Jainism And Buddhism In Pre Mauryan Period

Religions in South Asia

Pre Mauryan Period – We now stand on the threshold of actual history, leaving behind us the period of the Upanishads and the Sutras which was ‘at once an age of keen speculation and rapid crystallization almost unequalled in the history of any nation’. Most European writers in their attempt to characterize Oriental Culture in the face of the Greek culture conclude that Oriental thought is ‘mythopoeic’, that is, myth-making, and that it is not until the age of the Greeks that reason establishes its independence.

But the contrast is misleading and as Whewell admits, the Hindus, like the Greeks, ‘felt the importunate curiosity with regard to the definite application of the idea of cause and effect to visible phenomena’, ‘drew a strong line between a fabulous legend and a reason rendered’ and ‘attempted to ascend to a natural cause by classing together phenomena of the same kind’.

Jainism And Buddhism

Buddhism in Pre Mauryan Period

  • Buddhist and Jaina books from the primary source of our knowledge of the internal history of India from the seventh century B.C. to 322 B.C. the probable date of the Maurya Chandragupta’s accession.
  • Like the Vedic literature, these books also devote themselves more to religious ideas and movements than to historical events.
  • But they contain references to States and their mutual relations which, if shifted, give us a fairly clear picture of the politics of the time.
  • Besides these, the notice of India by Hecataeus of Miletus (about 520 B.c.) and some inscriptions of the Persian King Darius (about 486 B.C.) contain references to historical events in India.

But the chronology of this period is still on shifting sands. For example, the date of the Buddha’s death is differently fixed some time between the years 486 and 475 B.C. However, scholars generally accept 563 B.C. for his birth, and 483 B.C. for his death. But according to Sinhalese Buddhists the Buddha was born in 624 B.C. Again there is much disagreement among competent authorities on some important political events of the period.

Jainism in Pre Mauryan Period

Jainism India

According to current Jaina tradition Mahavira’s death occurred 470 years before the commencement of the Vikrama era, that is in 527 B.C. This is in contradiction to the assertion of Pali books that Mahavira survived the Buddha.

Hemachandra, a reputed Jaina author of the twelfth century (A.D. 1172), places Chandragupta Maurya 255 years before the Vikrama era, in 312 B.C., and says that this was 155 years after Mahavira’s death, which would thus fall in 467 B.C. ‘This agrees well with the general trend of Buddhist evidence and may be accepted.’ But it should be noted that

  • Hemachandra’s  date for Chandragupta’s accession is some nine to twelve years later than the date generally accepted.

The Buddhist and Jaina scriptures, in spite of their being inadequate as historical documents, provide ample evidence to show ‘that in political organization India produced her own system distinctive in its strength and weakness’. The view that Indian civilization was interested almost solely in the things of the spirit is not altogether correct.

Jaina And Buddhist Scriptures in Pre Mouryan Period

Political and Social Conditions in Pre Mauryan Period  

By about 600 B.C., the focus of civilization begins to shift eastwards in the Gangetic plain. At this time there were a number of republican States side by side with more or less stable monarchies. In an early Buddhist text there is a list of sixteen mahajanapadas, Great Nations, which occupied the territory from the Kabul valley to the banks of the Godavari. These States may be taken to give an idea of the political map of Northern India in the seventh century B.C. Important among them were Avanti, Kosala  and Magadha.

AVANTI Kingdom in Pre Mauryan Period

  • Its capital was Ujjayini, the modern Ujjain.
  • In those days it was an important stage on the route from the Gangetic valley to Bharuch (Broach) and this contributed largely to the wealth and power of Avanti, which appears to have had close relations with the State of Assaka on the Godavari.
  • The ruler of Avanti in the Buddha’s lifetime was Chandra Pajjota (Pradyota, the fierce). His daughter was Vasavadatta, and Udena (Udayana) of Kausambi (capital of Vatsa) on the right bank of the Jumna became celebrated as her lover and the hero of three Sanskrit dramas, Svapnavasavadatta of Bhasa, Priyadarsika and Ratnavali of Harsha.
  • Shortly after the Buddha’s death, Ajatasatru of Magadha is said to have fortified his capital Rajagriha, fearing an attack from Pradyota.
  • Avanti soon became an important centre of the Buddha’s teachings. Pali, the language of the early Buddhist scripture, is believed to have been nearest to the spoken language of Avanti and not of Magadha as was commonly as was commonly held till recently.

KOSALA Kingdom in Pre Mauryan Period

kingdom kosala
  • Kosala was a powerful State in the Buddha’s time and it seems to have extended its power over the Sakyas of Kapilavastu.
  • This State extended from the Himalayas to the confluence of the Jumna and the Ganges. Its administration was as  little centralized as that of the Sakyan territory. Its cantons were autonomous in all essentials.
  • Grants of royal rights (rajbhog) over specified tracts were common. There are no clear indications of the early rise of Kosala into prominence. For several generations it was in constant conflict with Kasi.
  • This began in the reign of Brahmadatta of Kasi, about 150 years before the birth of the Buddha, when Kosala was a poor and feeble State ruled by King Dignity and ended in the victory of Kosala in the reign of Kamsa Pasenadi (Prasenajit) of Kosala, a contemporary of the Buddha and a rival of king Ajatasatru of Magadha, finds prominent mention in Buddhist literature.
  • In one of the wars between the rivals the Kosalan king was defeated, but in a subsequent war the king of Magadha was taken prisoner and soon after restored to kingdom.
  • Though Pasenadi did not become a convert to Buddhism, he was a great admirer of the Buddha and was also on friendly terms with the Brahmanas and the Jainas.
  • The story goes that Vidudabha with the help of a minister displaced Pasenadi, his father, from the throne.
  • The latter went to Rajagriha to seek the aid of Ajatasatru but died outside the gates of the city and was given a State funeral.
  • Vidudabha made war on the Sakyas with great cruelty. The story ends with this so that we hear nothing more of the kingdom of Kosala except that, later it was incorporated in that of Magadha.

MAGADHA Kingdom in Pre Mauryan Period

  • Magadha included the modern district of Patna and part of Gaya, and was then less than a sixth of Kosala in size.
  • It was just entering the lists against that still more ancient Aryan Kingdom of Kosala. The first breath of life comes with Bimbisara or Srenika as the Jains called him.
  • He was five years younger than the Buddha and came to the throne at the age of 15, about 543 B.C.
  • He was the ruler of Magadha during the Buddha’s lifetime, except for the last eight years of it.

Bimbisara Model King of Magadha

The Puranic lists fix Bimbisara’s reign as of only 28 years and place four other monarchs before him beginning with Sisunaga, and covering a period of 136 years. For this reason the dynasty of Bimbisara is generally called by the name Sisunaga. But the poet Ashvaghosha says that he belonged to the Haryanka-Kula. The Ceylonese list of Magadhan kings, generally accepted as more reliable than the the Puranic list, places Sisunaga as the sixth ruler of the dynasty and gives Bimbisara a reign of 52 years.

Bimbisara Magadha
  • Bimbisara followed a steady policy of expansion.
  • He conquered and annexed the principality of Anga on the east. Giribbaja (hill fort) was the old capital and at  the base of the hill below the old fort he built the city of Rajagaha (Rajagriha).
  • Bimbisara’s chief queen was Kosala Devi, a sister of Pasenadi; Chellana of the Licchavis and Khema, daughter of the King of Madda in the Punjab, were his other queens.
  • His marriage alliances clearly indicate the growing importance of Magadha. More Important than either Bimbisara’s conquests or buildings is the fact that both Mahavira and the Buddha were born in his time.
  • Certain it is that he must have heard the first teachings of Jainism and Buddhism preached at his palace doors. After he had ruled for 52 years, he was killed by his son, Ajatasatru.
  • In one of the earliest Buddhist manuscripts extant there is an account of the guilty son’s confession to the Buddha in these words: ‘Sin overcame me, Lord, weak and foolish and wrong that I am, in that for the sake of sovereignty I put to death my father, that righteous man, that righteous king.’

Apart from this parricidal act, the motive for which he give out with such calm brutality, Ajatasatru seems to have been a strong and capable king. The murdered man’s wife, Kosala devi died for her grief and Ajatasatru had instantly to face war with Kosala, an account of which has been given earlier in this section. When peace came Kosala had given one of its princesses in marriage to the king of Magadha and had become absorbed in that empire. But this was not enough for ambitious Ajatasatru. He now turned his attention to the rich lands north of the Ganges, and carried his victorious arms to the very foot of the holy Himalayas.

In the course of this war he built a watch-fort at a village called Patali (Sanskrit for the bignonia or trumpet-flower) on the banks of the Ganges, wherein after years, he founded a city which, under the name of Pataliputra (the Pali Bothra of Greek writers) became eventually the capital not only of Magadha but of India, as it was known in these early days.

Desert to Vijjains in Pre Mauryan Period

  • The tribal confederation of the Vijjains often caused trouble by trading Magadhan territory.
  • The strategy Ajatasatru employed to occupy their chief city Vesali is as follows:
  • Vaseekara, the builder of the fort of Patali, pretended to desert to the Vajjians.
  • After three years’ residence amongst them he sent word to his master that he had sown enough dissension among the confederates for his undertaking a successful expedition against  them.
  • There followed the occupation of Vesali and the destruction of the independence of the confederates.
  • This happened some time after the death of the Buddha.
  • But the chief element of the confederation, the tribe of the Licchavis succeeded in preserving its identity and survived till about the fourth century A.D., and later.


  • That the non-monarchical constitution was common in the political system of the country is fully borne out of the political condition of North India at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.
  • The Avadanasataka of the Buddhists gives a story of a few north-Indian merchants who visited the Deccan when they were asked about the form of government in their country they replied : ‘Some States are under kings while others are ruled by ganas’.

Republican clans occupied the whole country, east of Kosala (Oudh), between the Himalayas and the Ganges. Naturally we hear most of the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, the clan which gave the Buddha to India and the world. They were 80,000 families, making up a population of about half a million in all.

They lived mostly in villages or small towns scattered over the northern border of Hindustan in the Nepalese Terai and regarded themselves as inhabitants of Kosala. ‘The affairs of each of these groups were looked after by an assembly of the young and old meeting in the open air under a tree, or in a motehall, which was just a roof supported by pillars without walls and called Santhagara. Decisions were generally unanimous, doubtful questions being turned over to a committee of reference.

Ganapurakas in Pre Mauryan Period

There were also Ganapurakas “whips” of the assembly and Salakagrahakas, gatherers of “voting papers”. The executive power was in the hands of a raja who was elected, for how long is not known.’ Their chief source of subsistence was the produce of agriculture and pasturage. Entire villages were often occupied by artisans of one particular craft or trade, carpenters, potters, metalworkers and such others. Hunters, butchers, tanners and fishermen were looked upon as inferiors and their crafts were considered hinasippani (low crafts). The Sakyas appear to have been constantly quarrelling with their neighbours, the Koliyas of Ramagrama, over the sharing of the waters of the Rohini.

The most powerful republican State at this time was the Vajjian confederacy. The tribe of the Licchavis which long resisted the great Ajatasatru and that of the Videhas of Mithila were the chief elements of the confederacy. Other republican clans that deserve mention are the Mallas of Pava and of Kusinara and the Moriyas of Pipphalivana.

In the period under review the republican tribes were standing up with difficulty to the internal pressure of changing social and economic conditions and the external pressure of the monarchies of Eastern India. We have seen that both the Sakyas and the Vajjians were conquered about the time of the Buddha’s death. There were also a few republican tribes in western India. As they were comparatively free from the force of imperialism they survived much longer. Perhaps the most important western republic was that of the Yaudheyas in northern Rajasthan, which issued numerous coins. All this shows that government  by discussion is one of the legacies of India’s ancient civilization.


  • Early Buddhist literature, particularly the collection of Jataka tales, contains much concrete information on the social and economic life of the times.
  • This also serves as a valuable supplement and corrective to impressions derived from the other classes of works.
  • Here is quotation from a Jataka story which gives a clear picture of the vigorous corporate life of the villagers.
  • ‘One day they stood in the middle of the village to transact village business, and they….(decided to) do good works; so they would get up betimes, and go out with knives, axes and crowbars.
  • With their crowbars they rolled away the stones on the four high ways; they cut down the trees which caught the axles of their carts ; they levelled the irregularities (of the roads) ; they built an embankment and dug tanks ; they made a village hall ; they showed charity and kept the (Buddhist) Commandments.’

Most of the villagers were free peasants ; they owned the land they tilled, though the king claimed its ultimate ownership. The Jataka stories show us groups of hardy peasants from over-populated villages cutting new settlements from the jungle, and events tell of whole village emigrating en masse to the wilds to escape the attentions of extortionate tax collectors.

Society had not yet become cut up into rigid castes. Customs relating to marriage and occupation were still rather fluid. There were Brahmins practising agriculture, trade, carpentry and metal work, or guarding cattle and guiding caravans. There were Kshatriyas engaged in cultivation. Mixed marriages were not uncommon and wealth enabled a man to find a bride above his station.

  • Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. Besides rice seven other sorts of grain were grown as also sugarcane and pulses.
  • Occupations were becoming more and more specialized and we hear of eighteen corporations the heads of which were friends with princes.
  • Trades and industries formed guilds of their own.
  • The guild fixed rules of work and wages, and standards and prices of commodities in which its members dealt and its regulations had the force of law and were upheld by the king and government.
  • These guilds played an important part in the evolution of the trade castes.
  • Slavery was not unknown, but it was comparatively mild in its incidence.
  • A man might become a slave for debt or by being captured in war, or by voluntary degradation to meet an emergency but he could practise a profession and purchase his freedom.

Merchants in town enjoyed much consideration. Their chief articles of trade were muslims, brocades, silks, carpets, drugs and perfumes, jewellery, arms and cutlery. They often travelled in caravans to ports on the west and to towns in the extreme north-west of India braving brigands and wild beasts. In crossing deserts they were guided by stars. The route to Taxila appears to have been safe, for young men of quality could undertake the journey unarmed. In this period there was thorough familiarity with money, credit and interest.

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