Nanda Empire

gigatos | February 11, 2022


The Nandadynasty was a dynasty of rulers of Magadha, a kingdom in northern India, in the 4th century BCE. The dynasty did not manage to stay in power for long, but is considered important because they were the first rulers in Indian history to conquer virtually the entire north and possibly parts of central India. Their empire can be considered the first Indian empire.

The Shaishunaga dynasty began with Shishunaga who managed to end the long struggle with Avanti. In addition to Avanti, he possibly also managed to subdue Koshala and Vatsa. Shishunaga was succeeded by his son Kalashoka who was allegedly killed with a dagger in his throat. According to the Mahabodhivamsa, he was succeeded by his ten sons with Panchamaka the last in line. According to the Puranas, Hindu scriptures, Mahanandin is said to have been the last of the Shaishunaga dynasty.

According to the Roman Curtius, the last Shaishunaga king and his sons were killed by Mahapadma Nanda. He was said to have been first a barber and then a lover of one of the queens of the last Shaishunaga king. The jainistic Parishishtaparvan, on the other hand, stated that Mahapadma was the son of a barber and a ganika (courtesan) from the low shudra caste. According to the Puranas, Mahapadma was the son of the last king of the Shaishunaga dynasty and a woman of the shudra caste, and these also call him Sudragarbhodbhava, son of a sudra. The Buddhist sources call this monarch Ugrasena and state that this was a robber chief.

The Nandadynasty brought an end to the late Vedic era characterized by the mahajanapadas, regional states into which northern India was divided. In a mahajanapada, the power of the ruler rested on tribal affiliations and caste (social status). However, the Nandas came from the lower shudra caste and they also extended their power over areas outside their own tribe”s homeland, continuing the strategy of the previous Haryanka dynasty and Shaishunaga dynasty. Mahapadma subjugated virtually all of northern India, the coastal area of Kalinga and the Ganges Delta in the east, and possibly parts of central India. Through his conquests, he became the founder of the first great empire in Indian history, ending the system of mahājanapadas ruled by kshattriyas (warrior caste).

The Puranas are negative about the low descent of the Nandas. The fact that persons from the lower castes came to the throne was seen by the orthodox brahmins as a bad omen, or as a sign that the kali yuga had arrived, the era of chaos in which the natural order would be overthrown.

There are said to have been a total of nine kings of the Nandadynasty. According to the Puranas, these were Mahapadma and eight of his sons, of whom only Sukalpa is mentioned. According to Buddhist writings, the eight successors were all brothers of Ugrasena. The 10th-century Buddhist Mahabodhivamsa mentions Panduka, Pandugati, Bhutapala, Rashtrapala, Govishanaka, Dasasiddhaka, Kaivarta and Dhana. Dhana Nanda was a powerful and cruel ruler whose name was corrupted by the Greeks to Agrammes or Xandraines. During his reign the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great took place. According to the Roman Curtius Dhana had 200,000 foot soldiers, 20,000 horsemen, 2,000 chariots and 3,000 battle elephants at his disposal. To what extent these numbers are correct cannot be verified, but it is clear that the size of the army was such that Alexander, on the advice of his general Coenus, refrained from attacking. This army was too large to sustain on tax revenues alone. Further territory expansion and plundering of neighboring states had become necessary. The imperialism of the rulers of Magadha was a self-reinforcing process: the more territory conquered, the larger the army had to be to hold it and the more new territory had to be conquered.

Some sources describe the taxes the Nandas imposed on the population as ruthless and report that the dynasty was very unpopular. This unpopularity is said to have been the reason for the fall of the dynasty. Consequently, despite his power, Dhana was deposed by an internal war. Chanakya or Kautilya, possibly the author of the Arthashastra, played an important role in overthrowing the Nanda dynasty. There are several stories about how this allegedly took place, the Chanakya-Chandragupta-katha. The beginning seems to have been a direct or indirect insult by King Dhana about Chanakya”s hideousness. Chanakya is said to have done everything possible since then to overthrow Dhana. To this end, he employed Chandragupta, possibly a scion of the old kshatriya clan Moriya. In this story, Chandragupta was raised by Chanakya from an early age, which would mean that Dhana”s reign would have been longer than the chronologies suggest. In the work of Justinus, it was Sandrocottus (Chandragupta) himself who was insulted, only to succeed in defeating the Pandas at the head of an army with the help of Chanakya. In the Buddhist scriptures Dhana is killed, while in the Jain version he is exiled.

The chronology of the early dynasties is partly related to the year of the Buddha”s death. Since his mahaparinibbana is unknown, the years of reign are also uncertain. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha died during the eighth year of reign of Ajatasattu. According to theravada, the Buddhism of the South, the mahaparinibbana took place in 544


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