army.

(a) i, ii and iv (b) ii, iii and iv
c) i and ii (d) All of these

Ans: d

4. Consider the following statements and mark the option which is incorrect.
(i)The Shishunagas were succeeded by the Haryankas.
(ii) Ajatashatru fought with Alexander
(iii) Shishunaga’s greatest achievement was the destruction of the power of Avanti.
(iv) Mahapadma Nanda acquired Kalinga.

(a) i and ii (b) All of these
(c) i, ii, and iv (d) None of these

Ans: d

5. Consider the following statements and mark the option which is correct.
(i) Bimbisara sent his royal physician, Jivaka, to Ujjain for helping the king of Avanti, who was suffering from jaundice.
(ii) Ajatashatru introduced two new military weapons in his fight against Vaishali.
(iii) Magadhans were the first to use elephants on a big scale.
(iv) Mahapadma Nanda defeated Udayin.

(a) i, ii, and ii b) All of these
(c)ii, ii, and iv (d) None of these

Ans: a

MCQs on List of 16 Mahajanapadas and Magadha Empire

Attempt mcqs on Mahajanapadas

Which Buddhist text is the source of the names of 16 Mahajanpadas?
Who are the founder of Magadha?
Which of the following Mahajanapadas is not located in Modern India?
The Mahasamghika School was popular in which place?
Mathura was the capital of which Mahajanapada?
Buddha breathed his last in which Mahajanapada?
Which king transferred his capital from Patliputra to Vaisali?
which Mahajanpada was located on the bank yamuna ?
Which King established Pataliputra as the capital for the first time?
Which Mahajanapada was situated on the bank river Godavari?

Also Read

Here we have presented the ‘List of 16 Mahajanapadas name with a capital’. The article will be very helpful for Mahajanapadas notes for SSC and UPSC and the article also contains Facts of Mahajanapadas. The list with capital and rulers of Mahajanapadas will be beneficial for other competitive examinations as well.

If you have any queries on the article ‘List of 16 Mahajanapadas: History, King, Capital’, you can participate in the discussion in the comment section.


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