Kingdoms of Ancient India

The Kingdoms

The boundaries of the kingdoms

The kingdoms mentioned below existed when territorial boundaries were less important, due to the limited human population and sparse human settlements. Often rivers formed the boundaries of two neighbouring 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 the Naimisha Forest between Panchala and Kosala kingdoms. Mountain ranges like Himalaya, Vindhya and Sahya also formed their boundaries.

Map of ancient Indian kingdoms during epic periods

The cities and villages

Some kingdoms possessed a main city that served as its capital. For example, the capital of Pandava's Kingdom was Indraprastha and the Kaurava's Kingdom was Hastinapura. Ahichatra was the capital of Northern Panchala where as Kampilya was the capital of Southern Panchala. Kosala Kingdom had its capital as Ayodhya. Apart from the main city or capital, where the palace of the ruling king was situated, there were small towns and villages spread in a kingdom. Tax was collected by the officers appointed by the king from these villages and towns. What the king offered in return to these villages and towns was protection from the attack of other kings and robber tribes, as well as from invading foreign nomadic tribes. The king also enforced code and order in his kingdom by punishing the guilty.

Interactions between kingdoms

There were no border security for a kingdom and border disputes were very rare. One king may conduct a military-campaign (often designated as Digvijaya meaning victory over all the directions) and defeat another king in a battle, lasting for a day. The defeated king would acknowledge the supremacy of the victorious king. The defeated king might some times be asked to give a tribute to the victorious king. Tribute will be collected only once, not in a periodic basis. The defeated king, in most cases, is free to rule his own kingdom, without maintaining any contact with the victorious king. There was no annexation of one kingdom by another kingdom. Often a military general makes these campaigns on behalf of his king. A military-campaign and tribute collection is often associated with a great sacrifice (like Rajasuya or Ashvamedha) conducted in the kingdom of the campaigner king. The defeated king also was invited to attend these sacrifice ceremonies, as a friend and ally.

New kingdoms

New kingdoms were formed when a major clan produced more than one King in a generation. The Kuru clan of Kings was very successful in governing throughout North India with their numerous kingdoms, which were formed after each successive generation. Similarly, the Yadava clan of kings formed numerous kingdoms in Central India.

Cultural differences in the kingdoms

Western parts of India were dominated by tribes who had a slightly different culture that was considered as non-vedic by the mainstream Vedic culture prevailed in the Kuru and Panchala kingdoms. Probably these were due to the influence of Iranian cultures. Similarly tribes ruling south India were also considered as non-Vedic by the Kuru, Panchalas, though the differences were not so significant. This may be due to the Dravidian nature of these tribes. Similarly there were some tribes in the eastern regions of India, considered to be in this category. Tribes with a different culture was collectively termed by the Vedic tribes by the name Mlechha. Very little was mentioned in the ancient Indian literature, about the kingdoms to the North, beyond the Himalayas. China was mentioned as a kingdom known as Chin, some times grouped with Mlechcha kingdoms.

Main kingdoms of Northern and North-Central India

Main kingdoms of North-Central India

Kingdoms of Western and West-Central India

North-Northwestern (Fishermen's) kingdoms

Western kingdoms

Northwestern kingdoms

Northern kingdoms

Eastern kingdoms

Kingdoms South of the Vindhya Range

Kingdoms in the extreme South

Saraswati Valley kingdoms

Himalayan kingdoms

The table lands and valleys of the great Himalayan Mountain Ranges, which were almost inaccessible to the people settled in the Ganga, Saraswati and Sindhu river valleys, were inhabited by tribes who had very little interactions with the rest of the world. The Vedic people of the plains considered these tribes to be super-human and in later periods considered them even as natural-spirits. The domains of these exotic tribes are listed below:




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