CENTRAL INDIA, a collection of native states in India forming a separate agency, which must not be confounded with the Central Provinces. The Central India agency was formed in 1854, when Sir R. Hamilton was appointed agent to the governor-general. It lies between 21° 24′ and 26° 52′ N. and between 74° 0′ and 83° 0′ E., and may be said to consist of two large detached tracts of country which, with Jhansi as a pivot, spread outwards east and west into the peninsula, reaching northward to within some 30 m. of Agra, and southward to the valley of the Nerbudda and the Vindhya and Satpura ranges. The total area is 78,772 sq. m. It is bounded on the N. and N.E. by the United Provinces, on the W. and S.W. by Rajputana, some native states of the Bombay presidency, and Khandesh. The Central Provinces and the Bengal district of Chota Nagpur enclose it on the S. and E., while the Jhansi district of the United Provinces separates the two tracts.
Central India may be divided into three great natural divisions: the highlands of the Malwa plateau, with a mean elevation of some 1500 ft. above sea-level; the low-lying country some 600 ft. above sea-level, comprising the greater part of the eastern section of the agency; and the hilly tracts, which lie mostly to the south. The Malwa plateau consists of great undulating plains, separated by flat-topped hills, whose sides are boldly terraced, with here and there a scarp rising above the general level; it is covered with long grass, stunted trees and scrub, which owing to the presence of deciduous plants is of a uniform straw colour, except in the rains. The foundation of this plateau is a bed of sandstone and shales belonging to the Vindhyan series. This bed, which stretches east and west from Sasseram to Neemuch, and north and south from Agra to Hoshangabad, comprises the whole of the agency except the northern part of Bundelkhand. On the plateau itself the sandstone is generally overlaid by the Deccan trap, a blackish-coloured basaltic rock of volcanic origin, the high level tableland having been formed by a succession of lava flows, the valleys of Central India being merely “denudation hollows” carved out by the action of rain and rivers. It is apparently the northern limit of what was once a vast basaltic plain stretching from Goona to Belgaum, “one of the most gigantic outpourings of volcanic matter in the world.” The sandstone bed on which it rests is visible at a point just north of Goona, and in a small area round Bhilsa and Bhopal, as it is in those places freed from the layer of trap. The low-lying land includes roughly that part of the agency which lies to the east of the plateau and comprises the greater part of the political divisions of Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand and the country round Gwalior. The formation save in north Bundelkhand is sandstone of the Vindhyan series, free as a rule from “trap.” In the north of Bundelkhand the prevailing rock is gneiss and quartz. The quartz takes the shape of long serrated ridges, which are in many places a characteristic feature of the landscape. Trap appears here and there in intrusive dykes. The hilly tracts lie chiefly to the south of the agency, where the Vindhya, Satpura and Kaimur ranges are met with. The country is rough forest and jungle land little used for cultivation. The greater part of Central India is covered with the well-known “black cotton soil,” produced by the disintegration of the trap rock. It is a very rich loamy earth, possessing great fertility and an unusual power of retaining moisture, which makes artificial irrigation little needed. Opium and millet are the principal crops grown upon it. The ordinary “red soil” covers a large part of northern Bundelkhand, and as it requires much irrigation, tanks are a special feature in this country. Ethnologically as well as climatically the differences between the plateau and the eastern part of the agency are distinct and the languages markedly so. The plateau is inhabited by pure-blooded Rajput races, whose ancestry can be traced back for centuries, with all their numerous offshoots. The inhabitants of the low-lying country are also Rajputs, but their descent is mixed and as a rule the families of the plateau will have no marriage connexion with them. The races of the hilly tracts are semi-civilized tribes, who often flee at the mere sight of a white man, and have as yet been but little affected by the Hindu religion of their Rajput rulers. Of the climate of the plateau, Abul Fazl, the author of the Ain-i-Akbari, says: “The climate is so temperate that in the winter there is no occasion for warm clothing, nor is it necessary in summer to cool the water with saltpetre. But in the four rainy months the night here is cold enough to render a quilt necessary.” The rains of the south-east monsoon reach Central India as a rule about the 12th of July, and last until the end of September.
Administrative Divisions.—The Central India agency is divided for administrative purposes into eight units, two classed as residencies and six as agencies. These are the residencies of Gwalior and Indore, and the agencies of Baghelkhand, Bhopal, Bhopawar, Bundelkhand, Indore and Malwa. But these divisions are purely an artificial grouping for the purposes of the British government, the original native divisions consisting of 16 states and 98 minor states and estates. The 15 large states are Gwalior, Indore, Rewa, Bhopal, Dhar, Barwani, Datia, Orchha, Charkhari, Chhattarpur, Panna, Dewas (senior branch), Dewas (junior branch), Jaora and Ratlam. At the close of the Pindari War in 1818 the whole country that is now under the Central India agency was in great confusion and disorder, having suffered heavily from the extortions of the Mahratta armies and from predatory bands. It had been the policy of the great Mahratta chiefs, Holkar and Sindhia, to trample down into complete subjection all the petty Rajput princes, whose lands they seized and from whom they levied heavy contributions of money. Many of these minor chiefs had been expelled from their possessions, had taken refuge in the hills and forest, and retaliated upon the Mahratta usurpers by wasting the lands which they had lost, until the Mahrattas compounded for peace by payment of blackmail. In this state of affairs all parties agreed to accept the interposition of the British government for the restoration of order, and under Lord Hastings the work of pacification was effected. The policy pursued was to declare the permanency of the rights existing at the time of the British interposition, conditionally upon the maintenance of order; to adjust and guarantee the relations of subordinate and tributary chiefs to their superiors so as to prevent all further disputes or encroachments; and to settle the claims of the ousted landholders, who had resorted to pillage or blackmail, by fixing grants of land to be made to them, or settling the money allowances to be paid to them. The general result was to place all the privileges, rights and possessions of these inferior chiefs under the guarantee or protection of the British government, to whom all disputes between the superior and inferior states must be referred, and whose decision is final upon all questions of succession to hereditary rights or rulership. The states have no general ethnological affinity, such as exists in Rajputana. Their territories are in many cases neither compact nor continuous, consisting of a number of villages here and there, with a nucleus of more or less importance round the chief town. Their relations to the government of India and to each other present many variations. Ten of them are under direct treaty with the government of India; others are held under sanads and deeds of fealty and obedience; while a third class, known as the mediatized states, are held under agreements mediated by the British government between them and their superior chiefs.
Population.—The total population of the Central India agency in 1901 was 8,628,781, showing a decrease during the decade of 16.4%. Considerable losses were caused by the famines of 1897–1898 and 1899–1900, which were severely felt, especially in Bhopal and Malwa. The greater part of the population of Central India is of the Hindu religion, but a few Mahommedan groups still exist, either traces of the days when the Mogul emperors extended their sway from the Punjab to the Deccan, or else the descendants of those northern adventurers who hired out their services to the great Mahratta generals. Of the first Bhopal is the only example, while Jaora is the only notable instance of the other. Roughly there are four great sections of the population: the Mahratta section, who belong to the ruling circles; the Rajputs, who are also hereditary noblemen; the trading classes, consisting chiefly of Marwaris and Gujaratis; and lastly, the jungle tribes of Dravidian stock. The Mahrattas are foreigners, and, though rulers of the greater part of Central India, have no true connexion with the soil and are little met with outside cities, the vicinity of courts, and administrative centres. The Rajputs with all their endless ramifications form a large portion of the population. Originally invaders, they have so long held a stake in the soil that they have become almost part of the indigenous population. The Marwaris hold practically all the trade of Central India, with the exception of the Bora class of Mahommedans. They are either Vaishnavite Hindus or else Jains. Their advent into Central India dates, except in the case of one or two families, from the time of the Mahratta invasion only. The Jain portion of this community is very wealthy. The last section, that of the jungle tribes, is mostly of Dravidian or mixed Aryo-Dravidian origin, these tribes being the modern representatives of the former rulers and inhabitants of this country.
The British agent to the governor-general resides at Indore, and there are British cantonments at Mhow, Neemuch and Nowgong. The whole country is fairly provided with railways, largely at the expense of Sindhia.