BUNDELKHAND, a tract of country in Central India, lying between the United and the Central Provinces. Historically it includes the five British districts of Hamirpur, Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur and Banda, which now form part of the Allahabad division of the United Provinces, but politically it is restricted to a collection of native states, under the Bundelkhand agency. There are 9 states, 13 estates and the pargana of Alampur belonging to Indore state, with a total area of 9851 sq. m. and a total population (1901) of 1,308,326, showing a decrease of 13% in the decade, due to the effects of famine. The most important of the states are Orchha, Panna, Samthar, Charkhari, Chhatarpur, Datia, Bijawar and Ajaigarh. A branch of the Great Indian Peninsula railway traverses the north of the country. A garrison of all arms is stationed at Nowgong.
The surface of the country is uneven and hilly, except in the north-east part, which forms an irregular plain cut up by ravines scooped out by torrents during the periodical rains. The plains of Bundelkhand are intersected by three mountain ranges, the Bindhachal, Panna and Bander chains, the highest elevation not exceeding 2000 ft. above sea-level. Beyond these ranges the country is further diversified by isolated hills rising abruptly from a common level, and presenting from their steep and nearly inaccessible scarps eligible sites for castles and strongholds, whence the mountaineers of Bundelkhand have frequently set at defiance the most powerful of the native states of India. The general slope of the country is towards the north-east, as indicated by the course of the rivers which traverse or bound the territory, and finally discharge themselves into the Jumna.
The principal rivers are the Sind, Betwa, Ken, Baighin, Paisuni, Tons, Pahuj, Dhasan, Berma, Urmal and Chandrawal. The Sind, rising near Sironj in Malwa, marks the frontier line of Bundelkhand on the side of Gwalior. Parallel to this river, but more to the eastward, is the course of the Betwa. Still farther to the east flows the Ken, followed in succession by the Baighin, Paisuni and Tons. The Jumna and the Ken are the only two navigable rivers. Notwithstanding the large number of streams, the depression of their channels and height of their banks render them for the most part unsuitable for the purposes of irrigation,—which is conducted by means of jhils and tanks. These artificial lakes are usually formed by throwing embankments across the lower extremities of valleys, and thus arresting and accumulating the waters flowing through them. Some of the tanks are of great capacity; the Barwa Sagar, for instance, is 21 m. in diameter. Diamonds are found, particularly near the town of Panna, in a range of hills called by the natives Band-Ahil.
The mines of Maharajpur, Rajpur, Kimera and Gadasia have been famous for magnificent diamonds; and a very large one dug from the last was kept in the fort of Kalinjar among the treasures of Raja Himmat Bahadur. In the reign of the emperor Akbar the mines of Panna produced diamonds to the amount of £100,000 annually, and were a considerable source of revenue, but for many years they have not been so profitable.
The tree vegetation consists rather of jungle or copse than forest, abounding in game which is preserved by the native chiefs. There are also within these coverts several varieties of wild animals, such as the tiger, leopard, hyena, wild boar, nilgái and jackal.
The people represent various races. The Bundelas—the race who gave the name to the country—still maintain their dignity as chieftains, by disdaining to cultivate the soil, although by no means conspicuous for lofty sentiments of honour or morality. An Indian proverb avers that “one native of Bundelkhand commits as much fraud as a hundred Dandis” (weighers of grain and notorious rogues). About Datia and Jhansi the inhabitants are a stout and handsome race of men, well off and contented. The prevailing religion in Bundelkhand is Hinduism.
The earliest dynasty recorded to have ruled in Bundelkhand were the Garhwas, who were succeeded by the Parihars; but nothing is known of either. About A.D. 800 the Parihars are said to have been ousted by the Chandels, and Dangha Varma, chief of the Chandel Rajputs, appears to have established the earliest paramount power in Bundelkhand towards the close of the 10th century A.D. Under his dynasty the country attained its greatest splendour in the early part of the 11th century, when its raja, whose dominions extended from the Jumna to the Nerbudda, marched at the head of 36,000 horse and 45,000 foot, with 640 elephants, to oppose the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni. In 1182 the Chandel dynasty was overthrown by Prithwi Raj, the ruler of Ajmer and Delhi, after which the country remained in ruinous anarchy until the close of the 14th century, when the Bundelas, a spurious offshoot of the Garhwa tribe of Rajputs, established themselves on the right bank of the Jumna. One of these took possession of Orchha by treacherously poisoning its chief. His successor succeeded in further aggrandizing the Bundela state, but he is represented to have been a notorious plunderer, and his character is further stained by the assassination of the celebrated Abul Fazl, the prime minister and historian of Akbar. Jajhar Singh, the third Bundela chief, unsuccessfully revolted against the court of Delhi, and his country became incorporated for a short time with the empire. The struggles of the Bundelas for independence resulted in the withdrawal of the royal troops, and the admission of several petty states as feudatories of the empire on condition of military service. The Bundelas, under Champat Rai and his son. Chhatar Sal, offered a successful resistance to the proselytizing efforts of Aurangzeb. On the occasion of a Mahommedan invasion in 1732, Chhatar Sal asked and obtained the assistance of the Mahratta Peshwa, whom he adopted as his son, giving him a third of his dominions. The Mahrattas gradually extended their influence over Bundelkhand, and in 1792 the peshwa was acknowledged as the lord paramount of the country. The Mahratta power was, however, on the decline; the flight of the peshwa from his capital to Bassein before the British arms changed the aspect of affairs, and by the treaty concluded between the peshwa and the British government, the districts of Banda and Hamirpur were transferred to the latter. Two chiefs then held the ceded districts, Himmat Bahadur, the leader of the Sanyasis, who promoted the views of the British, and Shamsher, who made common cause with the Mahrattas. In September 1803, the united forces of the English and Himmat Bahadur compelled Shamsher to retreat with his army. In 1809 Ajaigarh was besieged by a British force, and again three years later Kalinjar was besieged and taken after a heavy loss. In 1817, by the treaty of Poona, the British government acquired from the peshwa all his rights, interests and pretensions, feudal, territorial or pecuniary, in Bundelkhand. In carrying out the provisions of the treaty, an assurance was given by the British government that the rights of those interested in the transfer should be scrupulously respected, and the host of petty native principalities in the province is the best proof of the sincerity and good faith with which this clause has been carried out. During the mutiny of 1857, however, many of the chiefs rose against the British, the rani of Jhansi being a notable example.