Ancient World

Dynasties of MAGADHA—II

Two of the largest empires of India—the Mauryan and the Gupta—had ruledover Magadha, which proved to be the centre in which art, religion, mathematics, and astronomy flourished



THE emergence of ‘zero’ and decimal notation, and the discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun occurred during the Golden Age of the Gupta period. In addition, the Magadha dynasties supported art, architecture and sculpture, leaving behind many stupas and statues as proof of their patronage. Learning centres like Nalanda flourished, and Buddhism and Jainism gained royal support.

The Nanda rulers might have remained a tiny footnote in the history of India’s dynasties, if it wasn’t for Chandragupta Maurya overthrowing Dhana Nandaunder Chanakya’s guidance.
Mahapadma Nanda ascended the throne after killing his father, Mahanandin, the Shishunaga king, establishing the Nanda dynasty which ruled briefly from 345 to 321 BC.
He built a powerful army and expanded the Magadha empire towards Punjab in the west and towards the Deccan Plateau in the south. Kalinga (present-day Odisha) was part of the Nanda empire, but broke free later, only to be reconquered by Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty.
Ruling with the aid of ministers, the Nandas built irrigation projects and introduced standard measures, easing trade activity within the empire. Yet, they were known for their cruelty and extortion, which paved the way for the rise of Chandragupta Maurya.


One of the largest empires of the world of its time, the Mauryan empire ruled over Magadha for nearly a century and a half, up to 180 BC. With efficient administrative, economic and security systems set in place under Chanakya’s advice, the empire expanded and thrived.


While Chandragupta Maurya expanded his empire towards Persia, it was during his grandson Ashoka’s reign that the empire encompassed nearly all of India and beyond. Its boundaries extended from Assam in the east towards Afghanistan in the west and included parts of Southern India. After Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire went into a total decline.

After a brief rule by the Gauda kings, Shashanka and Manava, the Palas came into power with Gopala as the king. They were a Buddhist dynasty that followed the Mahayana and Tantric schools and ruled for nearly four centuries from the 8th to 12th centuries.
With a large elephant unit and navy, the Palas were a strong military power, yet they were diplomats too. Philosophy, literature, painting and sculpture gained importance during this period. The Somapura Mahavihara was built by the Palas who also lent their patronage to the Nalanda and Vikramashila universities.
With expanded trade between the Pala Empire and the Middle East, Islam made its appearance. In turn, Baghdad learnt India’s mathematical and astronomical discoveries.
Ramapala was the last strong Pala king and the weakened empire fell to the Sena dynasty during the 11th or 12th century.
Although smaller kingdoms ruled after the Pala dynasty, the region would eventually come under Muslim rule.

Chandragupta Maurya turned towards Jainism and renounced the throne during his later years, retiring to Shravanabelagola in Karnataka and living the rest of his years as an ascetic.
Ashoka embraced Buddhism, spreading the message of peace and non-violence after the brutal Kalinga war. He built many Buddhist viharas and stupas, some of which held Buddha’s relics. He sent his daughter Sanghamitra and son Mahindra to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism.
Brihadratha, the last Mauryan king was killed by the commander-in-chief of his guard, Pushyamitra Shunga, who established the Shunga Empire.
Buddhism and Jainism, which had flourished under the Mauryan kings, suffered suppression under Pushyamitra’srule. His descendants though offered their support and were instrumental in expanding the great Sanchistupa.
After the death of Agnimitra, the second Shunga king, the Magadha Empire shrunk to central and eastern parts of India, although the Shungas continued to rule for over a century up to 75 BC.
Devabhuti, the last Shunga ruler, was defeated by Vasudeva who established the Kanva dynasty, while the Shungas continued to rule in a much smaller region.The Kanvas ruled for barely 45 years before they were overthrown by the Satavahanas.
Putting an end to the nearly 500 years of splintering of the Magadha, the Gupta Empire rose to prominence in 320 BC. It ruled up to 550 or 600 CE with Pataliputra as the capital.
While Sri Gupta is recognised as the first Gupta king when he ruled over lands offered by the Murundas of Odisha, it is Chandragupta-I who is credited with expanding and stabilising the Gupta Empire. With Chandragupta marrying the Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi, he gained iron ore mines. Combined with Magadha’s advanced techniques of metallurgy, the iron ore enabled them to build iron instruments, which became a valuable trade commodity that added to Magadha’s wealth.
Chandragupta’s son, Samudra Gupta, went on successful military campaigns, extending his reign from Brahmaputra in the East to portions of Afghanistan, and from the Himalayas to the river Narmada.
Samudra Gupta’s son, Chandragupta-II, also known as Chandragupta Vikramaditya, expanded the Magadha boundaries by defeating the foreign kingdoms of the Hunas and Kambojas, Kinnaras, Kiratas, Sakas, Mlechchas, Yavanas, Tusharas, and the Parasikas, among others.
After the death of Skandagupta, Chandragupta-II’s grandson, the empire went into decline. It began disintegrating under Huna incursions deep into their territory. Attacks from the Vakatakas and Yashodharman of Malwa aided the decline.
Despite the constant battles and expansion, the Gupta rule is also known for advancing art, literature and sculpture. Great advances in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy were made.
Aryabhatta, who is credited with the introduction of zero, bringing the decimal notation into place, lived during this period. Aryabhatta had also stated that the Earth revolves around the Sun and had studied solar and lunar eclipses. It was also the period when Varahamihira, the astronomer, astrologer, mathematician produced PanchaSiddhantika, BrihatSamhita and BrihatJataka. SushrutaSamhita, the basis of India’s traditional medicinal knowledge, ayurveda too belonged to the Gupta period.
It was in the court of Chandragupta-II that the navaratnas (nine jewels)– renowned personalities – were present, including Kalidasa who had written the Abhijnanashakuntala, Raghuvamsha and Meghaduta.Vatsyayana had written the Kamasutra during this period.
Stone carvings of deities, including those of Hinds, of Buddha, and of the Jain tirthankaras came about during this period with Mathura and Gandhara emerging as centres. Fa Hien, the Chinese traveller visited India during the reign of Chandragupta-II and described many of these achievements.
Introduces ‘zero’, pi, trigonometry and quadratic equations.
Heliocentric model of solar system, moon’s reflection of sunlight, earth’s circumference, solar and lunar eclipses.
Length of sidereal year
Composes Pancha Siddhantika, Brihat Samhita, Brihat Jataka
Writes Sushruta Samhita – foundation of ayurveda
Composes Abhijnana Shakuntalam, Raghuvamsha, Meghaduta
Composes Kamasutra

Multicultural Assam Rich heritage, ancient practices

A state that is home to innumerable tribes, languages, castes and cultures, Assam boasts about its beauty and elegance with its rich heritage and ancient practices. The state is a part of ‘Seven Sisters’ Northeastern states



THE Assamese are noted for the assimilation of various cultures and ethnicities. Their festivals, clothing and food preparation are inspired by various past dynasties such as the Pala, Koch, Kachari, Chutiya, Ahom and even the British. However, the Kamarupa kingdom played a crucial role in carving much of the culture, as they were settled in Assam for nearly 700 years.
Assam is a place where the cultural elements of the tribals and others have been absorbed intimately. It is also a collection of various religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, and there isn’t much distinction among the people and their way of life.
There are, however, two important cultural and religious institutions that influence Assam: the Satras, who have been in existence for over 400 years and the Naamghar, the house of prayers.

Villagers generally associate on the basis of membership of a local centre of devotional worship called Naamghar. Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims represent the largest minorities, followed by Nepalis.
From the linguistic point of view, Assam fosters more than 14 languages. It has proved to be one of the greatest examples of unity in diversity where every ethnic group practices its own culture with pride and fervour.
The most prominent languages in the state are Assamese (an Indo-Aryan language, which is the official language of the state), Tibeto-Burman languages and Khasi.

Mysterious land
A mysterious land, Assam has a lot of ancient cultural practices and rituals that have formed the basis of its modern culture.

One gets mesmerised by the rites and rituals of the people and their determination to stick to them.
Perhaps the way the people still adhere to these customs has helped in the success of the flourishing Assamese culture. They have beautiful customs relating to marriages, births, celebration of festivals, or even for the simplest of things like eating together or decorating their homes.

Let’s take a look at some of the most incredulous customs:
Bhekuli-Biya: It is an old ritual of marrying two frogs during the monsoon to please the rain god and bring in more rains and bless the crops. Bhekuli means ‘frog’ and Biya is ‘marriage;’ it is a ritual where people catch two frogs, decorate them and then perform their wedding.
They invite guests, arrange a feast, chant the Shlokas and sing the Assamese wedding songs and enjoy themselves.


After the frogs are married, they put them in a rafter and float them in a river.
Me-Dam-Me-Phi: Me means ‘offering, Dam or Dum means ‘ancestors’ and Phi means ‘God’. The name clearly signifies that it is sacrificial ritual in which offerings are made to the dead and to gods. It started during the time when Ahom kings prayed to the dead after victories in wars.
It is a socio-religious festival of the Tai-Ahom and its significance goes deeper than its literal sense. It’s not merely an offering to the dead but a way of remembering ancestors and their contributions and shedding light on the ideas of life beyond earthly desires.
It started some 2,000 years ago when Lengdon, known as the lord of heaven and also the first progenitor of Tai–Ahom, sent down two of his grandsons to worship him and keep the idea of their rule alive among the masses.
In the modern era, this festival is celebrated on January 31 every year by the Ahoms; it is observed as a public holiday in the state.
Assamese Biya: The wedding ceremony is one the most vivid and beautiful. It has various rituals and practices. The wedding ceremony involves rituals like Daiyan–Diya and Nau-Purush Shardha.
The former is a traditional ceremony wherein a bowl of curd is sent to the bride’s home from the groom’s side on the morning of the wedding day. The bride eats half of it and sends it back to the groom.
Nau–Purush Shardha is a ceremony in which the groom’s father and mother send invitations for the wedding. The arrival of the groom is a pompous ceremony and their side is not given entry to the bride’s home till they pay a heavy price.

The bride is carried to the Mandap (the place of the main wedding ceremony) on the shoulders of her brother. Conch shells are blown by the ladies and Biya songs are sung along with a tune made by the ladies by rolling their tongues.
The marriage is consummated by the bride and groom taking their vows in front of the sacred fire and moving together into the groom’s house where the mother performs the traditional aarti and welcomes the couple.

Bihu: It is the most popular and oldest folk dance of Assam. The dance is joyously performed by young boys and girls during the Bihu festivities which represent youthful passion.

It is characterised by brisk dance steps and elegant hand movements and is accompanied by musical instruments like dhol (dholak), penpa, gagana and banhi (flute).
The dance outfits are colourful Assamese clothing with elaborate decorations. The first Bihu dance was when Ahom king Rudra Singha invited dancers to perform at the Ranghar fields in 1694 on the occasion of Rongali Bihu.
There are some vivid and noteworthy traditions and ancient practices prevalent in Assam and these add to its beauty by making it an attraction for people from all over the world.


Dynasties of Magadha – I

While the Magadha kings aggressively expanded their territory, they also gave patronage to Buddhism and Jainism which originated in the empire.


Known history of the Magadha Empire goes back to the days of the Puranas, and Vedas, dating back to 1700 BC and earlier.
The Ramayana refers to Magadha only as a fertile and rich place, and it is the Mahabharata, the Vedas, Buddhist and Jain texts that bring to us the Magadha story of affluence and aggression.
Many dynasties ruled Magadha and the Magadha kings who stand out in Indian history – Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka – owe part of their successful expansion to the kingdom’s location on the fertile Gangetic plain, on the southeast banks of the Ganga in present-day south Bihar, and to the copper and iron ore mines of Bihar and Jharkhand.
Moving alongside military expansion is the spread of Buddhism and Jainism from this region, finding patronage from the kings, Bimbisara, Ajatashatru, Kalasoka, Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka in particular. This is understandable, since the religions had emerged in the region, and Buddha and Mahavira were contemporaries of Bimbisara.

Brihadratha Dynasty
Known history of Magadha begins with Brihadratha who founded the dynasty in his name. His son, the powerful king Jarasandha attacked the Yadava kingdom Surasena seventeen times, forcing the Yadavas to move from its capital Mathura to Dwarka.
Later, Bheema, with guidance from Krishna, killed Jarasandha in a wrestling match and placed the latter’s son Sahadeva on the Magadha throne. Sahadeva fought alongside the Pandavas in Kurukshetra and was killed in the war.
Twenty four Brihadratha kings ruled Magadha for nine centuries, from 1700 to 800 BC, making it the longest ruling dynasty of the empire.
In 799 BC, the last Brihadratha king Ripunjaya was killed by his minister, who placed his son Pradyota on the throne, according to some sources. Now began dynasties known for their bloody feuds of succession.

Pradyota Dynasty
According to the Vayu Purana, the Pradyotas, who were already ruling Avanti in Madhya Pradesh, annexed Magadha. Their rule was short-lived with the five Pradyota kings ruling Magadha from 799 to 684 BC.
Crimes were commonplace, and according to Buddhist and Jain texts, a Pradyota tradition was that the king’s son kills his father to become the king. Eventually, the crimes and feuds for succession led to a people’s revolt, and Magadhis chose a Haryanka ruler. Meanwhile, the Pradyotas continued to rule Avanti.

Haryanka Dynasty
Bimbisara, who was anointed king when he was fifteen, by his father, Bhattiya was the first Haryanka ruler, although some sources refer to Bhattiya as the first king of the dynasty. Bimbisara built Girivraja (Rajagriha) as his capital and annexed Anga to the east, gaining access to the Ganges delta. He also formed marriage alliances with kingdoms to the north and west, laying the foundation for Magadha’s expansion.

Siddhartha Gautama met Bimbisara during his early wanderings and later, when he became the Buddha, Bimbisara became his disciple.
Bimbisara’s son Ajatashatru, continued the expansion, conquering Kashi and Kosala to the west, and after a sixteen-year battle with the Vrijji confederacy, he conquered this kingdom too. He is known for burning the Vrijji capital Vaishali. He also built a fort at the village, Pataligrama which would become Pataliputra.
Although Magadhis revolted against the Pradyotas for the latter’s succession feuds, the Haryankas continued the practice.


Succession was a bloody affair, with Ajatashatru imprisoning his father Bimbisara and becoming the cause of his death. Ajatashatru himself was murdered by his son, Udayabhadra, who in turn was assassinated by his son Anuruddha. Anuruddha was assassinated by his son Munda who was killed by his son Nagadasaka.
Yet another revolt rose within the kingdom, and Nagadasaka’s minister, Shishunaga came to power.

Shishunaga Dynasty
The Shishunagas ruled for a very short period, from 413 BC to 345 BC. Shishunaga, who was the son of a Lichchavi ruler, continued to expand Magadha, defeating Nandivardana of the Pradyota dynasty, and conquering Avanti.
Shishunaga ruled from Rajagriha (earlier called Girivraja), and it was during his son Kalasoka’s reign that Pataliputra became the Magadha capital and would remain so.
Mahanandin, the last Shishunaga ruler, was killed by his son Mahapadma Nanda who established the Nanda dynasty.

Magadha’s Might – The Basis
Magadha’s expansion during this period was based on its strategic location on the lower Ganges, receiving revenue both from the fertile plains and from maritime trade. It had access to timber and elephants from the neighbouring forests, which helped in construction and in strengthening the army.
Rich deposits of copper and iron ore, and the associated technological advances gave birth to Ajatashatru’s military innovations, like the maha sila kantaka (catapult that threw heavy stones to a great distance) and ratha musala (covered chariot with wheels that had rotating spears and blades).
Bimbisara built an efficient administration system, and ruled with the help of the executive, the judiciary and the military. He also introduced land revenue, strengthening the kingdom’s coffers.
For whom Ajatashatru Burnt Vaishali: Amrapali
Smitten with Amrapali’s beauty, Manudev, the king of Vaishali, killed her groom on the day of her marriage and declared her nagar vadhu (bride of the city). Amrapali became the royal courtesan of the Lichchavis, one of the eight tribes that formed the Vrijji confederacy with Vaishali as the capital. She also becamse the raja nartaki (court dancer).
King Bimbisara who had heard of Amrapali’s beauty, attacked Vaishali and took refuge in Amrapali’s house. Amrapali who had a son by Bimbisara, came to know his identity and asked the king to leave. She also asked him to put an end to his war against Vaishali, which Bimbisara did.
Later, his son Ajatashatru conquered Vaishali, which was being ruled by the Lichchavis at the time. He too had heard of Amrapali’s beauty and sought her. The people of Vaishali came to know of their relationship and imprisoned Amrapali.
In anger, Ajatashatru burned the city, nearly ruining Vaishali and causing the death of hundreds of people. Seeing the massacre, Amrapali turned away from the king and became a Buddhist nun.
Amrapali is known to have served food to Lord Buddha when he visited Vaishali before his death. She gave away her vast property to the Buddha, and many sermons were held in her mango grove.


During the Vedic period, sixteen Mahajanapadas ruled northern India, of whom the Kurus are credited with establishing the Vedic heritage.


The decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation began in 1700 BC, coming to an end 400 years later. Meanwhile, the Vedic age emerged, thriving from 1500 to 600 BC. The janapadas, meaning foothold of tribes, emerged during this period and marked the second urbanisation, after the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Until about 1100 BC, tribal and pastoral cultures existed and were largely based in Punjab. The thick forest cover deterred them from migrating eastward, but by 1300 BC, the Iron Age had begun. The emergence of axes and ploughs made of iron helped them clear the forest cover.
Gradually, these tribes moved eastward towards the Gangetic Plain, and settled down to agriculture. They formed clans that evolved into the janapadas, which were republics or kingdoms.

Headed by a king, the tribes also had an assembly, that is, samiti, which elected or dethroned the king. Elders formed the sabha, which advised the king. Clans, or kulas developed, each with its own chief. The military emerged, with kshatriya warriors and eventually the janapadas evolved.


The smaller janapadas merged into 16 mahajanapadas, and extended across the northern part of India until 500 BC, coming to an end with the rise of empires like the Magadha Empire or due to the Persian and Greek invasions.
Accounts differ, but the 16 mahajanapadas are said to be Anga, Assaka, Avanti, Chedi, Gandhara, Kashi, Kamboja, Kosala, Kuru, Magadha, Malla, Matsya, Panchala, Surasena, Vajji and Vatsa.
ANGA had as its capital Champa, which was on the banks of the River Champa and was a centre of trade and commerce. Angad, son of Vali, is said to have established the kingdom. Duryodhana is said to have made Karna the king of Anga. King Bimbisara of Magadha annexed Anga into the Magadha kingdom, making Brahmadatta the last of the Anga kings.
ASSAKA or Asmaka was established near the river Godavari with Potali, or Podana as its capital. Its rulers were contemporaries to the Shishunagas of Magadha.
AVANTI was ruled by the Haihayas with Mahishmati as its capital initially. Later, it was divided by the Vindhyas into the northern region, with Ujjayini as its capital, and the southern region with Mahishmati as its capital. Later, it was ruled by the Pradyota dynasty. After Pradyota, his son Palaka ascended the throne. He was overthrown for his tyrannical rule. Later, Avanti came under the rule of the Shishunagas of Magadha.
CHEDI, to the south of the Yamuna, was ruled by Shishupala, and was known in the Mahabharata as Duryodhana’s ally. Its capital was Suktimati.
GANDHARA was a kingdom in the Peshawar valley, extending from what is today Pakistan to north-east Afghanistan. Its main cities were Purushapura (Peshawar), Takshasila and Pushkalavati, on the banks of the Swat and Kabul rivers. Pushkalavati was its capital until the 2nd century AD.
KASHI had as its capital, Varanasi or Kashi, which was on the banks of the Ganga. The city received its name from the rivers Varuna and Assi. It emerged as one of Hinduism’s cultural and religious centres.
KAMBOJA was situated beyond Gandhara with Rajapura (Rajauri) as its capital. Its inhabitants are believed to be of Indo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan origin. Since they were great horsemen, they often took part in battles among other nations.
KOSALA (present-day Awadh) was ruled from its capital Ayodhya. The Ikshvakus ruled Kosala and were later defeated by Ajatashatru of Magadha.
MALLA was situated north of Magadha and was divided probably by river Kakuttha (Kuku) into two parts, with Kusavati and Pava as the two capitals. During the post-Vedic period, both Gautama Buddha and Mahavira chose this republic as their place of death.
MATSYA was to the west of river Yamuna with its capital as Viratanagari. It was probably part of Chedi at some point in time.

Gandhara was a kingdom in the Peshawar valley, extending from Pakistan to north-east Afghanistan. Its main cities were Purushapura (Peshawar), Takshasila and Pushkalavati, on the banks of the SWAT and Kabul rivers. Pushkalavati was its capital until the 2nd century AD.

Kuru was formed by the Bharata and Puru tribes, becoming a key political and cultural centre during the reigns of King Parikshit and King Janamejaya. The vedas are said to have been arranged into collections during this period and Hindu rituals were crystallised. Asandivat was the first Kuru capital with Indraprastha and Hastinapura emerging later as the main cities. The capital shifted to Kausambi when floods destroyed Hastinapura. The Kurus eventually fell to the Salvas.
Magadha originated in Bihar to the south of the Ganga. Its capital was initially known as Girivrijja, and was later changed to Rajagriha during the time of Ajatashatru. Much later, its capital shifted to Pataliputra. The Haryanka dynasty ruled from 600 to 413 BC, with Bimbisara ascending the throne as the second king of the dynasty. His son, Ajatashatru imprisoned him and caused his death. Ajatashatru conquered Vaishali, Kashi and Kosala, in addition to many other republics, establishing Magadha’s power.
Magadha expanded to cover Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, parts of Uttar Pradesh as well as Bangladesh and Nepal. After the Shishunaga dynasty ruled from 413 to 345 BC, the Nanda dynasty ruled up to 321 BC. Chandragupta Maurya overthrew Dhana Nanda, the last of the Nanda rulers, to establish the Maurya dynasty.

PANCHALA was in the region where the Ganga and Yamuna converge. It was a powerful kingdom with close alliance with the Kurus. It later turned into a republic and was annexed into the Magadha Empire by Mahapadma Nanda. Panchala later regained its independence, but was annexed by the Gupta Empire.
SURASENA, which is mentioned in the Ramayana, has Mathura as its capital. It is said to be the land of Lord Krishna and its inhabitants were called Yadavas.

VAJJI, ruled from Vaishali, was a confederacy of eight clans, including the Licchavis, Jnatrikas and Videhas. The Licchavi king Manudeva is said to have had a desire for Amrapali, the legendary dancer.
VATSA, situated at the Ganga-Yamuna confluence, had as its capital Kausambi. It was a branch of the Kuru dynasty, the other being the Vatsas.
These 16 Mahajanapadas are important not only for being the starting point for many of India’s later dynasties, but more so for bringing Vedic culture into the mainstream.

King Herod

King Herod might have been just another footnote in the history of Judaea if it were not for the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born in his kingdom.



To Antipater from Idumea, which was south of Judea, and Cyprus, the daughter of an Arabian Sheik, was born Herod in 73 BCE. To this he owed some of his conflicts. Since Antipater was from Idumea, the Jews considered him an outsider although he worshipped the Jewish God. Since they considered a person Jewish only if he had a Jewish mother, Herod’s mother being an Arab didn’t help matters although like his father, Herod was a practicing Jew.

Meanwhile, after the death of the Hasmonean Queen, Alexandra Salome who ruled over Judea, a bloody civil war was initiated by her sons Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Judaea suffered. Hyrcanus won the struggle with the intervention of the Roman general Pompey and Antipater, who supported Hyrcanus, became the real power behind the throne.
Yet another civil war erupted, this time in Rome between Pompey and Julius Caesar in which Hyrcanus supported the latter. In 47 BCE, Caesar appointed Antipater a regent and granted Roman citizenship.
In 44 BCE, Caesar was murdered, bringing to power his nephew Octavian and his second-in-command Mark Antony.

Even as Brutus and Cassius, Caesar’s murderers, fled, Judaea had to pay thousands of kilos of silver. In the subsequent troubles, Antipater was killed. Herod in turn killed the murderers with the help of Rome.

When Hyrcanus’ nephew tried to usurp the throne in 43 BCE, Herod defeated him. He then divorced his wife Doris and sending her and their son away, he married Hyrcanus’ daughter Mariamne. With this alliance, he enhanced his claim to the throne.
With Octavian and Mark Antony defeating Caesar’s murderers at Philippi, Antipater was on the losing side, but Herod convinced Mark Antony that his father had been forced to take their side. Convinced of this, Mark Antony awarded the title Tetrarch of Galilee to Herod, indicating that he was the leader of a vassal kingdom. Hyrcanus was the Jewish leader, but only in name.
But, the Jews resented the appointment since Herod was not considered a Jew. They sided with the Parthians in the latter’s war against Romans. Hyrcanus was taken prisoner and Antigonus became king. Phasael committed suicide.

With the help of Rome, the Parthians were driven away and Herod came to Jerusalem with Roman legions, defeating Antigonus. Herod now became the ruler of Judaea.

To stabilise his position, he brought Hyrcanus, who was now an old man, back from the Parthians in Babylon, giving his reign the appearance of legitimacy.
King Herod embarked on an extensive building programme, leaving behind the new walls of Jerusalem and the citadel guarding its temple.
He minted coins in his name, and kept the Romans in good humour. While he tried to please Mark Antony in the east and Octavian in the West, civil broke out between the two leaders in 31 BCE in which Herod sided with Mark Antony who was defeated.


To secure his position, he had his father-in-law and the old king Hyrcanus executed. He then met Octavian, spoke to him frankly about his loyalty to Mark Antony, ending with the promise to be loyal to the Roman Empire.
Octavian who wanted Herod as an ally if he were to pursue Mark Antony, accepted Herod’s rule, adding Judaea and Samaria to the latter’s kingdom. Meanwhile Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide and Octavian became the first Roman emperor and called himself Augustus. He rewarded Herod with Jericho and Gaza.

Herodian Architecture
King Herod’s most famous project was the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 19 BCE. This would come to be known as the Second Temple of Jerusalem or Herod’s Temple. The temple itself was built in a year and a half, and construction on the outer builders continued for decades. Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem is part of the four walls, which were built to create a flat platform called the Temple Mount. The temple itself was constructed over this.
Innovations in architecture and construction techniques are found in the constructions during King Herod’s reign, such as the use of the Jewish ritual bath as a frigidarium in the bathhouses in Herod’s palaces. His innovations in combining palace and fortress in Jerusalem, Herodium, Masada and Caesarea Maritima, and military architecture were followed during later periods.
He built great cities with notable constructions, including a new market, amphitheatre and a fortress in Jerusalem. Most of Herod’s structures were built over Hasmonean buildings.
The port of Caesarea was his achievement, and was built along the Greek plan with a market, an aqueduct, government offices, baths, and temples. Protected by wave-breaking structures and its piers made from hydraulic concrete that hardens underwater, the port was an engineering marvel.

End of Herod’s Reign
Herod continued to add land to his country, built a strong bureaucracy and enhanced economic development.
The different factions hated him for different reasons, but for economic reasons alone, he gave cause for dislike with his high taxation and had to resort to violence to ensure order and paying of levies.
Terror ruled the end of his reign. Herod fell ill and became increasingly erratic. When two teachers and their pupils removed the golden eagle from the Temple’s entrance, all of them were burned alive.
It is believed that a cancer-like gangrene afflicted Herod towards the end. His mental stability became questionable. He had Mariamne and her family killed. He disinherited his first son, Antipater and had him killed. He executed his sons Aristobulus and Antipater. After his death in 4 BCE, in the Herodion fortress which he had built and the Roman emperor divided Herod’s kingdom among the latter’s sons, Herod Antipas, Philip and Archelaus.
Herod had ruled Judaea between 37 and 4 BCE.

Feast of the Holy Innocents
According to the Gospel of Mathew, when the Magi go to Judaea in search of the newborn who would be the king of Jews, Herod asks them to let him know when they find him. The magi though, return another way after they find Jesus.

Emperor Ashoka

Fierce emperor-turned-promoter of peace, Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire is known through the rock edicts and pillars that he had erected across the Indian sub-continent



Although it cannot be proven beyond doubt, it is believed that Ashoka was crowned Emperor after he had his 99 half-brothers killed, leaving only Tissa alive. It is only in 269 BCE that he was crowned Emperor, four years after he ascended the throne. Over the next eight years, Ashoka expanded his empire.

Ashoka’s Reign
Ashoka was a fierce emperor, and some texts describe him as cruel. All that changed with the Kalinga War. Ashoka’s edicts describe the remorse he felt after the Kalinga War when he saw the more than hundred thousand deaths in the war, and the suffering of families of the deceased. He turned to Buddhism, promoting peace within his empire and sending emissaries to spread the religion to distant regions.
Ashoka is believed to have had five wives, Devi, Karuvaki, Asandhimitra, Padmavati and Tishyarakshita. Mahendra and Sangha Mitra who went on a Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka were Devi’s offspring.
Ashoka declared that dharma is the practice of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, mercy, benevolence, non-violence and being considerate towards others. He dissuaded extravagance, being acquisitive, and causing injury to animals.
He respected all religions while directing them to respect other religions, and not to criticise others’ viewpoints vehemently. On his periodic tours, he spoke of dharma and tried to relieve his people’s sufferings. His officers were required to do the same, and to be impartial in giving justice. Ashoka founded hospitals for humans and animals, planting trees alongside roads, digging wells, and building rest houses. He issued orders to prevent cruelty towards animals.

Ashoka’s chief consort Asandhimitra was childless. His youngest wife Tishyarakshita is believed to have blinded his son Kunala (son of Padmavati). Her intent was to have him killed, but the killers spared his life and Kunala became a wandering singer along with his wife Kanchanmala. Hearing of this, Ashoka condemned Tishyaraksha to death.
Ashoka’s end came in 232 BCE. His grandson Dasharatha is believed to have succeeded him to the throne. In 185 BCE, the last Mauryan Emperor, Brihadratha was assassinated by his Commander-in-Chief, Pushyamitra Shunga, who founded the Shunga dynasty and ruled over a part of the Mauryan Empire.
Emperor Ashoka is probably the most famous Mauryan Emperor, not just for expanding the empire, but also for turning from a fierce ruler to a peaceful one. He expanded the empire from Afghanistan to Bangladesh and from the Himalayas to the south, leaving just the southern region out of his control. Grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the empire, Ashoka ruled with Pataliputra (Patna) as his capital..

Also known by the names Devanampriya, (Beloved of the Gods), and Priyadarsin (He who regards everyone with affection), Ashoka lived up to these names after the Kalinga War.

Kalinga War
Kalinga, which constitutes present-day Odisha and northern part of coastal Andhra Pradesh, stood autonomous, defying Mauryan rule. Ashoka waged a war against the kingdom during the eighth year of his rule, annexing it in a bloody battle. The war which saw deaths estimated anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000, including war casualties and those who succumbed to death during deportation, brought change in the Emperor’s heart and Ashoka embraced Buddhism.
Ashoka Chakra
The Ashoka Chakra on the Ashoka Pillar in Sarnath is a famous symbol from the emperor’s time. It is a representation of the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma, or Dharmachakra. Twelve spokes of the wheel stand for the 12 causes of suffering. The other 12 spokes represent the principle of cause and effect. The 12 causes of suffering are avidya (ignorance), sanskara (mind’s conditioning), vijnana (consciousness), namarupa (name and form), sadayatana (six senses), sparsa (contact), vedana (sensation), trishna (thirst), upadana (grasping), bhava (being), jati (to be born), jaramarana (old age and death).
The remaining 12 deal with reversing these links so that with awareness of mind, we reach a stage of no cause and no effect. The Ashoka Chakra in the Indian flag comes from this Chakra.
Ashoka Chakra is also India’s highest peacetime military decoration. It is awarded to people who have acted with valour, courage and self-sacrifice away from the battlefield.
Ashoka Pillars
Ashoka Pillars are stone columns, which were erected by the emperor across the sub-continent. Ten pillars with inscriptions survive today. The inscriptions are in Prakrit written in the Brahmi script. Between forty and fifty feet in height, their weight is estimated at fifty tons. The stone came from Chunar, south of Varanasi.
Ashoka Mudra (Lion Capital of Ashoka)
Ashoka Mudra is a sculpture with four lions facing the four directions. Placed atop the Ashoka Pillar in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, it has been shifted to the Sarnath Museum, while the pillar stands in its original location.
It has been adopted as India’s national emblem. The four lions stand on a short cylindrical stone, which carries sculptures of four animals, symbolising the stages of Lord Buddha’s life:
Elephant: Queen Maya’s dream of a white elephant entering her womb
Bull: Signifies desire when Buddha was a prince
Galloping Horse: Departure from life in the palace
Lion: Buddha’s accomplishments.
The four animals are separated by chariot wheels over a bell-shaped lotus. The entire sculpture was carved out of a single block of polished sandstone. It is said that the mudra was crowned by a Dharmachakra, the Ashoka Chakra.
Ashoka’s Legacy
The stupas of Sanchi, Sarnath are well-known. The Mahabodhi temple and Nalanda Mahavihara in Bihar, as well as Takshasila in Pakistan too are famous. Ashoka is also credited with more stupas in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Pakistan.

His name Ashoka means one without sorrow.
In addition to the second century compilations, Ashokavadana, which is part of Divyavadana, and Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan compilation, his rock pillars, edicts and monuments tell us about him.
While there is no dispute that his father was Bindusara, some texts state that his mother was Subhadrangi, and others state that she was Janapadakalyani. Ashoka grew with his many half-brothers under royal military upbringing.

From Prince to Emperor
After suppressing a revolt during his father’s time, Ashoka became the Governor of the Malwa capital, Ujjain. Although Bindusara wanted Prince Susima, his elder son to succeed to the Mauryan throne, his ministers, with Radhagupta playing a strong role, supported Ashoka’s bid for the throne. Ashoka then made Radhagupta his minister.