By Shri Sudheer Birodkar
Magadha kingdom was one of major kingdoms in the ancient India. Mauryas and Guptas, two of the greatest empires in India, originated in Magadha. These empires contributed to major advancements in ancient India's science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy making it the Indian Golden Age. With the export of Buddhism, it also fundamentally altered the history and development of Asia.
The Rise of Magadha
Magadha had been growing in importance in the Ganges valley since the 600 BCE. Magadha and Koshala were two of the most powerful states that had arisen in the Ganges valley around the time of Gautama Buddha. Koshala, ruled by Prasenjit, was the strongest. (If mythology is to be believed Lord Sri Rama ruled Koshala from Ayodhya in earlier times of the epics). The rival kingdom Magadha was ruled by Ajatashatru. The two kings were related to one another and so there was no hostility.
While camping on a river bed during a military campaign, the army of Koshala was washed away along its commander Bimbisara(King Prasenjit's son) by a flood. King Prasenjit died of grief soon after and as there remained neither king nor army to defend the Kingdom, Koshala was taken over by Ajatashatru. Magadha became the unchallenged power in the Ganges valley.
In around the 4th century B.C.E., the throne of Magadha was usurped by an ambitious general named Mahapadma Nanda. According to the Dharmashastras, Mahapadma Nanda was a Shudra by caste and hence, he is debunked in Dharmashastra literature as a usurper. The Dharmashastras say that, "With the usurping of power by the Shudra Nandas, the Kshatriyas have ceased to exist in Aryavarta." However, the Nandas were powerful as well as just kings. Mahapadma Nanda's grandson, Dhana Nanda, was ruling from Pataliputra when Alexander the Great invaded the Punjab. At that time, Dhana Nanda's kingdom stretched up to the Ganga but did not include today's Western UP and Punjab. Hence, the kingdom of Magadha has been referred to in the Greek chronicles of Alexander as that of the Gangaridans.
The Greeks, however, never reached Magadha. The Greeks had won a very costly victory against Pururava and hence as the Magadha army was even fiercer, the homesick Greek soldiers revolted against Alexander and refused to advance beyond Punjab. Thus Alexander had to retrace his steps from Punjab.
- Sudheer Birodkar, "A Hindu History: A Search for our Present History". Reprinted with permission.