The Rise of Magadha Empire
The Factors that led to the rise of Magadha
This rise of Magadha Imperialism is unique in Indian history. The political history of India from the earliest times till the present day is an endless story of struggle between the forces of centralization and decentralization.
In the sixth century B.C., India presented the chronic symptom of disintegration. The Aryan India in the North was divided into, sixteen great kingdoms and a number of republican, autonomous states.
Out of the medley of political atoms, four kingdoms viz., Avanti, Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha, Magadha Empire rose into prominence by aggrandizing upon other weaker states. They entered into a four-power conflict for imperial supremacy which ended in the ultimate victory of Magadha Kingdom over them. It is the first successful attempt for imperial and dynastic unification of India in the period of recorded history.
Causes of Magadhan Success
The factors that contributed to the rise of Magadha Empire were both internal and external. Collectivist historians emphasize that situation and circumstances makes a leader in history. It is not that leaders create history. But in reality actors and factors collaborate in the creation of historical changes.
The various dynasties that ruled over Magadha from the 6th century B.C. pursued a uniform and ceaseless policy of expansion like the Hohenzollern House of Brandenburg and Capetians of France. The goal of imperial expansion fixed by Bimbisara was steadfastly pursued till Asoka seethed his sword after the conquest of Kalinga.
Magadha Empire was specially favored by the Goddess of Destiny. An unbroken chain of very able and extraordinary monarchs ascended the Magadhan throne. Dynastic monarchy is generally cursed with incompetent rulers. But in that particular period of time Magadha was exception to this rule. The credit for the rise of Magadha Empire goes to the competent rulers or Magadha Kingdom. Shishunaga, Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Mahapadma and Chandragupta were exceptionally able kings. They were fortunate in having great ministers and diplomats like Vassakara, Kautilya and Radha Gupta without whose efforts Magadhan ascendancy would have suffered.
The geographical factors contributed significantly for the rise of Magadha Empire.Magadha lay on the main land route connecting Eastern India with the West. She could easily control the trade between the two regions of the country. Magadha Empire was encircled by the Ganges, the Son and the Champa on the three sides and made it impregnable for the enemy. Her old capital Rajgriha was strategically situated as it was surrounded on all sides by hills and cyclopean stone walls.
Magadha’s new capital Pataliputra was still more strategically invincible than Rajgriha. It was situated on near the confluence of the Ganges and the Son. It was easier to control the course of the Ganges from the city of Pataliputra. These geographical advantages of Magadha helped her to be aggressive against her neighbours while baffled by the impregnability of Magadha.
One of the main factors behind the rise of Magadhan Power was her economic solvency and growing prosperity. Magadha had a vast population which could be employed in agriculture, mining and for manning her army. The Sudras and the non-Aryans could be employed in clearing up the forest and reclaim surplus land for farming. The surplus population could easily live on the yield of the surplus land. The Magadhan lands were very fertile due to its location between the Ganges and the Son. In the 4th Century B.C. that the Magadhan lands yielded multiple crops round the year. People of Magadhan Empire became prosperous due to fertility of the land and the government became automatically rich and powerful.
The mineral resources of Magadha were other sources of her power and prosperity. With the dawn of the Iron Age, iron became an important metal for making implements, plough shears and weapons of war. Magadha had abundant iron supply from her mines. Besides she had copper mines. Magadha could equip her vast army with iron weapons; she could sell surplus iron to other states. Deep ploughing with heavy iron plough was possible due to easy supply of iron.
Role of Trade
Economically, Magadha Kingdom had many sources of prosperity. Magadha was situated on the land route connecting Eastern India with the west. The trade flowing over this route passed through Magadha. The river Ganges which flowed through the heart of Magadha was the high route of trade in Northern India. Magadha was linked up to parts of Northern India right up to Kasi or Baranasi by the Ganga route and from Prayag or Allahabad; the place of confluence of Ganga and Yamuna, Magadha could send her merchandise along the Yamuna route up to Delhi region. Downwards from Magadha the open sea could be reached by the Ganga route. The Son and the Champa flowed along the Magadhan frontier.
In ancient times river routes served as high way of commerce. Magadha could control the North Indian trade through her mastery over the Ganges. When Bimbisara conquered Anga kingdom, its flourishing port of Champa was annexed to Magadha. Champa was a famous river port from which ocean going vessels laden with merchandise sailed to different countries of South-East Asia, Ceylon and South India. After annexation of Champa, Magadha became the mistress of this flourishing trade.
Significance of the Ganges
The rise of Magadhan Kingdom was linked up with the establishment of her supremacy over the Ganges. The conquest of Champa established her mastery over lower Gangetic Valley up to the confluence of the river with the Bay of Bengal.
Magadha Empire now turned to establish her supremacy over the upper Gangetic region. Bimbisara and Ajatsatru defeated Kosala and annexed Kasi, a famous river port and emporium. The mastery over Kasi, gave Magadha the opportunity to make economic penetration in Kosala kingdom or U. P. Virtually the southern side of the Ganges now came under Magadhan hegemony, where she started ceaseless economic penetration. Magadha turned her gaze to the northern side of the Ganges Vaisali and Lichchavi countries. The fertile tracts this region became targets of Magadhan imperialism.
The conquest of Vaisali and Lichchavi countries gave Magadha a supreme mastery over the Gangetic valley and she became virtually invincible. Magadha launched the programme of a pan-Indian empire depending on the strength of her heal timid in the Gangetic valley.
Culturally, the rise of Magadha can be explained on the ground that Magadha was the meeting ground of two opposite cultures. The Aryan culture lost its original virility when it reached Magadha and the lingering traces of non-Aryan culture of Eastern India got mixed up with the Aryan culture. This interaction of two cultures gave new power and spirit to Magadha Empire. Just as the Teutonic races of middle Ages in Europe united in them their own martial culture with the Latin refinement; the Magadhans united in them the cultures of the Aryans and the non-Aryans. In the sphere of thought and philosophy Eastern India made her mark in the teaching of Mahavira and Buddha. The revolution inaugurated by them in the sphere of thought was supplemented by Magadha in political field by the emergence of Magadhan imperialism and the Magadhan bid to establish a pan-Indian empire.
Politically, the fulfillment of Magadhan dream of imperial unification of India under Magadhan banner was possible due to the political atomization of Northern India in the 6th Century B.C. The rivalry among big monarchies prevented their alliance against Magadha. None but the republican states under Vriji made common alliances against Magadha. The geographical and the natural barriers like the rivers, mountains and jungles prevented the fostering of a united resistance movement against Magadha.
Danger of Foreign Invasions
Externally, the threat of foreign invasions like that of Achaemenians in the 6th century B.C.; that of the Macedonians in the 4th Century B.C. and the subsequent infiltration of foreign races boldly put forward the question that without a central paramount government on the subcontinent, it was impossible to defend it from foreign invasions. Such a consciousness certainly worked behind the rise of Magadhan imperialism and prepared the country to submit to Magadhan hegemony.