Magadha & the First Empire (543 - 330 BCE)

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Ajatashatru, king of Magadha and Anga, son of the illustrious Bimbisara, shivered in his fine yellow Kashi muslin garments and the thick, woollen Kamboja cloak sent by the King of Taxila as a gift. He paced the balcony of his great palace overlooking the cyclopean walls of his capital city of Rajagriha. He had received news the previous day that the Sakyamuni Gautama, whom the laity called the Buddha, his father’s friend, would be in the city the next day. How was he going to tell him that his friend, Bimbisara, had died at his son’s hands? Would the benevolent one grant absolution or just smile sorrowfully and tell him of his uncontrolled desires for the throne and how they led him down this dark path? The questions plagued the king of Magadha and robbed him of his sleep as he stared at the Vulture’s Peak, atop the hills overlooking the city, where the Buddha slept in serene repose.
Ajatashatru and his father Bimbisara are perhaps the earliest kings who step out of the mist of legend and tales, into reality. They were historic figures and they left behind parts of their large fort in the old Magadhan capital Rajgriha. Thanks to a proliferation of texts – chronicling the rise of two new faiths – Buddhism and Jainism that emerged during their reign ( 543-460 BCE), we have textual, archaeological and sculptural reference to the rulers of Magadha, who forged the first great Empire of the North – Magadha.
The first empire in India owes its beginnings to a humble chieftain’s son, who ascended the throne at the age of 15 in 543 BCE. His name was Bimbisara and he went on to found the Magadhan Empire, which created a core for all the great empires of Northern India that followed over the next 1,200 years.

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