History of the Uttar Pradesh


In ancient times, Uttar Pradesh was known as the Madhya Desh. Being on the route of invaders from north-west and forming part of the rich fertile plain between Delhi and Patna, its history is closely linked to the history of north India. Although not much is known about its pre and post historic periods, discovery of arms and implements of ancient and neo-paleolithic age in excavations in Mirzapur, Sonebhadra, Bundelkhand and Sarai Nahar area of Pratapgarh and of Harappan objects in Almgirpur in Meerut take us back to remore antiquity.

Aryan Age

It is only from the Rigvedic age that some coherent historical account is found. Initially, the centre of Aryan colonization in India was Sapta Sindhu or the region irrigated by seven rivers (undivided Punjab). The seven rivers were Sindhu (Indus), Vitasta (Jhelum), Askini (Chenab), Purushni(Ravi), Vipasa(Beas), Shatudri (Sutlej) and Saraswati (now lost in the Rajasthan desert). More important of the Aryan clans were Puru, Turvasu, Yadu, Anu and Druh. These five clans were known as Panchjan. Besides, there was one more prominent clan known as Bharat. Gradually, the Aryans extended their territory towards the east.

The Shatpath Brahman gives an interesting account of the victory of Kosal (Awadh) and Videh (north Bihar) by tej Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. Expansion of territory saw the creation of new States (Janpadas) and emergence of new people and new centres. The Sapta Sindhu gradually lost importance and the centre of culture shifted to the plains between Saraswati and Ganga ruled by the kingdoms of Kuru, Panchal, Kashi and Kosal.

The entire region extending up to Prayag in the east bore the name of Madhya Desh. Modern Uttar Pradesh corresponds to this region. It was considered sacred in Hindu mythology as Gods and heroes, whose deeds are recorded in the Ramayan and Mahabharat, lived here. To be the most cultured Aryans as their speech formed the norm and their conduct was prescribed as the model. They were fully conversant with rituals and could worship and sacrifice without any flaw or fault.

The rulers of these States, specially king Pravahna Jaivali of Panchal, became immortal due to their noble deeds. Subsequent history got mingled for a long time with the Puranas and Hindu scriptures, snapping the link with historical records. When this dark period of history comes to an end and outlines of a proper history take shape again in sixth century B.C., we find the 16 Mahajanpadas engaged in a state of serious competition for supremacy. These States (Janapadas) and their capitals were :-

S.No. Country Capital
1. Kuru (Meerut, Delhi and Thaneshwar) Indraprasth (Indropal near Delhi)
2. Panchal (Bareilly, Budaun and Farrukhabad) Ahichhatra (Ramnagar near Bareilly) and Kampilya (Farrukhabad)
3. Vats (Area around Mathura) Mathura
4. Vats (Allahabad and nearby area) Kaushambi (Kosam near Allahabad)
5. Kosal (Awadh) Saket (Ayodhya) and Shravasti (Sahet-Mahet in Gonda District)
6. Malla (District Deoria) Kushinagar (Kasia)and Pawa (Padrauna)
7. Kashi (Varanasi) Varanasi
8. Ang (Bhagalpur) Champa
9. Magadh (South Bihar) Girivraj (Rajgraha-Rajgiri near Bihar-Sharif)
10. Vajji (District Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur) Mithila, Janakpur, (on Nepal border) and Vaishali (Basra in Muzaffarpur district)
11. Chedi (Bundelkhand) Shuktimati (Probably near Banda)
12. Matsya (Jaipur) Virat (near Jaipur)
13. Ashmak (Godawari valley) Pandanya (Place not known)
14. Avanti (Malva) Ujjaini (Ujjain)
15. Gandhar (north-west region, now in Pakistan) Taxshila (near Rawalpindi)
16. Kamboj Rajapur (place not known)

Out of the above 16 States, eight (at serial number 1-7 and 11) were in present Uttar Pradesh. More known among them were Kashi, Kosal and Vatsa. Besides these, certain republic states were also within the boundries of present Uttar Pradesh example: Shakya state of Kapilvastu, Bhagga state of Samsumergiri and Malla state of Pawapuri and Kushinagar.

Just Before Christ
All the States were perpetually at war with each other. Kosal annexed Kashi and Avanti grabbed Vatsa. Kosal and Avanti, in turn, were subjugated one by one by Magadha which became powerful in the entire region. Magadh was ruled in succession by Haryank, Shishunag and Nand dynasties. The Nandas ruled from 343 B.C. to 321 B.C. The Nand Empire extended almost to the whole of India except Punjab and probably Bengal. It was during their reign that the Alexander invaded India in 326 B.C. Several historians are of the view that the apprehension, that they will not be able to face the forces of the powerful Magadh State, was at the root of Alexander’s forces not advancing beyond Beas river, which compelled him to go back.

With Alexander’s retreat, India witnessed a great revolution. As a result the Nand rulers had to give reins of power to Chandragupta, a scion of the Kshatriya clan “Moriya” of Pippalivana. The whole of Uttar Pradesh enjoyed peace and prospeity during the reigns of Chandragupta, his son Bindusara and grandson Ashok.

The Lion Capital inscribed in the Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath has been adopted by the Government of India as the State Emblem.

The Ashokan Pillars have been found at Sarnath, Allahabad, Meerut, Kaushambi, Sankisa, Kalsi, Siddharthnagar and Mirzapur, all of which are in Uttar Pradesh.

The Chinese Travellers Fa-Hien and Yuan-Chawang have seen several rock edicts as well. The Dharmrajika Stupa at Sarnath was also built by Ashok. The downfall of the Magadhan empire began with the death of Ashok in 232 B.C. His grandsons, Dashrath and Samprathi divided the whole Empire among themselves. The entire area south of Narmada became independent and in 210 B.C. Punjab Passed into other hands. The last ruler of this Dynasty was Brihdrath who was assassinated by his commander-in-chief Pushyamitra Shung in 185 B.C.

Pushyamitra kept Magadhan empire intact. Patanjali’s commentary refers to the seize of Saket (Ayodhya) by the Greeks. Menander and his brother mounted a heavy attack in about 182 B.C. The invading armies accupied Kathiwad in far off south-west, Sagal (Sialkot in Punjab) and Mathura. Later on the invaders laid a seize on Saket (Ayodhya) and advanced far in the Ganga valley. Ultimately, Pushyamitra and his grandson Vasumitra challenged the invaders on the banks of the Sindhu and defeated the Greeks. The invaders retreated and made Sagal (Sialkot) their capital.

For long, Mathura remained a prominent city of Menander’s empire.Menander or Milind ruled up to about 145 B.c. Later on, small Indo-Greek and Greek states flourished in Punjab up to the first century of Chistain era. During this period the Shung dynasty was replaced by the danasty in Magadh. It is said that the last king of Shung dynasty was of bad character and he was killed by his minister Vasudev. Vasdev established Kanva dynasty in 75 B.C. by Simuk, the founder of the Satavahana or the Andhra Dynasty.

It was at this time that the attention of Central Asian rulers was drawn towards India for the first time. By 60 B.C. they had set up their Kashatraps in Mathura. The first Saka king was Maues who died around 38 B.C. After the Sakas, the Parthians attacked north India and by the beginning of first century A.D. they started defeating the Sakas. The Kushanas also mounted an attack around 40 A.D. The Kushanas too were one of the five Yueh-Chih castes of Central Asia. Soon the Kushanas rulers established their empire right from Central Asia up to the Indus river. Gradually, They occupied the whole of north India.

Kushan Dynasty
The Kushan dynasty was established by Kujul Kadphises I. His son and sucessor, Vim Kadphises or Kadphises II had come upto the Ganga valley. His sucessor, Kanishk was doubtlessly the greartest among all Kushan rulers.Stories of war which Kanishk fought with the king of Soked (Saket) have been preserved in the accounts of Chinese and Tibetan historians and several inscriptions and coins found in excavations in extensive parts of Uttar Pradesh indicate that this territory was at sometime part of the Kushan empire. Mathura was at that time a well known centre of art.

The reign of Kanishk and genealogy of Kushan rulers are uncertain. Some scholars are of the view that Kanishk ascended the throne in 78 AD, while some others are of the view that Kanishk ruled between 120 and 140 AD. His capital was Purushpur of Peshawar and other capital was in Mathura. Gandhar, Kashmir and basins of Indus and Ganga Valleys came under his kingdom. After Kanishk his son Huvishk succeeded to the throne and was followed by his son.Vasudev.The empire of the Kushanas was greatly reduced during Vasudev’s rule and after him disintegrated and split into several small border kingdoms. With the approach of third century AD, the Kushan sovereignty in Madhya Desh had collapsed and a number of smaller states had once again sprung up in the place. Although the names of some of them are still preserved in the pillar inscription of Samudragupta (4th century AD) at Allahabad, the most powerful dynasty to rule north India during this period was of the Nagas. Another sect of the Nagas, the Bharshivas also rose to power during this period. An idea of their power and the extent of their empire can be had from the fact that they performed ten ashwamedh Yajnas and were anointed with sacred water brought from the Ganga for their coronation.

The history of the period from the middle of the second century up to the rise of the Gupta rulers in the 4th century is very febulous. The Kushanas were losing power and several smaller states has once again started establishing their suverainty. The Panchalas of Ahichhatra had a powerful kingdom which probably extended upto Mathura. The entire area comprising Kumaon and Garhwal and probably extending upto Kulu and Simla hills formed the kingdom of the Kunindas. The remains found in Kashipur and various places in Terai show that it was an important and powerful kindgom. After the decline of the Kushan power, Kaushambi (Kosam near allahabad) probably became independent. A local dynasty reled over Magadh and subsequently the Guptas also emerged from this very region.
The Gupta Dynasty and its Downfall

With the advent of the Guptas in 4th century AD, pilitical unity was again restored in India and duing two centuries of their rule, Madhya Desh (Uttar Pradesh) shared general peace and properity with other regions. After the decline of the Gupta empire in 6th century AD, the power was once again decentralised. The Maukharis of Kannauj ruled over a large part of Madhya Desh for some time. They had to contend fiercely with the Gupta kings of Malva. Their last ruler, Grihwarman was defeated and killed about 606 AD by the Malva king Devagupta. After this Grihwarman’s ministers handed over the reins of administration to his brother in law Harshavardhan, the king of Thaneshwar.

With the accession of Harsha, the ruling dynasty of Thaneshwar and Kannuaj joined hands. Kannauj became a major city of north India. For centuries, it enjoyed the same prestige which Patalipurta had enjoyed earlier. Because of its grandeur and prosperity, it was known as “Mahodaya Shri” and its possession became the goal of successive Hindu rulers after Harsha (i.e. after 647 AD). The Chinese trabveller, Yuan-Chwang, who visited the country at that time, has given a vivid description of Kannauj. After Harsha, north India was once again thrown in turmoil. It is not possible to construct a coherent history of the period on the basis of available material. Only a few events can be narrated.
Age of Instability

During the first quarter of 8th century AD, Yashovarman established away over Kannauj. He overran almost the whole of India and once again made Kannauj a city of splendour. In alliance with Lalitaditya Muktapid of Kashmir, he also sent his army into Tibet and attained substantial success also but later on Lalitadity dethroned and killed him in 740AD. During the reign of later Ayudh rules, Kannauj became a bone of contention betwen Palas of Bengal, Rashtrakuts of south and Gurjar Pratihars of western India but ultimately the Gurjar Pratihars were successful. The empire that they established was in no way inferior to the empires of any Gupta in its extend and fame. The Gurjar Pratihars held sway over north India during the whole of the 9th and 10th centuries. They were vanquished by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1018-19 AD. The Chandel rulers of Jejak-Bhukti of present bundelkhand successfully met the onslaught of Mahmud of Ghazni, thanks to their fortress at Kalinjar. Two Chandel rulers, Dhang and Vidyadhar played a glorious role in the wars with invaders.

Muslim Rulers of Delhi:
Qutub-ud-din Aibak ascended the throne of Delhi in 1206 AD and founded the Slave dynasty. The Slaves and after them, the Khilijis and Tughlaqs gradually extended the frontiers of Delhi Sultanate. The present Uttar Pradesh formed part of their empires. Although Sambhal, Kara and Budaun were given to important feudal lords but by and large the entire State continued to oppose the Sultans of Delhi. The names of Katehar, Kampil, Bhojpur and Patiali stand out prominently in this context. The history of Madhya Desh in 13th and 14th centuries is a saga of brave resistance and barbaric repression stray glimpses of which are found in the works of contemporary historians. Even before the beginning of the end of this period, the empire of Tughlaqs of Delhi had started to disintegrate and in 1394 AD. an independent State was established in the eastern part of this region. It was the Sharqi empire which was foundedin Jaunpur by Malik Sarvar Khwajajahan, a rebel Governor of the Tughlaq ruler. The Sharqi rulers constantly contended with the Sultans of Delhi for 84 long years and did not accept Delhi’s suzerainty over Kannauj and border districts.

Four years after the secession of Jaunpur i.e., in 1398 AD, a Chughtai Turk of Samarkand known as Timur of Taimur Lang or Tamerlane, invaded India. Though the brunt of Taimur’s barbarism was mainly borne by Delhi and Punjab, the Doab region also did not escape it. For instance, meerut, Harwar and Katehar had to go through a bitter experience of the invasion. Taimur’s invasion brought the Tughlaq rule to an end. The last Tughlaq ruler, Mohamamed Tughlq died in 1412 AD heralding the end of the Tughlaq dynasty in Delhi. The Syeds and the Lodies ruled over the remnants of the Delhi empire from 1414 AD to 1526 AD, but most of the Doab continued to be under several Hindu and Muslim chieftains. An important event of the contemporay history was that Sikandar Lodi made Agra his sub-capital.

The Mughal Period
Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Lodi rulers at the Battle of Panipat in 1526 AD and occupied Agra, But even after this, the Afghans continued their resistance in the Ganga valley and Sambhal, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Kalpi, Etawah and Kannauj had surrendered only after a bitter fight. Babar founded the Mughal empire but his son Humayun had to face a crushing defeat at the hands of Afghan chief Sher Shah. The main battlefield in the war between the Mughals and Sher Shah were Chunar, Chausa and Bilgram. Sher Shah himself was killed in 1545 AD fighting the Chandels in his bid to occupy the famous Kalinjar fort. With the death of Sher Shah, a luminous star on the horizon of Mediaeval history had set. After this, a series of important events took place.

Humayun ascended the throne once again and after his death the second battle of Panipat was fought. Akbar ascended the throne in 1556 AD ushering in a new era in Indian history. It was an era of peace, prosperity and strong administration, of liberalism and integration of Hindu and Muslim cultures. This process of integration continued during the period of his successors, Jahangir and Shahjahan. As contemporary Muslim historians observe, the role of Uttar Pradesh in taking ‘Hindustan’ to the pinnacle of progress, prosperity and glory was significant. Two famous ministers of Akbar, namely Birbal and Todermal, belonged to Uttar Pradesh. Agra continued to be the capital of the Mughal empire till Shahjahan shifted the capital to Delhi. The reversal of this liberal policy by Aurangzeb was a great setback to the Mughal empire. Within a few decades of his death, the mighty Mighal empire was finished. Even during his life time, Bundelkhand had sounded the siren of revolt under Veer Chhatrasal. This war of Bundelas was fought intermittantly for 50 years and Chhatrasal had to accept help of Peshwa Bajirao which helped the Marathas to get a foothold in Uttar Pradesh.

In Avadh the local governor, Saadat Ali Khan declared independenace in 1732 AD and his successors continued to rule up to 1850 AD. Almost simultaneously the Rohillas also established an independent State in Rohilkhand and continued to rule up to 1774 AD, when the then Nawab of Avadh defeated them with the help of East India Company. The Marathas tried for sometime to establish themselves in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab, but their defeat at Panipat in 1761 AD put an end to their expansionist ambitions.

Nawabs of Avadh
The British East India Company came into contact with the Avadh rulers during the reign of the third Nawab of Avadh, Shuja-ud-daula (1754-1775 AD). Shuja-ud- daula had entered into an alliance with Mir Qasim, the fugitive Nawab of Bengal, against the Company, In 1784. Mir Qasim was defeated by the British and was forced to cede Kara and Allahabad. Thereafter the Britishers pursued a policy to usurpe large territories by coercing the rulers of Avadh at one time and cajoling them at the other.The territories obtained from the Nawabs in 1775,1779 and 1801 AD and those won by Lord Lake from the Scindia in 1803 AD were initially attached to the Bengal province and were named as Conquered and Ceded Provinces

In 1816 AD, the districts of present Kumaon, Garhwal and Dehra Dun were taken from the Gurkha invaders under the Treaty of Sanguli and annexed to British territories. The large territory thus formed was made an administrative unit called the North-Western Provinces in 1836 AD. Pursuing a policy of annexing States, Lord Dalhousie ultimately annexed Avadh in 1856 AD and placed it under a Chief Commissioner. The last Nawab of Avadh, Wajid Ali Shah was externed to Calcutta and put on a pension. At the same time Jhansi was also annexed by the British.

First War of Independence and After
The relations between the Nawabs and the East India Company remind us of the weaknesses of the Nawabs on the one hand and arrogance, might and betrayal on the part of the British on the other. When the British usurped Avadh, it was but natural that there should be a ravolt at the national level. It happened in 1857 A.D. In this revolt, which was, in effect, the first war of Indian independance, the people of Uttar Pradesh played a glorious role. The sense of duty and dedication to the cause of freedom displayed in this historic struggle by Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Begum Hazrat Mahal of Avadh, Bakht Khan, Nana Saheb, Maulvi Ahmadullas Shah, Raja Beni Madhav Singh, Azimullas Khan and a host of other patriots have made them immortal.

In 1858 AD, the Delhi Division was taken out from the North-Western Provinces and the State’s capital was shifted from Agra to Allahabad. On November 1, the same year, political power was tranferred from East India Company to Queen Victoria through a Royal Proclamation. In 1877 AD, the posts of Lt. Governor of North-Western Provinces and Chief Commissioner of Avadh were merged. From then, this large territory was called North Western Provinces of Agra and Avadh. The name was again changed in 1902 AD to United Provinces of Agra and Avadh. It was made a Governor’s province in 1921 AD and after some time its capital was shifted to Lucknow. Its name was shortened to United Provinces in 1937 AD. About two and a half years after independance i.e. January 12, 1950, it got its present name of Uttar Pradesh. When the Constitution of free India came into force on January 26, 1950, Uttar Pradesh became a full-fledged province of the Republic of India. There is not doubt the the history of Uttar Pradesh has run concurrently with the history of the country during and after the British rule, but it is also well know that the contribution of the people of the State in National Freedom Movement had been significant.


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