by Vinay Lal, copyright 2001 and 2006

(This is a slightly altered version of the original, which was published in the World Book Encyclopedia in 2001.  The article is intended for use mainly by students in junior and senior high school.)

MADHYA PRADESH is a state in central India. Its name means middle province, and it is the country’s largest state in area. Madhya Pradesh is predominantly an agricultural region, with a relatively small population. Lack of roads, railway, and other infrastructure has hindered the overall industrial development of the state, and it has now lost most of its impressive mineral deposits to the new state of Chattisgarh.


People. The state’s population density is greater in the west than in the east. The majority of the people live in rural areas. Bhopal is the capital, with more than one million inhabitants.  Most of the people are Hindus, though Muslims are to be found in significant numbers in Bhopal and some other urban areas.  There are also a small number of Sikhs, Christians, and practitioners of other faiths.

Hindi is the most widely spoken language, followed by Marathi. Gujarati, Oriya, Punjabi, and Urdu are also spoken by many people.  The literacy rate is a little over 30 per cent.

Government. The constitutional head of state is the governor, who is appointed by the president. The chief minister and cabinet are elected from the legislative assembly, which has 230 members. The state capital isBhopal. Madhya Pradesh has 29 elected members in the Lok Sabha (lower house) and 11 nominated representatives in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of the Indian national parliament.

There are 45 districts in Madhya Pradesh. The collector has administrative and magisterial power at district level. Local administration is in the hands of the gram panchayat (village councils) of elected inhabitants.


Agriculture. Farming is the most important sector of the economy of Madhya Pradesh. The chief areas are in the Chambal Valley, the Malwa Plateau, the Narmada Valley, and the Rewa Plateau. Nearly half of the land area can be cultivated, and about a sixth of that is irrigated by means of canals, tanks, and wells. There are more than 20 major irrigation and power projects.

The main food crops are jowar (sorghum), rice, wheat, and coarse millets such as kondo, kutki and sawan. Peanuts and pulses such as beans, lentils, and peas are also important. Rice is the major crop in the east where rainfall is heavy. In the drier eastern areas, wheat is the main food crop.

Madhya Pradesh is the largest soybean producer in India. Other commercial crops include cotton, linseed, sesame, and sugar cane.

Forests cover less than 25 per cent of the state. Salai trees are a source of a resin which is used for incense and medicine. Bamboo, teak, and sal are valuable timber trees.

Manufacturing. The major industries in the state include the heavy electrical plant at Bhopal, an aluminum plant at Korba, paper mills at Hoshangabad and Nepanagar, an alkaline battery factory at Neemuch and numerous cement works. There is a leather factory at Dewas and an explosives and gun factory at Jabalpur. There are 25 textile mills in the state, seven of them nationalized. The state government has established large and medium scale industries at Indore, Ujjain, Gwalior, and Jabalpur. Bhopal is the fastest-growing industrial centre. New industries include electronics, optical fibres, plastics, and toolmaking.

Mining.  Madhya Pradesh has some mineral deposits of bauxite, coal, copper, dolomite, iron ore, limestone, manganese ore, and rock phosphate. The country’s largest diamond mine, with recoverable reserves of one million carats, is at Panna. Balaghat district is being prospected for copper ore.

Electricity. There are several major river systems in the state with much potential for hydroelectric power generation.  The most controversial of the hydroelectric and irrigation projects, which involves the construction of hundreds of dams along the Narmada river, has been stalled for years, though recently India’s Supreme Court ruled that the project would be allowed to continue.  Those objecting to it point to the huge environmental destruction, the immersion of thousands of villages under water, and the loss by tribals of their ancestral lands.

Transportation. The provision of transportation facilities in the state is uneven. There are good road and rail communications in the western part, particularly along the corridor running from Gwalior in the north to Bhopal in the centre and Khandwa in the south. The original purpose of the railways was to connect Bombay (Mumbai) with Delhi and, to a lesser extent, Delhi with Madras (Chennai) andCalcutta. They have expanded to incorporate places like Jabalpur in the heart of Madhya Pradesh into the rail network. Bhopal can be reached easily from Delhi. The Shatabdi Express covers the 700 kilometres from Delhi to Bhopal in under eight hours.

The total length of surfaced and unsurfaced roads is over 90,000 kilometres. This includes nearly 3,000 kilometres of national highway. In many districts, however, there is poor road coverage, which hinders economic development. There are airports at Bhopal, Guna, Gwalior, Indore, Khajuraho, and Jabalpur.


Location and description. Madhya Pradesh shares boundaries with the following states: Uttar Pradesh to the north, Chattisgarh to the east, Maharashtra to the south and southwest, Gujarat to the west, and Rajasthan to the northwest.

Land features. The state occupies the Deccan Plateau. It has a number of hill ranges and is the source of some of the most important peninsular rivers.

The Vindhya Range of uplands runs diagonally across the state from around Dhar to just south of Khajuraho. South of it is theSatpura Range, which extends from Khandwa to the Kanha National Park.  In the north, the Rewa Plateau overlooks the plain of the Ganges (Ganga) River around Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.  Several rivers, such as the Keu, dissect the Vindhyas, and here have cut deep ravines. Generally well wooded, the hills rise in places to 600 metres.

The low-lying areas of Gwalior and Bundelkhand have lighter soil, while the Narmada Valley contains deep rich alluvial (river silt) deposits.

Climate. The monsoon dominates the climate, with most of the yearly rain falling between June and September.  Bhopal, for example, receives 120 centimetres a year, of which 90 per cent is in the rainy season. The season preceding the rains (March to May) is hot and dry, with temperatures exceeding 33 °C everywhere and often reaching 44 °C. The average maximum during the monsoon is 30 °C, and the minimum 19 °C. Humidity levels are much higher than at other times of the year. The monsoon causes luxuriant plant growth. The winters are dry and pleasant. The average maximum temperature from November to February is 27 °C, and the minimum 10 °C. Annual rainfall tends to decrease from south to north and from east to west.

Wildlife. Madhya Pradesh has some pockets of dense forest.  The main areas are the Vindhya-Kaimur ranges and the Satpura range. Teak, sal, and bamboo are the most important commercial trees.

There is a rich wildlife in these forests, including bison, black buck, wild buffalo, cheetal (spotted deer), leopard and sambar (large brown deer).  Kanha National Park is the only habitat of the hardground barasingha (swamp deer). Shivpuri and Bandhogarh parks are important game reserves. Shivpuri is known for its albinotic (white) tigers.

Rivers and lakes. Of the river systems in the state, the Narmada, the Chambal, and the Tapti are the most important.  The Narmada Riverrises in the heart of the state and flows west. At Jabalpur, it runs through marble gorges. Along its northern edge are the Bharner Hills, part of the Vindhya Range. To the south of the Narmada River, and forming the southern border of the state, are the Satpura Range, the highest of which are the Mahadeo Hills.  The Chambal River forms the northern border of the state with Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It joins the Yamuna (Jumna)-Ganges system in Etawah district, Uttar Pradesh. The several lakes in the state are all artificially constructed reservoirs. Near Bhopal is the Halali reservoir and further south is the Tawa reservoir, fed by rivers from the Mahadeo Hills. The largest is Gandhi Sagar near the state boundary with Rajasthan.


Some of the earliest inhabitants of what is now Madhya Pradesh were groups such as the Bhils and Gonds. Descendants of an ancient race, they were once wide-ranging hunters and gatherers, or nomadic farmers, who moved from place to place. The simple tribal people were no match for the later waves of aggressive invaders, who gradually pushed them into the hill forest parts of the region. Among these invaders were Rajputs, Marathas, and Muslims from Central Asia and beyond.

One of the earliest states that existed in Madhya Pradesh was Avanti, of which Ujjain was the capital.  Ujjain is in the western part of the state. Avanti was a centre of Buddhism and of Pali, the language of early Buddhist literature. Avanti formed part of the Mauryan Empire of 300-200 B.C. (see Mauryan Empire). Several pillars and stupas of this period stand in Sanchi and Ujjain. The stupas of Sanchi are famous (see India, Art of).

From about 100 B.C. to the A.D. 1500’s, various dynasties ruled part or most of the state. They included the Sunga dynasty (185-73 B.C.), the Ksaptrapas and the Nagas (A.D. 100-300), and the Guptas (300-400). The Hunas (Huns) struggled to seize control of Malwa during this period. Malwa was in western Madhya Pradesh and had developed out of the earlier state of Avanti. In the 600’s, it became part of Harsha’s northern Indian empire. After Harsha’s time, different parts of Madhya Pradesh were again ruled by different dynasties. These dynasties include the Pratiharas, the Paramaras, the Chandellas, and the Chedis. Up to the 1200’s, there were also a number of Gond tribal kingdoms in Madhya Pradesh.

The Paramara king Bhoja was an enlightened monarch, a poet, and a patron of both art and literature. The Chandella king Dhanga, who reigned from 954 to 1002, commissioned the building of the magnificent temples of Khajuraho.

The Turks conquered Gwalior, in northern Madhya Pradesh, in the 1000’s. The Delhi Sultanate incorporated Gwalior in 1231. Malwa  emerged as an independent kingdom under the Muslim Khalji dynasty in 1401, centered around the majestic capital of Mandu. Mahmud Khan Khalji (reigned 1436-1469) was the most powerful king of Malwa. He fought against  Gujarat, Delhi, and Mewar. Baz Bahadur reigned in the 1500’s as the last ruler of an independent Malwa. He was a great patron of art and music.

Akbar annexed Malwa to the Mughal Empire in the mid-1500’s.  A large part of Madhya Pradesh, including Malwa, came under Maratha rule with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 1700’s. The chief Maratha kingdoms in Madhya Pradesh were Dhar, Dewas,Gwalior, and Indore.

In 1817-1818, territories in Madhya Pradesh known as the “Saugor-Nerbudda” came under the control of the British following their victory over the Marathas in the Anglo-Maratha wars. The British extended their influence into the area by making treaties with the native rulers and annexing part of the territory. The area under direct British administration in time became known as the Central Provinces and consisted of Malwa, Bundelkhand, and the part of Jharkhand state which is known as Baghelkhand.

The anti-colonial movement in Madhya Pradesh was relatively weak. When India gained independence in 1947, the Central Provinces and Berar became Madhya Pradesh. Adjoining territories were added to the new state. In 1956, the government detached eight Marathi-speaking districts and added them to Bombay state (now Maharashtra). Bhopal also became part of Madhya Pradesh. Feudal influences still persist in the politics of Madhya Pradesh. The main political parties are the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and at present Congress is in power.

At Bhopal in 1984, poisonous gas leaked from a factory owned by the Union Carbide Corporation of the United States. More than 2,000 people died as a result of the leak and about 200,000 people were injured.  It is estimated that some 75,000 people have died since then from illnesses caused by the gas leak.  Though the gas leak is described as one of “the worst industrial accidents in history”, subsequent investigative reporting and research have established that Union Carbide, which has made strenous attempts to evade its moral and legal responsibilities, was criminally negligent and refused to meet the minimum safety standards.  Its chairman at that time, Warren Anderson, for whom a warrant of extradition has been issued by the Indian government, remains a fugitive from justice.  For a tragedy of this magnitude, Union Carbide got away virtually scot free.

Population:1991 census — 48,520,934
Area: 308,346 sq. km.
State capital: Bhopal.
Largest cities: Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore, Ujjain.
Chief products:
Agriculture — millet, oilseeds, soybean, wheat.
Manufacturing — cement, heavy electrical goods, paper, textiles.
Mining — diamonds, bauxite, coal, copper ore, limestone.