Nanda Dynasty of Magadha - In depth study

16 Nov 2022  Read 4787 Views

India has a rich history and is one of the world's greatest and oldest civilizations, witnessing the fall and rise of different dynasties. The Mauryan dynasty was the first Indian dynasty that annexed many Indian regions. Similarly, several dynasties in India ruled like the Magadha Empire witnessed the rule of three dynasties over time – the Haryanka Dynasty, the Shishunaga Dynasty, and the Nanda Dynasty. If we estimate the timeline of the Magadh Empire, it is from 684 BCE to 320 BCE. One of these dynasties, which forms a significant part of our Indian history, is the Nanda dynasty. This first non-Kshatriya dynasty ruled Magadha in northern India between c. 343 and 321 BCE. 

The Maurya dynasty was the one that immediately succeeded the Nandas; now, one thing that you must consider while reading about the Nanda Dynasty is that the reign of all these dynasties that ruled before the Mauryas is a mixture of facts and legends. In the case of the Nanda dynasty, this is believed due to the indigenous traditions, both Brahmanical and Jaina, which suggests that Mahapadma, the founder of the Nanda dynasty who usurped the throne of Kalasoka had a low social origin (a fact confirmed by classical scholarship). 

This article will discuss the origin, most significant rulers, and fall of the Nanda Dynasty.

Origin of the Nanda Dynasty

  • Mahapadma Nanda was the founder of the Nanda Dynasty. He was a powerful ruler who extended the boundaries of his empire. He defeated all the Kshatriya ruling dynasties of Northern India, like the Panchalas, Kurus, Asmakas, Ikshvakus, etc., and annexed their states.

  • Both Indian and Greco-Roman traditions state that the founder comes from low birth. The Greek historian Diodorus believes that Porus told Alexander that the Nanda king was the son of a barber. In contrast, Puranas believe him to be the son of the last Sisunaga king.

  • The barber (founder's father) referred to here became the lover of the former queen, who, in disloyalty, assassinated the then king & took the supreme authority by claiming to be the defender of the then princes, but then also killed the princes.

  • According to the 12th-century text ‘Parishishta-Parvan', the founder's mother was a prostitute. Still, the text even states that the daughter of the last Nanda king married Chandragupta because Kshatriya women could choose their husbands as per the tradition. So, from all this, we can possibly say that the founder was a member of the warrior class. This theory was believed by the Jain tradition.

  • The Buddhist beliefs differ from the Jain tradition, which describes the Nandas as "of unknown lineage" (annata-kula). 

  • According to Mahavamsa in the Buddhist tradition, the dynasty's founder Mahapadma (known as 'Ugrasena’ in Buddhist text) was “a man of the frontier" and fell into the hands of a group of robbers and became their leader, expelling King Kalasoka (or Kakavarna).

Let's now go through the most important rulers or kings of the Nanda dynasty.

Nanda Dynasty

Founder of the Nanda Dynasty

Mahapadma Nanda

Capital of Nanda Dynasty


The most important ruler of the Nanda Dynasty

Mahapadma Nanda, Dhana Nanda

Major Events that happened

Alexander invaded India

The first ruler of the Nanda Dynasty

Mahapadma Nanda is known as the "first historical emperor of India"." In contrast, Chandragupta Maurya is the First Emperor of India. He murdered Kalasoka to become the king. His origins are unclear. According to the Puranas, he was the son of the last Shishunaga king (Shishunaga dynasty) from a Sudra woman, whereas according to the Jain texts and Greek writer Curtius, he was the son of a barber and a prostitute (courtesan) and as per Buddhists the Nandas belonged to unknown lineage. So, this is the reason that the Nandas were considered adharmika (ones who don't follow the norms of Dharma). He ruled for 28 years and was referred to as "Sarva Kashtriyantaka" (destroyer of all the Kshatriyas) and "Ekrat" (the only sovereign who destroyed all other ruling princes). He added Kalinga to Magadha and was extremely powerful with 200,000 infantry, 60,000 cavalry and 6000 war elephants, possibly due to an effective taxation system.

Who was the last ruler of the Nanda Dynasty?

Dhana Nanda was the last Nanda ruler who inherited this huge empire from his father. He is said to be one of the many sons of Mahapadma Nanda. Dhana Nanda is also referred to as Agrammes or Xandrames in Greek texts. It was during his reign that Alexander invaded North-Western India but could not move towards the Gangetic plains due to his army's refusal. He possessed a standing army of 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalries, 3000 elephants and 2000 chariots. He is credited with the invention of Nandopakramani (a particular measure). His Sudra background & the anti-Kshatriya policy led to many enemies. He was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya & Chanakya, who established the Maurya Empire in Magadha.

Fall of the Nanda Dynasty

  • Dhana Nanda was the ruler when the Macedonian army, led by Alexander the Great, refused to move ahead because of the army of the Magadha Empire.

  • The Nanda Dynasty owned the bulk of gold reserves & gathered wealth by imposing taxes on skins, stones, & several other articles. Taxes made Nanda unpopular to their people, so Chandragupta Maurya used this to campaign against him.

  • Chandragupta's forces shut off the Pataliputra (now Patna) city in 320 BC, and the Nanda army was defeated. This war led to the beginning of the Maurya Dynasty.

Factors impacting the Nanda Dynasty

  1. Geographical Factors

Magadha was positioned on the upper and lower sections of the Gangetic valley on the primary land route b/w west and east India. The land was quite rich here. The Ganga, Son, and Champa rivers covered Magadha on three sides. Hence, its name was finalized.

  1. Economic Factors

Magadha had a huge amount of gold reserves and possessed vast copper & iron reserves. It had a large population that could be exploited for agriculture, mining, city construction & military purposes. Economic dominion can be upheld due to control over the Ganga, as the Ganga was important for trading.

  1. Political Factors

Magadha had an abundance of powerful monarchs who commanded large armies. Also, as iron was easily available, they could develop supreme weaponry. They were also the first rulers to command elephants in battle & they established a well-organized administrative system.

  1. Cultural Factors

Magadhan society was a mixture of Aryans and non-Aryans. The emergence of Jainism and Buddhism assisted in philosophical and intellectual turbulence. They encouraged liberal traditions & many of Magadha's monarchs were from a backward background.

If you are interested in learning about the Chola Dynasty: The story behind Ponniyin Selvan, then click on the link.

Alexander's Invasion of India

King Alexander the Great of Macedonia was ready to conquer the globe in the 4th century BC. Macedonia defeated the Persian Empire under King Alexander. Invading India in 326 BC, he first captured the North-West Frontier Province and Kabul. Alexander dominated all the other rulers except for King Puru, who in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC, was defeated by Alexander the Great. But elated by Puru's bravery, Alexander welcomed him back into his dominion.

If you are interested to know about the Historical Chronology AD, BC, BCE, CE: Definition, History, Difference, then click on the link.


Mahapadma took over the reign from the Shishunagas of Magadhan power and their policy of systematic expansion. His frontier origin and early career as an adventurer assisted him in integrating his empire with ruthless conquests. In a Puranic statement, he was well-known as the "destroyer of all Kshatriyas", and he overthrew many powers, that is, the Kurus, Panchalas, Maithili, Ikshvakus, Asmaka, Kalinga, & the Surasenas were all defeated by him as proved by independent evidence. Ultimately, in 320 BC, Chandragupta's armies assaulted Pataliputra (now Patna) and destroyed the Nanda army. So, the Nanda Dynasty was preceded by the Maurya Dynasty.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

Liked What You Just Read? Share this Post:

Finology Blog / Legal / Nanda Dynasty of Magadha - In depth study

Wanna Share your Views on this? Comment here: