16 Mahajanapadas

The Buddhist sources refer to the presence of sixteen Mahajanapadas in the period when Buddha lived. Since North India had no single paramount power, sixth century BCE witnessed the emergence of these independent states. The Mahajanapadas represented a conglomerate of thousands of villages and a few cities. These Mahajanapadasextended from the north-west Pakistan to east Bihar and from Himalayas in the north to river Godavari in the south. Traditional literaturealsorefer to sixteen large states each comprising several agricultural settlements (Janapadas) as existing in India in the sixth century BCE.

The Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya which is a portion of Sutta-Pitaka gives the following list of sixteen Mahajanapadas in the time of Buddha:

  1. Kashi
  2. Koshala
  3. Anga
  4. Magadha
  5. Vajji
  6. Malla
  7. Chedi
  8. Vatsa
  9. Kuru
  10. Panchala
  11. Maccha(Matsya)
  12. Surasena
  13. Assaka
  14. Avanti
  15. Gandhara
  16. Kambhoja

Another Buddhist text Mahavastu enumerates a similar list of the sixteen Mahajanapadas while omitting Gandhara and Kambhoja in the North West. These are substituted by Sibi and Dasarna in Punjab and central India respectively. Bhagavati Sutra, a Jaina work gives a comparatively different list of the sixteen Mahajanapadas while including Vanga and Malaya. However, the number sixteen seems to have been acceptable and conventional but the list of the sixteen Mahajanapadas varied because the regions important to the Buddhist and Jains had some variation. The list includes a gradual shift of focus to the middle Gangetic valley because of the location of most of these Mahajanapadas in this area.

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