Majjhimadesa, as has already been mentioned, was the birthplace of the Buddhist faith. It was here that Prince Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment and became the Buddha. It was in the cities, towns and villages of this part of South Asia that he went around propagating the principles of Buddhism. Majjhimadesa (literally the Middle Country) was made up of a number of kingdoms and oligarchies, what were known to the ancients as the Mahajanapadas (a term that translates as the Great Footholds of Tribes). These included Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Malla, Kosala, Kasi, Vamsa, Chetiya, Surasena, Panchala, Kuru, Maccha, Avanti and Assaka. Out of these Magadha, Vajji, Malla, Kosala and Kasi figure most prominently in the Buddha’s life. One must also include the tribes (or tribal oligarchies) of the Shakyas and Koliyas who lived (on what is the present day Indo-Nepal frontier) in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Buddha was born among the Shakyas and married a Koliya princess.
When he renounced his life as a prince, he headed to Magadha, the mightiest of all kingdoms in Majjhimadesa. It was ruled by a legendary monarch – Bimbisara. According to the Pabbaja Sutta the first meeting between the Buddha and Bimbisara took place in the city of Rajagriha (the capital of Magadha), some time after the former’s renunciation. The king, seeing the young ascetic passing below the palace windows, sent messengers after him and offered him a place at his court. This was refused by the Buddha, intent on gaining enlightenment. An impressed Bimbisara wished him success and asked him to visit Rajagriha once he had achieved his goal. Both Buddhist and Jain sources claim Bimbisara as one of their own. He was also known as Srenika and belonged to the Haryanka dynasty. Established by his father – Bhatiya, the Haryankas would go on to dominate Majjhimadesa. This rise to preeminence began with Bimbisara’s campaign against the neighboring kingdom of Anga. This series will focus on the kings and princes, kingdoms and clans that made up the Majjhimadesa of Gautama Buddha’s times.
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting of King Bimbisara meeting the Buddha. It has been produced and uploaded by the Burmese artist Hintha, and shows Gautama Buddha turning down the monarch’s offer.