Bihar GK in English

Chapter 1 Ancient History

The word ‘Bihar’ has originated from the word ‘Viharas’which means resting-houses of Buddhist monks during the ancient period. Puranas and Epics also mention the name of Vihara. The Muslim invaders of 12th century started calling this region as ‘Bihar’. The large area covering the region of Bihar was settled as early as pre-Vedic period. The archaeological sources tell about the glorious history of Bihar.

Sources of Ancient History of Bihar

The ancient history of Bihar has been reconstructed with the help of archaeological evidences, literary sources and account of foreign travellers. These are discussed below:

Archaeological Evidences

▸ Nalanda, Saran, Munger and Vaishali are very important archaeological sites for pre-historic phase in Bihar.
▸ The archaeological remains of Mauryan period (321-185 BC) including ruins of the eighty pillared hall are located at Kumhrar (Patna). The excavation near Bulandi Bagh was done by David Brainard Spooner in 1912-13. Each pillar is made of fine sandstone from Chunar. These pillars sustained a wooden roof.
▸ Polished pillars of Ashoka were discovered at Vaishali, Lauriya Areraj, Lauriya Nandangarh and Rampurva.
▸ Remains of monumental buildings of Kushana period were found at Chirand. Terracota human figurines were found at Buxar and Patna.
▸ Excavations at Nalanda and Vikramshila show the best Buddhist architecture of Buddhist Shrines, Stupas and Viharas of Gupta and Pala period. The Pala-Sen School of Art flourished in Bihar in Gaya, Nalanda and Nawada. Archaeological evidences of Bihar also include inscriptions, coins, etc. These are given below:


The inscriptions are archaeological sources of Bihar. The earliest deciphered inscriptions belong to the time of Asoka.
▸ Inscriptions on pillars are found in Lauriya Areraj, Lauriya Nandangarh and Rampurva. They were written in Brahmi script and Prakrit language and belong to Emperor Asoka’s period.
▸ The Barabar caves inscription near Gaya is a landmark information in the history of Bihar.
▸ A later, inscription on the Nagarjuni hills is of Mauryan King Dasaratha which tells us about the patronage of Ajivikas at that period.
▸ Copper plates inscriptions from Gaya and Nalanda and seals found in Vaishali and Nalanda belong to Gupta period. Inscriptions of Bodhgaya is associated with Sri Lankan Monk Mahamana II.
▸ Copper plates inscriptions found in Nalanda belong to King Dharmapala, Nalanda and Munger copper plates inscriptions belong to King Devapala and Bhagalpur copper plates inscriptions belong to Narayanapala and the Bangarh copper plate belongs to Vigrahapala.
▸ These land charters written on copper plates inform us about the social, economic and administrative conditions in the Pala reign in Bihar.
▸ Some inscriptions belonging to Pratiharas and Gahadavalas were also found.
▸ The Gahadavala plate of Maner describes the revenue system of Patna during the first half of the 12th century AD.
▸ Other important inscriptions are Panchobha copper plate inscription, of Samudra Gupta in the Bhagalpur, Janibigha inscriptions in Gaya, Deopara inscriptions etc.
All these are helpful to construct the political and administrative history of Bihar under Gupta age.


▸ Punch-marked coins made of silver were found in Golakpur in Patna and Purnea.
▸ Coins at Buxar and Chirand (88 copper coins) belong to Kushana empire. These show the extent of Kushana empire.
▸ Coins belonging to Gupta period were found in Hajipur.

Ancient Archaeological Sites in Bihar


 Site  Place  District
Asoka pillar inscription Lauriya Areraj East Champaran
Asoka pillar inscription and burial mounds Lauriya Nandangarh West Champaran
Ancient mounds in Hasra Kol and Sobhnath Bisnupur Tandwa, Hasra Kol Jagdishpur Gaya
Ancient Vikramshila monastery Antichak Bhagalpur
Ancient mounds, structures, statue of Buddha Badgaon Jagdishpur Nalanda  
Ancient mound, brick wall tank Maner Patna
Buddhist sculptures Guneri Gaya
Five stupas, Mauryan wall Paharidih, Sandalpur Patna
Monolith pillars, Gopi cave, Lomas Rishi cave, Barabar and Nagarjuni hills Vapiyaka cave, Vadathika cave, Sudama cave (Makhdumpur) Jehanabad  
Relic Stupa Harpur Basant Vaishali
Stupa and fort at Nandangarh Marhia West Champaran
Stupa and fort ruins Sagardih, Tajpur East Champaran
Sculptures of Hindu deities in Kauwadol hill Kurisarai Gaya
Stupa, mound, palace of Asoka Kumhrar Patna
Ashokan column Kolhua Muzaffarpur


Literary Sources

▸ The vast literary sources play a very significant role in the formation of history of ancient Bihar.
▸ The most important literary sources are Vedic literature, Puranas, Epics, Buddhist literature, Jain literature, Non-religious and Foreign literature.

Vedic Literature

▸ In Rigveda, the region of Bihar was called Kikata and the people were called Vratyas. It is believed that they were the forefathers of Magadhas. This evidence shows that the state of Magadha was recorded in the Vedic text much earlier than 600 BCE.
▸ The earliest reference of Bihar is found in Atharvaveda and Panchvimsha Brahman. Atharvaveda referred Magadha people along with Angas, Gandharis and Mujavants.
▸ Aryans were started moving towards Eastern part of India in later Vedic period (1000-600 BCE). The Satpatha Brahmana mentions the arrival and spread of Aryans in North-Bihar.
▸ According to Shatapatha Brahmana, there was well established Aryan civilisation besides the Ganga in Bihar which was known as Kingdom of Videha.


▸ Puranas play an important role for knowing the history of Bihar.
▸ Reference of Bihar is found in Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, Matsya Purana.
▸ From Vishnu Purana we know about the Mauryan dynasty, from Vayu Purana we know about the Gupta dynasty and from Matsya Purana we know about the Shunga dynasty.
▸ Varah Purana mentions ‘Kikat’ as inauspicious place and Gaya, Punpun and Rajgir as auspicious place.

Epics or Mahakavyas

▸ Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata describe important facts about Bihar.
▸ We know about Videha from the Ramayana and Anga from the Mahabharata.
▸ Angaraj Karna is one of the central characters in the Mahabharata whose empire Anga covers present day Bhagalpur and Munger.

Buddhist Literature

▸ The Buddhist literature provides information about Bihar from 6th century BC till the Mauryan empire.
▸ Anguttara Nikaya, Digha Nikaya, Vinayapitaka, Divyavadana are the most important literary sources of the ancient history of Bihar.
▸ The Anguttara Nikaya makes a frequent reference to the sixteen Mahajanpad as kingdoms and republics of North India. Many of these Mahajanapadas were situated in Bihar.
▸ Most of the Buddhist literature was written in Pali language.
▸ Vinaya Pitaka gives an account on the history of the monarchy of Magadha and Republic of Vaishali.
▸ The chronology and genealogy of pre-Mauryan kings of Magadha is provided by ‘Dipavamsa’ and ‘Mahavamsa’ compiled in 5th century AD in Ceylon.
▸ Divyavadan describes the history of Shunga dynasty. This text along with Ashokavadana present an organised life history of Asoka.
▸ Buddhist text Aryamanjusrimulakalpa throws light on political history of Bihar under the Guptas.

Jain Literature

▸ In Jain literature, Theravali and Bhagwati Sutra are famous for depicting the history of ancient Bihar. Theravali is the part of ‘Kalp Sutra’ which gives us the names of the places where Mahavir spent his time.
▸ Kalp Sutra and Uttaradhyan Sutra gives us the evidences of Pushyamitra Shunga.
▸ From Bhagwati Sutra, we know about the Licchavi of Vaishali.
▸ From Kalp Sutra and Parishist Parwan, we know about Chandragupta Maurya.

Non-religious Literary Sources

Non-religious literary sources describing about Bihar include the Arthashastra which describes about Mauryan administation in Patliputra,Mudrarakshasa which describes about conflicts in Mauryan period,Malvikagna mitram, Katha Saritsagar, Gargi Samhita,Manusmriti, Si-yu-ki, etc.

Important Literary Sources of Ancient Bihar


 Literary Source Topic  Author
Arthashastra Mauryan administration, economy, foreign affairs Chanakya
Indica Administration in Patliputra Megasthenes
Mudrarakshasa Conflict of Dhana Nanda and Chandragupta Maurya Vishakhadatta
Atharvaveda Scriptures of Hindustan, Description of Anga and Magadha Rishi Atharvana and Angirasa
Gargi Samhita Attack of Yavans Katyayana
Si-yu-ki About Nalanda University Xuanzang
Manusmriti Dharmasastras and History of Bihar Manu (Swayambhuva)


 Foreign Accounts

▸ There are travel accounts of foreign traveller as well, which provide good account to Bihar’s ancient history.
Megasthenes visited India during the reign of Chandra Gupta Maurya sometime between 302 to 288 BCE, but exact dates of his visit in India is not certain.
Megasthenes’ Indica has described about Mauryan administration of Patliputra in detail.
Fa-Hien visited India during 399 to 412 AD in the reign of Chandragupta II and has described about Magadha empire. Fa-Hien was enamoured by Patliputra and the huge palace of Chandra Gupta Maurya.
Hiuen Tsang visited India between 637-644 during Harsha’s reign refers about the great monastery at Nalanda, where he spent most of his time. Chinese traveller Hiuen- Tsang described in his book Si-yu-ki (records of the western countries) about Nalanda University. Hiuen Tsang stayed at the Nalanda University for about 5 years.
I-Tsing was a Chinese Buddhist monk, who travelled in India between 671 to 695 BCE during later Gupta rule. He stayed at Nalanda for 11 years.

Ancient History of Bihar

The ancient history of Bihar includes pre-history of Bihar and vedic age (historic age) and later vedic age in Bihar:

Pre-History of Bihar

▸ Pre-historic period is divided into three parts i.e. Paleolithic,Mesolithic and Neolithic.
▸ There is no evidence found related to Paleolithic age in Bihar. The earliest proof of human activity in Bihar is Mesolithic habitation remains found in Munger.
Mesolithic Age (12000 BC – 6000 BC) artefacts have been discovered from Munger, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Singhbhum and Santhal Pargana (all in Jharkhand now). Evidences of this period have been discovered from sites in Munger and Nalanda. Tools, hand axes, cleavers of early and old stone age have been found at Paisra in Munger. Rock paintings are discovered in the hills of Nawada, Kaimur and Jamui. The rock paintings depict the pre-historic lifestyle and natural environment of the time. These highlight the daily life of the early human beings in Bihar which include hunting, running, dancing, walking and also the sun, the moon, stars, animals, plants, trees and rivers that describe their love for nature.
Neolithic Age around (2500-1345 BC) artefacts have been discovered from Chirand (Saran) and Chechar (Vaishali). Chirand is famous for Neolithic bone tools. Black and red ware, ochre (yellow) painted pottery and spotted vessels dating to Neolithic period are found in Chechar in Vaishali, Taradih, Senuwar andManer.
▸ A number of Chalcolithic Age (2000 BC – 700 BC) artefacts have been discovered in middle Ganga plains of Bihar. Its important sites include Chirand (Saran),Maner (Patna), Onup and Champa (Bhagalpur), Chechar-Kutubpur (Vaishali), Sonpur and Taradih (Gaya). The Chalcolithic phase covers a very large number of sites in Bihar.
The black and red wares, copper wares are found in the sites of this period.

Vedic and Later Vedic Age in Bihar

▸ The Vedic age in Bihar according to Vedic literatures and Valmiki Ramayana consisted of an ancient kingdom called Videha. Janaka is the name of the ruler of Videha and Mithila was its capital.
▸ In the later Vedic period (1,000-600 BC), Aryan started moving towards Eastern India. Ancient Brahmana texts mention the names of kings of Bihar. Satapatha Brahmana mentions about their arrival and spread. Varah Purana mentions Kikat as inauspicious place while Gaya, Punpun, Rajgir have been referred as auspicious places.
▸ During the later Vedic period, the Janaka dynasty was replaced by small independent territories who formed republics called Janapads. Some Janapads combined to form Mahajanapadas.

Bihar in 6th Century BC : The Mahajanapadas

▸ According to Buddhist and Jain literature, in the later Vedic Age, a number of small kingdoms or city states dominated the region of Bihar. By 500 BC, sixteen monarchies and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were formed. These were stretched across the Indo-Gangetic plains from modern-day Afghanistan to Bengal and Maharashtra. These Mahajanapadas were Kosi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji (Vriji), Malla, Chedi, Vatsa (Vamsa), Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhara and Kamboja.
▸ Many of these sixteen kingdoms had combined to four major Mahajanpadas  by 500-400 BC. These were Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala and Magadha.
▸ Out of sixteen Mahajanapadas, three (Anga, Vajji and Magadha) were in Bihar.


▸ It is mentioned for the first time in Atharvaveda. This kingdom comprised Khagaria, Bhagalpur and Munger of present time. It was situated in the North-East  of Magadha.
Champa was the capital of this kingdom which corresponds to Bhagalpur of present day Bihar. Earlier name of Champa was Malini, which was established by Mahagovind. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang has referred it as Chenpo.
▸ Anga is also mentioned in Mahabharata as the kingdom of Karna.
▸ According to Mahabharata, there were six sons of King Bali, one of which was Anga. The kingdom was established by Anga.
▸ The Buddhist scripture, Anguttara Nikaya mentions Anga as the 16th Mahajanapada. It is also mentioned in Jain literary text.
▸ According to Buddhist scripture Digha Nikaya, this kingdom was designed by famous architecture, Maha Govind.
▸ The first king of Anga was Titikshu. The last three kings of independent Anga were Dadivahana, Drdhavarman and Brahmadatta. Bimbisara killed Brahmadatta, last king of Anga Kingdom and merged Anga into Magadha.


▸ The Vajji comprised of eight or nine confederated clans and this kingdom became an important centre of cultural and political activities. It was essentially located in Northern India. Capital of Vajji was located at Vaishali.
▸ In Bihar, Vajji kingdom was spread over present day Champaran, Saran, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi and Darbhanga districts.
▸ Out of eight clans, the Vaishali, the Videhas and the Jnatrikas were the most important. These are discussed below:

Vaishali (Licchavi)

▸ Vaishali was an independent clan and probably they were distinct from Aryans. It was the most important and powerful clan of the Vajji confederacy.
▸ It was situated on the Northern banks of the Ganga, spread over present day Bihar and some regions of Nepal with its capital at Vaishali.
▸ Cunningham and other archaeologists have identified beyond doubt, the present village of Basarh in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar as the site of Vaishali of ancient days.
▸ The city Vaishali was named after the King Vishal during  the Mahabharata era. It was an important centre of Buddhism and the headquarters of the Vajji republic.
▸ Lord Mahavira was born at Kundagram in Vaishali.
▸ Panini used the term Vrij for Vajji but did not mention about Licchavis.
▸ Various Jain literature also describes about Licchavis.
▸ Vaishali is considered to be the world’s first republic and had an elected assembly of representatives. Vaishali alongwith Magadha devised system of administration that developed the modern art of statecraft.
Aamrapali was the royal courtesan and dancer of Vaishali. She was called Nagar-Vadhu of Vaishali.
▸ Kautilya in his Arthashastra mentions about the tribal confederation of Vaishali.
Buddhist text, Mahaparinibbana Sutta refers people of Vaishali as Kshatriyas, while Manusmriti has placed them in the category of Vratya Kshatriyas.
▸ Mother of Lord Mahavira, Trishala was sister of King Chetaka of Vaishali.
▸ Chetaka married his daughter Chellana to Bimbisara of Magadha.
▸ Vaishali remained influential in Northern India and Nepal till 4th century BC. As time passed, Vaishali was conquered by Ajatashatru, King ofMagadha.

Videha (Mithila)

▸ This ancient kingdom was located in the Northern side of Ganga, presently located in the Northern Bihar and Eastern Terai region of Nepal.
▸ Videha is mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as comprising parts of Bihar and extending into small parts of Nepal. It was mentioned for the first time in Yajurveda.
▸ This kingdom was started by Ikshvaku’s son Nimi Videh. Mithijanak Videh, the next king, had established Mithila. After this, all kings of this kingdom were called as Janaka.
▸ Hindu Goddess Sita was the princess of Videha. She was daughter of Raja Janaka of Videha. The capital of Videha kingdom was Janakpur (now part of Nepal).
▸ According to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Raja Janaka had organised a competition in Videha, which was won by Yajnavalkya. The last king of this kingdom was King Karal. After this, it started declining. The advent of Aryans brought major changes in the administrator structure of Videha.


▸ The Jnatrikas of Kundagram in Vaishali were also members of this union. Mahavira Jain was a Jnatrika and his father was the head of Jnatrika clan and his mother was a Licchavi princess.


▸ It finds mention for the first time in Atharvaveda. It was a strong republic in Buddha period which later on became a strong kingdom.
▸ Its area extended from Ganga in the North to Vindhayas in the South and Champa in the East to river Sone in the West.
▸ Earlier capital of Magadha was Girivraja or Rajgir, which was surrounded from all sides by five hills. Later on, the capital shifted to Patliputra.
▸ Magadhan empire included Koshal, Vatsa and Avanti. It became superpower of India and thus its history became the history of India.
▸ Brihadratha founded the famous Brihadratha dynasty in Magadha. This dynasty had 10 kings of whom, Jarasandha, son of Brihadratha was a powerful emperor. He extended his supremacy over Chedi, Anga, Pundra, Vanga and Kalinga.
▸ Two of India’s greatest empires, the Mauryan empire and Gupta empire, originated in Magadha. The two empires led to advancements in ancient India’s science, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy.


Malla was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas. It was named after the ruling clan of the same name. In Mahabharata, the territory of Malla Mahajanapada is mentioned. It was situated in North of Magadha. Pava was the main town of Malla Mahajanapada, where the jain founder Mahavira took Nirvana.

Emergence of Buddhism and Jainism

The 6th century BC in India saw the emergence of two new religious sects, the Buddhism and Jainism. Both the religions emerged and flourished in Bihar.


▸ Bihar is considered as the most sacred land in context of Buddhism. The divine light of enlightenment was showered on Gautam Buddha in Bihar. He preached many of his sermons in different places of Bihar.
Gautam Buddha was born in 563 BC in Lumbini (now in Nepal) in Sakya Kshatriya clan. The name of his father was Suddhodana and name of his mother was Mahamaya. Yashodhara was his wife.
▸ He left his home at the age of 29 in search of truth. This is known as Mahabhinishkramana. At the age of 35, he reached Uruvela on the bank of Niranjana river and meditated there.
▸ He attained enlightenment in 528 BC while   meditating under a Peepal tree (Bodhi tree) in Bodh Gaya and he became the Buddha or the Tathagata.
▸ After attaining enlightenment, Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath. This is known as Dharmachakra Pravartana.
▸ He delivered his last sermon in Vaishali. Buddha’s ‘Mahaparinirvana’ took place in Kushinagar, the capital of Mallas.
Sariputra, the famous Buddhist monk was born at Nalanda. Three of the four Buddhist Councils were conducted by him in different places in Bihar.

Buddhist Councils

First Buddhist Council (483 BC) It was conducted in Rajgir (Rajgriha) under the patronage of Ajatashatru and presided over by the monk Mahakasyapa. The council deliberated as how to preserve Buddha’s teaching (sutta) and rules for disciples (Vinaya).
Second Buddhist Council (383 BC) It was held in Vaishali under the patronage of King Kalasoka and the presidency of Sabakami. The idea of this council was to settle a dispute on Vinaya Pitaka, the code of discipline.
Third Buddhist Council (250 BC) It was held in Patliputra under the patronage of Asoka and under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tissa. Abhidhamma Pitaka was established in this council. It also tried to settle the dispute of Vinaya Pitaka.
Fourth Buddhist Council (78 AD) It was held in Kundalavana, Kashmir under Kushana ruler Kanishka. Asvaghosa participated in this council. The Mahayana Buddhism came into existence during the period of fourth council.
▸ The Buddhism preached by the Buddha and propagated by Asoka was known as ‘Hinayana’.


The Buddhist texts were collected and compiled after five hundred years of the death of the Buddha known as the ‘Tripitakas’. These are: n Vinayapitaka n Suttapitaka n Abhidhammapitaka Vinayapitaka is related with rules and regulations of monastic life. Suttapitaka is the collection of Sermons of Buddha. Abhidhammapitaka is the philosophical interpretation of Buddhist doctrine.


▸ Jainism is another great religion that traces its origin in the holy land of Bihar.
Jains trace their history through 24 Tirthankars. Rishabhdeva was the first Tirthankar and Parshvanatha was the 23rd Tirthankar, while Mahavira was the 24th and the last one.
▸ Mahavira was born in 540 BC in Kundagrama near Vaishali. He belonged to Jnantrika Kshatriya clan. His father was Siddhartha and mother was Trishala.
Trishala was Licchavi princess. Vardhamana Mahavira left home at an age of 30 years and attained Kaivalya at the age of 42. He was called as ‘Nirgranthas’.
▸ Through Kaivalya, he conquered misery and happiness and came to be known as Jina or Mahavira. He gave his first sermon in Vipulgiri (Rajgir). His first disciple was Jamali.
▸ According to Jainism, most important human endeavour is attainment of Moksha or Nirvana. The three gems or ratna to attain Moksha are right faith, right conduct and right knowledge. Mahavira attained Nirvana in 468 BC in Pavapuri near Rajgriha (Rajgir).
▸ In Jainism, two councils have been conducted. First council was held at Patliputra by Sthulabhadra in the beginning of the 3rd century BC, Where Jainism was divided into two sects, Svetambaras and Digambaras.
Second council was held at Vallabhi in the 5th century AD under the leadership of Devardhi Gani Kshmasramana which resulted in final compilation of 12 Angas and 12 Upangas.

Bihar during Pre-Mauryan Period

The existence of Magadha is recorded in Vedic texts much earlier in 600 BCE.
Magadha was one of Sixteen Mahajanapadas expanded in present day Patna,Gaya and regions of Southern Bihar. It emerged as the first strongest empire of ancient India. This region was ruled by many small dynasties, which were termed as ‘Pre-Mauryan dynasties’. Some of the important dynasties are described as follows:

Brihadrath Dynasty

▸ This dynasty was founded in the middle of 6th Century BC. Brihadrath was the earliest known king of Magadha and his name has been mentioned in Rigveda. He was founder of Brihadrath dynasty, the earliest ruling dynasty of Magadha.
According to Mahabharata and Puranas, Brihadrath was the eldest son of Vasu, the Kuru king of Chedi.
▸ According to Ramayana, Vasu founded Vasumati or Girivraja. The most famous king of this dynasty was Jarasandha, son of Brihadrath. He defeated rulers of several contemporary states, e.g. Kashi, Malwa, Agra, Banga, Kalinga etc.
▸ According to Mahabharatha, Jarasandha was killed by Bhima. The Girivraja (Rajgir) was capital of Jarasandha. He was succeeded by Sahadev. Ripunjaya was the last ruler of this dynasty.
▸ According to Puranas, Pradyota dynasty succeeded the Brihadrath dynasty in Magadha.

Haryanka Dynasty

Bimbisara (544 – 492 BC) founded the Haryanka dynasty and established his capital at Rajgir (Girivraja). He was a contemporary of Buddha.
▸ According to the Buddhist text, ‘the Mahavamsa’ Bimbisara was appointed as the king by his father named Bhatiya at the age of 15.
▸ He expanded the boundaries of his kingdom through matrimonial alliances and conquest.
▸ Bimbisara is referred to as Shrenik in Jain texts.
▸ His policy of marriage alliance for strengthening his empire was very successful.
His first wife Kosala Devi was a Kosala princess, sister of Prasenjit. The land of Kosala fell toMagadha in this way. Bimbisara got the hold of Kashi as a dowry gift.
▸ His second wife Chellana was a Licchavi princess and third wife Kshema was a princess of Madra clan of Punjab. Kingdom of Anga was conquered by him.
▸ Magadha’s most serious rival was Avanti with its capital at Ujjain. Its King Chanda Pradyota Mahasena fought against Bimbisara. But ultimately, the two became friends and Bimbisara sent royal physician Jivaka to Ujjain, to treat Chanda Pradyota. Bimbisara was also the first ruler in history to form permanent forces/army.
Ajatashatru (492-460 BC) imprisoned and killed his father, Bimbisara to become the next ruler. He defeated Kosala king and enlarged his kingdom by conquering Kashi and Vaishali.
▸ It was during his reign that Mahatma Buddha (487 BC) attained ‘Mahaparinirvana’ at Kushinagar and Lord Mahavira (468 BC) attained Nirvana or Muksha in Pavapuri. Ajatashatru had great respect for both Gautama Buddha and Mahavira.
▸ It was during his reign that the first Buddhist council was held in the Saptaparni caves at Rajagriha shortly after Buddha’s death.
▸ He ruled for around 32 years and was killed by his own son Udayin (460-440 BC).
▸ Udayin succeeded Ajatashatru. He founded the city of Patliputra in 455 BC at the confluence of the Ganga and Sone rivers and made it his capital. His successors were weak rulers like Anuruddha, Munda and Nagadasaka. Due to bloody dynastic feuding, a civil revolt led to the emergence of Shishunaga dynasty in Magadha.

Shishunaga Dynasty

▸ Shishunaga dynasty (412-394 BC) was founded by Shishunaga, a viceroy at Banaras. During this time, Magadha had two capitals, one at Rajgir and another at Vaishali.
▸ The greatest achievement of Shishunaga was the final destruction of the resistance of Avanti. This ended hundred year old rivalry between Magadha and Avanti.
▸ Shishunaga died in 394 BC and was succeeded by his son Kalasoka. The second Buddhist Council (383 BC) was organised under his patronage in Vaishali.
Kalasoka shifted his capital to Patliputra after second Buddhist Council. From then, Patliputra remained the capital of Magadha empire.
▸ After Kalashok, his ten sons ruled Magadha empire according to ‘The Mahabodivamsa’ and the last ruler was Nandivardhan (Mahanandin).

Nanda Dynasty

Mahapadmananda established the Nanda dynasty (344-321 BC) after killing the last Shishunaga ruler Mahanandin (Nandivardhan). Mahapadmananda has been described in the Puranas as Mahapadma or Mahapadmapati (sovereign of an infinite host or of the immense wealth). He assumed the title ‘Ekarat’.
▸ He was also referred as Ugrasena in Mahabodhivamsa. The Mahabodhivamsa also list down nine Nanda kings namely Mahapadmananda (Ugrasen), Panduka, Pandugati, Bhutapala, Rashtrapala, Govishanaka, Dashasiddhaka, Kaivarta and Dhana Nanda.
Dhana Nanda was the last ruler of Nanda dynasty and was contemporary of Alexander. When Alexander invaded India (327-326 BCE), Dhana Nanda was the ruler of Magadha. Greeks referred Dhana Nanda as Agrammes or Xandremes.
▸ Dhana Nanda kept the Magadha empire intact and possessed a powerful army and enormous wealth.
▸ The fabulous wealth of the Nandas is mentioned by several sources like, Tamil Sangam work.
▸ The flourishing state of agriculture during that period, brought general prosperity to the country and enormous revenue to the royal treasury.

Bihar during Mauryan Period

The Mauryan empire was geographically the first extensive, powerful and a political military empire in ancient India. The empire had its capital at Patliputra i.e. the region around modern day Patna. It was ruled by great rulers like Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Asoka.

Chandragupta Maurya

▸ The Mauryan dynasty was founded by Chandragupta Maurya (321-298 BC) with the help of his mentor Chanakya or Kautilya, by dethroning last Nanda ruler, Dhana Nanda in 321 BC.
▸ According to Matsya Purana and Mudrarakshasa, mother of Chandragupta Maurya was Mura, a Shudra woman in the court of Nandas.
▸ In Mudrarakshasa, he has been referred as ‘Vrishala’. However, as per Buddhist tradition, he belonged to the Moriya Kshatriya clan.
▸ He fought with Seleucus Nicator (Alexander’s General) in 305 BC. Seleucus sent Megasthenes as Ambassador to the Mauryan court.
▸ Megasthenes was the first and most famous foreign traveller to visit Bihar. Megasthenes in his book, Indica has described about Mauryan urban administration. According to Megasthenes the empire wielded a military of 6 lakh infantry, 30,000 cavalry and 9,000 elephants.
▸ According to Megasthenes refers that Mauryan administration in Patliputra was under a council of 30 members divided into 6 committees of 5 members each.
▸ Patliputra has been referred as ‘Palibothra’. Acharya Chanakya was the political advisor of Chandragupta Maurya who guided him. He is writer of ‘‘Arthashastra’’.
▸ According to the Jain sources (Parishishtaparvan) Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and stepped down from the throne for his son Bindusara.
▸ He went to Shravanabelagola with the Jain monks and starved himself to death.


▸ Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by his son Bindusara (298-273 BC), who expanded the kingdom over most of present day India, except the extreme Southern and Eastern regions.
▸ At its greatest extent, the empire stretched to the North along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas and to the East stretching into Assam. To the West, it reached beyond Pakistan, annexing Balochistan and much of Afghanistan.
▸ Bindusara has been called by the name of Amitrochates (Amitraghata) or Allitrochades by Greek writers, Mudrasar in Vayu Purana and Singhsen or Bindupala in various Jain literature. Jain text Rajvalli-Katha called him Seemseri.
▸ Bindusara maintained good trade relations with Greeks. Syrian King Antiochus had sent Deimachus as his Ambassador in the court of Bindusara. Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt had sent Dionysius to the court of Bindusara.
▸ He supported the Ajivikas, a religious sect and appointed his son Asoka as the Governor of Ujjain.


▸ The great emperor Asoka (273-232 BC) succeeded the throne from his father Bindusara in 273 BC. After an interregnum (gap in government) of four years, he was sworn in 269 BC.
▸ According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, he had killed 99 of his  brothers, sparing only one, named Vitashoka or Tissa to become Mauryan king. Asoka’s empire extended in the South to the Cholas and Pandyas and in the North to Kashmir and Nepal in the North-East.
▸ Ashoka fought the Kalinga war in 261 BC. It is mentioned in his major rock edict XIII. Kalinga was a small kingdom in the Indian state of Odisha. This war brought great misery as people died in large numbers. The Hathigumpha inscription found in Odisha mentioned about this devastating war that changed the mind of Asoka.
▸ After the Kalinga war, Asoka embraced Buddhism under the influence of Buddhist monk Upagupta and began to be known as Dhammasoka.
▸ Asoka is also mentioned as Devanampriya and Priyadarshee in many inscriptions. He is mentioned as King of Magadha in Bhabru inscription.
▸ Asoka convened third Buddhist Council in 250 BC at Patliputra with Moggaliputta Tissa as the President. With this, Buddhist ideals spread in Sri Lanka, South-East Asia, West Asia and Mediterranean Europe. After Asoka’s death, the Mauryan empire began to decline.
▸ Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). The Arthashastra, the edicts of Asoka and Ashokavardhana are primary sources of written records of the Mauryan times. Asoka had built 84,000 stupas. He had built many stone pillars and inscriptions.
▸ Three pillar inscriptions of Asoka are situated in Bihar i.e. Lauriya Areraj, in East Champaran district and Lauriya Nandangarh and Rampurwa pillar inscriptions in West Champaran district.

Mauryan Administration

▸ The elements of administration, military, economy, judiciary and society of Mauryan empire were formulated by Chanakya.
▸ The empire was divided into four provinces each ruled by a Governor.
▸ Chanakya propounded the Saptanga Theory according to which the kingdom was divided into 7 elements which were Svamin (king), Amatya (ministers), Janapada (people), Durg (fort), Kosa (treasury), Bala (army) and Mitra (ally).
18 Tirthas or Mahamatyas were appointed such as ministers, head priest, commander-in-chief and crown prince who were paid in silver coins.
▸ Military organisation was under the control of Senapati under whom there were several officials of different wings doing thier duties.
▸ There were two kinds of courts, Dharmasthiyas (Civil courts) and Kantakasodhanas (Criminal courts).
▸ Rajjukas were the officers who were responsible for the land measurement and fixing the boundaries and they were the people who controlled the districts. Gopas were the officers incharge of villages and village Sarpanch was known as Gramani.
▸ The Mauryan economy was managed by 27 superintendents called Adhyakshas.
▸ The currency consisted of silver coins (Panas), copper coins (Mashaka) and gold coins (Niskha). 18 Guilds/Srenis organised the different type of work such as jewellery, wood work, metal work and hired labour.
▸ Megasthenes refers to the presence of seven castes in the Mauryan society i.e. philosophers, farmers, soldiers, herdsman, artisans, magistrates and councillors.
▸ In order to exercise effective control over distant regions, provincial and local administrative machinery was introduced.
▸ The Viceroys of Tosali and Ujjaini were called as Kumaras as per Kalinga rock edicts and Viceroy of Suvarnagiri were known as Aryaputra.
▸ Internal trade routes included East-West route from Taxila to Patliputra, Sravasti to Rajagriha and external trade was carried via Tamluk (Tamralipta) on the East coast and Broach, Sopara on the West coast.

Five Provinces of Mauryan Empire


 Provinces  Location  Capital
Northern Uttarapatha Taxila
Western Avantipatha Ujjain
Eastern Prachyapatha Tosali
Southern Dakshinapatha Suvarnagiri
Central Magadha Patliputra

Mauryan Art and Architecture

▸ AK Coomaraswamy divides Mauryan art into two parts, these are indigenous art and official court art.
▸ We notice a great development in the field of art and architecture during Mauryan period.
▸ The famous city Patliputra (Patna) was described in detail by Megasthenes and other Greek writers. Even we get description from Fa-Hien’s writings.
▸ The pillars made at the time of Asoka furnish the finest specimen of the Mauryan art. These are made of two types of stones, the spotted red and white sand stone and the buff coloured fine grained hard gray sand stone. The pillars are found in Delhi, Allahabad, Rummindei, Sanchi and Sarnath.
▸ Two statues of Yaksha and a statue of Chauri (fly-whisk) bearer of Yakshini are found in Didarganj (Bihar).
▸ Asoka built a number of stupas throughout his empire but majority of them were destroyed during the foreign invasions.
▸ The rock cut caves were residences for monks and also served as assembly halls (Chaitya). Asoka and his grandson Dasharatha built such caves in Barabar and Nagarjuni hills near Bodh Gaya. The internal walls of the caves were polished so nicely that these looked like mirrors. Lomas Rishi caves, Sudama caves were built in the Barabar hills. These caves were dedicated by Ashoka and Dasaratha to the Ajivikas.
▸ Greek writers mentioned the magnificient royal palaces of Mauryan period.
Mauryan palace with a pillared hall was found at Kumhrar (Patna).

Fall of Mauryan Empire

After the death of Asoka, the empire was divided into two parts i.e Western and Eastern parts.Western part was ruled by Asoka’s son Kunala and Eastern part by Dasaratha, Asoka’s grandson.Due to Bactrian invasion, the Western part of the empire collapsed, but the Eastern part remained intact under Samprati, Asoka’s another grandson who was a patron of Jainism. Brihadratha was the last ruler of the Mauryan empire.Who was assassinated by Pushyamitra Shunga.

Post-Mauryan Dynasties in Bihar

The fall of the Mauryan dynasty resulted in the rise of different dynasties. These are described as follows:

Shunga Dynasty

▸ The Shunga dynasty  (184-72 BC) was founded by Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 BC by killing the last Mauryan ruler Brihadratha.
▸ Pushyamitra ruled over Magadha, Kosala, Sakala, Malwa and Berar. Pushyamitra Shunga was Commander-in-Chief of the Mauryan armed forces’. At the time of Mauryan kingdom, he had protected the kingdom from Yavans’ attack.
▸ Pushyamitra was a staunch follower of Brahmanism. Divyavadana and Taranath depict Pushyamitra as an enemy of the Buddhists, but there is enough evidence to prove that Pusyamitra patronised Buddhist art. Buddhist monuments at Bharhut and Sanchi were renovated during his period.
▸ Two Ashwamedha Yajna were held in his reign which are supported by Ayodhya inscription of Dhandev. Patanjali, the great Sanskrit scholar and author of Mahabhashyana was the main priest of these Yajna.
▸ The Buddhist records such as the Ashokavardhana mentions that the assassination of Brihadratha and the rise of the Shunga empire led to a wave of persecution of Buddhists and a resurgence of Hinduism. Brahmanical social ideals and institutions saw an increase and Buddhism gradually declined.
▸ After the death of Pushyamitra in 148 BC, his son Agnimitra ascended the throne. He was the hero of Kalidasa’s drama Malavikagnimitram.
▸ According to Puranas, Devbhuti was 10th and last ruler of Shunga dynasty. There was a lot of influence of Greeks during this period.
▸ Sakala, a province of Shunga dynasty was under Bactrian Greeks. Heliodorus, the Greek Ambassador erected the Garuda pillar at Bernagar during reign of Shunga ruler Bhadraka.

Kanva Dynasty

▸ Kanva dynasty (72-27 BC) replaced the Shunga dynasty in Magadha. The last ruler of the Shunga dynasty, Devabhuti, was overthrown by Vasudeva in 72 BC.
▸ Susharman was the last ruler of this dynasty. Kanva rule came to an end after 45 years as a result of rise to power of rulers of Satavahana dynasty from the Deccan plateau region. However, there was no direct rule of the Satavahanas or Andharas from the South.

Kushana Dynasty

▸ Remains of Kushana era have been discovered from Magadha region. They started their campaign into this region in around 1st century AD.
▸ There are evidences of Kushana ruler Kanishka (78-125AD) attacking Patliputra, as it was the capital of Magadha. He took alongwith him the famous Buddhist monk Asvaghosa.
▸ After the decline of Kushana empire, this region was ruled by Licchavis.
▸ Many coins of Kushana dynasty are found from Chirand, Buxar, Bodh Gaya, Vaishali and Kumrahar. The downfall of Kushanas led to period of unrest and no strong empires emerged until the Guptas in 3rd century AD.

The Gupta Empire

▸ The emergence of Gupta dynasty signifies the establishment of second strong empire in ancient Indian history. Gupta succeeded in bringing major parts of India under a unified administration.
▸ The difference between Gupta empire’s and Mauryan empire’s administration was that in the Mauryan administration, power was centralised but in the Gupta administration, power was more decentralised.
▸ The Gupta empire was divided into provinces and the provinces were further divided into districts. Villages were the smallest units. Important rulers of Gupta empire are as follows:


▸ Srigupta was the first king of Gupta empire. He established the empire in 275 AD. Probably he ruled over a small portion of North Bengal and South Bihar.
Ghatotkacha (280-319AD) succeeded his father Srigupta in 280 AD. These two kings together ruled around the region of Magadha. They were subordinate to the later Kushanas.

Chandragupta I

▸ Chandragupta I was son of Ghatotkacha. He was the first independent ruler of Gupta empire.
▸ He was the first king with the title of Maharajadhiraj and started the Gupta era in 319-320 AD. His empire included upper Gangetic Valley, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal.
▸ In a breakthrough deal, Chandragupta I was married to a Licchavi princess Kumardevi. He issued gold coins to commemorate this event. His son and successor Samudragupta called himself Lichchavi-dauhitra. He extended his dominion along the Ganga valley as far as Prayag and Awadh land.


▸ He succeeded Chandragupta I in 330AD and ruled for about 50 years, until his death in 380 AD. Prayag inscription describes about him, which was written by Harisena and discovered by Joseph Tiefenthaler. It was written in Brahmi script and Sanskrit language.
▸ Samudragupta was given the title of Napoleon of India for his conquest by Vincent Arthur Smith. The Mathura stone inscription of Chandragupta II describes Samudragupta as an ‘exterminator of all kings’.
▸ During  his period, Ceylon ruler Meghavarman was given permission to build a monastery at Bodh Gaya for Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims.
▸ He was also a great patron of art and adopted the title of ‘Kaviraja’. Sanskrit was his court language. Harisena and Vasubandhu adorned his court.
▸ On some gold coins, he is shown playing Veena, which shows Samudragupta was also interested in music. He was a firm believer in Hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu.
▸ He attacked the kingdoms of Padmavati, Malwa, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras and merged them in his kingdom.
▸ By his death in 380AD, he had incorporated over twenty kingdoms into his realm.
His rule extended from the Himalayas to the Narmada river and from Brahmaputra to the Yamuna. He defeated Shaka and Kushanas in Western part.

Chandragupta II ‘Vikramaditya’

▸ Chandragupta II ruled the empire between 380 AD and 415AD. He defeated and killed his brother, Ramagupta to get the kingdom.He married his widow Dhruvadevi.
▸ He established friendly relations and matrimonial alliances for extending his empire. He married Kubernaga, a Naga princess of central India and daughter from her, Prabhavati Gupta was married to Vakataka King Rudrasena II. Thus, Vakataka kingdom also came under his indirect control.
▸ He conquered Mathura from Kushanas, Gujarat from Shakas and established friendly relations with Kadamaba rulers.
▸ He is known for promoting literature. Patliputra and Ujjaini emerged as learning centres during his reign. Nine ratnas in his court were poet Kalidasa, Vetalbhatta, Varahmihira, physician Dhanvantari, Varruchi, Shanku, Amarsimha, Kshapanaka and Ghatakarpara. Fa-Hien, the Chinese traveller visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II to study Buddhism and stayed at Patliputra.
▸ He was the first among the Gupta Kings to issue the gold coins. He was called ‘Vikramaditya’ and took the title of Simhavikrama.
▸ He made Ujjain the second capital of his empire.

Kumargupta I

▸ Chandragupta II was succeeded by Kumargupta I  (415-455 AD) also known as ‘Mahendraditya’. He ruled till 455AD. He introduced a new type of gold coin. One of these figures God Kartikeya whom he worshipped.
▸ First Huna attack took place during his time and he was very old at that time.
▸ His greatest achievement was the establishment of Nalanda University. Nalanda University was a centre of learning from 427 to 1197AD. Famous traveller, Hiuen Tsang studied at this university. The university was later destroyed by an army of Mamluk dynasty under Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1197AD.


▸ He is generally considered as the last of the great rulers of Gupta empire. According to Bhitari inscription Skandagupta defeated ‘Pushyamitras’, who were tribes and probably ruled an area located near bank of Narmada river. He also repulsed a Huna attack in 455 AD and died in 467 AD.
▸ An inscription at Junagarh tells that his Governor got restoration work done on a dam in Sudharshana lake originally constructed by Chandra Gupta Maurya.
▸ After Skandagupta, Gupta empire began to disintegrate under various rulers like Purugupta, Buddha Gupta, Narasimhagupta, Bhanugupta etc. Vishnugupta was the last ruler of Gupta dynasty.
▸ The later Gupta rulers, Kumargupta II, Buddhagupta, Vishnugupta were not strong rulers. Northern India was continuously attacked by the Hunas. The Gupta Empire began to disintegrate and smaller kingdoms emerged in Magadha like the Maukharis.

Eminent Ancient Personalities from Bihar


▸ Asvaghosha was a great Buddhist philosopher, who was born in 80 CE at Saket (Ayodhya) and handed over to Kushana King Kanishka by the ruler of Varanasi. He followed the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. He was a Buddhist scholar and wrote the Buddhacharita, Saundarananda, ‘Mahayana-Shraddhot Pada-Shastra’, Sariputra Prakaran, etc. Kushana ruler Kanishka attacked Patliputra and took Asvaghosha alongwith him.


▸ He was born in Patliputra (in ancient Kusumpur). Aryabhatta was a great astronomer and mathematician. Aryabhatta stated that the Earth moved round the Sun and rotated on its own axis.
▸ Aryabhatta believed to be the first to come up with the concept of zero and studied solar and lunar eclipses. Aryabhatta’s most famous work was Aryabhattiya. It was composed in Kusumapura, near Patliputra.

Acharya Chanakya

▸ He was Chandragupta Maurya’s minister and political advisor. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta, wrote Arthashastra. Arthashastra has 15 adhikarans or sections. It is considered as one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, foreign affairs, administration, military, arts, warfare and religion ever produced in the history of the world.
▸ He played a major role in the downfall of Nanda dynasty and in ascending Chandragupta to the throne of Magadha.


▸ He was born in Morund Khetak village near Bodh Gaya. His famous literary works include Sumangal Vilasini, Manorathapurani, Atthasalini, Visuddhimagga, etc. He went to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism.

Mahavira Swami

▸ He was born in 540 BC in Kundagrama in Vaishali. He belonged to Jnantrika Kshatriya clan. Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankar. He was known as Vardhamana.
▸ Vardhamana Mahavira left home at an age of 30 years and attained ‘Kaivalya’ at the age of 42 at the banks of Rijupalika river, below a sal tree. Through Kaivalya, he conquered misery and happiness and came to be known as Jina or Mahavira.


▸ Panini was a grammarian in 6th century BC, who wrote ‘Ashtadhyayi’ in classical sanskriti. He studied grammer at Maner near Patna. Panini is said to have been born in Shalatula, which is situated in Modern Khyber Pakhtunbhwa (Pakistan).


▸ Sariputta was born near Rajgir (Bihar) in 6th century BC. He was one of the most important disciples of the Buddha. He was a brilliant Brahmin and master of Vedas, but he adopted Buddhism and made efforts to spread it.



 Time  Event
2000-1000 BC Pre-Historic Era
1000 BC Vedic Age
1000-6000 BC Later Vedic Age
600-500 BC Emergence of 16 Mahajanpadas
563 BC Birth of Gautam Buddha at Lumbini
528 BC Enlightenment (Mahaparinirvana) of Gautam Buddha
540 BC Birth of Mahavira at Vaishali
500-400 BC Emergence of three kingdoms at Anga, Vajji and Licchavi
544-444 BC Haryanka Dyansty
455 BC Udayin founded the city of Patliputra
412-344 BC Shishunaga Dynasty
344-321 BC Nanda Dynasty
321-184 BC Mauryan Empire established at Magadha by Chandragupta Maurya
305 BC Megasthenes visited India
261 BC Asoka fought the Kalinga war
184-72 BC Shunga Dynasty
72-27 BC Kanva Dynasty
78 BC-125 AD Kushana Dynasty
275-467 AD Gupta Dynasty

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