Janapadas


The Sanskrit term janapada is a tatpurusha compound term, composed of two words: janas and pada. Jana means "people" or "subject" (cf. Latin cognate genus, English cognate kin). The word pada means "foot" (cf. Latin cognate pedis); from its earliest attestation, the word has had a double meaning of "realm, territory" and "subject population" (cf. Hittite pedan, "place"). Linguist George Dunkel compares the Greek andrapodon "slave", to pédom "fetters" (i.e. "what is attached to the feet"). Sanskrit padám, usually taken to mean "footprint, trail", diverges in accent from the PIE reconstruction. For the sense of "population of the land", padasya janas, the inverted padajana would be expected. A primary meaning of "place of the people", janasya padam, would not explain why the compound is of masculine gender. An original dvandva "land and people" is conceivable, but a dual inflection would be expected.
Literary evidence suggests that the janapadas flourished between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE. The earliest mention of the term "janapada" occurs in the Aitareya and Shatapatha Brahmana texts.



In the Vedic samhitas, the term jana denotes a tribe, whose members believed in a shared ancestry. The janas were headed by a king. The samiti was a common assembly of the jana members, and had the power to elect or dethrone the king. The sabha was a smaller assembly of wise elders, who advised the king.


The janas were originally semi-nomadic pastoral communities, but gradually came to be associated with specific territories as they became less mobile. Various kulas (clans) developed within the jana, each with its own chief. Gradually, the necessities of defence and warfare prompted the janas to form military groupings headed by janapadins (Kshatriya warriors). This model ultimately evolved into the establishment of political units known as the janapadas.
Paintings of Rajasuya Yadnya


While some of the janas evolved into their own janapadas, others appear to have mixed together to form a common Janapada. According to the political scientist Sudama Misra, the name of the Panchala janapada suggests that it was a fusion of five (pancha) janas. Some janas (such as Aja and Mutiba) mentioned in the earliest texts do not find a mention in the later texts. Misra theorizes that these smaller janas were conquered by and assimilated into the larger janas.


The Janapada were highest political unit in Ancient India during this period; these polities were usually monarchical (though some followed a form republicanism) and succession was hereditary. The head of a kingdom was called a (rajan) or king. A chief (purohita) or priest and a (senani) or commander of the army who would assist the king. There were also two other political bodies: the (sabha), thought to be a council of elders and the (samiti), a general assembly of the entire people.

Kuru Janapada Coins


The boundaries of the kingdoms
Often rivers formed the boundaries of two neighboring kingdoms, as was the case between the northern and southern Panchala and between the western (Pandava's Kingdom) and eastern (Kaurava's Kingdom) Kuru. Sometimes, large forests, which were larger than the kingdoms themselves, formed their boundaries as was the case of Naimisha Forest, the NaimishaAranyam between Panchala and Kosala kingdoms. Mountain ranges like Himalaya, VindhyaAchala and SahyaAdri also formed their boundaries.


Janapadas were gradually dissolved around 500 BCE. Their disestablishment can be attributed to the rise of imperial powers (such as Magadha) within India, as well as foreign invasions (such as those by the Persians and the Greeks) in the north-western South Asia.

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