The early history of the district is vested in obscurity, and at best only conjectures can be formed on the basis if inscriptions found on the adjoining area. In ancient times Chhindwara formed a part of the Vidharba kingdom. Before the rise of the Mauryas in the 4th century BC probably the Nandas were the supreme sovereigns of this area. The area appears to have been ruled by the Nandas, Mauryas, Sungas, Vakatakas, the Kalichuris and the Gond rulers. The authentic history of the district begins from the 16th century when parts of the district fell under the domination of the rising Gond dynasty of Deogarh. The earliest headquarters of the Deogarh family were at Harya or Haryagarh, a village 40 km southwest of Chhindwara. Deogarh was originally a Gaoli kingdom and was conquered by a Gond king of Garha.
The history of Deogarh dynasty, during 17th and the 18th centuries, had close relations with the Mughals kings of south and the Subah of Berar. During this period Deogarh region was transferred from Malwa to Berar Subah. Deogarh was then known as an independent Sarkar of the Subah of Berar. The most famous ruler of Deogarh dynasty was Bakth Buland Shah who succeeded the throne of Deogarh on the descent of Jatoba. He added to his kingdom the territories from those of the Rajas of Chanda and Mandla. Bakth Buland is also credited with the founding of the modern city of Nagpur on the side of some Hamlets then known as Ratanpur Barsa. From 1670 AD onwards the Subah Berar begin to come under the heavy land of the Marathas.
The Maratha administration of the territory was reported to be good and the country proposed. But with the beginning of the 19th century the conditions worsened in the Bhonsalas tract, including the district of Chhindwara. In the contest of supremacy with the British in 1803 Raghuji II was defeated and had to conclude the treaty of Deogaon which deprived in on Berar and Cuttuck amounting to about 1/3 of his territories. But the real trouble of district came from the Pandries the administration of Raja Raghuji III was closely watched and supervised by the successive residents. Chhindwara district became a British territory in 1853. The annexation of Nagpur kingdom, like many other States in the country gave rise to the discontentment prevalent in the country, which burst into the form of the Great Revolt of 1857. As a sequel to the great revolt it was decided by the British Government to conjoin the Sagar-Nerbudda territories with that of the Nagpur Province. Thus, the Central Province was formed in November 1861, with Chhindwara as one of its district.
Chhindwara also did not lag behind in the country’s freedom struggle. It started in 1917 with the establishment of a branch of the home Rule League at Chhindwara. This was followed by a Political Conference organized at chhindwara in 1920. In the Flag Satyagraha and the Civil Disobedience Movement that followed at Chhindwara had its share. In November 1933, Gandhiji visited the District. The District continued to share the political history thereafter.
The below is a detailed version of the history of Chhindwara, beginning righteously from the naming of this place.
Nomenclature of Chhindwara
There are many theories prevailing here taking credit for the naming of this place ‘Chhindwara’. No exact historical evidence has been traced for the theories and there is much contradiction in them. The most common theories are the following ~
- Chhindwara was once spread around the ‘Chhind’ (A kind of Date-Palm) trees on its fertile land.
- According to some Historians, once the Maratha sardar Ranojee and Daulatrao Shindia were residing in the heart of Chhindwara city at that time, Bararipura which was then known as Shindewara. And this name after much manipulation came out to be Chhindwara.
- It was also said that once there was a huge population of Sinhas (Lions) in and around this place and that’s why people referred to it as Singha Dwara (The Gateway of Lions), which later metamorphed into Chhindwara.
- The king of Chhitodgarh Raja Ratansen visited Singhaldweep and was said to have entered it through this place, and that’s why its Singha Dwara again!
Ancient History of Chhindwara
The ancient history of Chhindwara has no significant evidence. This is entirely according to the research works of archeologists based on the findings of sculptures, manuscripts and coins in this region. This region was mainly under the rule of three clans viz. the Vakataks, the Rashtrakoots and the Gonds.
The Vakatak Dynasty
In accordance with some manuscripts found in Chhindwara, Seoni and Ajanta regions the Vakatak dynasty belonging to the Rajputs was having its kingdom in the 3rd century. Based on the facts provided by the books ‘The Coins of India’ and ‘The Archeology report’ the kingdom was spread all along the Vindhyachal region and their capital is the present Bhandak town of the Chandrapur ( Chanda ) district. But Dr. BullHur Fleet contradicts this belief entirely as the some names which were found in there manuscripts were not a part of these districts.
King Prawarsen was one of the eminent kings of this dynasty. And in accordance to the findings of sculptures, manuscripts, coins, idols in the Chhindwara and the adjoining regions like Balaghat, Seoni and some district places of Maharashtra like Chanda, Alichpur and Arvi.
The Vakatak empire was spread upto the Mahadev Hill Ranges in the North, the Godavari river in the south, the origin of Mahanadi in the East and the hills of Ajanta in the West. And infers that this dynasty must have been powerful and have had a glorious history.
The Rashtrakoot Dynasty
The southern part of Chhindwara district was once included in the Rashtrakoot Empire, the capital of which was Malkhed of Hyderabad. This empire spread from Vidhyachal and Malwa regions upto the south Kachi. The manuscripts of this kingdom belonging to the time of King Krishna III of 940 BC were found in Multai in Amarwara district, and Devali village of Wardha district of Maharashtra district. This is based on the findings of Shila Stambha in the Neelkanthi village (which is 40 km far from Mohgoan haweli) of Chhindwara district, which also indicates that King Krishna III belonged to the family of Chandrawansh while the other kings of Rashtrakoots were either belonged to Yadhuwansh or Sonwansh.
There is also an entrance gate of a Temple here which shows that this belonged to the Rashtrakoot era and they must have ruled from 750 AD till the next two centuries.
The Rasktrakoots were one of the greatest art lovers of all times. The temples and architectures of Ellora ( Maharashtra ). The name of modern Maharashtra state is derived from the name of this dynasty ‘Rashtrakoot’. And eventually in the 973 AD this dynasty fell apart.
The Gond Dynasty
After the falling of Vakatak dynasty Chhindwara was included in the Gond dynasty, which was spread from united province and Bengal. The King Gupt of Gonds defeated and killed the King of Kannauj in 606 AD while the latter was going for an attack on Malwa with his 10000 personnel strong army. According to Gen. Cunningham the King Gupt later became the King of the Gond dynasty. But this belief too is thought to be mythical.
And in this way, the Chhindwara region remained under the glorious rule of the Vakataks, Rastrakoots and the Gonds.
Medieval History of Chhindwara
During the medieval period Chhindwara saw many great changes from the 11 AD to the 14 AD. But no definite evidences have been established for the historical happenings during this time and there is much possibility that Chhindwara must have been under the Kherla state of Betul. According to Persian historian Farishta the Gondwana region was under the rule of Raja Narshingh Rai of Kherla. This king was earlier under the Gulbargha and Muslim Bahimany of Sholapur. Later this entire region was merged in the Malwa region. But it is doubtful that the Malwa region had spread upto Chhindwara.
The medieval period on a whole can be classified into the following with respect to the history of Chhindwara.
The Gondwansh of Devgarh
According to historian Prayagdutt Shukla there are no definite identity established yet about the ruler of Devgarh. Some state that this region belonged to the Ahirs as denoted by the findings at that place. Eventually the Devgarh empire became very powerful and incorporated Mandla and the Chanda districts.
Still there is not much known about the earlier period of the rule of the Gonds in this region. People thought that Devgarh was ruled by the Gaulis earlier to the Gonds. Later on the Gondi state was established by a Gond Jaatava who threw out the Gaulis.
The Period of Jaatava
There are no reliable evidences yet to establish the historical happenings of the Jaatava period. But it’s a historical fact that in the 16th century Jaatava was the ruler of Devgarh. Abul Fazal in his ‘Aain-e-Akbari’ referred to Jaatava as a landlord from Kerala having 2000 strong cavalry, 50000 strong infantry and 100 elephants.
During the rule of Akbar Jaatava was under the rule of Mughals (Also in 1616 during the period of Jahangir Jaatava was under the influence of the Mughals). Jaatava was also praised in Jahagirs autobiography ‘Tujhak-e-Jahangiri’ that Jaatava had a strong belief in Hindu religion and culture. In this regard Prayagdutt Shukla contributed by stating that Jaatava had made common coins on which the Maharaja was imprinted.
There were seven heirs of Jaatava but only one of them Kokshah established an identity of himself during the period of Shahjahan.
As Devgarh was a desert region it was economically very deprived and the inhabitants were unable to pay the annual taxes to the administration of Shahjahan which forced the former to attack and force-collect the taxes from the latter. The forces used to come from Burhanpur and this fact is evident by the letters of Aurangzeb written to Shahjahan.
After the death of Jaatava, Kokshah became the King of Devgarh. And in this way during the Mughal period the following Kings ruled over Devgarh.
- Jaatava I ruled from 1570 to 1620 AD
- Kokshah I ruled from 1620 to 1640 AD
- Jaatava II ruled from 1640 to 1657 AD
- Kokshah II ruled from 1657 to 1687 AD
- Bakth Buland ruled from 1687 to 1700 AD
The Administrative System of Kokshah II
Kokshah II was the son of Jaatava II and during his rule, Devgarh grew economically very weak. The inhabitants of Devgarh were belonging to the tribe Gonds, who mostly spoke Hindi language, but normally Persian was their language of correspondence with the Mughals. That infers that Devgarh was completely under the rule of the Mughals. The Devgarh defense forces consisted of the Rajputs and the Gonds. The administration and the accounts of the kingdom was looked after by the Brahmins and the Kayasths. The state emblem was the Nagadevta (Lord snake). One-third portion of the state was divided into many Jagirs. Out of them only 15 were of significance.
But with the time, Devgarh under the rule of Kokshah II became weak and started falling apart. The main reason given to this state of Devgarh was alcoholism, extravagance and polygamy and lack of unity. Even after such desperate conditions Kokshah II ruled for about 30 years. And eventually Kokshah II dead in 1680.
The Rule of Bakth Buland
In 1685 after the death of Kokshah II the Prince Bakthshah seized the throne. This happened after he threw his brother Deendarshah off the throne. Later Deendarshah ran for cover under Aurangzeb where he embraced Islam. This followed a series of mass conversion among the inhabitants of Devgarh. This also inspired Bakthshah when he visited Delhi. Aurangzeb helped Bakthshah to embrace Islam as Bakth Buland and sent him back to Devgarh. Gradually Islamism started spreading in Devgarh as Muslims started settling there. This made Devgarh an Islamic state which observed all the Muslim festivals.
During his rule Bakth Buland expanded his empire by far and large which included the present Chhindwara, Nagpur, Seoni, Bhandara, Hoshangabad. After overpowering the Kings of Chanda and Mandla, these districts were also incorporated into the Devgarh state.
During the last days of Aurangzeb, Bakth Buland started looting and raiding the innocent people near the Wardha district. This caused Aurangzeb to change the name of Bakth Buland to Nigam Bakth.
After 38 years of Bakth Buland’s rule, he was killed by Prince Bedaar Baksh in 1706 AD. Bakth Buland had 5 sons, Chand Sultan, MahipatShah , Yusufshah from his Gond Queen and the two from two Muslims women , named Alishah, Walishah.
The Rule of Chand Sultan
After Bakth Baksh the Devgarh state was under the rule of Chand Sultan, who expanded the state far and wide and made Nagpur the capital. During his rule Devgarh grew powerful and glorious which attracted the Maratha Empire. Chand Sultan eventually died in 1739 AD in Nagpur. This marked the fall of Gondwansh in the Devgarh state.
The End of Gondwansh (The Beginning of Marathas)
Chand Sultan’s cousin Walishah betrayed him by slaying Sultan’s eldest son Veer Bahadur, and seized the throne. At that moment Sultan’s widow Queen Ratan Kunwar requested assistance from the Bhonsales for her two sons Burhanshah and Akbarshah. Raghoji Bhonsale acted immediately overpowered Walishah by slaying him and entrusted the throne to Burhanshah. In 1742 Queen Ratan Kunwar died, which was followed by a conflict between the two brothers. Burhanshah again seeked help from the Bhonsales who defeated and threw Akbarshah out. The latter took shelter in Chanda and eventually died there. And here, Raghoji took Devgarh under his control, made Burhanshah a pensioner and that’s how Devgarh became a part of the Bhonsale state (Nagpur). In 1753 Raghoji died leaving behind an impression of a great King of the 18th century. His kingdom was spread upto the Berar in the west, Bay of Bengal in the east, Narmada in the north while Godavari river in the south. Such was the series of incidence which converted the Gondwana state into a Maratha state and this sparked off the proliferation of the Marathas in this region.
During the year 1755 to 1772 Janoji son of Raghoji Bhonsale took over the throne of Nagpur. After his death the throne was occupied by Saboji, Mughoji, Chimna Bapu and Raghoji II, sequentially. In the year 1803 a joint force of Raghoji II and Daulatrao Shindia fought against the British and lost their respective empires. They formed the ‘Treaty of Devgaon’ according to the last condition of what Mt. Stuart Eliefsten became the head of Nagpur and worked there for four years. And from that point onwards, the administration of Chhindwara was handled by the British.
Another personality that was of significance to the history of Chhindwara was Appaji Bhonsale. After Raghoji II his blind son Parsoji sat on the throne and his nephew Appaji Bhonsale was appointed Parsoji’s patron. But the Bhonsales were not in favour of this. Appaji was ambitious and wanted to sit on the Nagpur throne. He secretly made a pact with the British in 1817 which was opposed by the Bhonsale royal family, which forced him to live in the outskirts of the town. On the 2nd February 1817 Parsoji died. According to the historians Appaji ordered the killing of Parsoji by conspiracy and he got the throne of Nagpur. After attaining the power Appaji broke his relations with the British and started dialogues with Bajirao Peshwa. The British got annoyed by this and put some conditions on the treaty like,
- The Fort of Hoshangabad should be handed over to them
- The Defense Force should be limited to the strength of 1000
These conditions were not agreed by Appaji which caused a battle between them. Eventually Appaji lost in the Battle of Sitabuldi and had to surrender to the British. The British made him a puppet king of Nagpur but kept the powers in their hands which was again opposed by Appaji. The English residency Jenkings removed Appaji from the position and decided to send him to Allahabad. In 1818 while being transported to Allahabad, Appaji escaped from the hands of the British and reached Chhindwara through the Mahadev route.
In Chhindwara, Appaji was given refuge by the Gond and Korku landlords, namely Chainsingh of Sonpur and Rajbashah of Pratapgarh. Altogether they fought against the British to acquire Devgarh. This battle was fought at Londi near Devgarh where the British won. The two landlords were then expelled from the Chanda region and then were killed. After which Appaji brought together a strong force of 20,000 personals mainly Gonds, Sikhs and some soldiers of Bajirao Peshwa. This caused a unrest amongst the British and they announced an amount of rupees one Lac for arresting Appaji. When the British forces then started reaching near him after crossing the Gond region, Appaji ran away to Aaseergarh. The British even after a frantic chase of 20 days was not able to catch hold of the fugitive. Appaji then reached and took refuge under Maharana Ranjeet Singh of Punjab. In 1840 Appaji eventually died at the age of 44.
The Landlords of Chhindwara had given refuge to Appaji for two years and also helped him to accumulate power, which is truly immemorial in the history of Chhindwara.
Modern History of Chhindwara
The Modern History of Chhindwara incorporates the period from the revolution of
1857 till the attainment of freedom.
The Great Revolt of 1857
Chhindwara district also played a significant role in the freedom struggle of 1857 as this place was blessed by the visit of great freedom fighters like Tatya Tope. After his defeat in the battle of Jhansi Tope reached Nagpur asking for aid, but was refused for help by the then Queen Bankabai Bhonsale. The Queen thought that any help provided to Tope could spread the Freedom fire up to the Southern parts of the country.
Tatya Tope met Jagirdar Mahavir Singh of Harrakota and Raokhedi with some clear intentions like,
a. To stay in Jamai (Junnardeo)
b. To collect a strong force against the British
c. To impart a feeling a sense of revolution in amongst the Jagirdars of Chhindwara.
And thus Tope succeeded in acquiring the trust and support from the Jagirdars. He and his allies then surmounted the fire for freedom by increasing their activities.
October the 28th 1858 was a very significant day in the history of Chhindwara. To spread the spirit of freedom struggle a man from Itawa named Koshwaar Assair distributed a flag, a beetle leaf, a beetle nut and a coconut in the nearby places. This indicates the arrival of Tatya Tope. This incident was considered so important that the news of it reached the then Governor General. This caused increase in the British search operations for Tope, and they adopted every method possible.
The Governor General sent a messenger and announced a reward of rupees five thousand for providing some information and rupees ten thousand if the messenger met the Tope and his people personally. That messenger reached Chhindwara on the 7th of November 1858 and chased the extremists but even on reaching Multai he wasn’t successful in tracing them.
And at the same time the Jagirdar of Batkakhapa, Bakht Singh joined the British to nab Tope. During that time in the summers the British was having only infantry force with them, and the forces from Kamptee used to stay in Chhindwara. Then the force from Chhindwara reached Harra Kota to nab Tatya Tope. The Tope troop having a strength of mere 5000 personals fought bravely against the British. But they eventually lost the fight as the additional British force from Kamptee joined in. Tope somehow managed to escape but the Jagirdar of Harra Kota was caught. According to some historians this place was comparatively a silent place but only due to the arrival of Tope there started a revolt against the British for freedom. The British then took control over that place and used most of its part for its own purposes. On the other side Bakth Singh was honoured and given an assurance that he will be protected.
The history of Chhindwara shows a golden picture of sacrifice and martyrdom from the example of the Jagirdar of Harra Kota, Mahavir Singh, and on the flip side a filthy picture of distrust, fraud and disloyalty with examples of Bakth Singh, Mir Jaffar and Amichand. It was the good fortune for Chhindwara that a significant freedom fighter of the first revolt against the British had been here. If there had been more Jagirdars like Mahavir Singh, this revolution would have taken a significant turn.
From the 1857-58 to the first decade of 20th centuary Chhindwara had a very dormant political picture, mainly due to lack of firmness in national activities and lack of national awareness. But after that there increased a feeling for national spirit and awareness that caused Chhindwara to become a very significant place for national activities from 1920 to 1957.