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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

History of Mahapadma Nanda & Dhana Nanda | From Pre - Mauryan Magadha Empire to arrival of Alexander | With ancient sculptures

In the 8th century BC, India could be broadly understood in terms of five large regions viz.

- Madhyadesa (the middle country), 
- Pratichya (western lands), 
- Prachya (Eastern region), 
- Uttarpatha (the land in the north of the Vindhyas[1]) and 
- Dakshinpatha (the land south of the Vindhyas).

Dancing girl, Indus Valley Civilization, 2500 BCE, At National Museum, Delhi

The girl wears a number of bangles and a necklace and is shown in a natural standing position with one hand on her hip. 
Both arms are unusually long; the left arm is fully covered with 24-25 bangles, like a Banjara (an Indian tribe) woman, while there are just 4 bangles on her right arm. She holds some object in her left hand, which is resting on her legs. 

In 1973, British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler described this statuette as his favourite: "She's about 15 years old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There's nothing like her, I think, in the world."

John Marshall, another archeologist, described the figure as "a young girl, her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet".

The archaeologist Gregory Possehl described the Dancing Girl as "the most captivating piece of art from an Indus site" and qualified the description of her as a dancer by stating that, "We may not be certain that she was a dancer, but she was good at what she did and she knew it."

Around the 6th century BC, the territories of 16 Mahajanapadas (great countries) got clearly marked. Those who are aware of the Mahabharata must have read / heard about most of these names. These Mahajanapadas included : 
- Kasi, 
- Kosala,
- Anga, 
- Magadha
- Vajji or Vriji, 
- Malla,
- Chedi or Cheti, 
- Vamsa or Vatsa, 
- Kuru, 
- Panchala, 
- Machcha or Matsya, 
- Surasena, 
- Assaka or Ashmaka , 
- Avanti, 
- Gandhara, and
- Kamboja

An illustration of the 16 Mahajanapadas

The names of at least 9 among them are given in Vedic literature. Panini, in the 4th century BC, mentions as many as 22 different Janpadas, but also mentions the 3 most important ones, viz. Magadha, Kosala and Vatsa.

Magadha formed one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas ( great countries ) of ancient India. The core of the Magadha kingdom was the area of present-day Bihar, south of the river Ganga ; its first capital was Rajagriha (modern Rajgir[2]), then Pataliputra (modern Patna).

The Magadha empire refers to the successive empires which were based in and around present-day Bihar. Before the advent of the Mauryan dynasty, the following dynasties ruled over Magadha:

    - Haryanka Empire (Bimbisara dynasty) (c. 684 – c. 413 BC)
    - Shishunaga Empire (c. 413 – c. 368* BC)
    - Nanda Empire (c. 368* – c. 324 BC)   

    - Maurya Empire (c. 324 – c. 185 BC)                 

{ * - Years are not clearly known. }

According to the Puranas, the Shishunaga dynasty was the second ruling dynasty of Magadha, succeeding the Haryanakas. Shishunaga, the founder of the dynasty, was initially a minister ( amatya / अमात्य ) of the last Haryanka dynasty ruler and ascended to the throne after a rebellion in c. 413 BC. The capital of this dynasty initially was Rajgir but later shifted to Pataliputra, near present-day Patna during the reign of Shishunaga's son - Kakavarna Kalasoka.


A fragmentary terracotta plaque showing the head of a woman. She wears a beautifully decorated headdress, the tassels of which fall on either side of her head. Her hair is knotted in the centre. The face is carved round like the moon. Features such as her eyes, nose and mouth are clearly visible. There is a small hole at the top. 
Made in dull red clay. 2nd century BC. Now at the National Museum, Delhi.


Assassination of Shishunaga King
A Conspiracy of His Perfidious Queen with Probably Nanda Dynasty Founder

Kalasoka, the son & successor of Shishunaga, probably corresponds to Kakavarna of the Puranas. It was during his reign that the 2nd Buddhist Council was held at Vaishali[3]. He had a tragic end which is referred to in later literature.

A passage in the Harshacharita of Banabhatta[4] (in 7th century AD) records the story, presumably handed down orally through the centuries, that the king named Kakavarni Shishunagi was " killed by a dagger thrust into his throat ". An earlier reference to a similar event is made by the Greek writer Quintus Curtius Rufus (in the 1st century AD), as mentioned below. 

Referring to the founder of the Nanda dynasty, Curtius writes that : " The present king was the son of a barber, scarcely staving of hunger by his daily earnings, but who, from not being uncomely in person, became the paramour of the queen, and being by her influence advanced to too near a place in the confidence of the reigning monarch, treacherously murdered him, and then under the pretence of acting as guardian to the royal children, usurped the supreme authority and having put the young princes to death begot the present king. "

The murderer of Kalasoka or Kakavarna Shishunagi was thus possibly the founder of the next dynasty of kings - the Nandas.

The "young princes" slain by him may be taken to be the 10 sons of the murdered king who, according to the Mahavamsa, ruled, probably jointly, for a period of 10 years. According to some sources, they ruled for 22 years!

These are named in the Mahabodhivamsa and include Nandivardhana, who is mentioned in the Purana, as the 9th king among the 10 kings of the Shishunaga dynasty.

The Mahavamsa gives the names of the following kings before the Nandas: —

(1) Bimbisara
(2) Ajatasatru
(3) Udayabhadra
(4) Anuruddha
(5) Munda
(6) Nagadasaka { Last ruler of Harayanka dynasty, c. 413 BCE }
(7) Susunaga { Shishunaga }
(8) Kalasoka Shishunaga (Kakavarna according to Asokavadana)
(9) Ten sons of Kalasoka (who ruled for some years jointly before being murdered by the founder of the Nanda dynasty)


On the other hand, the Puranas give the following list : —

(1) Jaisunaga
(2) Kakavarna
(3) Kshemadharman
(4) Kshatraujas
(5) Bimbisara
(6) Ajatasatru
(7) Darsaka
(8) Udayin
(9) Nandivardhana
(10) Mahanandin

The Puranas add another king, Mahanandin, but his existence must be regarded as very doubtful unless we suppose that he was another of the 10 sons of Kalasoka.

The Shishunaga dynasty thus came to an ignoble end. Whatever we might think of the particulars related in different sources, there is no doubt that the dynasty's downfall was brought about by a palace conspiracy, which took place at the behest of the faithless queen of King Kalasoka.


A plaque showing the figure of a standing woman with her hands akimbo. She wears an elaborate coiffure with two protuberances, pearl strings, necklace, earrings, armlets, bracelets, girdle, dhoti and anklets. 
Dull red clay. 1st century BC.


Origin of the Nandas

The founder of the new dynasty was a man of low origin. His background, as stated by the Greek writer Quintus Curtius Rufus, has been noted above. 

The Jain work Parisishtaparvan describes him as the son of a barber by a courtesan ( ganika-kushi-janma / गणिका-कुशी-जन्मा ) ; referring to him as the son of a barber : naapit-kumara (नापित-कुमार) or naapitasu ( नापितासु ).

The Avasyaka Sutra calls him a Napitadaas (नापितदास) - which means "the slave of a barber". 

The Puranas also brand the founder of the Nanda dynasty as "the son of King Mahanandin by a Shudra woman" and the Nanda kings as immoral (adharmika / अधार्मिक) . 

The Buddhist texts ( like the Mahavamsatika) regard the Nandas as ( annatakula / अन्नातकुल ) - "of unknown lineage."

It will thus appear that all traditions are agreed about the lowly origins of the Nanda dynasty. The Puranas trace it to a Shudra mother, but the Greek account traces it to a Shudra father, a barber. Thus one source fastens the "low origin" on the father and the other on the mother. But it is the origin of the father that determines that of his progeny. In any case, the Nandas are taken to be the offspring of a Shudra father.


Mutilated female torso wearing a flowing sari. She keeps her left hand on her waist and is posing like any present-day model. Unfortunately, her head and feet have been lost. 2nd century BC. 
At Allahabad Museum.


Founder of the Nanda Dynasty

The name of the founder and first king of the Nanda dynasty is differently given in different texts. The Puranas call him Mahapadma, presumably either with reference to his military strength as 'lord of an infinite host' , or Mahapadmapati, that is, lord of immense wealth amounting to 100,000 millions (padma[11] was also a unit of measurement of currency).

According to the Mahabodhivamsa, his name was Ugrasena[5a]. The term Ugrasena may have suggested the Greek name Agrammes[5b] for the Nanda king who ruled at the time of Alexander (Dhana Nanda).

The life of Mahapadma Nanda finds parallel in two historical personalities. 

a. His later life reminds one of the the Kalachuri king Bijjala II, who was initially a vassal of Chalukya Vikramaditya VI, and later became independent. His reign was marked by a lot of turbulence towards the end.

b. His early relations with the preceding royal family (Shishunagas) resembled the relations between Cardinal Mazarin and the family of Louis XIII.

According to some manuscripts of the Vayu Purana, which is one of the oldest works, and was consulted by Banabhatta in 7th century AD, the first Nanda king ruled for 28 years, and was followed by his sons who ruled for 12 years. 

The Tibetan historian Taranath[5c] also assigns a period of 29 years to the first Nanda king. 

Based on these 2 accounts, we can infer that the first Nanda king should have died around 338 BCE, because his son Dhana Nanda was ruling in 326 BCE according to the Greek historians. The dynasty must have come to power in 367 BCE. But, as we have already seen, there is no unanimity among the Puranas, the Jain and the Buddhist accounts regarding the duration of the reign of the Nandas; hence we cannot be sure.


This is one of the most beautiful themes in ancient Indian art, which i have come across. This is a terracotta plaque showing a man carrying a woman on his shoulders. Her hands are raised and resting on her head. The man is shown wearing a headdress and a lower garment. 
Dull red clay. 2nd century BC. At National Museum, Delhi.


Who was Dhana Nanda  - Mahapadma Nanda's brother or a son ?

The various ancient authorities agree that there were nine Nanda kings ( Nava-Nanda ). The Puranas take the first Nanda as the father and the other eight as his sons. The Buddhist texts, however, take all the nine Nandas as brothers The details of the above mentioned 8 Nandas who succeeded the eldest Nanda, are obscure.

The 9 Nandas are named in the Mahabodhivamsa, as follows:

(1) Ugrasena[5a]
(2) Panduka
(3) Pandugati
(4) Bhutapala
(5) Rashtrapala
(6) Govishanaka
(7) Daiasiddhaka
(8) Kaivarta and
(9) Dhana
(he is called Agrammes
[6a] / Xandrames[6b] / Ganderites in Greek accounts) 

Here the texts of Greek historians come to our rescue and help us in establishing that Dhana Nanda was the son of Mahapadma Nanda. We saw the Greek account of Curtius while reading about the end of the Shishunaga dynasty above. Curtius tells us that the king who was ruling in 326 BC (Dhana Nanda) was the son of a barber (Mahapadma Nanda). The latter became the king by killing the earlier king (Kalasoka Shishunagi) in a conspiracy with his (Kalasoka's) queen, after putting all the legitimate heirs of the Shishunaga dynasty to death.

The Puranas name only the first Nanda and one of his sons who is thought to be the eldest, Sumalya. The Matsya Purana spells the name as Sukalpa. The name in Vayu Purana is Sahalya. The Divyavadana calls him Sahalin.


A beautiful depiction on a terracotta plaque showing a closely seated royal couple on a throne. There is a suspended hole on the upper left side of the plaque. The lower,  right portion is broken and missing. 
2nd Century BC. At the National Museum, Delhi.


Were There Two Nanda Dynasties?

The Jain text, Avasyaka Sutra, tells us about the nine Nandas (Navame Nande). In the light of the above evidence regarding the nine Nandas, scholars have now disowned a theory according to which the word Nava (it can mean nine or new) should be taken to mean new and not nine, and hence the two last rulers of the Shishunaga dynasty, viz. Nandivardhana and Mahanandin should be treated as the old (पूर्व / Purva) Nandas who were replaced by the new (नव / Nava) ones. 

This issue has been resolved, and now the word Nava Nandas is believed to mean nine Nandas, and not the new Nandas. This is because there were no earlier Nandas (Purva Nandas) who could be differentiated from the new Nandas (Nava Nandas). 

This discrepancy of Purva and Nava Nandas initially arose due to the misreading of the expression - Purva Nanda used by Kshemendra and the other epitomisers and redactors of Brihatkatha[7]. The Puranas as well as the Sri-Lankan chronicles have told us of only one Nanda lineage and all the Jaina writers take Nava Nandas to mean 9, not new. Purva Nanda was, hence, the designation of a single king, not an earlier Nanda dynasty. 


Mutilated bust of a female figure wearing a highly ornamental headdress wrapped around the head and resting to the left, disc-shaped ear ornaments and a necklace stamped with motifs made using applique design.  Back then too, ladies adorned themselves stylishly. A band supporting the headdress also depicts the same design. The left hand and torso are lost. 
2nd century BC. Terracota Gallery of Allahabad Museum.


Early Life of the Nandas 

We owe to the Mahavamsatika some details of the life of the first and the last of the nine Nanda brothers who ruled one after another, according to seniority.

The eldest brother who founded the dynasty is called Ugrasena
[5a], as already stated. He was a man of the frontier ( pachchanta-vasika / पच्चन्त-वासिक ) who fell into the hands of robbers and became one of them and later their leader. He then, with his gang, started raiding the neighboring kingdoms and their cities, giving them the ultimatum : "Either yield your kingdom or give battle." Fired with their success, they aimed at sovereignty.

The text, however, is silent as to the actual steps by which the gang achieved sovereignty. It simply insinuates that the conquest of Magadha marked the culmination of a career of violence and brigandage on the part of a gang of outlaws whom the Mahabodhivamsa describes as Chorapubbas ( चोरपुब्बा )- 'dacoits of old'. So this Buddhist tradition represents the Nandas as openly conquering Magadha by force and not by any secret conspiracy or cowardly assassination of the reigning king by conspiring with the queen.

The Puranas give a more reliable account of the founder of the Nanda dynasty whom they call Mahapadma. He is described as a second Parasurama, 'the exterminator of the entire Kshatriya race,' and as one who made himself the sole sovereign in the country and brought it under the umbrella of one authority which was not challenged. 

The Puranas tell us that he uprooted all the Kshatriya ruling houses who were the contemporaries of the Shishunaga dynasty. ( तुल्य-कलम भविष्यंति सर्वे ह्येते महिक्षितः। )


A terracotta sealing showing Kartikeya in a standing posture with his right hand raised and holding a stick type in left hand. {He was the son of Shiva and the God of War, or the one who led the gods in their war against the demons.} Two peacocks {traditionally considered to be the vahana or carriage of Kartikeya} have been shown, one on either side. Damaged and cracked. 
2nd - 3rd century BC.


The First Nanda Ruler Conquers All the Kshatriya Kingdoms

The Kshatriya dynasties, which were uprooted by the first Nanda ruler Ugrasena[5a] or Mahapadma Nanda, comprised the following: 

Panchalas[8b] / पांचाल ,
Kasis / Kaseyas[8c] / कसेया , 
Kalingas[8e] / कलिंग ,
Kurus[8g] / कुरु,
Maithilas[8h] / मिथिला ,
Surasenas[8i] , and

It can be seen that Ugrasena[5a] conquered Kalinga also. Like Parasurama, he conquered almost all the kshatriya kingdoms of the time.

Due to the subjugation of all the major Kshatriya powers by the first Nanda, the Puranas mention his name as - Sarva-kshatrantaka (which means destroyer of all Kshatriyas) equivalent to Parshurama ; and call him the one who attained sole sovereignty ( ekarat & ekachchhatra / एकच्छत्र ).

This detailed and specific statement in the Puranas seems to be partially corroborated by independent evidence. The Katha-sarit-sagara mentions the camp of King Nanda in Ayodhya, thereby implying the inclusion of Kosala in the Nanda empire. 

The conquest of Kalinga by a Nanda king has been interred, from a passage in the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela[9a]. The existence of a city called "Nav Nand Dehra" (Nander on the banks of the Godavari river) has been taken by some scholars to indicate Nanda supremacy over a considerable part of the Deccan

According to some inscriptions of Mysuru, the Nandas ruled over Kuntala (southern part of Mumbai and north-western part of Mysuru).
Jaina writers refer to the subjugation of the country upto the sea by the Nanda ministers, in the following words :
समुद्रवसन सेभ्य असमुद्रमपि स्रियह।
उपयहसटीरकृष्य ततः सो:कृता नंदसत॥


A mutilated horse rider riding on a horse, shown in terracotta. The fore legs of the horse are lost. The man is wearing a dress typical of the 2nd century BCE and a headdress. The saddle of the horse is made by applique design. 
At the Allahabad Musuem.


Nature of the Nanda Empire : A Loose Federation or Consolidated Empire? 

These pieces of evidence related to the extent and might of the Nanda empire, particularly the inscriptions (of Mysuru, which we saw above), cannot be regarded as conclusive because they are of later years, dating 1200 CE. The evidence related to the Nandas ruling over the trans-Vindhyan[9b] India is not strong. But the evidence undoubtedly supports the Puranic statement regarding the extermination of Kshatriyas. Its best corroboration is offered by the statement of the Greek writers who refer to the extensive domains of Mahapadma Nanda's successor. The general picture given in the Puranas of the great empire, which Mahapadma Nanda had built by exterminating the numerous Kshatriya principalities, may thus be regarded as historically accurate. 

We may also conclude from the Greek accounts that the Nanda empire was not a loose federation but a strong, centrally administered empire. Mahapadma Nanda was, thus, historically the first great emperor in North India. His lowly origins proved to be the end of the age-old tradition of the political supremacy of the Kshatriyas.


A mutilated circular plaque showing a chariot drawn by two horses / deers. The central part of plaque is chopped off and is broken in three parts. Therefore, the royal figure seated under the parasol is lost. Two persons in greeting posture stand before the chariot on the right. Behind the parasol are seen some attendants. 2nd century BCE. Allahabad Museum.


Reign of Dhana Nanda 

Unfortunately, we know little about the subsequent history of the Nanda dynasty until we come to the last king. He is not named in the Puranas but must have maintained intact his imperial inheritance of territory and army. 

As he was ruling at the time of Alexander's invasion of 326 B.C., the Greek and Roman historians (Curtius & Diodorus) record some facts of his power, position, and popularity, which were narrated to Alexander by a local king called Phegelas (Bhagela, Bhagala) and confirmed by Porus. He is called by them Agrammes[5b] & [6a] or Xandrames[6b], and is described as " the king of powerful peoples beyond the river Beas " , " the Gangaridae[10a] and the Prasii[10b] " , with his capital at Patliputra. 

His empire seems to have extended up to the frontiers of the Punjab, for it is stated that king Porus the younger escaped from Alexander into the adjoining territory of the Nanda king.


Fragmented coping stone depicting a horse rider on a horse. Between the usual borders a horse with a rider is shown wearing a fillet around the head. To the left are plump mangoes issuing from the kalpavalli. 
2nd century BC. Now, at the Allahabad Museum.



Nandas - Mighty but Unpopular Rulers

The Nandas maintained a formidable fighting machinery. Quintus Curtius Rufus credits Dhana Nanda with - " keeping in field for guarding the approaches of the country an army of 20,000 cavalry ; 200,000 infantry and 2000 four-horsed chariots, and what is the most formidable of all, a troop of war elephants which ran up to the number of 3000 elephants ". However, another Greek writer Diodorus mentions 4000 elephants. Plutarch mentions a force comprising 6000 war elephants. Dhana Nanda father's army was so large that it could be arranged in a lotus shape - Padmavyuh.

Talking about the strength of the army of the Gangetic states, Plutarch puts the strength at 80,000 horses ; 200,000 foot soldiers ; 8000 war chariots ; 6000 fighting elephants. It is not, therefore, a surprise that such a king should call himself ekarat , as we saw above, the sole monarch of vast territories from the Himalayas to the Godavari or its neighbourhood.

With all his military might and supremacy over a large empire, Dhana Nanda lacked the strength of popularity by which alone they could be maintained. Chandragupta Maurya, who was fated to overthrow him, already reported to Alexander's followers that he could easily conquer the Nanda empire because its king was so much " hated and despised by his subjects for the wickedness of his disposition and the meanness of his origin. " 

This report was also confirmed by king Porus (Paurava) of the Punjab who added that " the king of the Gangaridae[10a] was a man of quite worthless character and held in no respect, and he was the son of a barber. "

However, much of his unpopularity was also due to his miserliness, avarice, and love of wealth, which he accumulated at the expense of his people by means of excessive taxation and exactions

The reasons for the strong military might of the Nandas is said to be the result of conquests and a strong base which was built by the earlier great kings of the Magadha Empire - Bimbisara and Ajatsatru. Similarly, Chandragupta inherited a strong army and sound administrative system from the Nandas, which was reformed and strengthened by him and his minister Chanakya.


A plaque showing a standing elephant moving towards left. His trunk is stretched down. There is a small suspension hole near the head. The plaque has a beaded border. 
1st Century BC.


Wealth Accumulated by the Nandas

The Nandas were wealthy rulers. The second Nanda was nicknamed Dhana Nanda - the worshipper of Mammon. The Katha-sarit-sagara preserves the tradition of his wealth computed at 990 million gold pieces. He was so wealthy that his wealth was counted in Padma[11].

Its Buddhist version says: " The youngest brother was called Dhana Nanda from his addiction to hoarding treasure. . . .He collected riches to the amount of 80 kotis
[12] in a cave in the bed of the river (Ganga). Having caused a great excavation to be made, he buried the treasure there. . . Levying taxes, among other articles, even on skins, gums, trees, and stones, he amassed further treasure which he disposed of similarly." 

This story of his hoarded and hidden wealth is hinted at in a Tamil poem of Sangam era, stating how 'a very famous Nanda ruler victorious in war' , after accumulating a lot of wealth in the beautiful city of Patali,
[13] hid it in the floods of the Ganga." 

The tale of the fabulous wealth of Nanda was also heard by the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang in the 7th century AD. He mentions five stupas of Pataliputra as symbols of " the five treasures of king Nanda's seven precious substances. "


Bust of a female figure with hair supported by a band of thick pagree stamped with leaf designs. She wears richly decorated ear and precious neck ornaments. The decorated pendent of the necklace is stuck above the bosom. The right hand is lost. 
2nd century BC. Allahabad Museum.


Invasion of Alexander

Alexander invaded India in 326 BC during the rule of Dhana Nanda. The Greek historical texts mention that the crossing of the river Beas was the last outpost of Alexander's army. Alexander insisted on crossing the Ganga as well. But upon hearing that Dhana Nanda was waiting for them with a 200,000 strong army, the Greek army was frightened and revolted. Thus Alexander was forced to retreat. He began his homeward journey in 325 BC and, in 324 BC, he died in Persia.

One of the reasons why Alexander marched towards India was his attraction to the wealth of the Indian subcontinent. Writing in the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus tells us that 'India' was the 20th and the most prosperous province of the ancient Persian empire and the tribute from India amounted to 360 talents[14] of gold dust - which was more than the tribute obtained from all the other Persian provinces combined together!


Illyrian type, 6th century BCE.

Hammered from a single sheet of bronze, with twin reinforcing ridges on the top and two long pointed cheekpieces.
Fine engraved decorative edging.
The left cheekpiece is bent inward with a bit of edge missing.

It is of exceptional quality with its wonderful glossy green patina which covers the entire helmet.
This helmet style is usually described as Illyrian in the literature but they were also worn by the Macedonian kings,
as they are also found in the royal tombs at the Macedonian capital of Pella.



1. The Vindhya Range is a complex, discontinuous chain of mountain ridges, hill ranges, highlands and plateau escarpments in west-central India.

Location of the Vindhya Range vis-a-vis Magadha can be seen here

2. Rajgir (originally known as Girivraj) is a city and a notified area in Nalanda district in the Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a Mahajanapada that eventually evolved into the Mauryan Empire. Its date of origin is unknown, although ceramics dating to about 1000 BC have been found in the city. Rajgir is around 100 kms from Patna.

3. Vaishali was an ancient city in Bihar, India, and is now an archeological site. It was the capital city of the Licchavi rulers, considered one of the first examples of a republic, in the Vajjian Confederacy (Vrijji) mahajanapada, around the 6th century BC. It was here in 599 BC that the 24th Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira was born, which makes it a pious and auspicious pilgrimage to Jains. Gautama Buddha also preached his last sermon here before his death in c. 483 BC. In 383 BCE the Second Buddhist council was convened here by King Kalasoka, making it an important place for both Jains and Buddhists.

4. Banabhatta was a 7th century Sanskrit prose writer and poet of India. He was the Asthana Kavi (poet laureate) in the court of King Harsha Vardhana, who reigned c. 606–647 CE in north India from Thanesar and Kannauj.

5a. Ugrasena : One with a large (ugra/अग्र/उग्ग) army (sena/सेना ) . This appears to be a title, not the name of the king. Actually, it is उग्गसेन (also pronounced as अग्रसेन ) and not उग्रसेन

5b. Agrammes : This Greek variant of Ugrasena is derived from the distortion of a Sanskrit word : Augrasainya / औग्रसैन्य , which means , son / descendant of Ugrasena / उग्गसेन . It may be noted that in this connection, Augrasainya as a royal epithet may be traced back to the Aitreya Brahmana, where it occurs as a patronymic of Yuddhamsrushti (युद्धमस्रुष्टि). The use of patronymics, or metronymics, instead of the personal names, is by no means rare in Indian history. The other references like : Assakenus, Porus, Pandion, Sandrokottus, Androkottus show that, in several cases, Greeco-Roman historians did not take the pain of acquainting themselves with the personal epithets of the Indian princes. Instead, they mentioned the Greek variant of the Indian names. 

5c. Taranath : He was a Buddhist monk. His work is seen as a important source of Tibetan-Buddhist view of the events in ancient India. It is titled - rGya-gal-chos-byun, and was written around 1608. Due to the difficult-to-pronounce name of this text, it is simply called 'The Tibetan Legend'. This text contains mystic stuff of exceptional quality and the best of Indologists find it tough to translate it. We are therefore grateful to the efforts put in by the German linguist (Anton Schieftier) who translated the text in 1869. In the same year, the Russian translation (by Professor Wassiljew) was also published. There is a Japanese translation also ( by Enga Teramoto). But the German translation is the one, which is widely used. 

I have made use of the German translation of this account in an old blog post. Readers who understand German will find it easy to follow it : Emperor Ashoka Maurya Killed 99 Brothers to Become King - Fact or Myth ? And some other questions - A Debate | HISTORY of Bindusara, Dharma, Ashoka - 3

6a. Agrammes : Reference for Dhana Nanda by the Greek historian Curtius. Dhana Nanda was the son of Ugrasena[5a] (Mahapadma Nanda) ; hence this reference was used, as explained in 5b, above.

6b. Xandrames : Reference for Dhana Nanda by the Greek historian Diodorous.

7. Brihatkatha (the Great Narrative) is an ancient Indian epic, said to have been written by Gunadhya in a poorly-understood language known as Paisaci. The work is no longer extant but several later adaptations — the Katha-sarit-sagara, Brihat-katha-manjari and Brihat-katha-shloka-samgraha in Sanskrit — furnish tantalizing and often contradictory clues to its nature.

The date of its composition is uncertain. According to testimonials by later Sanskrit poets like Dandin, Subandhu, and Banabhatta
[4], the work existed in the 6th century AD. According to other estimates, it predates that period by several more centuries.

8a. 8b. 8c. 8d. 8e. 8f. 8g. 8h. 8h. 8i. 8j. The following map serves as a reference for the notes in 8a to 8j. Readers may skip these points, and jump to note 9 ; these are only for serious history aficionados.

The 16 Mahajanapadas in ancient India

8a. The Ikshvakus were the ruling clan of Kosala, roughly corresponding to modern Awadh in Uttar Pradesh. They were defeated by Ajatashatru, son of Bimbisara. A passage of the Katha-sarit-sagara refers to the camp (kataka) of Nanda in Ayodhya. It appears that the Nanda ruler had undertaken an expedition to Kosala. An important section of the Ikshvakus seems to have been driven southwards as they are found in the 3rd- 4th century AD in occupation of the lower valley of the river Krishna.

8b. The Panchalas occupied the tract of the country between the upper Ganges and the Gomti together with a part of the Central Doab. They do not appear to have come into hostile contact with the Magadhan monarchy before the rise of the Nandas, and must have been brought under control by that dynasty, as the evidence of the Greek writers suggests.


8c. The Kaseyas were the people inhabiting the district around Kashi / Banaras / Varanasi, and had come under the Magadhan sway as early as the days of Bimbisara and Ajatasatru. It is recorded in the Puranas that a Shishunaga Prince was " placed in Banaras " when the founder of the line took up his residence in Girivraja, the Magadhan capital during the early times. It was apparently from a descendant or successor of this prince that Nanda wrested control over the people of Kashi / Kasi.

8d. The Haihayas ruled over a part of the Narmada Valley till the medieval times. Their earlier capital was at Mahishmati, which has been identified by Pargiter with the rocky island of Mandhata and by others with a town named Maheshwara on the northern bank of the Narmada within the boundaries of the (erstwhile) Indore state. The subjugation of this region by the Nandas does not seem to be improbable in view of the Puranic statement about the humiliation of the rulers of the neighbouring realm of Avanti by their Shishunaga predecessors. But there is lack of confirmation by independent witnesses. It has however to be remembered that both Malwa and Gujarat formed integral parts of the Magadha empire in the days of Chandragupta towards the close of the fourth century BC, and the foundation may have been lain by the Nandas.

8e. The Kalingas occupied the extensive territory stretching from the river Vaitarani in Odisha to the Varahanadi in the Vizagapatnam (present-day Visakhapatnam) District. The capital of Kalinga in ancient times was the famous city of Dantakura or Dantapura* which has been identified with the fort of Dantavaktra near Chicacole (present-day Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh) in the Ganjam district, washed by the river Languliya (Langulini). The conquest of a part of Kalinga by the Nandas is suggested by the Hathigumpha inscription. The phraseology of the inscription hardly supports the view held by some scholars that the Nandaraja mentioned therein is a local chief. The reference is doubtless to a conqueror who established his authority over a sannivesa (place) of Kalinga and constructed some irrigation works in the province.

* - It is believed that Dantapura got its name from a tooth of Buddha that was kept there and later taken away to Sri Lanka.


8f. The Asmakas occupied a part of the Godavari Valley with their capital at Potali / Potana, or Podana. The last form of the name reminds one of Bodhan to the south of the confluence of the Manjira and the Godavari, not very far from Nizamabad near Hyderabad. The existence on the banks of the Godavari of a city called "Nau Nand Dehra" (Nander), a little to the west of the Nizamabad District, renders it probable that the dominions of the " Nine Nandas" may have embraced the classic land of the Asmakas, though independent confirmation by contemporary or semi-contemporary writers is not available.


8g. The Kurus occupied the country to the west of the Panchalas, stretching from the river Ganga to the river Saraswati (now presumed to be flowing underground), which flows past the site of Kurukshetra, near Thanesar. The subjugation of this territory by the Nandas is not explicitly mentioned by any contemporary authority, but is rendered probable by the Greek evidence in regard to "the dominions of the nation of the Praisioi (see 10b) and the Gandaridai (see 10a)" which seem to have embraced the whole tract of the river Ganga.

8h. The Maithilas were the people of Mithila, the city famed in the Ramayana owing to its connection with Janaka Nandni Maa Sita. It has been identified with the small town of Janakpur along the Nepal border, north of where the Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur Districts meet. The greater part of Northern Bihar, over which the powerful confederation of the Vrijis (including the Lichchhavis) had exercised sway, had been annexed by Ajatasatru, and his successors are known to have graced Vaishali, the capital, with their presence on occasions. If the Puranic tradition has any value, then the chieftains of Mithila must have retained a certain amount of independence in the fastnesses of the Nepalese Terai. The periodical floods from the river Gandak, the Bagmati and connected streams during the rainy season must have rendered this part of the country very difficult to access and it is not surprising that the forests of the Terai should have sheltered an autonomous principality when the great city of Vaishali fell before the onslaught of Ajatasatru. The Nandas attained greater success, as they could operate from their base in Vaishali.


8i. The Surasenas ( Megasthenes calls them Sourasenoi ) had their capital at Mathura on the banks of the river Yamuna. Their subjugation to the Prasii (see 10b) appears very probable from the accounts of Alexander's Greek historians.


8j. The Vitihotras are closely associated with the Haihayas and the Avantis in Puranic tradition. Their sovereignty is said to have been terminated before the rise of the famous lineage of Pradyota. If the Puranic statement, found in a later passage of the Bhavishyanukirtana, about the contemporaneity of some of the Vitihotras with the Shishunagas, has any value, the latter may have restored some scion of the old line when they took away the glory ( yatha kritsnam) of the Pradyotas. As already stated, the undoubted control that Chandragupta Maurya exercised over western India, including the Girnar region, makes it highly probable that the way had been left clear by his Nanda predecessors. Jain accounts explicitly mention the Nandas among the successors of Palaka, the son of Pradyota of Avanti.


9a. Kharvela : Hathigumpha means the Elephant Cave. It is one of the most important caves in the Udayagiri caves and contains a 17-line inscription in Brahmi script. This cave faces the rock edicts of Asoka at Dhauli, which are about 6 miles away. King Kharavela, who had the caves cut out on the Udayagiri and Khandgiri hills for Jain ascetics, ruled over Kalinga in the 2nd century BC.}

Hathigumpha Cave, Bhubhaneswar

9b. Trans-Vindhyan : Deep into southern India, after crossing the Vindhya ranges.

10a. The Gangaridae, according to Megasthenes, were the people occupying the delta of the Ganga, that is the ones who were staying in the lower Ganga valley.

10b. The Prasii were the Prachyas or Easterners living to the east of the Middle Country (Madhyadesa), such as the Panchalas, Surasenas, Kosalas, Kasis and Videhas.

11. Padma : It is a unit of currency, equivalent to a million multiplied by a billion! 1 Padma = 1 Quadrillion ( 1,000,000,000,000,000 / 1015 )

12. Koti : It is another unit of currency. 1 Koti = 1 crore = 10 million ( 10,000,000 / 107 ) . Hence, 1 Padma = 100,000,000 Koti

13. Patli : A reference to Patliputra.

14. Talent : The Greek talent is an ancient unit of mass equal to 25.992 kg. {From : Herodotus, Robin Waterfield and Carolyn Dewald, The Histories, 1998, Pg- 593.}

AR Drachma* (13mm, 4.25 g). Athens. 454-404 BC. 
Helmeted head of Athena on the left / Owl standing on the right, its head facing sideways and an olive sprig behind it; all within incuse square.

* - Drachma was the currency used in ancient Greece.
Incidentally, a Roman talent was 32.3 kilograms (71 lb), an Egyptian talent was 27 kilograms (60 lb), and a Babylonian talent was 30.3 kilograms.


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