• In the beginning of the 6th century B.C., the northern India consisted of a large number of independent kingdoms of which some of them had monarchical forms of government, while some others were republics.
• There was a concentration of monarchies on the Gangetic plain, the republics were scattered on the foothills of the Himalayas and in northwestern India.
• These republics consisted of either a single tribe such as the Shakyas, Koliyas, Licchavis and Mallas or a confederacy of tribes such as the Vrijjs and Yadavas.
• In the republics, the power of decision in all matters of state vested with the Public Assembly which was composed of the tribal representatives or head of families.
• All decisions were taken by a majority vote.
• The formations of states and republics in the 6th century B.C. have often been linked to urbanisation.
• The growth of urban centres and towns during this period is referred to as second urbanisation. The first urbanisation was that of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
• The degrees of urbanisation are reflected in different kinds of towns as they grew out of earlier settlements.
• The genesis of towns was not uniform and this gave them a diverse feature. Some of the towns grew as political and administrative centres e.g. Hastinapur, Rajagriha, Shravasti, Kaushambi, Champa and Allicchatra. There were many others which grew as markets, each catering to a variety of villages usually located where there was an agricultural surplus that could regularly enter an exchange nexus. The exchange could be extended to goods from more distant places if the market was on a trade route, such as at Ujjain.
• Towns also grew from being sacred centres where people gathered, as is thought to have been the case with Vaishali.
• Thus, the concentration of people and the scope for a range of occupations and products were the essential features responsible for the growth of towns.
STATE FORMATION: REPUBLICS AND MONARCHIES
• The origin of the state or the territorial republics situated in the sub-Himalayan region has been traced to the reaction against the pattern of life that evolved in the later Vedic period.
• The movement against the Vedic life was aimed at the abolition of the growing class and sex distinctions and directed against the acceptance of superstitious religious practices which took a heavy toll of cattle stock.
• It was also directed against the hereditary kingship, bolstered up by the Brahmanas.
• In the post-Vedic period the tribal structure disintegrated and a number of monarchical kingdoms appeared together with ganarajya (republics), which preserved many features of the tribal structure.
• The development of organised states was accompanied by the advancement of material culture, urbanisation and a rapid spread of new religious ideas.
• The central feature of the republican government was its seemingly corporate character.
• The actual procedure of government involved the meeting of the representatives of the tribes or the heads of families in the Public Assembly (Santhagara) of the capital city.
• The assembly was presided over by one of the representatives who took the title of Raja.
• The officers were not hereditary and he was regarded as a chief rather than a king.
• The matter for discussion was placed before the assembly and debated and if a unanimous decision could not be reached, it was put to the vote.
• But in reality, the assemblies were dominated by the oligarchs.
• The absence of monarchy did not necessarily mean the prevalence of democracy in the true sense of the term. Members of the assembly belonged mostly to Kshatriya caste and at least in the case of Lichchavis it is known that non-Kshatriyas had no place in it. This means that republican system in essence was oligarchical.
• The administration was in the hands of officials such as the assistants to the chief, the treasurer (bhandagarika), the commander of the forces (senapati).
• Judicial procedure was extremely elaborate, there were many courts in a hierarchical order for trying the same case, one after another in the Lichhavis republic.
• The republics were less opposed to individualistic and independent opinion than the monarchies and were ready to tolerate unorthodox views. It was the republics that produced the two leaders of heterodox sects-Jainism and Buddhism.
• Brahmanical political theories were not accepted in the republics. The most striking of the non-Brahmin theories was the Buddhist account of the origin of state, possibly the earliest expression of the theory of social contract.
• The republics had retained, much more tribal traditions than did the monarchies. In the transition from tribe to republic, they lost the essential democratic pattern of the tribe but retained the idea of government through an assembly representing tribe.
• In the monarchies, tribal loyalty weakened and gave way to caste loyalties.
• The political expansion of kingdoms over large areas also weakened the popular assemblies. The kings no longer summoned the sabha and samiti. Since sabha and samiti were essentially tribal institutions, they decayed and disappeared as tribes disintegrated into varnas and lost their identity.
• With the emergence of large states, such as Magadha and Kosala, it was not possible to hold assemblies, attended by people from different parts of the empire, because of difficulty of communication.
• Further being tribal, the old assembly could not find place for many non-Vedic people who lived in the new kingdoms. The divinity of the king with its corollary of power of the priests and of Vedic rituals further reduced the status of the popular assemblies. The changed circumstances were thus not congenial for the continuance of the old assemblies. Instead, in this period, there was a small body, parishad, consisting exclusively of Brahmanas.
• The monarchies were concentrated in the Ganges plain which was a more fertile area.
• The two systems, republican and monarchical were not mutually exclusive and a change from one to other was not unheard of. Kamboja, for instance, changed from a monarchy to a republic. But this was less common in the Ganges plain where the monarchy was the predominant pattern.
• The decline of tribal culture, in combination with a growing dependence on an agrarian economy stimulated the growth of monarchies.
• An aura was created around the king by invoking various gods at the conservation ceremony to endow him with their respective qualities.
• In the rituals, he was sometimes also represented as a god. The Rajasitya sacrifice conferred supreme power on him. The Asvamedha sacrifice meant an unquestioned control over an area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. In the Vajapeya sacrifice, a chariot race was organised in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen. All these rituals impressed the people resulting in increasing power and prestige of the king.
• The rising monarchy derived strength from taxation, which became common during this period. Settled life and stable agriculture led to the production of considerable surplus and this could be collected by king in the form of taxes.
• In the Shatpatha Brahmana, the king has been described as devourer of the people, because he lived on the taxes collected from them.
• The taxes were probably deposited with an officer called sangrihitri.
• Later Vedic texts also mention an officer called bhagdugha in regard to taxation.
• On account of an assured income from taxation, the king appointed many officers and the administrative system became very elaborate. There were 12 Ratnini (jewel- bearers), who were probably the high functionaries. The list included the chief priest, the commander and the royal treasurer.
• From this period, the widespread use of iron in eastern UP and western Bihar facilatated the formation of large territorial states.
• The new agricultural tools enabled the peasants to produce far more foodgrains than they required for consumption.
• These material advantages naturally enabled the people to stick to their land and also to expand at the cost of the neighbouring areas.
• People began owing strong allegiance to the janapada or the territory to which they belonged and not to the jana or tribe to which they belonged.
• The lynchpin of the janapada was the ruling clan, after which it was named, and this in turn ensured some linguistic and cultural commonality.
• The Buddhist literature Anguttara Nikaya gives a list of sixteen great kingdoms called ‘Sixteen Mahajanapadas’. They were Anga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala, Vajji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Asmaka, Avanti, Gandhara and Kambhoja.
• The Jain texts also contain references to the existence of sixteen kingdoms.
• In course of time, the small and weak kingdoms either submitted to the stronger rulers or gradually got eliminated.
• Finally in the mid 6th century B.C., only four kingdoms – Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala and Magadha survived.
The 16 mahajanapadas of that period as listed in Buddhist Pali Canon were:
1. Magadha kingdom (South Bihar) – The first capital was Rajagriha and the later capital was Pataliputra. Brihadrata is claimed to be the founder of the Magadha kingdom.
2. Anga and Vanga kingdoms (East Bihar) – The capital was Champa. It was a prosperous business centre. The kingdoms were later merged by Bindusara into Magadha.
3. Malla kingdom (Gorakhpur region) – The capital was Kushinagar. It was the seat of many other smaller kingdoms. Their main religion was Buddhism. The Malla kingdom was later merged into the Magadha kingdom.
4. Chedi kingdom (Yamuna and Narmada belt) – The capital was Tisvathirati. One of the families from this kingdom later merged into the Kalinga kingdom from this royal family.
5. Vatsa kingdom (Allahabad) – The capital was Kausambi. The most important ruler of this kingdom was King Udayan.
6. Kashi kingdom (Benaras) – The capital was Varanasi. Though many battles were fought against the Kosala kingdom, eventually Kashi was merged with the Kosala kingdom. Dhritarashtra once ruled over the Kashi and Anga kingdoms.
7. Kos kingdom (Ayodhya) – Though its capital was Sravtsti which is identical with Sahet-Mahet but Ayodhya was an important town in Kosala. It was merged in the Magadha by the Magadha ruler, Ajatashatru. Kosala also included the tribal republican territory of Sakyas of Kapilvastu.
8 Vajji kingdom (North Bihar) – Vajji was the seat of a united republic of eight smaller kingdom of which Lichchavis, Janatriks and Videhas were also members. The Lichchavis kingdom had its capital at Vaishali. It was a prosperous kingdom north of Bihar, but was later merged with the Magadha kingdom. The Videhas kingdom had its capital at Mithila. Its most important ruler was King Janaka. This kingdom too was merged with the Magadh a kingdom.
9. Kuru (Thaneswar, Meerut and present day Delhi) – The capital city was Indraprastha. It was an important kingdom during the Vedic era and was friendly with the kingdoms of the Bhoja and Panchala.
10. Panchala kingdom (Uttar Pradesh) – Its capital was at Kampila. Earlier a monarch state, it later became an independent republic. Kanauj was an important town in this kingdom.
11. Matsya kingdom (Jaipur) – Its capital was Viratanagar. The Matsya kingdom got its independence from the Chedi kingdom (ruled by King Sahaja) under the leadership of Virat Raja.
12. Surasena kingdom (Mathura) – Its capital was at Mathura and its most famous ruler was Avantiputra.
13. Assaka kingdom (Godavari) – Its capital was at Pertaii and Brahamdatta was its most important ruler.
14. Gandharva kingdom (Peshawar and Rawalpindi) – Its capital Taxila was important as a trade and education centre (Ancient Taxila university) during the later Vedic age. Its ruler King Pukkusati was defeated by the Magadha ruler Bindusara.
15. Kamboj kingdom (North-east Kashmir) – Its capital was Rajapure. Hajara was an important trade and commerce centre of this kingdom.
16. Avanti kingdom.(Malwa) – Avanti was divided into two parts north and south. The northern part had its capital at Ujjain and the southern part had its capital at Mahismati. It was the most vulnerable of all the mahajanapadas and was ruled by many kingdoms before being finally merged into the Magadha kingdom.