600-300 BCE

The Age of Mahajanapadas

The Mahajanapadas were mostly monarchical kingdoms where dynastic kings with absolute powers and a regular army ruled over a defined territory called Janapada or rajya. However, some of them were republics known as Gana or Ganasanghas, or Ganarajya. While there was a concentration of monarchies on the Gangetic plain, the republics were scattered in the foothills of the Himalayas and north-western India. By the time of the sixth century BCE, Panini mentions as many as 22 different janapadas.The early Buddhist and Jain literature sheds a light on the picture of the Mahajanpada of the time. They present a list of sixteen Mahajanapadas [1]. It is likely that about the sixth century BCE, the whole of the Indian subcontinent from Gandhara in modern Afghanistan to the borders of Bengal was parcelled out roughly among sixteen principal states. Many of the Janapadas of the early period developed into Mahajanapadas during this time. Some popular Mahajanapadas were Anga, Magadha, Kashi, Kosala, Vajji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Asmaka, Avanti, Gandhara and Kambhoja. Lichachavis, Mallas, Shakyas, Vajji were some of the important republics.[2]

Evidence as to the functions of administration by kings and their officials can be known when we take into account the information gleaned from the Upanishads, the Buddhist canon, the Jataka tradition, or the Dharmasutras literature. These texts provide a picture of the political life of that period. All the writers on polity agree that in order to carry on governance successfully, the state should build up efficient administrative machinery with a king or chiefs at the top assisted by a number of officials. To defray the expenses of administration an elaborate system of taxation was devised. The most distinctive feature of the polity of this time was that both monarchies and republics used to function on the model of a welfare state. Their governance obeys the rule of Dharma, i.e. rightful conduct of duties, in the matter of public administration and collection of taxes.[3]

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An approximate visualisation, sourced from Sumedha Verma Ojha, Republics Of The Past – Part 1, Swarajya Magazine, Jan 20, 2017. https://swarajyamag.com/culture/republics-of-the-past-part-1