Nicknamed the "heart of India" due to its geographical location in India, Madhya Pradesh is the second largest state in the country by area. With over 75 million inhabitants, it is the sixth largest state in India by population. It borders the states of Uttar Pradesh to the northeast, Chhattisgarh to the southeast, Maharashtra to the south, Gujarat to the west, and Rajasthan to the northwest.
The area covered by the present-day Madhya Pradesh includes the area of the ancient Avanti mahajanapada, whose capital Ujjain (also known as Avanti) arose as a major city during the second wave of Indian urbanization in the sixth century BCE. Subsequently, the region was ruled by the major dynasties of India, including the Mauryans, the Mughals and the Marathas. By the early 18th century, the region was divided into several small kingdoms which were captured by the British and incorporated into Central Provinces and Berar and the Central India Agency. After India's independence, Madhya Pradesh state was created with Nagpur as its capital: this state included the southern parts of the present-day Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In 1956, this state was reorganized and its parts were combined with the states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh and Bhopal to form the new Madhya Pradesh state with Bhopal as its capital. This state was the largest state of India by area until 2000. In 2000, the Chhattisgarh region was split to create a new state, and Rajasthan became the largest state of India.
Madhya Pradesh is home to a large tribal population, which has been largely cut-off from the mainstream development. This makes Madhya Pradesh one of the least developed states in India, with an HDI (Human Development Index) value of 0.375 (2011), which is below the national average. The state's per-capita gross state domestic product (nominal GDP) is the fourth lowest in the country (2010–11). MP is also the lowest-ranked state on the India State Hunger Index.
In the recent years, the state's GDP growth has been above the national average. The state is rich in mineral resources, and has the largest reserves of diamond and copper in India. More than 30% of its area is under the forest cover. Its tourism industry has seen considerable growth, with the state topping the National Tourism Awards in 2010-11.
Isolated remains of Homo erectus found in Hathnora in the Narmada Valley indicate that Madhya Pradesh might have been inhabited since the Middle Pleistocene era, around 500,000 years ago. Painted pottery dated to the later mesolithic period has been found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters. Chalcolithic sites belonging to Kayatha culture (2100-1800 BCE) and Malwa culture (1700-1500 BCE) have been discovered in the Western part of the state.
The city of Ujjain arose as a major center in the region, during the second wave of Indian urbanization in the sixth century BCE. It served as the capital of the Avanti Kingdom and mahajanapada. The area covered by several other ancient kingdoms such as Chedi, Malava, Karusha, Dasarna and Nishada has also been identified with parts of Madhya Pradesh.
Chandragupta Maurya united northern India around 320 BCE, establishing the Maurya empire, which included all of modern-day Madhya Pradesh. After the decline of the Maurya empire, the region was contested among the Sakas, the Kushanas, the Satavahanas, and several local dynasties during the 1st to 3rd centuries CE. Ujjain emerged as the predominant commercial center of western India from the first century BCE, located on the trade routes between the Ganges plain and India's Arabian Sea ports. The Satavahana dynasty of the northern Deccan and the Saka dynasty of the Western Satraps fought for the control of Madhya Pradesh during the 1st to 3rd centuries CE.
Subsequently, the region came under the control of the Gupta empire in the 4th and 5th centuries, and their southern neighbours, the Vakatakas. The attacks of the Hephthalites or White Huns brought about the collapse of the Gupta empire, which broke up into smaller states. The king Yasodharman of Malwa defeated the Huns in 528, ending their expansion. Later, Harsha (c. 590—647) ruled the northern parts of the state.
The Medieval period saw the rise of the Rajput clans, including the Paramaras of Malwa and the Chandelas of Bundelkhand. The Paramara king Bhoja (c. 1010–1060) was a renowned polymath. The small Gond kingdoms emerged in the Gondwana and Mahakoshal regions of the state. Northern Madhya Pradesh was conquered by the Muslim Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century. After the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate at the end of the 14th century, independent regional kingdoms reemerged, including the Tomara Rajput kingdom of Gwalior and the Muslim Sultanate of Malwa, with its capital at Mandu.
The Malwa Sultanate was conquered by the Sultanate of Gujarat in 1531. In the 1540s, most parts of the state fell to Sher Shah Suri, and subsequently to Hemu. Hemu, who had earlier served as the General of the Suri dynasty, operated from the Gwalior Fort during 1553-56. After his defeat in the Second Battle of Panipat in 1556 to Akbar, most of Madhya Pradesh came under the Mughal rule. Gondwana and Mahakoshal remained under the control of Gond kings, who acknowledged Mughal supremacy but enjoyed virtual autonomy.
The Mughal control weakend considerably after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. Between 1720 and 1760, the Marathas took control of most of Madhya Pradesh, resulting in the establishment of semi-autonomous states under the nominal control of the Peshwa of Pune: the Holkars of Indore ruled much of Malwa, the Bhonsles of Nagpur dominated Mahakoshal-Gondwana area, while the Scindias of Gwalior controlled the northern parts of the state. Besides these, there were several other , including Bhopal, Orchha, and Rewa. The Bhopal state, which paid tribute to both the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad, was founded by Dost Mohammed Khan, a former General in the Mughal army.
After the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the British took control of the entire region. All the sovereign states in the region became princely states of British India, governed by the Central India Agency. The Mahakoshal region became a British province: the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories. In 1861, the British merged the Nagpur Province with the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories to form the Central Provinces.
During the 1857 uprising, rebellions happened in the northern parts of the state, led by leaders like Tatya Tope. However, these were crushed by the British and the princes loyal to them. The state witnessed a number of anti-British activities and protests during the Indian independence movement. Several notable leaders such as Chandra Shekhar Azad, B. R. Ambedkar, Shankar Dayal Sharma and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were born in what is now Madhya Pradesh.
After the independence of India, Madhya Pradesh was created in 1950 from the former British Central Provinces and Berar and the princely states of Makrai and Chhattisgarh, with Nagpur as the capital of the state. The new states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, and Bhopal were formed out of the Central India Agency. In 1956, 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. 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.