Opinion on the Greater Magadha thesis

I used to think that there was something to Bronkhorst’s Greater Magadha thesis, which holds that Magadha was religiously and geographically distinct from the regions dominated/influenced by the Brahmins. This is found in: Bronkhorst, J. (2007). Greater Magadha: Studies in the culture of early India . Brill.

But recently I watched this video which is an attempt to refute his theory, it cites a lot of primary sources, and now I am not so convinced Bronkhorst got it right.

I wonder what people on this forum think of this greater magadha idea.

There are also other critiques i found too, such as a blog post by Jayarava - Jayarava's Raves: Revisiting Greater Magadha

And a review by Alex Wynne which is more measured, and sees the Magadha region as still being a less brahamanized region but still influenced by Brahmins.



My current theory is that “Greater Magadha” was significantly less Brahminic … after Buddhism.

I think scholars have vastly underestimated how monumental Buddhism was in shifting the religious landscape of axial India (though that’s changing a bit with recent scholarship).

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The Greater Maghada thesis is one of many theories about the religious landscape in the Ganges plains at the time of the Buddha.

The situation is complicated by the fact that we are separated from that time period by 2500 years plus, and our primary sources for that period are collections of texts passed down orally and then set down to manuscripts. Through that process, they went through differing periods of editing and redactment. That’s quite a minefield to wade through for the modern scholar.

It is further complicated by the resurgence of hindutva nationalism in “academic” circles in India, as extremists attempt to lay a hindu garb on other Dharmic religions like Buddhism and Jainism. This has polluted academic discourse quite a bit.

I think both Bronkhorst and the OP video make some decent points, but both are incorrect on cerain points as they seem to be racing to the opposite extremes: the Sramanas were neither separate from Brahmanism, nor were they completely formed from it.

The Vedic religion came from the west, but as it moved eastwards toward the Ganges, it began sweeping up pre-Vedic traditions as well; by way of example, the devotionals to deities in obviously yogic poses from the Indus River Civilzation. Around the time of the Buddha, tge gangetic plain was undergoing massive urbanisation and culture changes, and us such the primarily village based, agricultural Vedic Brahmanism was no longer speaking to the new urban elites; some studies of the suttas and theri/theragathas show a significant proportion of the early Sangha were probably urban Brahmins. In addition, some of the teachings in the suttas seem to be counter arguments to stuff in the Upanishads.

So, as these new urbanites were looking for new spiritual pathways, sometimes in methods influenced by brahmanism, in other times in ways that reflect beliefs the pre-date the arrival of the vedas, but were still influenced by them in the breach, if nothing else.

I am not really sure that you can draw a nice little dividing line between brahmanism and the sramanas; I see them more or less as two vines that are constantly growing around, and in opposition to, each other. And now, after 25 centuries, I am unsure if we will ever be able to entirely separate them.


Yes, that seems to be what I’ve been thinking about lately as well. It also seems like the eastern brahmins, the ones in Kosala, were not very “orthodox” (Wynne mentions this in his review I shared) in comparison to the Kuru-Pancala brahmins and that they may have picked up sramana ideas and developed some new views and practices of their own. Clearly the Buddha was familiar with Brahmanism and knowledgeable enough of it that he could recite the Gayatri properly with the right meter.

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From history lesson on school and many history articles on the Internet, it is said that Sramana movement (Buddhism, Jainism, Ajikivism, etc.) was a reaction toward corrupted Brahmana authoritative. This popular theory leads false assumption that Buddhism and Jainism are branches of Hinduism. But there is another theory that Sramanism originates from older Dravidian religion, so it is a pre-Vedic religion which re-emerged when Brahmanism was weakened that time.

What do you think about this? And I’m curious if there is any good article or book about the historical origins of Sramanism which I can read as a lay people :thinking:

The Aryan settlements gradually expanded from west to east, reaching to the region of the central Ganges River, where there was a kingdom called Videha (capital city: Mithilā). The Videhans were not Aryans.

This kingdom came to an end, but around the beginning of the sixth century BCE, a tribal kingdom called Magadha emerged in a region south of the central Ganges.

Numerous tribal kingdoms also became established to the north of the Ganges.

These south and north regions of the central Ganges, mixed in the east with non-Aryans but influenced by the Aryan religious culture from the west, developed the culture of the Sramanas.