|Population: 66 million|
Located in the centre of India, Madhya Pradesh, the largest state, is mostly high plateau. To the north lie the lowlands of the Ganges and to the south, the Deccan plateau, while through the centre of the state running from east to west, flows the mighty Narmada River.
The temples at Khajaraho with their exquisitely executed erotic sculpture, the magnificent fort at Gwalior, and the Great Stupa and other ancient Buddhist art and architecture of Sanchi are some of the important, if inconveniently located, attractions of this state. The capitol, Bhopal, most closely associated in many minds with the 1984 Union Carbide disaster, is also the location of Bharat Bhavan, which houses a superb collection of contemporary painting, sculpture and tribal art and is one of India's most important centres for visual and performing arts.
Kanha, one of India's largest national parks, and arguably the finest in the country, is located in this state. Covering 1945 square kilometres and supporting a wide variety of wildlife, this park is also part of Project Tiger, an impressively successful conservation project.
Ten thousand year old rock paintings on a hilltop near Bhopal testify to ancient settlements in this area. Nearby, the splendid stupa complex at Sanchi dates from the Mauryan emperor Ashoka's conversion to, and dissemination of, Buddhism six thousand years later, in the 2nd century BC. This is one of Asia's most superb early Buddhist constructions.
The Mauryans were succeeded by the Sangas and they, in the 4th century BC, by the Guptas. By the 10th century AD the southern and central areas were controlled by the Paramaras, the most well known of whom was Raja Bhoj, who dammed a river to create a large artificial lake and built his new capitol, Bhopal, on it's eastern shore. During this period the north was under the dominion of the Chandellas, who built Khajuraho.
From the 12th to the 16th centuries the region was preoccupied by Hindu-Muslim struggles, till finally the Moghuls triumphed. They themselves succumbed to the Marathas who in turn fell to the British.
This area, known under the British as the Central Provinces, was administered in summer from the hill station Pachmarchi, near Bhopal, and in the winter from Nagpur which is now in Maharashtra.
At Independence the Central Provinces and several smaller princedoms were amalgamated to form what is now Madhya Pradesh.