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The Janapadas (Sanskrit: जनपद pronounced [dʒənəpəd̪ə]) were the major realms republics or kingdoms of Vedic (Iron Age) India from about 1200 BC to the 6th century BC, which were then divided into the sixteen classical Mahajanapadas.
The term janapada is a tatpurusha compound term, composed of janas "people" or "subject" (cf. Latin cognate genus, English cognate kin) and pada "foot" (cf. Latin cognate pedis). From its earliest attestation, the word has had a double meaning of "realm, territory" and "subject population". A janapadin is the ruler of a janapada. Janapada's were the earliest gathering places of men, merchants, artisans and craftsmen akin to marketplace or town surrounded by hamlets and villages.
Linguist George Dunkel compares the Greek andrapodon "slave", to PIE *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.
Ancient Sanskrit texts like Ashtadhyayi (IV.4.168-175), Ramayana (IV/41-43), Mahabharata (VII/11/16-17; VIII/8/18-20)) and numerous Puranas (Bhuvanakosa list of countries) refer to many Janapadas of ancient times.
Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi furnishes a list of fifteen Kshatriya monarchical Janapadas, viz., Salveya, Gandhari, Magadha, Kalinga, Surasena, Kosala, Ajada, Kuru, Salva, Pratyagratha, Kalakuta, Ashmaka, Kamboja, Avanti and Kunti. Besides, there were those following the republican constitutions.
In context of Krsna digvijay, the Mahabharata furnishes a key list of twenty-five ancient Janapadas, viz., Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala, Vatsa, Garga, Karusha, Pundra, Avanti, Dakshinatya, Parvartaka, Dasherka, Kashmira, Ursa, Pishacha, Mudgala, Kamboja, Vatadhana, Chola, Pandya, Trigarta, Malava, and Darada (MBH 7/11/15-17). Besides, there were the Janapadas of Kurus and Panchalas also.
Ramayana (an earlier list) includes Janapadas of Andhras, Pundras, Cholas, Pandyas, Keralas, Mekhalas, Utkalas, Dasharnas, Abravantis, Avantis, Vidarbhas, Mlecchas, Pulindas, Surasenas, Prasthalas, Bharatas, Kurus, Madrakas, Kambojas, Daradas, Kiratas, Tangana, Yavanas, Sakas (from Saka-dvipa) Chinas, Maha-Chinas, Niharas etc.
The Bhuvanakosa Section of numerous Puranas divides the ancient Indian subcontinent into (1) the Dakshinapatha (Southern India), (2) the Madhyadesa (Mid India), (3) the Prachya (Eastern India), (4) the Aparanta (Western India), (5) the Udichya or north/north-west division, (6) the Vindyavasins, and (7) the Parvatashrayins, and in the detailed list of countries, it refers to many Janapadas of ancient times (See: Kirfel's list of the countries of Bhuvanakosha)
By about the sixth century BCE, many of these Janapadas further evolved into larger political entities by the process of merger and land grabbing which eventually led to the formation of bigger kingdoms known in Buddhist texts as the Mahajanapadas or the great nations (a karmadharaya of maha "great" and janapada "country").
- Charles Rockwell Lanman (1912), A Sanskrit reader: with vocabulary and notes, Boston: Ginn & Co., "... jána, m. creature; man; person; in plural, and collectively in singular, folks; a people or race or tribe ... cf. γένος, Lat. genus, Eng. kin, 'race' ..."
- Stephen Potter, Laurens Christopher Sargent (1974), Pedigree: the origins of words from nature, Taplinger Publishing Co., "... *gen-, found in Skt. jana, 'a man', and Gk. genos and L. genus, 'a race' ..."
- Dunkel, George (2002), Vedic janapada and Ionic andrapodon; with notes on Vedic drupadam and IE pedom "place" and "fetter", "Indo-European Perspectives (ed. M. R. V. Southern)", Journal of Indo-European Studies (Monograph) (43)
- "thai-language.com". thai-language.com. 2010-05-18. Retrieved 2010-05-18.