Choosing leaders by voting has started something last fifty years. But before that men become rajas by performing very big sacrifices.
The Ashvamedha sacrifice was the ritual in which a horse was let loose to wander freely and it was guarded by the raja’s men. If the horse wandered into the kingdoms of other rajas and they stopped it, they had to fight. If they allowed the horse to pass, it meant that they accepted that the raja who wanted to perform the sacrifice was stronger than them. These rajas were then invited to the sacrifice, and all those who came brought gifts for him. The vish or Vaishya also brought gifts. However, shudras were excluded from many rituals.
The rajas who performed these big sacrifices were now recognized as being rajas of janapadas rather than Janas. The word janapada means the land where the Janas settled down.
Archaeologists have excavated a number of settlements in these janapadas, such as Purana Qila in Delhi, Hastinapura near Meerut, and Atranjikhera, near Etah. They found that people lived in juts, and kept cattle as well as other animals.
About 2500 years ago, some janapadas became more important than others, and were known as Mahajanapadas. Most Mahajanapadas had a capital city, and many of these were fortified.
As the rulers of the Mahajanapadas were building huge forts and maintaining big armies, they needed more resources. So the raja of the janapadas started collecting regular taxes.
There were two major changes in agriculture around this time. One was the growing use of iron ploughshares. This meant heavy, clayey soil could be turned over better than with a wooed ploughshare so that more grain could be produced. Second, people began transplanting paddy.
Magadha became the most important mahajanapada in about two hundred years. Many rivers such as Ganga flowed through Magadha. This was important for transport, water supplies, and making the land fertile. Parts of Magadha were forested. Elephants, which lived in the forest could be captured and trained for the army.
Magadha had two vry powerful rulers, Bimbisara and Ajatasattu, who used all possible means to conquer other janapadas. Mahapadma Nanda was another important ruler. He extended his control up to the north-west part of the subcontinent. Rajagriha (Rajgir) in Bihar was th ecapital fo Magadha for several years. Later the capital was shifted to Pataliputra (Patna).
More than 2300 years ago, a ruler named Alexander, who lived in Macedonia in Europe, wanted to become a world conqueror. Of course, he didn’t conquer the world, but did conquer parts of Egypt and West Asia, and came to the Indian subcontinent, reaching up to the banks of the Beas When he wanted to march further eastwards, his soldiers refused. They were scared, as they had heard that the rulers of India had vast armies of foot and soldiers, chariots and elephants.
Vaishali (Bihar) was the capital of Vajji. It was under a different form of government, known as gana or sangha.
In a gana or a sangha there were not one, but many rulers. Sometimes, even when thousands of men ruled together, each one was known as a raja. These rajas performed rituals together. They also met in assemblies, and decided what had to be done and how, through discussion and debate. However, women, dasas and kammakaras could not participate in these assemblies.
The Buddha and Mahavira belonged to ganas or sanghas. Some of the most vivid descriptions of life in the sanghas can be found in Buddhist books.