BETUL, a town and district of British India, in the Nerbudda division of the Central Provinces. In 1901 the population of the town was 4739. The administrative headquarters of the district have been transferred to the town of Badnur (q.v.), 3 m. north.
The district of Betul has an area of 3826 sq. m. In 1901 the population was 285,363, showing a decrease of 12% in the decade, due to the results of famine. The mean elevation above the sea is about 2000 ft. The country is essentially a highland tract, divided naturally into three distinct portions, differing in their superficial aspects, the character of their soil and their geological formation. The northern part of the district forms an irregular plain of the sandstone formation. It is a well-wooded tract, in many places stretching out in charming glades like an English park, but it has a very sparse population and little cultivated land. In the extreme north a line of hills rises abruptly out of the great plain of the Nerbudda valley. The central tract alone possesses a rich soil, well watered by the Machna and Sampna rivers, almost entirely cultivated and studded with villages. To the south lies a rolling plateau of basaltic formation (with the sacred town of Multai, and the springs of the river Tapti at its highest point), extending over the whole of the southern face of the district, and finally merging into the wild and broken line of the Ghats, which lead down to the plains. This tract consists of a succession of stony ridges of trap rock, enclosing valleys or basins of fertile soil, to which cultivation is for the most part confined, except where the shallow soil on the tops of the hills has been turned to account. The principal crops are wheat, millet, other food-grains, pulse, oil-seeds, and a little sugar-cane and cotton. A large part of the area is covered with forests, which yield teak and other timber. The only manufacture is cotton cloth. A railway is projected from Itarsi through the district to Berar. Good roads are few; and none of the rivers is navigable. This district suffered very severely from the famine of 1896–1897, in 1897 the death-rate being as high as 73 per 1000. It suffered again in 1900, when in May the number of persons relieved rose to one-third of the total population.
Little is known of the early history of the district except that it must have been the centre of the first of the four ancient Gond kingdoms of Kherla, Deogarh, Mandla and Chanda. According to Ferishta, the Persian historian, these kingdoms engrossed in 1398 all the hills of Gondwana and adjacent countries, and were of great wealth and power. About the year 1418 Sultan Husain Shah of Malwa invaded Kherla, and reduced it to a dependency. Nine years later the raja rebelled, but although with the help of the Bahmani kings of the Deccan he managed for a time to assert his independence, he was finally subdued and deprived of his territories. In 1467 Kherla was seized by the Bahmani king, but was afterwards restored to Malwa. A century later the kingdom of Malwa became incorporated into the dominions of the emperor of Delhi. In 1703 a Mussulman convert of the Gond tribe held the country, and in 1743 Raghoji Bhonsla, the Mahratta ruler of Berar, annexed it to his dominions. The Mahrattas in the year 1818 ceded this district to the East India Company as payment for a contingent, and by the treaty of 1826 it was formally incorporated with the British possessions. Detachments of British troops were stationed at Multai, Betul and Shahpur to cut off the retreat of Apa Sahib, the Mahratta general, and a military force was quartered at Betul until June 1862. The ruined city of Kherla formed the seat of government under the Gonds and preceding rulers, and hence the district was, until the time of its annexation to the British dominions, known as the “Kherla Sarkar.” The town of Multai contains an artificial tank, from the centre of which the Tapti is said to take its rise: hence the reputed sanctity of the spot, and the accumulation of temples in its honour.
The climate of Betul is fairly healthy. Its height above the plains and the neighbourhood of extensive forests moderate the heat, and render the temperature pleasant throughout the greater part of the year. During the cold season the thermometer at night falls below the freezing point; little or no hot wind is felt before the end of April, and even then it ceases after sunset. The nights in the hot season are comparatively cool and pleasant. During the monsoon the climate is very damp, and at times even cold and raw, thick clouds and mist enveloping the sky for many days together. The average annual rainfall is 40 in. In the denser jungles malaria prevails for months after the cessation of the rains, but the Gonds do not appear to suffer much from its effects. Travellers and strangers who venture into these jungles run the risk of fever of a severe type at almost all seasons of the year.