Nanda Dynasty- History of Origin, Facts, Devastation

by Jan 5, 2022

Hello friends, today I am going to share the history of an ancient wealthy empire which created its influence over northern India. It was one of the vast empires which existed before the Maurya Empire.

Introduction to Nanda Empire

Ruling over the Northern part of India, the Nanda Empire was formed from the Nanda Dynasty. The Dynasty ruled over the region around the 4th century BC, and the reign may have continued to the 5th century.

The region that the empire was located was previously ruled by Shaishunaga Dynasty. The Nandas had to take over the existing regime and rule the region so that they could expand their empire to the Northern part of India.

There is a different viewpoint from the historian based on the naming of the kings and their period of the ruling. However, based on the evidence, there are high chances that they will rein into power between c. 345-322 BCE. This evidence is found in the records of the Buddhist tradition in Mahavamsa.

The capital of the Nanda Empire was located at Pataliputra near the present-day Patna. This has been confirmed by the Buddhist tradition as well as in the Mudrarakshasa of Visakhadatta. The empire is believed to have stretched from Punjab to Odisha.

They are known to be the first great empire of Northern India. The Purana documents describe the empire as Ekarat, meaning a state with a single ruler. This suggests that the empire was in the form of an integrated monarchy as opposed to being a virtually independent feudal states.

According to most of modern history, the rulers that were mentioned in the Greco-Roman account, who were ruling Prasii and Gangaridai, were also considered to be the rulers of the Nanda Empire.

According Alexander the Great, he described the kings of Nanda as prosperous leaders with a well-organized military power. During Alexander’s invasion of the North-India in 327-325 BCE, he sent his army to conquer the region.

However, his soldiers found a well-structured army that waged war against them to retreat. It was from this was that Alexander drew his perspective of the leaders that were ruling Nanda.

Building a societal standard based on their predecessors, the Nanda Dynasty came up with a more centralized form of leadership. As a result, the empire was able to acquire and accumulate a high amount of wealth.

The wealth that was accumulated made some royals increase the tax rates. They introduced new forms of currency. During these times, the empire’s leadership was criticized due to its high taxation and poor management of public expenditure.

Kings of Nanda

The Buddhist tradition named that there were only nine Nanda kings. However, the source varies when it comes to the names of the various rulers. According to Puranic tradition, the founder of the Dynasty was Mahapadma.

The ruler is believed to have reigned for 88 years, but the Purana mention only 28 years. According to the Purana records, the eight sons of Mahapadma ruled after him in succession for the remaining 12 years and only mentioned one of the sons, Sukalpa.

Looking into the Buddhist text the Mahavamsa, a different point of view is on the period that the kings took to rule; however, they agree with other historians on the number of kings. According to this source, the kings were nine brothers who ruled in succession for 22 years.

This document also has the names of the various kings. These kings were Ugra-sena, Panduka, Pandugati, Bhuta-pala, Govishanaka, Dasha-siddhaka, Kaivarta and the last one being Dhana.

Some of the information on the Nanda Dynasty comes from Greek sources, particularly the recordings of Alexander, who writes about the king who lived in the Ganga Valley. Regardless of the various sources, it is agreed that the Nanda were Non-Kshatriyan and had a very humble origin.

Parishistha Parvana, in his recording the Mahapadma Nanda, the first ruler, was said to be a son of a barber by a courtesan. Alaska Sutra mentions him as a slave of a barber.

The Buddhist sources, however, do not mention the low social origin of the Nandas. The Buddhist sources instead indicate that the Nanda ascended to power in an open struggle with the previous rulers.

According to many later texts of Banabhatta, The Harsacharita, he also mentions the low social status of the Nanda, and according to his writing, the first king Mahapadma came to power after killing Kakavarna, the ruler of the Shaishunaga Dynasty.

Looking into their social status and how they ascended to power is relevant to history since we can see that they had to take up the power through killing and create a vast empire.

Their ascent to power is relevant since, in history, it is rare to find a person of low social standards rise to power and have control of a vast empire unless it was through overthrowing the existing power. Mahapadma has also been compared with Parasurama, who was also known to be the killer of Kshatriyas.

The Last King of Nanda Empire

Before the defeat of the Nanda Empire by Chandragupta of the Maurya Empire, it was ruled by Dhana Nanda. He was the Nanda Empire’s final known ruler. According to another historian, the empire seemed to have nine rulers of the Dynasty.

Dhana being the last king on the thrown, was in leadership from c 344 to 324 BCE. The reason why Dhana contributed to the failure of the empire is that is because he went against the core values and policies of his predecessors.

The main thing that Nanda Empire was known for was the wealthy standards.
The previous administrations before Dhana knew the importance of finance in society. They made tax collected to be special revenue for the empire to carry out its project while looking after its citizens.

These previous administrations came up with a strategy in that they formed a method to collect taxes regularly. There were officers appointed to carry out the taxation collection process, and they also were included to be part of the administration.

Even with a mighty army and leadership over a large empire, Dhana was not popular among his subjects. This can be ascribed to inefficient use of public funds. After the collection of high rates of taxes, his love for wealth made him misappropriate and misuse the collected taxes and also raise the rates.

Ascending to power

The Nanda were non- Kshatriyas and are known to be coming from a humble beginning. Mahapadma, the first king, was known to be the son of a barber by a courtesan.

Due to his work, he was able to get access to the royal family to provide his services. As a result, he collided with the then queen to kill the ruling king. During this time, the region was under Sisunaga Dynasty under the leadership of Kakavarna.

Immediately after assuming the leadership position, he ensured the appointment of the Jena ministers. Some of the ministers were from the previous administration.

One of the ministers who declined to take up his duties again was Kalpaka. His attitude, however, changed when Mahapadma gained power. He was able to convince him and work together on an expansion policy.

The ministry positions were just like the kingship was hereditary. In case of the death of a minister, their sons were to take charge of their positions.

As initially mentioned, various traditions agree on the number of rulers of the Nanda Empire being nine. The distinction is seen in the kings’ connection.

Puranic viewpoint states the first king to be the father of the rest of the kings while according to the Buddhist records, the kings were brothers.

Dynasties were conquered by Nanda

The Nanda Dynasty devoured most of the Northern region of India and the western part too. Some of their territories were also found in the southern sides of India.

Some of the Dynasties that later became part of their territories include Kalinga, Ikshaku, Kasi, Panchalu, Haihaya, Asmara, Kuru, Surasena, and Vithihotra. Looking at the location of the Mahajanapadas, they were located along the Gange valley.

Before coming to power, Western India was a real stronghold of the Maurya Dynasty. Most of the influence of this Dynasty could be felt at Gujrat. It is in this location that the famous Jinaga rock inscriptions are found.

The inscription contains information on the previous leaders of the Maurya dynasty. The inscription reveals that Vaisya Pusyagupta was the governor of Chandragupta Maurya.

One evidence that the area around the Kalinga was being ruled by the Nanda is the presence of the tunnel. There is a tunnel that was built to connect Kalinga to the capital.

This tunnel is assumed to be used in wars to transport the armory and soldiers during the wars. It also acted as a safer trade route for the empire to conduct its businesses.

Prasoi and Gangaridae

The Greek account plays a major role in understanding the Nanda Empire. In order to understand the extent of the influence of the Nanda Empire, we have to refer to some of the literature that was done by Alexender the Great.

Based on his account and the experience that he found during his exploration of the region, we can clearly tell who the ruler of the region was. When Alexander was planning to expand his territories further to the east, he found there two nations.

According to the names, Prasoi, meaning the eastern side, suggest the location of these two nations. The Prasoi can be assumed to be on the Eastern side of Alexander’s territory.

On the other hand, Gangaridae was assumed to be located along the Gange valley. The type of army that Alexander found was a strong army.

According to Alexander, he did his investigation to find the type of rulers that were managing the area. In his finding, he found out that the ruler of these two region came from a very humble background.

In his writing, he indicates that the ruler was of worthless morals and was not respected by their subjects. This is because, in the history of leadership, dynasties were formed from a well-established wealthy families.

In the Nanda case, they were known to be the barbers that assumed power by killing the existing rulers of the various territories.

Dhana Nanda, being known for his disposal of wealth, had accumulated a vast amount of wealth in that he had two thousand cavalries, two hundred thousand infantry, two thousand four-horsed four-horsed Chariots, and three thousand elephants.

The Greek records the number of elephants to may have reached up to six thousand. The addiction to accumulation and holding of treasure is supported by both the Greek and Puranic traditions.

According to the records of Kathasaritsagara, the estimation of Dhana Nanda’s wealth could be estimated to be close to 990 million pieces of gold.

The Dhana obsession made him excavate in rocks places where he could keep his treasure. Most of his wealth was obtained through extortion and levying of taxes on their subject.

They taxed all kinds of things such as skin, stones, trees, and all kinds of materials. The treasure that was accumulated helped in war, and some of the wealth that was accumulated was hidden under bankers built under the river.

Consolidation of the Nanda Empire

The Dynasty was well known for having great knowledge in handling resources. They had systems in place such that there were officials in place that were taking charge in the matters concerning taxation. The Greek records mention the presence of the Nomarchs, who were the governors of the Nome. There were also hyparchs who were the Satrap.

Comparing the Dynasties

When comparing the Nanda Dynasty to the Maurya Dynasty, the Maurya had their administration into Ahara, Vishaya, Janapada, and they were ruled by Mahamtra, Rajuaka, Pradeshika.

This form of administration may have been generated from the Nanda style of administration. The first imperial structure on agrarian was built by the Nanda Dynasty.

Justin, a Greek author, records the administration of the Nanda Dynasty. The internal administration was considerable well organized. The administration was ruled under two policies.

In the core region, the administration was found to be very exploitative. In the peripheral regions, the administration was considered to be more liberal and was relatively favoring.

The oppression of the people by the Nandas created room for them to seek a new form of leadership. This is how Chandaguptra rose to power. When he met Alexander, he clearly stated his interest in ruling over Presoi.

The political side of a great transitional phase in early Indian history is represented by the brief reign of the Nandas, which contrasts with the long reign of the Mauryas.

Beginning in the 6th–5th century BCE, developments in material culture in the Gange River valley was marked by various changes. Some of the sectors that experienced changes include the agricultural and the industrial sectors.

Agricultural methods and increasing application of iron helped in increasing the harvesting of higher agricultural produce. The good produce helped in promoting trade and also enhanced the development of various urban sets up.

In this regard, it is worth noting that the Nandas are depicted as enormously wealthy and vicious tax collectors in a variety of indigenous and foreign traditions records.

The Nanda state’s initiatives in administration are evidenced in allusions to Kalinga irrigation projects and the formation of a ministerial council.

Fall of the Nanda Empire

Despite the Empire having a huge and strong army, it was defeated by an army led by Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya. The war between these two armies marked the end of rein for the Nanda dynasty and a rise to the Mauryan Empire.

The cause that led to the war was the revenge that Chanakya was seeking from Dhana Nanda. Chanakya was a royal advisor to the Nanda Empire.

He knew that Bharat faced a threat from foreign invaders such as Alexander. Chanakya seeing this potential threat, advised Dhana to unite Bharat into Akhand Bharat.

Dhana is obsessed with wealth and accumulated most of his wealth by highly taxing the citizen. Dhana also received hate for mistreating his subject. However, the wealth accumulated was used to build palaces and roads across the Nanda empire.

A huge budget of the finances was delegated to fund the army and wars. This army, led by King Porus, defeated the Alexander’s army in the Battle of Hydaspes.

Even though Dhana was a wealthy Emperor with a strong army, he neglected the basic affairs of his people. Instead, he introduced a tax burden to his people, and the money was not properly utilized to suit the citizen.

Dhana also received hate for being Anti-Kshatriya. This meant that innocent people that were linked to Kshatriya were tortured and mistreated by the Dhana’sDhana’s administration. These made Dhana grow the number of his enemies.

During this epoch, India was highly involved in international trade. They mainly exported various products to western countries. This means that traders from other countries also used to come and visit the country.

It was also at the time when the whole of India was not united t face any attack from the foreign invaders. Chanakya saw the imminent threat and came up with Akhand Bharat. This idea was basically to unite the ancient Indian Empires to fight against any foreign invaders.

Chanakya presented his plan to Dhana, but his idea was rejected. Besides rejecting his proposal, Dhana humiliated Chanakya by pushing him down to the ground in front of everyone.

This act made Chanakya really angry, and he swore never to return to Nanda Empire until the day he would bring it down and have his revenge. Upon leaving the Empire, Chanakya traveled around various territories accumulating the enemies against the Nanda dynasty’s leadership.

It was along this time of exploring that Chanakya found a brave young man Chandragupta Maurya. Chanakya took the young Maurya to Takshashila and taught him various war tactics, sword fight, and also about politics.

According to Buddhist recording, it is hinted that Maurya was trained in such a way that he was able to conquer many dynasties without waging any war.

The training was tailored for Maurya to conquer Dhana and also for Chanakya to get his revenge. Since both the goals were not reached, Chanakya channeled Maurya to wage war on Patliputra, which was then the capital for the Nanda Empire.

Considering the size of the kingdom and Nanda’s army, Maurya knew that if he went to attack directly from the capital, he might lose the war. Maurya, therefore, came up with a plan of attacking the Empire from the borders as they moved inwards to the capital.

The army, Led by Maurya, started attacking the smaller villages. Their main war tactic was the gorilla method. This tactic allowed them to create more time and cover more ground for reaching the capital.

The war can be described to be bloody, and it comprised almost 6000 war elephants. Both groups lost a massive amount of soldiers. However, this war marked the end of the ruling of the Nanda Dynasty and the beginning of the Maurya Empire.

The rise of the Nanda Dynasty from the very first king to the last one has been given a different approach through different records.

However, starting off from being of a humble background, it is arguable that their method of rising to power was through the killing of the existing rulers.

Even though the last king has had poor skills in wealth distribution, his predecessors could be considered to have fairly managed the dynasty’s wealth.

The conquering of the various dynasties, in other perspectives, could be seen to be an advantage to the traders. This means any trader all traders, either local or foreigner, would easily trade within the territories of Nanda.

The roads and Palaces that were built as a result of this leadership could have opened up the various dynasties within the Empire. Taxation would have been the killer for most businesses.

The fall of the Nanda Dynasty is a clear indication that if the general public is oppressed, their will and a role could be consolidated overturn the regime. Just as done by Chanakya, he formed an army made of enemies of the Nanda, and this made it easier to conquer the Empire.

Featured Image credits: Avantiputra7

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