The Nanda Dynasty was founded by the son of a barber. The founder of the Nanda dynasty, Urgrasena was not of the warrior caste, he was not a Kshatriya. This became the trademark of the empire he was about to create. He focused more on the currency and tax systems rather than expansion. The state of Magadha was blessed by the different approaches different dynasties took. While the former kings have expanded their lands and military, Nandas would make it a financial goldmine.
The first king of the Nanda dynasty Ugrasena had a very interesting backstory to him. While some texts say he was the illegitimate son of a Shisunaga king, some other texts depict him as an illegitimate lover of the princess. Whatever the truth, he hated Kshatriyas to the bones. This hatred had him join a gang of thieves and troublemakers. Finally, he made sure that one of his goons assassinated the king. The last Shisunaga king was murdered in the public by an assassin. After the assassination of the king, Ugrasena took the role of the new king. He was a natural leader, even if he was leading goons and thugs.
None of the texts knew the life he lived before becoming a king. He adopted the name, Ugrasena Nanda, meaning the one with an aggressive army. Ugrasena implemented a brilliant taxing system. He also made sure the taxes went to the right projects and created a central body to manage this.
But unfortunately, as his dynasty grew older, his system became more corrupt. The taxes started flowing into the royal treasury. Soon the central system could not even pay the enormous army of Magadha. These unpaid soldiers joined Chandragupta and Chanakya and helped him establish the Maurya Dynasty.
The last King of the Nanda dynasty was ironically named Dhanananda meaning the wealthy Nanda.
The enormity of the Nanda dynasty was both a boon and a bane.
Alexander the Great was a contemporary to the Nandas. When he entered India and defeated a hard-fought Porus, he came to know about the Nandas. When Porus stated the numbers of the Magadha army, Alexander and his war-ridden army decided not to go any further. And he was right to do so.
The Nanda dynasty had divided its army into four branches or Chaturangas, the horse regiment, the elephant regiment, the chariot regiment, and the foot soldiers. And each of them was many times larger than that of Alexander.
The Nanda dynasty ruled the kingdom of Magadha for nine generations. And with each generation, they became more and more corrupt. The last few generations of Nanda dynasty kings also attempted annihilation of the Kshatriya class. This decision took the lives of many, including the father of Chandragupta Maurya. When Chanakya, who was a minister in Dhana Nanda’s court suggested reforms for the betterment of society, he was insulted and thrown out. Fate would intertwine the paths of these two revenge-seeking individuals. Later, Chandragupta and Chanakya together would bring an end to the Nanda dynasty.
The Nanda dynasty is an example of the saying ‘you reap what you sow’. With all their might, the kings of the Nanda dynasty still sowed the seeds of hatred and revenge. Their lust for money and power made them blind to the common man’s pain. And completing the full circle, the dynasty that replaced a Kshatriya king got replaced by another.