History is interwoven with legend in
the ancient town of Ujjain.
According to one legend, Shiva, the Destroyer of the Universe,
descended to Mrityulok, the land of mortals, to get rid of Ujjains
demon king, Tripura. Moreover, the blue god Krishna came to Ujjain to
study under the great sage, Sandipani Muni, who taught the former in
the Sandipani Muni Ashram. Myths apart, excavations at a site about
6km north of the town have revealed pottery and iron objects dating
back to the 8th century b.c.
¤ The Great Kingdoms
The period between the 6th and the 3rd centuries b.c. witnessed the
rise of ambitious potentates.
They successfully established four great kingdoms, or the
Mahajanapadas in North India that included the kingdoms of Avanti,
Vatsa, Kausala and Magadha. King Chandra Pradyota Mahasena ruled the
kingdom of Avanti, with his capital at Ujjain. In the 4th century
b.c., the first Mauryan ruler, Chandragupta I, ruled over Avanti.
¤ The Great Ruler Ashoka Turned Into A Buddhist Follower
In mid-3rd century b.c., Ashoka became the Governor of Avanti
(Ujjain) as well as Taxila (presently in Pakistan) at the young age of
18, during the reign of his father, Bindusara. Ashoka ruled his domain
with an iron hand and used ruthless means to annex neighbouring areas.
His tyrannical ways earned him the dishonour of being labelled as
Ashoka, the Terrible. However, he became an ardent follower of
Buddhism in 257 b.c. and laid the foundations of a group of stupas
(domed structures that house relics of the Buddha) in Sanchi. He also
constructed stupas in Ujjain, which was the first territory he ruled.
Ashoka is reported to have built anything between 1,000 to 84,000
stupas, of which only a few remain today. Stone and metal statues of
the Buddha have also been discovered in the district, confirming
Buddhist influence in and around these areas.
¤ The Golden Age
With Ashokas death in 232 b.c., his huge empire started falling
apart, making way for Indo-Greek and Scythian rule on Indian soil. The
2nd century b.c. saw one of the many streams of the Sakas
entering Madhya Pradesh and founding the line of the Kshatrapa princes
in Ujjain. The Kshatrapas of Ujjain traced their descent from Lord
Chastana who was related to Ptolemy, the Greek mathematician and
astrologer. The Indo-Greek influence spread as far as Mathura and
Ujjain, until the establishment of the Gupta dynasty from a.d. 320 to
about a.d. 540.
Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the legendary Gupta king who ruled from
a.d 380 to 415, defeated Chastanas grandson and the last ruler
of the line, Rudradaman.
Also known as Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya was responsible for
starting the Hindu Vikram Samvat era, beginning 57 years before Anno
Domini (a.d.: the Christian era). His famous court in Ujjain was noted
for its poets and scholars, and included the celebrated poet Kalidasa,
the author the immortal drama, Abhigyan Shakuntalam. As a poet,
Kalidas was not impervious to Ujjains beauty. Another Sanskrit
poet felt that Ujjain was the very home of the golden age; paved
with jewels, full of romance, with dancing girls in the temples and
love in everyones hearts.
¤ Visitors from Distant Lands
In the 4th and 5 th centuries a.d., Ujjain was an important part of
the Gupta Empire. The prosperous plains of northern India caught the
fancy of the Huns, the fearful invaders from Central Asia.
Led by Toramana, they stormed into India in a.d. 465 with amazing
speed, cutting through land and people and establishing a miniature
empire of sorts.
They stayed on till Yashodharmana of Mandsaur came along in a.d. 533
with the sole intent of driving them back. The Huns retreated faster
than they had arrived, paving the way for the restoration of Indian
In a.d. 606, Harshavardhana ascended the throne of Kannauj. Harshas
reign lasted for 41 years, and he is considered to be the last great
Hindu king to have ruled over a substantial part of the Indian
During his reign, the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang visited India to
study Buddhism. After spending eight of the 15 years of his travel in
India in Harshas dominion, he gave an interesting account of
Bundelkhand, Maheshwar and Ujjain, and described Ujjain as the city of
splendours. Harshavardhana died in a.d. 647.
After the Guptas, rival groups ruled the Gangetic Plains. From the
7th century onwards, the Rajputs became politically active on the
Malwa Plateau. The Paramaras gained prominence in the 11th century,
until the Sultans of Mandu captured their last ruler, Siladitya.
Ujjain was invaded and plundered by neighbouring rulers like the
Chalukyas of Gujarat, the Chandelas of Bundelkhand and the Rajputs,
before being pillaged by invaders from the west.
¤ The Sultans Invaded Ujjain
The Malwa Plateau was overrun by Muslim invasions from the late 12th
century onwards. Altamush, the second slave king (reigned from a.d.
1210-36) captured Malwa in a.d. 1234 and sacked Ujjain.
In a.d. 1305, Allauddin Khalji, the powerful ruler of the Khalji
dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, captured Ujjain.
Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, the second ruler of the Tughlaq Dynasty, also
attacked Central India and brought it under the Delhi Sultanate in
a.d. 1327. In a.d. 1351, Firoz Shah Tughlaq ascended the throne of
Delhi and appointed Dilawar Khan Ghuri as the Governor of Malwa.
¤ Malwa Ruled By Khalji Sultan
With the usurpation of Malwas throne by Mahmud Khan who was a
powerful minister of Malwa, an independent dynasty of the Khalji
Sultans of Malwa was established in a.d. 1436. From then on till the
appearance of the mighty Mughals, Malwa was the bone of contention
between the local Rajput rulers, the Malwa Sultans and the rulers of
the Delhi Sultanate.
For a short while, Ujjain was ruled by the Afghan Sur Dynasty under
Shujjat Khan and his son, Baz Bahadur who was finally defeated by
Akbar in a.d. 1562. Akbar succeeded in subduing most of the regional
rulers and took charge, while his grandson Aurangzeb contributed
financially to preserve the glory of Ujjains ancient temples.
¤ The Final Countdown
By now Ujjain was accustomed to invasions. and yet another one came
its way in the 17th century, this time from the aggressive
Marathas. With the establishment of Maratha hegemony, numerous temples
were constructed, the important ones being the Hara Sidhhi Temple and
the Gopal Temple. In a.d. 1750, Ujjain passed into the hands of the
Scindias, who later shifted their capital to Gwalior. As a consequence
of reorganizing the states on linguistic grounds, Madhya Bharata, or
the Central Indian Provinces and other territories were merged to form
the new state of Madhya Pradesh on 1st November, 1956.