History - Magadhan Ascendancy and beyond
Magadha kingdom’s most remarkable king was Srenika or Bimbisara, who was anointed king by his father at the young age of 15.
The capital of Bimbisara’s kingdom was Girivraja. It was girded with stone walls which are among the oldest extant stone structures in India.
The most notable achievement of Bimbisara was the annexation of neighbouring kingdom of Anga or East Bihar. He also entered into matrimonial alliances with ruling families of Kosala and Vaishali. The Vaishali marriage paved the way for expansion of Magadha northword to the borders of Nepal.
Gautama Buddha and Vardhaman Mahavira preached their doctrines during the reign of Bimbisara.
The modern town of Rajgir in the Patna district was built by Bimbisara. He had named it Rajagriha or the king’s house.
Bimbisara was succeeded by his son Ajatshatru. Tradition affirms that Bimbisara was murdered by Ajatshatru.
To repel the attacks of the Vrijis of Vaishali, Ajatshatru fortified the village of Pataligrama, which stood at the confluence of Ganga and Sona rivers. This fortress, within a generation, developed into the stately city of Pataliputra (modern day Patna).
According to the Puranas, the immediate successor of Ajatshatru was Darsaka, after whom came his son Udayi.
The name of Darsaka also occurs in a play named Svapna-Vasavadatta, attributed to Bhasa, which represents him as a brother-in-law and contemporary of Udayana, king of Kausambi. However, Jain and Buddhist writers assert that Udayi was son of Ajatshatru.
Bimbisara’s dynastic lineage ended with the Nanda dynasty taking over the reigns of Magadha. The first king of Nanda dynasty was Mahapadma or Mahapamapati Nanda. He was succeeded by his eight sons, of whom the last was named Dhana-Nanda.
Dhana-Nanda was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of a new and more illustrious dynasty.
Among the State functionaries, the Purohit was of special importance in Kasi-Kosala, as we learn from Ramayan and several Jatakas. In Kuru-Panchal and Matsya countries it was the Senapati who held the special place.
The armies of the period usually consisted of infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants. While rulers of deltaic regions were known to maintain small naval fleets, a big naval department came into being only during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya.
The Indian infantry usually carried long bows and iron-tipped arrows made of cane. They used to wear cotton garments. The chariots of the cavalry were drawn by horses or wild asses and carried six soldiers apiece—two bowmen, two shield bearers and two charioteers.
Greek writers bear testimony to the fact that in the art of war Indians were far superior to other peoples of Asia. Their failure against foreign invaders was often due to inferiority in cavalry. Indian commanders pinned their faith more in elephants than horses.
The oldest source of revenues was the bali. Bhaga, the king’s share of reaped corn, became the most important source of State revenue in course of time. Among the most important revenue officials was the Grama-bhojaka or village head-man.
The early Buddhist texts refer to six big cities that flourished during the days of the Buddha. These were: Champa (near Bhagalpur), Rajagriha (in Patna district), Sravasti (Saheth-Maheth), Saketa (Oudh), Kausambi (near Allahabad) and Benaras (Varanasi).
The usual recreations of women during the Magadhan era were singing, dancing and music. Little princesses used to play with dolls called panchalikas.
The chief pastimes of knights were gambling, hunting, listening to tales of war and tournaments in amphitheatres. Buddhist texts refer to acrobatic feats, combats of animals and a kind of primitive chess play.
The principal seaports of the period were: Bhrigukachcha (Broach), Surparaka (Sopara, north of Mumbai), and Tamralipti (Tamluk in West Bengal).
The chief articles of trade during the Magadhan era were: silk, muslin, embroidery, ivory, jewellery and gold. The standard unit of value was the copper Karshapana, weighing a little more than 146 grains. Silver coins, called Purana or Dharana, were also in circulation. The weight of a silver coin was a little more than 58 grains, which is one-tenth of that of the Nishka known to the Vedic texts.
The first undoubted historical reference to image-worship by an Aryan tribe occurs in passage of Curtis, who states that an image of Herakles was carried in front of Paurava army as it advanced against Alexander.
The early Magadhan period saw development of variant languages from Sanskrit. In the towns and the villages a popular form of Sanskrit, Prakrit, was spoken. This had local variations; the chief western variety was called Shauraseni and the eastern variety Magadhi. Pali was another local language. The Buddha, wishing to reach wider audience, taught in Magadhi.
Persian and Macedonian Invasions
Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenian empire of Persia, destroyed the famous city of Kapisa near the junction of the Ghorband and Panjshir rivers northeast of Kabul.
The successor of Cyrus, Darius sent a naval expedition to the Indus under the command of Sky-lax. This expedition paved the way for the annexation of the Indus valley as far as the deserts of Rajputana. The area became the most populous satrapy of the Persian empire and paid a tribute proportionately larger than all the rest—360 Eubic talents of gold dust, equivalent to more than a million sterling.
Once the Persian hold over Indian possessions became weak, the old territory of Gandhara was divided into two parts. To the west of Indus river lay the kingdom of Pushkalavati in the modern district of Peshawar; to the east was Takshasila in present district of Rawalpindi. Tradition affirms that Mahabharata was first recited in Takshasila.
In 331 B.C., Alexander inflicted heavy blows on the king of Persia and occupied his realm. In 327 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hindukush and resolved to recover the Indian satrapies that had once been under his Persian predecessors.
To secure his communications, Alexander garrisoned a number of strongholds near modern Kabul and passed the winter of 327-326 B.C. in warfare with fierce tribes of Kunar and Swat valleys.
Alexander finally crossed Indus river in 326 B.C. using a bridge of boats. Ambhi, the king of Taxila gave him valuable help in this. Alexander’s march faced a major hurdle when it reached the banks of Hydaspes (modern Jhelum) river, near the town of Jhelum. Here he faced stiff resistance from Paurava king (Porus).
After crossing the Akesines (Chenab) and the Hydraotes (Ravi), Alexander stormed Sangala, the stronghold of the Kathaioi, and moved on to the Hyphasis (Beas). He wished to press forward to the Ganga valley, but his war-worn troops refused. Alexander erected 12 towering altars to mark the utmost limit of his march, and then retraced his steps to Jhelum.
During the return journey, Alexander received a dangerous wound while storming a citadel of the powerful tribe of the Malawas. He returned to Babylon after a long and treacherous journey and died soon after in 323 B.C.
The Persian conquest unveiled India for the first time to the Western world and established contact between the people of both regions.
The introduction of new scripts—Aramaic, Kharoshti and the alphabet style Yavanani by Panini— can be traced to Greek source.
The Macedonian garrisons were swept away by Chandragupta Maurya. However, these were not wiped out completely. Colonies like Yavana continued to serve the king of Magadha just as they served the Macedonians, and carved out an independent kingdom only after the sun set of Magadha.
One positive outcome of Alexander’s invasion was that Greeks of later ages got to learn lessons in philosophy and religion from Indian Buddhists and Bhagavatas and Indians learned use of coins, honoured Greek astronomers and learned to appreciate Hellenistic art.
One of the most remarkable things in the foreign policy of Alexander was his encouragement of inter-racial marriages. He was the first ruler known to history who contemplated the brotherhood of man and the unity of mankind. The White Kafirs of Kafiristan, classed in Ashoka’s edicts as definitely Greeks, are said to be descended from Alexander’s men. Of the ruling Frontier families, eight claim direct lineage from the son born to Alexander by Cleophis queen of the Assakenoi.