From janapadas to empire Nios Class 12th Chapter 5th

In the last chapter we studied how later Vedic people started agriculture in the Ganga basin and settled down in permanent villages. In this chapter, we will discuss how increased agricultural activity and settled life led to the rise of sixteen Mahajanapadas (large territorial states) in north India in sixth century BC. We will also examine the factors, which enabled Magadh one of these states to defeat all others to rise to the status of an empire later under the Mauryas. The Mauryan period was one of great economic and cultural progress. However, the Mauryan Empire collapsed within fifty years of the death of Ashoka. We will analyse the factors responsible for this decline. This period (6th century BC) is also known for the rise of many new religions like Buddhism and Jainism. We will be looking at the factors responsible for the emergence of these religions and also inform you about their main doctrines.


After seen this video, you will be able to

  • explain the material and social factors (e.g. growth of agriculture and new social classes), which became the basis for the rise of Mahajanapada and the new religions in the sixth century BC;
  • analyse the doctrine, patronage, spread and impact of Buddhism and Jainism;
  • trace the growth of Indian polity from smaller states to empires and list the sixteen Mahajanapadas;
  • examine the role of Ashoka in the consolidation of the empire through his policy of Dhamma;
  • recognise the main features– administration, economy, society and art under the Mauryas and
  • Identify the causes of the decline of the Mauryan empire.


In this period, the centre of economic and political activity shifted from Haryana and western UP to Eastern UP and Bihar, which had more rainfall and better fertility of land. As it was now easier to exploit the iron ore resources of Bihar and adjoining regions, people started using more and more iron tools and ploughshare to clear thick forest cover and cultivate the hard soil of this area.

The evidence of the growth of agriculture comes from the archaeological and literary sources of this period. In fact, a ploughshare dated to around 500 BC has been found from Jakhera in Etah district in western U.P. Many other important pieces of evidence of the use of iron in this period come from Rajghat, Kaushambi, Vaishali and Sonpur. The Buddhist texts tell us how cultivation of paddy, sugarcane and mustard required utmost care and several rounds of ploughing. Expansion of agriculture resulted in improved food supply and helped in the development of craft production, trade and urban centres.

Development of trade is reflected in the discovery of thousands of coins known as punch marked coins (PMC). Various kind of marks such as crescent, fish, trees, hill etc. are punched on these coins, they are therefore called Punched Marked Coins. Numismatists have identified nearly 550 types of such coins, made mainly of silver and sometimes copper.

The improvement in agriculture and development of trade, money and urbanisation had an impact on the society as well. Indeed, due to these changes traditional equality and brotherhood gave way to inequality and
social conflict. People wanted some kind of reprieve from new social problems like violence, cruelty, theft, hatred, and falsehood. Therefore, when new religions such as Jainism and Buddhism preached the concept of peace
and social equality, people welcomed it. These religions emphasised that true happiness does not lie in material prosperity or performance of rituals but in charity, frugality, non-violence, and good social conduct. Besides, the
general economic progress had led to the rise of vaisyas and other mercantile groups, who wanted better social position than what brahmanas gave them. Therefore, they preferred to patronise non-vedic religions like Buddhism and Jainism through substantial donations.

Buddhism and Jainism were not the only religions, which challenged brahmanical dominance. According to the Buddhist sources, more than 62 sects and philosophies flourished in this period. One of these sects was known as Ajivika, which was founded by Makkhali Goshal. Ajivakas were very popular in Magadh in the third century BC and Mauryan kings donated several caves in the honour of Ajivaka monks.

From janapadas to empire Nios Class 12th Chapter 5th ( Part -1st )



Vardhaman Mahavira, is regarded as the founder of Jainism. He was born in 599 BC near Vaishali in Bihar. He was twenty-fourth and the last tirthankara of Jainism. Jainism believed that the main goal of human life is the purification of soul and attainment of nirvana, which means freedom from birth and death. This can be achieved not through rituals and sacrifices but by pursuance of triratna and panchamahavrata. Triratna or three jewels are right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct, which can lead to liberation. Right conduct means observance of five great vows: ahimsa (do not commit violence) satya vachana (do not speak a lie), asteya (do not steal), brahmacharya (do not indulge in sexual act) and aprigraha (do not acquire property). Householders were expected to observe milder form of the practice of these virtues called anuvrata (small vows) in comparison to the monks. So, one can notice that while the Brahmanism was a ritual oriented religion this new faith was conduct-oriented.

The most distinguishing feature of Jainism was the concept of anekantavada or syadavada. It means that the truth can be viewed from aneka or various angels. Another important feature of Jainism was its emphasis on extreme form of penance, austerity, and strict non-violence Perhaps emphasis on strict discipline was one of the reasons why it could not attract the masses in large number. Mahavira used Prakrit language to spread his message. However, just like other religions, Jainism also could not remain united for very long and later divided into two sects called the Digambara (who remain naked) and Svetambara (who wear white clothes).


The founder of Buddhism was Gautama Buddha, who was born in 566 BC at Lumbini, located in the foothills of Nepal. One night he left his palace in search of truth and ultimately attained the true knowledge at Bodhgaya. He then began to be called Buddha or the enlightened one. He delivered his first sermon at Sarnatha near Varanasi. This event is known as dharma-chakra-pravartana (turning of the wheel of law). He also established his samgha here. He died at the age of 80 in 486 B.C. at Kusinara or Kusinagar near Gorakhpur in eastern UP.

Buddha used Pali language spoken by masses to propagate his teachings. Buddha allowed lower varnas and women to join the sangha. Four Buddhist councils organised over different periods played a significant role in the propagation of Buddhism. In the fourth council during the reign of Kanishka, Buddhism split into two major sects called Hinayana and Mahayana. Mahayana adopted Sanskrit as its language and started worshipping Buddha in the form of an idol, while Hinayana continued to follow Pali and treated Buddha as a guide

From janapadas to empire Nios Class 12th Chapter 5th ( Part -2nd )

Buddhism became weak by seventh century AD but the impact of Buddhism can be seen in all spheres of life in Indian history. Buddhist scholars created many literary texts like Tripitaka, Milindapanho, Buddhacharita etc. Buddhism became an inspiration for the promotion of art and architecture, in the form of stupas, rock cut caves and paintings. These can be noticed at Sanchi, Bharhut, Amravati, Ajanta etc. Buddhism inspired Gandhara and Mathura schools of art. Buddhism by opening its door to all the classes challenged the superiority of Brahmanism and gave better social position to lower castes.


The sixth century BC was not only a period of socio-economic and religious development but it also witnessed new political developments. In the later Vedic period, as we have seen earlier, people had started agriculture, which made them settle down at a particular place. These permanent settlements led to foundation of janapadas or territorial states
under the control of the king. In the sixth century BC the main area of political activity gradually shifted from Western UP to Eastern UP and Bihar. This region was not only fertile on account of better rainfall and river systems but was also closer to iron production centres. The use of better iron tools and weapons enabled some territorial states to become very large and they came to be called mahajanapadas. Most of them were situated north of Vindhyas, between Bihar in the east to the northwest frontier of the subcontinent. The list of these sixteen mahajanapadas is given below


The political fight among these mahajanapadas led ultimately to one of them namely Magadh to emerge as the most powerful state and the centre of a vast empire. The earliest important ruler of Magadh was the king Bimbisara, who ruled for 52 years from 544 BC to 492 BC. He pursued a three-pronged policy, namely, matrimonial alliances, friendship with strong rulers and conquest of weak neighbours to expand the empire. Under the policy of matrimonial alliances,
he married the sister of Prasenjit, the king of Kosala. She brought in dowry the territory of Kashi, which yielded a revenue of 1,00,000 coins.

The control over Kasi and friendship with Prasenajit allowed Magadh to concentrate on other areas. His other wives were daughters ofthe chiefs of Lichchavi and Madra (middle Punjab) respectively. He also conquered Anga by defeating its ruler Brahmadatta. Anga and specially its capital Champa were important for the inland and maritime trade. Thus, Kashi and conquest of Anga became the launching pad for the expansion of Magadh. He was a contemporary of both Buddha and Mahavira and paid equal respect to them. It seems that he was either killed or forced to commit suicide by his son Ajatasatru, who was eager to take over the throne himself.

Udayin was succeeded by the dynasty of Shishunaga. The most important achievement of Shishunaga was to defeat Avanti(Malwa) and make it a part of Magadh. The successor of Sisunaga was his son Kalashoka. It was during his rule the second Buddhist council was held.

The question is how Magadh could establish gradually its dominance over all other states of the period. Magadh certainly benefited from numerous able and ambitious rulers, but its strength was based primarily on certain geographical factors. Its earlier capital Girivraja or Rajagir was surrounded by five hills, which helped it to provide natural fortification. Secondly, its fertile river plain provided a vast amount of agricultural surplus, which was essential for raising a vast standing army. Forests in southern areas gave it timber and elephants. Magadh had another advantage in its control over iron deposits found very near south Bihar. Such access to iron made Magadhan weapons far superior and agriculture tools more productive. It was this material background which helped Magadh to become more powerful than other mahajanapadas.