In this article we will discuss about the history of North India during the sixth century B.C.
The Political Condition during 6th Century B.C.:
India, during the sixth century B.C., was divided into a number of Independent states and even north India had no single paramount power. Most of these states were monarchical but quite a large number of them had republican or oligarchic constitutions. The Buddhist and Jaina religious texts are more informative regarding them as compared to the Hindu religious texts.
The Buddhist texts mention the following republican or oligarchic states:
1. The Sakyas of Kapilavastu:
It was in the foothills of the Himalayas near the border of Nepal.
2. The Bhaggas of Sumsumara hill:
According to Dr Jayaswal it was near modern Mirzapur district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
3. The Bulis of Allakappa:
It was somewhere between the districts of Sahabad and Muzzafarpur in Bihar.
4. The Kalamas of Kesaputta:
Its exact location is not clear.
5. The Koliyas of Ramagama:
It was in the East of the kingdom of Sakyas. River Rohini divided the boundaries of the two.
6. The Mallas of Pava:
Modern Fazillpur in Bihar was called Pava at that time.
7. The Mallas of Kusinara:
It was another branch of the Mallas. Modern Kasiaya in the Deoria district of eastern Uttar Pradesh was called Kusinara or Kusinagar at that time.
8. The Moriyas of Pipphalivana:
It was also in the foothills of the Himalayas. The founder ruler of the Maurya empire, Chandragupta, belonged to this dynasty.
9. The Videhas of Mithila:
Modern Janakpur near the boundaries of Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas was called Mithila.
10. The Lichchhavis of Vaisali:
Basarah in the modern district of Muzzafarpur of North Bihar was called Vaisali at that time.
Very little is known about the political history of these states except that of the Sakyas and Lichchhavis. However, many of them were much bigger in size as compared to contemporary kingdoms of Greece and some of these existed till the rise of the Maurya Empire.
Besides, there were monarchical states called the Mahajanapadas. Both Buddhist and Jaina texts mention sixteen such states though they differ in their names.
These were as follows:
It was on the eastern boundary of the state of Magadha in modern Bihar and its capital was Champa. It was included in the state of Magadha afterwards.
It was a wealthy and prosperous state in eastern Uttar Pradesh and its capital was modern Varanasi or Banaras. There existed continuous rivalries between Kasi and the nearby states of Anga, Magadha and primarily Kosala. It was conquered by Kosala sometime before the Buddha.
It was a confederacy of eight or nine clans. Vaisali, the capital of the Lichchhavis, was its capital.
It consisted of the territories of nine clans and it was a powerful state in eastern India. It was occupied by Magadha soon after the death of the Buddha.
5. Chedi or Cheti:
The Chedis were one of the most ancient tribes of India. The tribe was settled at two different places, one in the mountains of Nepal and the other in Bundelkhand near Kausambi. Its capital was Sukti or Suktimati.
It included the territories of modern Delhi, Meerut and Thaneswar. Its capital was Indraprastha. At that time, it had little political importance.
It was situated in the north and east of Delhi from the foot of Himalayas to the river Chambal. Badaun, Farrukhabad and the adjoining districts of modern Uttar Pradesh were included in it. The river Ganges (Ganga) divided it into North and South Panchala. The capital of North Panchala was Ahichchatra or modern Ramnagar in the Bareilly district while that of South Panchala was Kampil in the Farrukhabad district.
It included the boundaries of modern Jaipur, Alwar and a portion of Bharatpur. Its capital was Viratnagar now called Bairat.
Its capital was Mathura. It was afterwards conquered by Magadha.
10. Asvaka or Asmaka:
It was situated on the bank of the river Godavari and its capital was Potana or Potali.
It included the modern districts of Peshawar and Rawalpindi. Its capital was Takshasila now pronounced Taxila.
It included the south-east portion of Kashmir. Hazara district of North West Frontier Province and extending as far as Kafirstan.
It was an important state of western India and included the territories of modern Malwa, Nimar and the adjoining parts of Madhya Pradesh. Dr D.R. Bhandarkar has opined that Uijayni and Mahishwati were the respective capitals of its northern and southern territories. Its contemporary ruler of Mahatma Buddha was Pradyota who was in constant rivalry with the neighbouring states of Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha.
Once he had imprisoned Udayana, the king of Kosala and, even the powerful ruler of Magadh, Ajatasatru had to take additional measures for safeguarding his capital because of the fear of his attack.
According to the Puranas, Pradyota ruled for twenty-three years. He had four successors who ruled for twenty-four, fifty, twenty-one and twenty years respectively after him. Its last ruler was defeated by Sisunaga who included it in the state of Magadha.
Its capital was Kausambi and its contemporary ruler of the Buddha was Udayana. Udayana was not only a powerful king but was also well- versed in many fine arts, particularly, music. Once he was captured by Pradyota of Avanti by treachery but he eloped with Pradyota’s daughter Vasavadatta and married her. One of his other queens was the sister of king Darsaka of Magadha.
He is the hero of three dramas. Svapana-Vasavadatta of Bhasa and Priyadarshika and Ratnavali of Harsha. Kalidas has also referred him in his literary work, the Meghaduta. He engaged himself in wars of conquests. The Kathasaritsagar refers to his conquest and according to Priyadarshika he conquered Kalinga.
Formerly he was not inclined to Buddhism but later on accepted it. Udayana was not only a powerful and capable ruler but was popular one also He died after the death of Mahatma Buddha. Nothing is known of the history of Vatsa-kingdom after his death.
Its boundaries corresponded roughly with modern Oudh. It was divided into north and south by the river Sarayu; and Sravasti and Kusavati were its respective capitals, its ruler, a contemporary of the Buddha, was Prasenajit who had accepted Buddhism and had matrimonial relations with the state of Magadha. He had extended its supremacy over the Sakyas of Kapilvastu. He desired to marry a princess of the Sakyas.
The Sakyas regarded themselves of a superior caste and therefore, instead of a princess, they gave him one of the daughters of one of his nobles born of a slave-woman. His son, Vidudbha, was born of her. Later on, when Prasenajit came to know the reality, he renounced both his wife and son. Mahatma Buddha intervened in this affair and Prasenajit accepted back his son and wife on his advice.
But that certainly spoiled relations between the father and the son. Prasenajit married his sister, Kosala Devi with the ruler of Magadha, Bimbisara and gave a part of Kasi to him as dowry.
When Ajatasatni became the ruler of Magadh, Prasenajit tried to get back Kasi from him which resulted in war between these two states. The family-life of Prasenajit had become miserable and when once he went to meet Mahatma Buddha, his son Vidudbha revolted against him and captured the throne.
Probably, the subjects of Prasenajit had also turned against him because of his devotion towards Buddhism and neglect towards administration. Prasenajit proceeded towards Rajagriha for seeking help from Ajatasatru but he died in the way. The glory of Kosala finished with the death of Prasenajit. It has been described that his son Vidudbha took serious revenge from the Sakyas and killed every male, female and child of the Sakya-clan.
Certainly, many Sakyas must have fled away and could save their lives but the Sakya-clan practically finished. Vidudbha died in an accident. Not much is known of the history of Kosala-state afterwards. During the later period of his life he had to face two revolts of his subjects as well as his son and died when he was on his way to take help from king Ajatasatru of Magadha.
Economic and Social Changes during 6th B.C.:
Besides the establishment of big empires another important feature which we find in India in the 6th century B.C. was increased prosperity and growth of towns. The Indian civilization was moving from village-life to town-life and by the 6th century B.C. had moved in this direction to a large extent. Therefore, we find growth of towns in every part of India.
Of course, the establishment of big empires was one reason of the growth of towns because several towns were built up as capital cities of empires while several others grew as centres of trade. Yet, the growing prosperity of India under changed economic circumstances was also responsible for the growth of towns and town-culture.
The one primary cause of the economic prosperity of India during that period was larger agriculture-production which was made possible because of the use of plough of iron in agriculture. It resulted in sowing of three crops instead of two and increase in the area of cultivation. Therefore, in villages too, we find rich people owning extensive land and amassing wealth. During the age of the Buddha, we find a new class of such people in villages who were called gahapatis.
The gahapati Mendaka donated 1,250 cows to the Buddha and Buddha-Sangha. A gahapati of Saket is referred to as giving 16,000 coins, a male-slave and a female-slave to the physician, Jivaka, in return for his services. It all proved the existence of a flourishing agricultural economy though, of course, it led to gross economic inequality among the people in villages as well.
Another reason of increased prosperity of India was its growth of foreign trade with the countries of the North-West, Western countries and several countries of Asia. A big empire had established in Iran (Persia) and the Iranians (Persians) had captured a part of north-western frontier of India. It provided facilities of contacts particularly that of trade not only between Iran and India but also between India and several other countries of Asia and that of Europe. There were several trade routes and roads connecting different parts of India in all directions.
The one trade route was from Kosambi, through Gangetic plain, to Punjab and then Taxila joining the routes to Iran, Central Asia, European countries and several countries of Asia. Another route started from Rajagraha and, passing through Kosambi and Ujjayini, was connected with the port of Baroach from where the trade was carried on with western countries through sea-route. One important route passed through the entire Gangetic plain and reached the boundary of Burma and, yet, another route connected northern plain with the sea- coast of south-east.
These routes developed because of increased trade and, in turn, helped in enhancing internal as well as external trade. External trade went in favour of India and that enhanced the prosperity of the Indians leading to the growth of towns. Among those towns of north India Champa, Kosambi, Rajagraha, Sravasti, Ujjayani, Vaisali, Camboja, Kosala, Varanasi and Pataliputra were the most important ones.
The increased prosperity of the Indians affected their social structure as well. Towns became not only the centres of trade but centres of industries as well. Various goods were produced on a large scale to feed the foreign trade and that could be possible only in towns or, vice versa, towns grew up where goods were produced on a large scale. By that time, Indian rulers had started minting good coins of different metals. Coins of large variety and of silver and other metals issued by rulers of that age have been discovered from different parts of India.
It helped in the development of trade and growth of industries because coins proved to be a good medium of exchange and, thus, facilitated transactions. The growth of trade and industry formed rich trading and industrial communities which concentrated themselves in towns.
We find existence of different guilds formed by traders and industrialists during this period. Besides, labour and craftsmen also gathered in towns in large numbers. Different craftsmen formed their different groups and organisations which helped in making different professions hereditary. Besides, it created various organised and consciously awakened groups in towns which, finally, resulted in the formation of several sub-castes.
The changed economic conditions affected literary activity of the people as well. By that time, Sanskrit had become the language of intellectuals and Purohits only and there was need of popular languages. It resulted in formation of several regional languages though, of course, based on Sanskrit. One of them was Prakrat. The other popular ones were Pali and Magadhi. Mahatma Buddha gave his messages to the people mostly in Magadhi.
The changed economic and social circumstances influenced contemporary religious thought. The formation of awakened groups of traders, industrialists and labour resulted in putting a challenge to the supremacy of the Brahmanas.
The formation of sub-castes also did the same. Several of these groups were rich as well which gave them an advantageous position in the society. It led to religious awakening in the society which resulted in formation of several religious sects.
There is no doubt that the rise of Jainism and Buddhism during this age was a result of the changed economic and social circumstances also. We also find that both of these religious sects got support from the neo-rich trading and industrial classes which were eager to get a better social status so far denied to them.
The same way, both Jainism and Buddhism drew large converts from new sub-castes who were interested in getting equal status for all castes thereby getting the facility of having better social status for themselves.
Thus, we find that the 6th century B.C. proved important not only because of certain useful political changes but also because of changes in economic, social and religious condition of the people which all affected not only their own times but also the times to come.