One of the four chief kingdoms of India at the time of the
Buddha, the others being
Kosala, the kingdom of the
Vamsas and Avanti.
Magadha formed one of the sixteen
Mahājanapadas and had its capital at Rājagaha
or Giribbaja where Bimbisāra, and after him
Ajātasattu, reigned. Later,
Pātaliputta became the capital. By the
time of Bimbisāra, Anga, too, formed a part of
Magadha, and he was known as king of Anga Magadha (see, e.g., Vin.i.27 and
ThagA.i.544, where Bimbisāra sends for Sona Kolivisa,
a prominent citizen of Campā, capital of Anga).
But prior to that, these were two separate kingdoms, often at war with each
other (e.g., J. iv.454f).
Several kings of Magadha are mentioned by name in the Jātakas - e.g.,
Duyyodhana. In one story (J.vi.272) the Magadha kingdom is said to have been
under the suzerainty of Anga. In the Buddha's day,
Magadha (inclusive of Anga) consisted of eighty thousand villages (Vin.i.179)
and had a circumference of some three hundred leagues (DA.i.148).
Ajātasattu succeeded in annexing Kosala
with the help of the Licchavis, and he succeeded
also in bringing the confederation of the latter under his sway; preliminaries
to this struggle are mentioned in the books (e.g., D.ii.73f., 86).
Under Bimbisāra and Ajātasattu, Magadha rose to such political eminence that
for several centuries, right down to the time of Asoka,
the history of Northern India was practically the history of Magadha. (A list of
the kings from Bimbisāra to Asoka is found in Dvy.369 ; cp. DA.i.153; Mbv.96,
At the time of the Buddha, the kingdom of Magadha was bounded on the east by
the river Campā (Campā flowed between Anga and
Magadha; J. iv.454), on the south by the Vindhyā Mountains, on the west by the
river Sona, and on the north by the Ganges. The latter river formed the boundary
between Magadha and the republican country of the Licchavis, and both the
Māgadhas and the Licchavis evidently had equal rights over the river. When the
Buddha visited Vesāli, Bimbisāra made a road
five leagues long, from Rājagaha to the river, and decorated it, and the
Licchavis did the same on the other side. DhA.iii.439 f.; the Dvy. (1p.55) says
that monks going from Sāvatthi to Rājagaha
could cross the Ganges in boats kept either by Ajātasattu or by the Licchavis of
During the early Buddhist period Magadha was an important political and
commercial centre, and was visited by people from all parts of Northern India in
search of commerce and of learning. The kings of Magadha maintained friendly
relations with their neighbours, Bimbisāra and Pasenadi marrying each other's
sisters. Mention is made of an alliance between
Pukkusāti, king of Gandhāra and Bimbisāra.
When Candappajjota of
Ujjeni was suffering from jaundice, Bimbisāra
sent him his own personal physician, Jīvaka.
In Magadha was the real birth of Buddhism (see, e.g., the words put in the
mouth of Sahampatī in Vin.i.5, pātur ahosi
Magadhesu pubbe dhammo, etc.), and it was from Magadha that it spread after the
Third Council. The Buddha's chief disciples,
Sāriputta and Moggallāna, came
In Asoka's time the income from the four gates
of his capital of Pātaliputta was four
hundred thousand kahāpanas daily, and in the Sabhā, or Council, he would daily
receive another hundred thousand kahāpanas (Sp.i.52). The cornfields of Magadha
were rich and fertile (Thag.vs.208), and each Magadha field was about one gāvuta
in extent. Thus AA.ii.616 explains the extent of Kakudha's body, which filled
two or three Māgadha village fields (A.iii.122).
The names of several places in Magadha occur in the books - e.g.,
Buddhaghosa says (SnA..i.135 f ) that there
are many fanciful explanations (bahudhā papañcanti) of the word Magadha. One
such is that king Cetiya, when about to be
swallowed up by the earth for having introduced lying into the world, was thus
admonished by those standing round - "Mā gadham pavisa;” another that
those who were digging in the earth saw the king, and that he said to them: " Mā
gadham karotha." The real explanation, accepted by Buddhaghosa himself, seems to
have been that the country was the residence of a tribe of khattiyas called
The Magadhabhāsā is regarded as the speech of the Āriyans (e.g., Sp.i.255).
If children grow up without being taught any language, they will spontaneously
use the Magadha language; it is spread all over Niraya, among lower animals,
petas, humans and devas (VibhA.387f).
The people of Anga and Magadha were in the habit of holding a great annual
sacrifice to Māha Brahmā in which a fire was kindled with sixty cartloads of
firewood. They held the view that anything cast into the sacrificial fire would
bring a thousand fold reward. SA.i.269; but it is curious that in Vedic,
Brāhmana and Sūtra periods, Magadha was considered as outside the pale of Ariyan
and Brahmanical culture, and was therefore looked down upon by Brahmanical
writers. But it was the holy land of the Buddhists. See VT.ii.207; Thomas: op.
cit., 13, 96.
Magadha was famous for a special kind of garlic (Sp.iv.920) and the Magadha
nāla was a standard of measure. (E.g., AA.i.101).
Magadha is identified with the modern South Behar.
See also Magadhakhetta.