Travel Guide to the rich History of Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh also known as Madhya Bharat is backed with a rich history, culture and literature in itself.

We can trace back to the pre historic times when life on planet Earth was still primitive.

As per the Ancient History of Madhya Pradesh, the central part belonged to the Gondwana Land – part of a super continent called Pangea – he existence of which can be traced back to 300 million years ago. The name Gondwana is credited to the local Gond tribe which inhabited here & still are found across the state.
During the early Vedic period, the Vindhya mountains formed the southern boundary of the Indo-Aryan territory.
Today we tend to think of Madhya Pradesh as the “Center” of India geographically. But in the Vedic as well as in the early classical period before the Common Era, the Vindhyas were not viewed as the geographic centroid but the southern boundary of Aryavarta.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Manu Smriti, which clearly is a post-Vedic, post Epic period text (possibly composed in the centuries just preceding the common era). But even in this text, Aryavrata ends with the Vindhyas.

आ समुद्रात् तु वै पूर्वादा समुद्राच्च पश्चिमात् । तयोरेवान्तरं गिर्योरार्यावर्तं विदुर्बुधाः

The country extending as far as the Eastern Ocean and as far as the Western Ocean, and lying between the two mountains (Himalaya and Vindhya),—the learned know as Āryāvrata

Back in the Vedic and even Epic period the term “Madhya Desha” referred not to the area that constitutes Madhya Pradesh today, but to the Ganga – Yamuna Doab – the great plains of present UP and Bihar. The Vindhya territory marked the southern frontier of the Aryan cultural zone.

Ancient texts and manuscripts mention the existence of many towns and cities of existing Madhya Pradesh.

The eminent grammarian of the 4th century BC, Panini mentions the Avanti Janapada in central India.

Medieval history of Madhya Pradesh can be categorized into three different periods :

  • The Nanda Empire
  • The Maurya Empire
  • The Gupta Empire

This period also witnessed the uprising of the mighty Rajpur clans which included the Paramara’s and Chandela’s, the latter credited for the magnificient Khajuraho Temples.

In the western part, the Malwa Sultanate ruled over the area.
The Mughals and Marathas also influenced the history of Madhya Pradesh largely along with the Britishers in the later phase.
The Muslims came into Central India in the beginning of 11th century. First of all, Mahmud of Ghazni came over here and then Mohammad Gouri, who incorporated some parts of Central India into his ruling territory of Delhi. Central India was also part of the Mughal empire.

Madhya Pradesh has witnessed far less iconoclasm over centuries compared to rest of the country. Many of the ancient pre-Islamic sites in North India (pre 12th century) are to be found here.

  • Khajuraho
  • Bateshwar temples
  • Temples at Amarkantak
  • Sanchi Stupa
  • Sonagiri Jain temples

Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, the Gond Maharani Kamalapti and Queen Durgawati, etc., were women rulers whose names have left an indelible imprint on Indian history for their excellent leadership and contributed during their rule.
In the year 2000, Chattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pardseh as a separate entity state.

Historic Madhya Pradesh

The Pre-Historic Era

The existence of pre historic people in this area is well proven by archeological discoveries of rock art paintings, fossils, primitive tools and sculptures from this area. The early people used to live near the rivers in caves, evidence of which has been found in the caves known as rock shelters. Numerous paintings are still well preserved in places near Bhopal, Sagar & Pachmarhi. Hunting being their primary dependence, many rock tools have been unearthed near Bhopal, Raisen and Handia.
The earliest known human settlements in existing Madhya Pradesh are the Bhimbhetka Rock Shelters or caves which reflects evidence of Paleolithic settlements. The Narmada basin & river valley have bben the focal points where numerous stone age tools have been discovered. The current habitat of humans primarily developed near the river valleys of Narmada, Chambal and Betwa as per ease in cultivation.
Archeologists have discovered numerous Stone-Copper age sites at a number of places including Eran, Kayatha, Maheshwar, Nagda, and Navdatoli.

The Chalcolithic Era

Around 2000 BC, the early civilization, contemporary to the Harrapan, used copper and stone and flourished around the Narmada valley.Archealogists have discovered copper tools, pottery, utensils, beads, clay pots,etc have been discovered near Balaghat & Jabalpur, interpreting that the people used to do agriculture, pottery, domesticated animals too along with hunting.

Not to forget, the Sanchi Stupas build by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC.

The Aryans Era

The Aryans arrived Madhya Pradesh and settled primarily in the Malwa plateau. With a Neolitic background, Malwa was gradually established as a powerful empire – Avanti. The Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya names the sixteen Mahajanapadas, of which Avanti, Chedi and Vatsa occupied parts of existing Madhya Pradesh. As per these texts, Avanti was ruled by the Haihaya dynasty, the Vitihotra dynasty ( related to the Haihaya dynasty ) and the Pradyota dynasty too.
The Pradyota dynasty successfully led Avanti to be a major commercial power of the region.
Avanti was later merged by Shishunaga into the Magadha empire.The Shishunaga dynasty was overthrown subsequently by the Nandas, who were later replaced by the Mauryans
The Mahavastu mentions another kingdom called Dasharna in the eastern Malwa region. The Pali language Buddhist works mention several important cities in Central India, including Ujjaini (Ujjayani), Vedisa (Vidisha) and Mahissati (Mahishmati).
The city of Ujjaini arose as a major center in the second wave of Indian urbanization in the sixth century BC.
Vidisha, near today’s Bhopal, located on the banks of the Betwa river was the biggest town of eastern Malwa and Eran was their military headquarters.

The Mauryas Era

Chandragupta Maurya united northern India in 1500 BCE, thus establishing the mighty Mauryan empire.

He ruled from 1500 to 185 BCE over the entire region of existing Madhya Pradesh.

His grandson, Ashoka is credited of taking the Mauryan empire to newer heights. Even King Ashoka’s first wife Devi, was from Vidisha, a small town north of today’s Bhopal.

The Mauryan empire disintegrated after the death of Ashoka and Central India witnessed lot of feuds amongst the existing Sakas, Kushanas, and local dynasties during the 3rd to 1st century BCE.

Rock edicts of Ashoka have been discovered from across the state near Bhopal, Jabalpur and Datia.

The Post Mauryan Era

The fall of the Mauryan dynasty saw the rise of the Sungas and Satvahanas. The Satvahanas effectively ruled the entire region till 100 BC along with the Shakas and Kushanas.

The Gupta Era

4th century CE saw the emergence of Samudragupta as a mighty power in Central India. He ent on to conquer a large part of the country and spread his kingdom upto Betul. He expanded the Gupta empire and extended his kingdom upto north and south India. The rock cut temples at Bagh caves are a reflection of the Gupta empire.

The Kalchuri Era

The founder, Kokalla 1st had two dynasties with the name Kalchuris went on to rule parts of India from 10th to 12th century BC.One dynasty, the Chedi’s ruled over areas of West MP and Rajasthan and the other one, known as the Southern Kalchuris, ruled parts of existing Karnataka.

The Paramara Era

The Paramaras entered into Madhya Pradesh in 946 AD, challenging the Gurjaras and the Pratiharas, and won over the area of Malwa. The erudite Raja Bhoja of this dynasty is known to be a great scholar and author who wrote many narrations on the Yoga Sharta of Patanjali.
Bhoja ruled from his capital in Malwa – the town of Dhara nagara – known as Dhar today. His reputation is one of the greatest among all Indian kings in our 3000+ years of history. He was a veritable polymath, a great Shiva bhakta, a renowned warrior, a patron of the arts, and a fine litterateur himself.
While many works are attributed to him, the book he is best known for is “Shringara Prakasha” – a treatise on poetry and drama. Bhoja’s influence was so great on succeeding generations that many a fine king in later years has attempted to emulate him. The great Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagara Kingdom in early 16th century fashioned himself as “Abhinava Bhoja” (the new Bhoja).

The Chandela Era

The Chandelas ruled between the 9th and the 13th centuries CE. In midst of c. 950 and c. 1050, The Chandelas build the temple city of Khajuraho, dedicated to two religions, Hinduism and Jainism, suggesting a tradition of acceptance and respect for diverse religious views.

The Chandela dynasty wore out in the beginning of the 13th century, following the Chahamana and Ghurid invasions.

The smaller rulers of Northern Madhya Pradesh was conquered by the Turkic Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century. Subsequent to it’s collapse at the end of the 14th century, independent regional kingdoms reemerged, including the Tomara kingdom of Gwalior and the Sultanate of Malwa, with its capital at Mandu.

Soon after the defeat of Prithvi Raj Chauhan, their dynasty declined. Chandelas and a few others were the last ones to rule over Madhya Pradesh in ancient times.

The Malwa Sultanate Era

The sultanate of Malwa was founded by Dilawar Khan Ghuri, the governor of Malwa for the Delhi Sultanate, who asserted his independence in 1392, but did not actually assume the ensigns of royalty till 1401. Initially Dhar was the capital of the new kingdom, but soon it was shifted to Mandu. The Malwa Sultanate was conquered by the Sultanate of Gujarat in 1531. The renowned Malwa painting originated during this period.

The Early Modern History of Madhya Pradesh

This period is considered to be between 1526–1858 CE.

Almost the entire Madhya Pradesh came under Mughal kingdom during the reign of emperor Akbar (1556–1605). The smaller kingdoms of Gondwana and Mahakoshal remained under the control of individual Gond kings, who accepted and acknowledged Mughal supremacy but enjoyed almost complete autonomy. During this period only, Gwalior became an important center for music, with musicians like Baiju Bawra & Tansen and became the home of the famous Gwalior Gharana.

The uneventful death of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 saw the Mughal control weaken and the gradual rise of the Marathas from their base in central Maharashtra expanding to the central region of Madhya Bharat.

The Maratha Empire became very ambitious in early 18th century and began to expand and gained large amounts of territory. They successfully fought the  Battle of Bhopal in 1737, where the Marathas won over the the Mughal forces. Large tracts of land in Malwa were ceded to the Marathas.

The Shindes (Scindia) of Gwalior ruled most of Gird region, the Holkars of Indore ruled much of Malwa, and the Bhonsles of Nagpur dominated Mahakoshal and Gondwana as well as Vidarbha in Maharashtra. Jhansi was founded by a Maratha general Peshwa Baji Rao I who made Jhansi a prosperous city with inhabitants from Orchha state. Bhopal was ruled by a Muslim dynasty descended from the Afghan General Dost Mohammed Khan.

The legacy of Holkars and their contribution is priceless to the history of Madhya Pradesh. Their greatest monarch in the 18th century was undoubtedly the Legendary Queen Ahilyabai. She reigned from Maheshwar near Indore for nearly 30 years from 1767 to 1795. A very central figure in the Hindu revivalism of the 18th century.

The region in and around Bhopal was a separate princely state, ruled by Muslim dynasts. It was founded in the late 17th century. For much of the British period in the 19th century, this princely state was nominally reined over by several Muslim Begums.

The British Colonial period

This period of Modern History of Madhya Pradesh was from 1858 till India’s independence.
The British were expanding their Indian dominions from bases in Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, and the three Anglo-Maratha Wars were fought between 1775 and 1818. The Third Anglo-Maratha War left the British as a supreme power in India. Most of Madhya Pradesh, including the large states of Indore, Bhopal, Nagpur, Rewa, and dozens of smaller states, became princely states of British India, and the Mahakoshal region became a British province, the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories.
In 1853, the state of Nagpur was annexed with the British empire too.
The princely states of northern Madhya Pradesh were governed by the Central India Agency.
The first railway lines and airports in existing Madhya Pradesh were also built during this British rule period only.


The existing Central India Agency was subsequently slpit up and Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, and Bhopal were formed.For two years after the departure of the British from India in 1947, Bhopal had survived as a princely state ruled by the erstwhile nawab Hamidullah Khan. Bhopal was one of the last states to merge into the Indian union. Agitations against the Nawab broke out in December 1948, leading to the arrest of prominent leaders. Finally, the Nawab signed an agreement for merger on 30 April, 1949 and Bhopal princely state was taken over by the Union Government of India on June 1,1949.
Thereafter, Bhopal was made the capital of Madhya Pradesh.
The History of formation of Madhys Pradesh is also extremely interesting. In 1956, according to the States Reorganization Act, the states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, and Bhopal were merged into Madhya Pradesh, and the Marathi-speaking southern region Vidarbha, which included Nagpur, was ceded to Bombay State. Bhopal became the new capital of the state, and Ravishankar Shukla was elected as the first Chief Minister.
In November 2000, as part of the Madhya Pradesh Reorganization Act, the southeastern portion of the state split off to form the new state of Chhattisgarh.
Currently, Madhya Pradesh has 52 districts and the primary spoken language in Madhya Pradesh is Hindi.
Area : 119,016 square miles (308,252 square km)
Population : 8.50 crore
Hinduism is the most popular religion in Madhya Pradesh with 90.89 % followers in the state followed by Islam at 6.57%.

Discovery of the Narmada man

On 2nd December, 1982, geologist Arun Sonakia stumbled upon the greatest fossil find from this part of the world on the banks of the Narmada at Hathnora village in Sehore district. It was India’s first human fossil—a partial human skull cap—which put India on the world fossil map and proved the presence of early humans in the subcontinent. Prior to this, prehistoric stone tools were found across India but no human fossils had ever been found. Narmada man, which belongs to Homo erectus, is around 5 to 6 lakh years old.

Madhya Pradesh is a fascinating region of the country that is much overlooked. Many of its ancient towns have exerted a great influence on Indian life over millennia – Ujjain, Mahishmati, and Dharanagara.

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