Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (early history)

by Prakash Narayan | 2011 | 63,517 words

This study deals with the history of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Northern India) taking into account the history and philosophy of Buddhism. Since the sixth century B.C. many developments took place in these regions, in terms of society, economic life, religion and arts and crafts....

There were two forms of government, monarchical kingdoms and republican territories (gana sanghas), that existed and described the political system at the time of the Buddha. The Buddhist and Jaina literature disclose sixteen such political units. The depiction of the country being divided into ‘solasa mahajanapada[1] can be seen in the Anguttara Nikaya, and a variant of this can be viewed in the Bhagavati sutra of the Jainas[2], although the Jaina evidence has been described as a later version and for that reason a depiction of later times.[3] The geographically located units are very entertaining as the monarchical kingdoms occupy the Ganga-Yamuna valley and the ganas anghas is closely located to the foothills of the Himalaya. The whole of the area north of the river Ganga and east of the river Gandak were being controlled by the Vajjian confederacy[4], the largest of the gana sanghas. In the later Vedic period the origination of these different republican units has been enumerated as a reaction against the growing power of the monarchies and the divinity beginning to be attributed to the king. This alteration cannot be found in the republican tradition of the earlier Rig-Vedic period, and it has been predicted that a section of the people moved away eastwards for preserving their political system. The flourishing of the republican institutions manifested this during the period of the Buddha and would account for Megasthenes’ view that some of the republics had been ruled by kings in the past.[5]

Four monarchies appear to be more significant than the others that have been listed among the solasa mahajanapada. These include Magadha, Kosala, Vamsa, and Avanti, and three of them occupied contiguous territory in the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The main characteristic of the political history of the period comprises of the conflict that existed among the four monarchies.[6] The conflict between the monarchies and the gana-sanghas also existed. The emergence of the picture from the Buddhist and Jaina literature is amplifying horizons and political reinforcement, the initiations of a process which ended with the formation of the Mauryan empire.[7] This process of political reinforcement and amplification led to the need for an efficient administrative system which was responsible for effectively executing the political control. The period marks the beginnings of a vast bureaucracy apart from the increasing references to ama tyas. The king of Magadha, Bimbisara, assembles 80,000 gamikas or village superintendents and issues instructions to them.[8] The resources of the state were under his supervision with the inclusion of the timber in the forests, and incident is mentioned where he was reprimanded by, the bhikkhu Dhaniya, for intruding on it.[9] Bimbisara has been considered the foremost known king in India who realized the value of an efficient bureaucracy. This leads us to comprehend that the overseers and councillors were identified as a different social group[10] by Megasthenes. Being a large enough category, they were able to make their separate presence felt.

The underlying aspect concerning this movement towards amplification and reinforcement was politics which was not encumbered by moral restraint. Ajatasattu symbolizes this and he annihilated his father[11] so that he could control politics of the embryonic Magadhan empire, after which he embarked upon a career of aggressive expansionism. It has been asserted by the Bhaddasala Jataka that Pasenadi, the king of Kosala[12] was treated in the similar manner by his son, Vidudabha. Marriage alliances proved to be helpful in the expansion of the kingdom, but kinship ties did not hinder war and political expansion.

A long battle[13] between Ajatasattu and king Pasenadi of Kosala, who was his uncle[14] continued and the Vijjians were demolished by Ajatasattu even though a Vajjian princess was one of his father’s queens. The compulsions of economic and strategic factors are indicated by the pattern of diversification. The independence of Kasi, one of the sixteen mahajanapadas, seems to have already lost at the time of the Buddha because it features among the realms of Pasendi.[15] Consequently, possession over Kasi was the bone of contention between Kosala and Magadha. Kasi was a prospering city famous for its luxury items, specifically fine cloth, and in this way significant for its revenue. It was also famous for its malas (garlands), gandha (perfume), vilapana (lotion), and candana (sandal wood).[16] It was also significant because of its strategic location on the Ganga. The contention between Magadha under Ajatasattu and the Vijjians can be traced to similar compulsions of physical control over a port located on the Ganga over which both territories claimed their right.[17] Ajatasattu fought a long and never-ending, but planned[18], war before the Vijjians could be defeated.[19] In the earlier stage,

Bimbisara had already taken possession of Anga where he had granted lands to a brahmana.[20] Moreover, in the Digha Nika ya[21] it has been asserted that Magadha appears as a joint territory along with Anga. By acquiring Anga, Bimbisara was able to gain control over its wealthy river port of Campa, which is one of the six great cities of north-eastern India.[22] The Pali sources reflect on its being famous for its prospering trade with suvnnabhumi.[23] The Ganga river system was at its peak in the period when river transport was surely not expensive and uncomplicated than transport by land[24] and the location of all these places is indicative of the significance of entire control over it.

Another aspect could be seen between the contention of the monarchical kingdoms and the gana-sanghas in which the gana-sanghas fought with their backs to the wall for preserving their distinct political and socio-economic structure. Their gradual decline in the fact of the aggressively expansionist policies of the kingdoms of Kosala and Magdha has been indicated in Buddhist and Jaina literature. It has been predicted that the beginning of the process was with the acceptance of overlord-ship of a monarchy by the gana-sanghas as the first stage of its loss of independence. Bodhi rajakumara of Vamsa had already built a place at time of the Buddha[25] in the territory of the Bhaggas of sumsumaragiri where this case appears to have occurred. The kingdom of Kosala that took overall possession over many of the gana-sanghas in its locality initiated a campaign under Viudadabha for tighter control, as his arbitrary attack upon the sakyas[26] is indicative of this.

There are a number of evidences which prove that the insinuations of the expansionist policies of the kingdoms were known to the ganas a nghas. They formed a confederation of ganas a nghas for resisting the imperialist ambitions of the new rulers of Kosala and Magadha[27] and they wanted to preserve their own way of life and constitution which was being seriously intimidated. According to Basham, it has been predicted that the attack on the sakyans by Vidudabha resulted in creating distrust and enmity among other tribal republican tributary units of Kosala with the inclusion of Mallas, who were made angry at the deterioration of the sakyans. They were reluctant to accept Kosala’s tightening control and Vidudabha’s death provided them the assistance to discard their allegiance and allied themselves to the Vajjians, who were the largest and strongest gana-sangha in the region.[28] The nature and extent of the democratic content within the gana-sanghas[29] come in the controversial category but undoubtedly a political system was represented by them which was different from that of the monarchical kingdoms.[30] The Avadana shataka speaks of merchants from Northern India, who, when visiting a southern kingdom, were asked by a king, ‘who is the king there?’ The merchants answered, ‘some countries are under ganas and some are under kings’ (Kechid desha ganadhinah: kechid raj-a dhina iti).[31] In the opinion of Jayaswal this statement implies an opposition of royal rule to gana rule,[32] and in Bhandarkar’s view there was a contrast between the political rule of one with that of the many.[33] In the similar way, in the Acaranga sutra, Jaina monks and nuns were prohibited from visiting an araya (country without a king), a juva raya (country with a young king), a do rajja (government by two rulers), and a gana-raya (where the gana) or multitude is the ruling authority).[34] A passage in the Majjhima Nikaya makes it obvious that these separate political units were sovereign bodies because their sovereignty equalizes to that of the kings of Kosala and Magadha.[35] The terms gana and sangha were assigned to this separate form of government in the sixth century B.C.[36] The gana and sangha[37] were differentiated by some scholars but in the Majjhima Nikaya, in the Astadhyayi of Panini[38] and in the Sanskrit version of the Mahaparinibbana sutta,[39] the terms are used synonymously. The purpose of the terms gana and sangha being used together was to represent a form of government where power was vested in a group of people, as opposed to monarchy where power was vested in one person[40] as for as the opinion of Altekar was concerned. The Terms gana and sangha are used together by us to represent a form of government in which sovereign power was vested in a collectivity rather than in the individual.

Footnotes and references:


A.N., III, pp. 349-50, 353, 357; A.N., I, p. 197. The sixteen kingdoms are Anga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala, Vijji, Malla, Ceti, Vamsa, Kuru, Pancala, Machchha, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhara and Kamboja.


H.C. Ray Choudhari, Political History of Ancient India, p. 85.


Ibid., p. 86.


The exact composition of the Vijjian confederacy is a matter of controversy although there is general consensus concerning its status as a concerning its status as a confederacy.


J.P. Sharma, Ancient Indian Republics, p. 239.


T.W. Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, pp. 1-2.


According to N.R. Ray the developments in the Ganga basin during the period between 600 B.C. and 320 B.C. represent the long and orduous process of state formation (N.R. Ray, ‘Technology and Social Change in Early Indian History’, Puratattve, Vol. VIII, 1975-6, p. 136). See also R. Thapar, from Lineage to State.


Mahavagga, p. 199.


Parajika, pp. 53-4.


R.C. Majumdar, Classical Accounts of India, p. 226.


Mahavagga, pp. 290-1; D.N.I, p. 75.


The Jatakas, tr. by H. T. Francis, Vol. III, pp. 95-6.


S.N., I, p. 82.


According to one version Pasenadi was Ajatasattu’s maternal uncle (Jataka, ed. by V. Fausboll, Vol. III, p. 121).


The Anguttara Nikaya says, ‘as far as the Kasi-Kosalans extend, as far as the rule of Pasenadi the Kosalan raja extends the rein pasenadi the Kosalan Raja is reckoned chief (G.S., V., p. 40; A.N., IV, p. 145).


M.N., II, p. 358. By acquiring A-ga, Bimbisara was able to gain


A.L. Basham, ‘Ajatasattu’s War with the Lichchas’, Studies in Indian History and culture, p. 73.


This is evident from the references to the fortification of Pataligama in the Digha Nikaya (D.N., II, p. 70).


A.L. Basham, ‘Ajatasattu’s War with the Lichchhavis’, Studies in Ancient History and Culture, p. 75.


D. N., II, p. 152.


D. N., I, p. 97.


D. N., II, p. 113.


G.P. Malala-sekhara, Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, Vol. I, p. 856.


See also A.L. Basham, ‘Ajatasattu’s War with the Lichchhavis’, Studies in Indian History and Culture, p. 77.


M.N., II, p. 318; D.P.P.N., Vol. II, p. 316.


Jataka, tr. by H.T. Francis, Vol. IV, p. 96. Also see A.L. Basham, ‘Basham, ‘Ajatasattu’s War with the Lichchhavis’, Studies in Indian History and Culture, p. 76.


H.C. Raychoudhari, Political History of Ancient India, p. 188.


A.L. Basham, ‘Ajatasattu’s War with the Lichchavis’, Studies in Ancient History and Culture, pp. 76-7.


A considerable body of literature exists on the political structure of the gana-sanghas, in spite of which controversy persists. Those who have written on the subject include K.P. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity; A.S. Altekar, State and Government in Ancient India; D.R. Bhandarkar, Ancient History of India; and J.P. Sharma, Ancient Indian Republics.


We are concentrating here on a review of the political system of the gana-sanghas to the exclusion of the manarchical kingdoms.


Avadana shataka, ed. by J.S. Speyer, Vol. II, p. 103.


K.P. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity, p.26.


Acaranga Sutra, tr. by Hermann Jacobi, Jaina Sutras, S.B.E., Vol. XXII, 1973, p. 138.


Ibid., p. 138.


M.N., I, p. 284.


J.P. Sharma, Ancient Indian Republics, p. 9.


K.P. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity, p. 24.


Astadhyayi of Panini, ed. and tr. by S.C. Vasu, Vol. I, p.513.


J.P. Sharma, Republics in Ancient India, p. 10n.


A.S. Altekar, State and Government in Ancient India, pp. 109-10.

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