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.)

UTTAR PRADESH is a state in northern India. Its name means “Northern Provinces.” Although Uttar Pradesh is only India’s fourth largest state in area, it is the largest state in population. For the total population of Uttar Pradesh, see the Facts in brief table with this article.

Uttar Pradesh is one of the great historical and religious centres of India. The sacred Ganges (Ganga) River is the physical and spiritual life source of the region. Varanasi (Benares), the holiest city in India, is where allegedly every devout Hindu hopes to die and be cremated. Mathura, south of Delhi, is regarded as the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna.  The Kumbh Mela, which has been described as the largest religious gathering of people anywhere in the world, takes place every 14 years in Allahabad.  In early 2001, it drew 50 million people to the city.

Much of the state has fertile soil and good rainfall. But despite these natural advantages, Uttar Pradesh is one of the poorest states in India, with low rates of literacy and relatively little economic development .


People. The majority of the population are Hindu, but 18 per cent are Muslim.  Most Hindus live in rural areas, but Muslims are a largely urban population. There is a Buddhist shrine at Sarnath, near Varanasi, where Buddha first preached his message. Followers of Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Sikhism together constitute less than 1 per cent of the total population of Uttar Pradesh.   The main language spoken is Hindi. But many people use Urdu as a common language for business. There are also numerous local dialects spoken in Uttar Pradesh.

Government. The regional head of state is the governor, who is appointed by the president for a five-year term. The 108-seat legislative assembly is at Lucknow, the state capital. The chief minister is elected from the regional legislature. The state took its present form and name in 1950, when India declared itself a republic.  Uttar Pradesh has 80 elected members in the Lok Sabha (lower house) and 31 nominated representatives in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of the Indian national parliament.   There are 57 local government districts in the state. An official known as the district magistrate and collector is responsible for administration at district level. At village level, there is the gram panchayat (council) system.


Agriculture. Farming is the main occupation of three-quarters of the working population. Many peasants have farms that are too small for efficient agriculture. The main problem is the pressure of population on land sources. The soils are fertile and there is good rainfall over nearly all the region. Irrigation facilities bring water to about one-third of the cropped area.   Wheat, rice, maize, millet, and pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils, are the major food crops. Uttar Pradesh is one of the country’s major producers of sugar cane. Cotton, oilseeds, jute, potatoes, and tobacco are other important cash crops. As part of national and state projects for sericulture (the production of silk fibre), large-scale planting of mulberry trees is under way across the state. Mulberry trees provide food for the caterpillars of the silkworm moth.

Manufacturing. Cotton mills were first established in Kanpur in 1869, making it one of the older factory cities of India. It has become one of the greatest industrial cities, with woollen and leather industries, cotton, flour, and vegetable-oil mills, sugar refineries, and chemical works. The state government has established cement factories near Mirzapur, precision instrument factories around Lucknow, a chemical plant at Bareilly, and a diesel locomotive factory at Varanasi. It has also introduced fertilizer factories at Gorakhpur and Allahabad, telephone industries at Genda Naimi and Rae Bareli, electronics industries at Ghaziabad, and scooter factories at Lucknow, as well as an oil refinery atMathura.

Mining. Uttar Pradesh does not have rich mineral resources. Mines and quarries produce limestone, silica, magnesite, and phosphatic shale. Soapstone, copper, lead, zinc, marble, and bauxite are also found in the state. There are coalfields in Mirzapur district. Electricity produced by coal-burning power stations is the most important source of energy.

Transportation. There is an extensive road and rail network throughout the state. Because of the size of the population, this network is constantly under pressure. The main railway junctions include Agra, Allahabad, Gonda, Gorokhpur, Jhansi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Mathura,Moradabad, and Varanasi. The major defect of the rail system is that there are two different gauges (widths of track).  Air routes link several large towns with Delhi and with one another.

Tourism. Uttar Pradesh contains many famous tourist sites. They include ancient monuments, such as the Taj Mahal at Agra and the Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri.  Millions of pilgrims visit Allahabad and Varanasi to bathe in the waters of the Ganges River, which Hindus consider to be sacred.


Location and description. Uttar Pradesh shares two-thirds of its northern boundary with Nepal. The state shares internal borders with Haryana, Delhi, and Rajasthan to the west. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh lie to the south, and Bihar to the east.

Land features.  Most of Uttar Pradesh consists of plains, the rest being the Vindhya Hills and central plateau in the south.  The Terai forest belt along the border with Nepal is 65 kilometres wide at places.

The Gangetic Plain is flat and mostly featureless. The Ganges and its tributaries have washed down silt and soils. These have formed rich beds of alluvium, up to 600 metres deep. The elevation of the plain gradually decreases from 365 metres in the northwest at Hardwar to 80 metres in the east at Varanasi.   The southern hill and plateau region runs along the southern edge of Uttar Pradesh. It includes the Vindhya Hills in the southeast, which rise to more than 600 metres in some places. The hills back onto the central Indian plateau.

Uttar Pradesh is a land of many rivers and the alluvial soils found over two-thirds of the state are extremely fertile. There are few areas where the salt content in the soil is too high for successful cropping. Soils in the hills tend to be thin, stony, easily drained, and with much lower fertility.

Climate.  The whole state has a tropical monsoon climate (see Monsoon). Winter (December to February) temperatures range from 7 °C minimum to 27 °C maximum. Summer (April to June) temperatures range from 22 °C minimum to 42 °C maximum, with occasional extremes of 45 °C. A hot, dry wind often blows from the west.   The monsoon lasts from mid-June to mid-September, during which time the maximum temperature drops a few degrees, humidity increases, and 80 per cent of the annual rain falls. The eastern parts of the state receive between 100 and 200 centimetres of rain per year. Rainfall in the west is less, with some places receiving under 50 centimetres per year.

Animals and plants. Most of the plains area is intensively cultivated. Mango trees are common.  The southern part of the state has open scrub and thorn forest.

The total protected willife area of Uttar Pradesh is 17,259 sq. km.  Larger animals are relatively rare, with fewer than 200 leopards, about 240 tigers, and less than 35 wild elephants.  The state does have a large population of deer. Small mammals such as flying squirrels, mongooses, porcupines, shrews, and sloths are common. The Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is famous, and has an enormously varied bird population, including cranes that migrate from Siberia in the winter. Fish are plentiful.

Rivers. The major river of Uttar Pradesh and northern India is the Ganges. It is not only sacred to the Hindu population, but also extremely valuable for irrigating large areas. Nearly all the other rivers in the region are part of the Ganges system. Second most important is the Jumna (Yamuna), which flows from the Garhwal Himalaya, through Delhi and Agra and joins the Ganges at Allahabad. The Ghaghra, the Gomti, and the Kosi are other major rivers.


Many Hindus believe that Uttar Pradesh is the birthplace of Rama and Krishna, the heroes, respectively, of India’s two great epic poems, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  (There are, one might add, thousands of places that claim association with Rama and Krishna, and one should not attempt to attach much historicity to these claims, or even give priority to some over others.)  The region is associated with all the religions of India, and it contains important places of worship for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Muslims. Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath, near Varanasi, and achieved parinirvana (spiritual release from the body) at Kusinagara. Varanasi was one of Uttar Pradesh’s most ancient centres and has retained its importance in the religious and symbolic universe of Hinduism.  As a great centre of culture, education, commerce and craftwork, the city was already about 1,000 years old when Buddha arrived there in 500 B.C.

From the 200’s B.C., Uttar Pradesh was part of the Mauryan Empire. Later, various Hindu dynasties controlled the region. In the late A.D. 1100’s, invading Turks established a Muslim empire called the Delhi Sultanate. It extended its influence over Uttar Pradesh.

From the mid-1500’s, the Uttar Pradesh area became the political and cultural heart of the Mughal Empire. Varanasi, which had declined during Muslim rule from Delhi, underwent a cultural and religious revival under the emperor Akbar. Agra was for some time an imperial capital. In the 1600’s, the emperor Shah Jahan ordered the building of the Taj Mahal there.

In the 1700’s, with the decline of Mughal power, several independent kingdoms arose in Uttar Pradesh. Among the most important were Oudh and Varanasi. Lucknow, the capital of Oudh, became an important cultural centre.

From 1765, British rule was extended into both Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. In 1836, the East India Company combined its possessions in Uttar Pradesh with Delhi and renamed the resulting area the Northwestern Province. In 1856, the British annexed the province of Oudh, thereby completing their takeover of Uttar Pradesh.

Resentment of British rule flared into violence in the Indian Revolt of 1857. Uttar Pradesh was the centre of this revolt, which began in Meerut and quickly spread to Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra, Allahabad, and Jhansi, but did not much beyond northern and some portions of central India.  The British put down this uprising with considerable brutality.  After the revolt, control of East India Company territories passed to the British government. In 1877, the British combined the northwestern provinces and Oudh to form what eventually became known as the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.

During the 1900’s, Uttar Pradesh was in the vanguard of the national movement for independence. All the nationalist movements — the Non-Cooperation movement (1920-22), the Civil Disobedience campaign (1930-31), and the Quit India (1942) movement — found enthusiastic support in the region. However, the burning of a police station by a mob in the village of Chauri Chaura, in which several policemen died, led to the suspension of the Non-Cooperation movement. Prominent nationalist leaders who were active in Uttar Pradesh included Mohandas Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya, and Purushottamdas Tandon.

Following Indian independence in 1947, Uttar Pradesh emerged in 1950 as the most populous and politically most influential state of the Indian union. Several of India’s prime ministers were born in Uttar Pradesh, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Indira Gandhi, and until quite recently it used to be argued that Uttar Pradesh determined the course of Indian politics.  The Congress Party was for many years the most significant political group. In the state assembly and national elections of 1991, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a majority of seats.

In December 1992, tens of thousands of Hindu extremists, mobilized by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bajrang Dal, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) demolished the Babri mosque at Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh. Their action led to communal rioting and violence between Muslims and Hindus in many urban centers.  Some Hindus believe Ayodhya is the birthplace of the god Rama. To restore calm, Prime Minister Rao pledged to rebuild the mosque and discuss the construction of a Rama temple nearby.  Neither the mosque nor the temple have been constructed so far, though the BJP and the VHP have endevored to keep the issue of the temple alive by frequent references to it in public discourse.

In state elections in 1993, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), in alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP), gained a majority of seats in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP represents the interests of lower caste people, known as Dalits.  The SP represents the Muslim minority and other backward classes and claims to be motivated by socialism.  In 1995, the BSP formed an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, a right-wing pro-Hindu party, but the alliance soon collapsed. In the elections in 1999, an alliance of BJP-led parties came to power.   No party has been able to claim a majority in the legislative assembly since the elections of 1991, and at present the Samajwadi Party, held up by a number of smaller parties, governs the state.  The current Chief Minister is Mulayam Singh Yadav.


Population:1991 census — 131,000,000 [approximately].
Area: 238,566 sq. km.
Capital: Lucknow.
Largest cities: Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra, Allahabad, Meerut, Bareilly, Ghaziabad.
Chief products: Agriculture — cotton, maize, oil seeds, potatoes, pulses, rice, sugar cane, wheat. Manufacturing — flour milling, sugar and vegetable oil refining, textiles, village handicrafts. Mining — coal, dolomite, limestone, magnesite, silica, soapstone.