Madhya Pradesh occupies perhaps the oldest part of the subcontinent. Close to Bhopal at Bhimbetka are the pre-historic caves that preserve some fascinating paintings dating back to Paleolithic times. Experts have concluded that these are at least as old as the specimen at Pyrnees.
This was perhaps one of the earliest dwellings of human beings. In fact, the excavations here have revealed a cultural sequence right from the late stone age to the early historical period.
Madhya Pradesh is the richest state in the country in respect of painted rock-shelters, the majority of which have been found in the districts of Sehore, Bhopal, Raisen, Hoshangabad and Sagar. During the ascendancy of the Guptas the whole region came under the domain of the imperial Guptas and subsequently formed part of Harshvardhan's empire. With the decline in imperial power the province was broken up into small principalities contending forever to establish their supremacy over one another. Chandels were one such dynasty claiming descent from the moon, who carved out a strong prosperous kingdom for themselves after the decline of the great empire. There was a short spell of inspired construction activity under the Chandels in the 10th to 11th centuries. They are the ones who have left behind the cluster of matchless temples at Khajuraho.
Chandels were followed by Pratihara and Gaharwar Rajput dynasties claiming mythical origins relating their scions to the gods or heroes in the epics. They lived and died by a difficult code of chivalry, wasted away scarce resources in an expensive feudal life style and could not ultimately keep at bay the expanding Muslim power. Rulers of Malwa fought a running battle with the subedars of Gujarat or the commanders of the Sultan of Delhi throughout the sultanate period. The grand Moghul Akbar succeeded in subduing most of them and his sterner grandson Aurangzeb broke through the last pockets of resistance in this region.
Many of the smaller kingdoms trace their origins to the lands granted by the emperor at Delhi to those who had served him well. Bir Singh Deo of Orchcha was for instance installed on his throne by Jehangir who felt obliged to the Bundela chieftain for having removed a painful thorn - Abul Fazal, from his side. Abul Fazal one of the nine jewels of Akbar's court, was murdered at his behest near Gwalior.
Some other principalities came into being with branching of families, internecine quarrels and the munificence of the Marathas who were indomitable with - the decline of the Moghuls. Rulers of Ratlam and Sitamau claim close relationship with the ruling house of jodhpur in Rajasthan.
In course of time the Marathas were replaced by the British who entered into treaty relationships with these princely states and established paramountcy over them. This was the Raj period when the Central Provinces were left for the large part outside developments in British India. The Maharajas were free to indulge in their expensive whims much to the chagrin of their poor populace. This is the world evoked by Kipling in his jungle Book and chronicled by E M Forster in The Hill of Devi. Jhabua, Nagod, Alirajpur, Sarguja, Dewas Senior and junior were quaint names of exotic places where eccentric Englishmen could strive to carve out a career or amass a fortune or simply drop out to. These were destinations where the Prince of Wales or the Viceroy could be taken out for the treat of his life - a tiger shoot, or to savour the extravagant life style of the Maharajas. Most of these blue blooded gentry were content to be renowned for their prowess with a heavy gun or patronage of arts and crafts.
The stirrings of the national movement were slow in this region as most of the area was not directly ruled by the British. Undaunted freedom fighters carried Mahatma Gandhi's message to the masses and exhorted them to take up the battle against colonialism. Some like Subhadra Kumari Chauhan nostalgically evoked the regional tradition of valour to inspire her compatriots.
Chamak uthi san sattavan mein woh talwar purani thi,
Khoob lari mardani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi.
Harbole Bundelon ke munh hamne suni Kahani thi .
Independence of India was followed by the merger of hundreds of princely states into the union, with the foundation of the Republic on 26 January 1950. The boundaries were rationalized with reorganisation of states and Madhya Pradesh assumed its present face.