BIMBISARA (c. 545/544 BCE – c. 493/492 BCE) was a king of the Magadha Kingdom who is credited with establishing imperial dominance in the Indian subcontinent. Son of a minor king called Bhattiya, he belonged to the Haryanka Dynasty, which is said to be the second imperial dynasty of Magadha. However, it is only from Bimbisara’s reign that the historicity of different Indian kings can be verified with any certainty. Before the Haryanka Dynasty, the accounts of various Indian kings are mythical and cannot be verified with any archaeological evidence.
Bimbisara ruled at a time when Gautama Buddha (c. 563 BCE – c. 483 BCE) and Mahavira Vardhamana (c. 599 BCE – c. 527 BCE as per the Jaina tradition), the respective founders of Buddhism and Jainism, both started their teachings. Bimbisara has been given much importance in the early Buddhist and Jaina sources because he probably endorsed both these religions equally. He ruled from a place called Girivraja which was also known as Rajagriha and is identified with modern Rajgir in the state of Bihar today. It is said that the city of Rajagriha was built by Bimbisara himself. The city was covered on all sides by five hills creating a natural fortification, and later on Bimbisara’s son, Ajatashatru covered the gaps with stone walls.
Indian woman carrying a British man on her back. 1900
Indian ascetic with an iron necklace, India 1870.
Indian soldiers entering France during WWI, 1914
Parade at Indian Powwow, Pawnee, Oklahoma, August 1924.
THE Vedas are a collection of hymns and other ancient religious texts written in India between about 1500 and 1000 BCE. It includes elements such as liturgical material as well as mythological accounts, poems, prayers, and formulas considered to be sacred by the Vedic religion.
The origin of the Vedas can be traced back as far as 1500 BCE, when a large group of nomads called the Aryans, coming from central Asia, crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains, migrating into the Indian subcontinent. This was a large migration and used to be seen as an invasion. This invasion hypothesis, however, is not unanimously accepted by scholars today. All we know for certain, mainly through linguistic studies, is that the Aryan language gained ascendancy over the local languages in the Indian sub-continent. The language of the Vedas is Sanskrit, an ancestor of most of the modern languages spoken today in South Asia.
PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Ashoka the Great (Ruler of the Indian Mauryan Empire)
EMPEROR Ashoka the Great (sometimes spelt Aśoka) lived from 304 to 232 BCE and was the third ruler of the Indian Mauryan Empire, the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent and one of the world’s largest empires at its time. He ruled form 268 BCE to 232 BCE and became a model of kingship in the Buddhist tradition. Under Ashoka India had an estimated population of 30 million, much higher than any of the contemporary Hellenistic kingdoms. After Ashoka’s death, however, the Mauryan dynasty came to an end and its empire dissolved.
In the beginning, Ashoka ruled the empire like his grandfather did, in an efficient but cruel way. He used military strength in order to expand the empire and created sadistic rules against criminals. A Chinese traveller named Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) who visited India for several years during the 7th century CE, reports that even during his time, about 900 years after the time of Ashoka, Hindu tradition still remembered the prison Ashoka had established in the north of the capital as “Ashoka’s hell”. Ashoka ordered that prisoners should be subject to all imagined and unimagined tortures and nobody should ever leave the prison alive.
KINGDOM OF MAGADHA: WARS AND WARFARE
IN ancient India from the 6th century BCE onwards, the kingdom of Magadha (6th century BCE to 4th century BCE) made a mark for itself. Located in the eastern part of India in what is today the state of Bihar, it outshone other kingdoms and republics when it came to territorial expansion and control, which was the main reason and context for its incessant wars. The period of expansion and wars started from the reign of Bimbisara (543 BCE) and lasted until the fall of Dhanananda (322/321 BCE), when the Mauryans took over.
Along with Bimbisara, the main Magadha actors who screamed war were his son Ajatashatru (492 BCE – 460 BCE) and the kings Shishunaga (c. late 5th century BCE) and Mahapadma Nanda (about mid-4th century BCE). The Magadhan armies under these aggressive rulers fought pretty much like any other kingdom’s army in ancient India, using the prevalent four-fold army system (chariots, infantry, cavalry and elephants), personally led by kings or princes. Forts were present and thus, siege warfare was resorted to. In many cases, intrigue was used as a means of war. The able royal leadership and the drive to expand territorially was the main reason for Magadhan success as it impacted heavily on its military system and modes of warfare. The kingdom fell when the king was weak and unpopular and his supporters lost to intrigue—it was not exactly a military defeat. Interestingly, the story of Magadhan expansion reads just like a story—complete with intrigues, scandals, murders, undercover operations and whatnot. Interestingly, it is all history.
First group of Indian pilots arriving in London greeted by Sir Louis Greig, 1940
German, Ottoman, Indian, and Afghanistan delegates in Kabul, 1916
From left to right: Kazim Bey, Werner Otto von Hentig, Walter Röhr, Mahendra Pratap, Kurt Wagner, Oskar Niedermayer, Günter Voigt and Maulavi Barkatullah