King Ajatshatru (also spelled Ajatasatru, Ajatashatru) was the King of Magadha Empire. He was the son of Bimbisara.
After the death of his father in about 495 B.C. Ajatshatru came to the throne of Magadha Empire. He ruled for about 32 years, i.e., 495 B.C. to 462 B.C. He was a very ambitious and powerful king. Under him Magadha Empire saw the further extension of its territories in almost all the directions.
Early Career: King Ajatshatru began his career of conquests by declaring war against his own maternal uncle Prasenajit, the King of Kosala. The war, however, ended in a happy reconciliation between the two, the latter marrying his daughter to Ajatshatru and also giving away the disputed township of Kasi as a gift to his daughter. Thus Ajatshatru extended his dominions by the absorption of Kasi permanently in his empire along with the increase of his influence to a great extent.
Achievements: His greatest achievement was, however, against a powerful confederacy of 36 kingdoms and Republican States, the chief being the Lichchhavis of Vaisali. It took him about 16 years (484 to 468 B.C.) to complete this work. It was not an easy job to defeat the Lichchhavis because they were not only strong and war-like people but also well-united.
Fully realizing all these difficulties Ajatshatru chalked out a systematic line of action to ensure victory.
- First of all, Ajatshatru sent his faithful minister Vassakara to Vaisali to sow the seeds of disunion among the Lichchhavis. The minister achieved the desired aim after three years of strenuous efforts when spirit of jealousy fully infected the Lichchhavis.
- Secondly, Ajatshatru constructed a new fort near the Lichchhavi territory so that the territory might be easily attacked. Thus was laid the foundation of the new capital Pataliputra.
- Thirdly, Ajatshatru had to organize his army and equip it with powerful and new weapons. Thus fully prepared Ajatshatru attacked the territory of the Lichchhavis on all sides.
The war continued for about sixteen years but in the end Ajatshatru came out successful and Vaisali was annexed to the Magadhan Empire.
The King Pradyota of Avanti became jealous of Ajatshatru because of his success against the Lichchhavis but he could do nothing against him because Ajatshatru had now become very powerful. In this way Ajatshatru greatly extended the boundaries of his empire by his conquests.
Religion: It is somewhat difficult to say whether King Ajatshatru was a Jain or a Buddhist by faith. The texts of both these religious sects try to show him, like his father Bimbisara, as a follower of their respective faiths. It is generally believed that perhaps he started as a follower of Jainism but later on he changed his loyalty from Jainism to Buddhism. Ajatshatru is said to have gone to Buddha and confessed his fault of killing his father and promised not to indulge in such a heinous crime again, and also begged for consolation. This visit of Ajatshatru to Buddha is commemorated in one of the sculptures of Bharhut.
Later on when Buddha died, Ajatshatru is said to have rushed to Kushinagar and asked for his share of Buddha’s relics, and he built a beautiful Stupa on it. The most important work that was done by Ajatshatru for Buddhism was to call the First Buddhist Council at Rajagriha in about 487 B.C. Because of this action Ajatshatru will ever be remembered in the history of Buddhism.
Death: Ajatshatru died in about 462 B.C. after reigning for about 32 years.