In ancient times, Uttar Pradesh was known as the Madhya Desh. Being on the route of invaders from north-west and forming part of the rich fertile plain between Delhi and Patna, its history is closely linked to the history of north India. Although not much is known about its pre and post historic periods, discovery of arms and implements of ancient and neo-paleolithic age in excavations in Mirzapur, Sonebhadra, Bundelkhand and Sarai Nahar area of Pratapgarh and of Harappan objects in Almgirpur in Meerut take us back to remote antiquity.
It is only from the Rigvedic age that some coherent historical account is found. Initially, the centre of Aryan colonization in India was Sapta Sindhu or the region irrigated by seven rivers (undivided Punjab). The seven rivers were Sindhu (Indus), Vitasta (Jhelum), Askini (Chenab), Purushni(Ravi), Vipasa(Beas), Shatudri (Sutlej) and Saraswati (now lost in the Rajasthan desert). More important of the Aryan clans were Puru, Turvasu, Yadu, Anu and Druh. These five clans were known as Panchjan. Besides, there was one more prominent clan known as Bharat. Gradually, the Aryans extended their territory towards the east. The Shatpath Brahman gives an interesting account of the victory of Kosal (Awadh) and Videh (north Bihar) by tej Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. Expansion of territory saw the creation of new States (Janpadas) and emergence of new people and new centres. The Sapta Sindhu gradually lost importance and the centre of culture shifted to the plains between Saraswati and Ganga ruled by the kingdoms of Kuru, Panchal, Kashi and Kosal.
The entire region extending up to Prayag in the east bore the name of Madhya Desh. Modern Uttar Pradesh corresponds to this region. It was considered sacred in Hindu mythology as Gods and heroes, whose deeds are recorded in the Ramayan and Mahabharat, lived here. To be the most cultured Aryans as their speech formed the norm and their conduct was prescribed as the model. They were fully conversant with rituals and could worship and sacrifice without any flaw or fault.
The rulers of these States, specially king Pravahna Jaivali of Panchal, became immortal due to their noble deeds. Subsequent history got mingled for a long time with the Puranas and Hindu scriptures, snapping the link with historical records. When this dark period of history comes to an end and outlines of a proper history take shape again in sixth century B.C., we find the 16 Mahajanpadas engaged in a state of serious competition for supremacy. These States (Janapadas) and their capitals were :-
1. Kuru (Meerut, Delhi and Thaneshwar)
Capital:Indraprasth (Indropal near Delhi)
2. Panchal (Bareilly, Budaun and Farrukhabad)
Capital:Ahichhatra (Ramnagar near Bareilly) and Kampilya (Farrukhabad)
3. Vats (Area around Mathura)
4. Vats (Allahabad and nearby area)
Capital:Kaushambi (Kosam near Allahabad)
5. Kosal (Awadh)
Capital:Saket (Ayodhya) and Shravasti (Sahet-Mahet in Gonda District)
6. Malla (District Deoria)
Capital:Kushinagar (Kasia) and Pawa (Padrauna)
7. Kashi (Varanasi)
8. Ang (Bhagalpur)
9. Magadh (South Bihar)
Capital:Girivraj (Rajgraha-Rajgiri near Bihar-Sharif)
10. Vajji (District Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur)
Capital:(Mithila, Janakpur, (on Nepal border) and Vaishali (Basra in Muzaffarpur district)
11. Chedi (Bundelkhand)
Capital:(Shuktimati (Probably near Banda)
12. Matsya (Jaipur)
Capital:(Virat (near Jaipur)
13. Ashmak (Godawari valley)
Capital:(Pandanya (Place not known)
14. Avanti (Malva)
15. Gandhar (north-west region, now in Pakistan)
Capital;(Taxshila (near Rawalpindi)
Capital:(Rajapur (place not known)
Out of the above 16 States, eight (at serial number 1-7 and 11) were in present Uttar Pradesh. More known among them were Kashi, Kosal and Vatsa. Besides these, certain republic states were also within the boundries of present Uttar Pradesh example: Shakya state of Kapilvastu, Bhagga state of Samsumergiri and Malla state of Pawapuri and Kushinagar.
Just Before Christ
All the States were perpetually at war with each other. Kosal annexed Kashi and Avanti grabbed Vatsa. Kosal and Avanti, in turn, were subjugated one by one by Magadha which became powerful in the entire region. Magadh was ruled in succession by Haryank, Shishunag and Nand dynasties. The Nandas ruled from 343 B.C. to 321 B.C. The Nand Empire extended almost to the whole of India except Punjab and probably Bengal. It was during their reign that the Alexander invaded India in 326 B.C. Several historians are of the view that the apprehension, that they will not be able to face the forces of the powerful Magadh State, was at the root of Alexander’s forces not advancing beyond Beas river, which compelled him to go back. With Alexander’s retreat, India witnessed a great revolution. As a result the Nand rulers had to give reins of power to Chandragupta, a scion of the Kshatriya clan “Moriya” of Pippalivana. The whole of Uttar Pradesh enjoyed peace and prospeity during the reigns of Chandragupta, his son Bindusara and grandson Ashok.
Ashok Chakra with Pillar The Lion Capital inscribed in the Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath has been adopted by the Government of India as the State Emblem. The Ashokan Pillars have been found at Sarnath, Allahabad, Meerut, Kaushambi, Sankisa, Kalsi, Siddharthnagar and Mirzapur, all of which are in Uttar Pradesh. The Chinese Travellers Fa-Hien and Yuan-Chawang have seen several rock edicts as well. The Dharmrajika Stupa at Sarnath was also built by Ashok. The downfall of the Magadhan empire began with the death of Ashok in 232 B.C. His grandsons, Dashrath and Samprathi divided the whole Empire among themselves. The entire area south of Narmada became independent and in 210 B.C. Punjab Passed into other hands. The last ruler of this Dynasty was Brihdrath who was assassinated by his commander-in-chief Pushyamitra Shung in 185 B.C. Pushyamitra kept Magadhan empire intact. Patanjali’s commentary refers to the seize of Saket (Ayodhya) by the Greeks. Menander and his brother mounted a heavy attack in about 182 B.C. The invading armies accupied Kathiwad in far off south-west, Sagal (Sialkot in Punjab) and Mathura. Later on the invaders laid a seize on Saket (Ayodhya) and advanced far in the Ganga valley. Ultimately, Pushyamitra and his grandson Vasumitra challenged the invaders on the banks of the Sindhu and defeated the Greeks. The invaders retreated and made Sagal (Sialkot) their capital. For long, Mathura remained a prominent city of Menander’s empire.Menander or Milind ruled up to about 145 B.c. Later on, small Indo-Greek and Greek states flourished in Punjab up to the first century of Chistain era. During this period the Shung dynasty was replaced by the danasty in Magadh. It is said that the last king of Shung dynasty was of bad character and he was killed by his minister Vasudev. Vasdev established Kanva dynasty in 75 B.C. by Simuk, the founder of the Satavahana or the Andhra Dynasty. It was at this time that the attention of Central Asian rulers was drawn towards India for the first time. By 60 B.C. they had set up their Kashatraps in Mathura. The first Saka king was Maues who died around 38 B.C. After the Sakas, the Parthians attacked north India and by the beginning of first century A.D. they started defeating the Sakas. The Kushanas also mounted an attack around 40 A.D. The Kushanas too were one of the five Yueh-Chih castes of Central Asia. Soon the Kushanas rulers established their empire right from Central Asia up to the Indus river. Gradually, They occupied the whole of north India.