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Notes from the Designer #15 -- The Nandas

The Nandas

The regicide Nanda, illegitimate son of the last descendant of Bimbisara and a labor-caste, or Sudra, woman, assassinated the usurper Kakavarna in 357 BCE. According to the account by Curtius, Nanda ruled Magadha in the name of Kakavarna’s 10 sons for several months, pretending to act as their guardian until he had them all put to death. In short order, Nanda then moved to exterminate all of the aristocratic Kshatriya (warrior caste) clans that had retained independence within the Magadhan sphere, incorporating their territories under his rule. Gone was the loose assemblage of feudal baronies under Kshatriya bloodlines. For the first time in Indian history, there was now an empire stretching beyond the Gangetic basin, from the Himalayas to the Godavari River, under the absolute rule of a single man.

Known by the popular epithets Mahapadma (“lord of immense wealth”) and Ugrasena (“lord of a formidable army”), Nanda was clearly a powerful king. Inheriting a system of standardized administration headed by powerful military and political advisors, Nanda continued the program of imperialism and political consolidation first inaugurated by Sishunaga. Along with a rigorous and efficient ministerial apparatus, Nanda also maintained a powerful fighting machine. Curtius counts the Magadhan army as consisting of 20,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry, besides some 3,000 elephants and 4,000 war chariots. Surviving Buddhist texts name the formidable general of the Nandan army as Bhadrasala. Bhadrasala commands the Nandan forces in Chandragupta’s first two scenarios, “Pataliputra” and “Magadha” (more on these scenarios later).

Nanda was a powerful monarch, but he was also a novus homo, and waging war against Kshatariya ascendancy gained him powerful enemies. He also garnered the relentless hostility of politically astute Brahmins.

Next week: Enter Chanakya.