Malwa (Malvi:माळवा, ) is a region in west-central northern India occupying a plateau of volcanic origin in the western part of Madhya Pradesh state. This region had been a separate political unit from the time of the Aryan tribe of Malavas until 1947, when the British Malwa Agency was merged into Madhya Bharat. Although political borders have fluctuated throughout history, the region has developed its own distinct culture and language.
The plateau that forms a large part of the region is named the Malwa Plateau, after the region. The average elevation of the Malwa plateau is 500 metres, and the landscape generally slopes towards the north. Most of the region is drained by the Chambal River and its tributaries; the western part is drained by the upper reaches of the Mahi River. Ujjain was the political, economic, and cultural capital of the region in ancient times, and Indore is presently the largest city and commercial centre. Overall, agriculture is the main occupation of the people of Malwa. The region has been one of the important producers of opium in the world. Cotton and soybeans are other important cash crops, and textiles are a major industry.
The region includes the Madhya Pradesh districts of Dewas, Dhar, Indore, Jhabua, Mandsaur, Neemuch, Rajgarh, Ratlam, Shajapur, Ujjain, and parts of Guna and Sehore, and the Rajasthan districts of Jhalawar and parts of Banswara and Chittorgarh. Politically and administratively, the definition of Malwa is sometimes extended to include the Nimar region south of the Vindhyas. Geologically, the Malwa Plateau generally refers to the volcanic upland south of the Vindhyas, which includes the Malwa region and extends east to include the upper basin of the Betwa and the headwaters of the Dhasan and Ken rivers. The region has a tropical climate with dry deciduous forests that are home to a number of tribes, most important of them being the Bhils. The culture of the region has had influences from Gujarati, Rajasthani and Marathi cultures. Malvi is the most commonly used language, especially in rural areas, while Hindi is widely understood in cities. Major places of tourist interest include Ujjain, Mandu, Maheshwar and Indore.
The first significant kingdom in the region was Avanti, an important power in western India by around 500 BC, when it was annexed by the Maurya Empire. The 5th-century Gupta period was a golden age in the history of Malwa. The dynasties of the Parmaras, the Malwa sultans, and the Marathas have ruled Malwa at various times. The region has given the world prominent leaders in the arts and sciences, including the poet and dramatist Kalidasa, the author Bhartrihari, the mathematicians and astronomers Varahamihira and Brahmagupta, and the polymath king Bhoj.
Several early stone age or lower paleolithic habitations have been excavated in eastern Malwa. The name Malwa is derived from the ancient Aryan tribe of Malavas, about whom very little is known apart from the fact that they founded the Vikrama Samvat; this is a calendar dating from 57 BC that is widely used in India and that is popularly associated with the king Chandragupta Vikramaditya. The name Malava is derived from the Sanskrit term Malav, and means “part of the abode of Lakshmi”. The location of the Malwa or Moholo, mentioned by the 7th century Chinese traveller Xuanzang, is plausibly identified with present-day Gujarat. The region is cited as Malibah in Arabic records, such as Kamilu-t Tawarikh by Ibn Asir.
Ujjain, also known historically as Ujjaiyini and Avanti, emerged as the first major centre in the Malwa region during India's second wave of urbanisation in the 7th century BC (the first wave was the Indus Valley Civilization). Around 600 BC an earthen rampart was built around Ujjain, enclosing a city of considerable size. Avanti was one of the prominent mahajanapadas of the Indo-Aryans. In the post-Mahabharata period—around 500 BC—Avanti was an important kingdom in western India; it was ruled by the Haihayas, a people who were possibly of mixed Indo-Aryan and aboriginal descent, who were responsible for the destruction of Naga power in western India. The region was conquered by the Maurya empire in the mid-4th century BC. Ashoka, who was later a Mauryan emperor, was governor of Ujjain in his youth. After the death of Ashoka in 232 BC, the Maurya Empire began to collapse. Although evidence is sparse, Malwa was probably ruled by the Kushanas and the Shakas during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Ownership of the region was the subject of dispute between the Western Kshatrapas and the Satavahanas during the first three centuries AD. Ujjain emerged a major trading centre during the 1st century AD.
Malwa became part of the Gupta Empire during the reign of Chandragupta II (375–413), also known as Vikramaditya, who conquered the region, driving out the Western Kshatrapas. The Gupta period is widely regarded as a golden age in the history of Malwa, when Ujjain served as the empire's western capital. Kalidasa, Aryabhata and Varahamihira were all based in Ujjain, which emerged as a major centre of learning, especially in astronomy and mathematics. Around 500, Malwa re-emerged from the dissolving Gupta empire as a separate kingdom; in 528, Yasodharman of Malwa defeated the Hunas, who had invaded India from the north-west. During the seventh century, the region became part of Harsha's empire, and he disputed the region with the Chalukya king Pulakesin II of Badami in the Deccan. In 786 the region was captured by the Rashtrakuta kings of the Deccan, and was disputed between the Rashtrakutas and the Pratihara kings of Kannauj until the early part of the tenth century. From the mid-tenth century, Malwa was ruled by the Paramara clan of Rajputs, who established a capital at Dhar. King Bhoj, who ruled from about 1010 to 1060, was known as the great polymath philosopher-king of medieval India; his extensive writings cover philosophy, poetry, medicine, veterinary science, phonetics, yoga, and archery. Under his rule Malwa became an intellectual centre of India. Bhoj also founded the city of Bhopal to secure the eastern part of his kingdom. His successors ruled until about 1200, when Malwa was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate.
Dilawar Khan, previously Malwa's governor under the rule of the Delhi sultanate, declared himself sultan of Malwa in 1401 after the Mongol conqueror Timur attacked Delhi, causing the break-up of the sultanate into smaller states. Khan started the Malwa Sultanate and established a capital at Mandu, high in the Vindhya Range overlooking the Narmada River valley. His son and successor, Hoshang Shah (1405–35), embellished Mandu. Hoshang Shah's son, Ghazni Khan, ruled for only a year and was succeeded by Sultan Mahmud Khalji (1436–69), the first of the Khalji sultans of Malwa, who expanded the state to include parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and the Deccan. The Muslim sultans invited the Rajputs to settle in the country. In the early 16th century, the sultan sought the aid of the sultans of Gujarat to counter the growing power of the Rajputs, while the Rajputs sought the support of the Sesodia Rajput kings of Mewar. Gujarat stormed Mandu in 1518 and 1531, and shortly after that, the Malwa sultanate collapsed. The Mughal emperor Akbar captured Malwa in 1562 and made it a province of his empire. Mandu was abandoned by the 17th century.
As the Mughal state weakened after 1700, the Marathas
held sway over Malwa. Malhar Rao
Holkar (1694–1766) became leader of Maratha armies in Malwa in
1724, and in 1733 the Maratha
Peshwa granted him control of most of the region, which was
formally ceded by the Mughals in 1738.
Ranoji Scindia noted Maratha Commander established his head
quarters at Ujjain in 1721. This capital was later moved to Gwalior by
Daulatrao Scindia.Another Maratha general, Anand Rao
Pawar, established himself as the Raja of Dhar in 1742, and the
two Pawar brothers became Rajas of
Dewas. At the end of the 18th century, Malwa became the venue of
fighting between the rival Maratha powers and the headquarters of the
Pindaris, who were irregular plunderers. The Pindaris were rooted
out in a campaign by the British general
Lord Hastings, and further order was established under
Sir John Malcolm. The Holkar dynasty ruled Malwa from Indore and
Maheshwar on the
Narmada until 1818, when the Marathas were defeated by the
British in the
Third Anglo-Maratha War, and the Holkars of Indore became a
princely state of the
British Raj. After 1818 the British organised the numerous
princely states of central India into the
Central India Agency; the Malwa Agency was a division of Central
India, with an area of 23,100 km² (8,919 square miles) and a population of
1,054,753 in 1901. It comprised the states of Dewas (senior and junior
Sailana, together with a large part of
Gwalior, parts of Indore and
and about 35 small estates and holdings. Political power was exercised from
Indian independence in 1947, the Holkars and other princely
rulers acceded to India, and most of Malwa became part of the new state of
Madhya Bharat, which was merged into
Madhya Pradesh in 1956.
The Malwa region occupies a plateau in western Madhya Pradesh and south-eastern Rajasthan (between and ), with Gujarat in the west. To the south and east is the Vindhya Range and to the north is the Bundelkhand upland. The plateau is an extension of the Deccan Traps, formed between 60 and 68 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period. In this region the main classes of soil are black, brown and bhatori (stony) soil. The volcanic, clay-like soil of the region owes its black colour to the high iron content of the basalt from which it formed. The soil requires less irrigation because of its high capacity for moisture retention. The other two soil types are lighter and have a higher proportion of sand.
The average elevation of the plateau is 500 m. Some of the peaks over 800 m high are at Sigar (881 m), Janapav (854 m) and Ghajari (810 m). The plateau generally slopes towards the north. The western part of the region is drained by the Mahi River, while the Chambal River drains the central part, and the Betwa River and the headwaters of the Dhasan and Ken rivers drain the east. The Shipra River is of historical importance because of the Simhasth mela, held every 12 years. Other notable rivers are Parbati, Gambhir and Choti Kali Sindh. Malwa's elevation gives it a mild, pleasant climate; a cool morning wind, the karaman, and an evening breeze, the Shab-e-Malwa, make the summers less harsh.
The year is popularly divided into three seasons: summer, the rains, and winter. Summers extends over the months of Chaitra to Jyestha (mid-March to mid-May). The average daily temperature during the summer months is 35 °C, which typically rises to around 40 °C on a few days. The rainy season starts with the first showers of Aashaadha (mid-June) and extends to the middle of Ashvin (September). Most of the rain falls during the southwest monsoon spell, and ranges from about 100 cm in the west to about 165 cm in the east. Indore and the immediately surrounding areas receive an average of 140 cm of rainfall a year. The growing period lasts from 90 to 150 days, during which the average daily temperature is below 30 °C, but seldom falls below 20 °C. Winter is the longest of the three seasons, extending for about five months (mid-Ashvin to Phalgun, i.e., October to mid-March). The average daily temperature ranges from 15 °C to 20 °C, though on some nights it can fall as low as 7 °C. Some cultivators believe that an occasional winter shower during the months of Pausha and Maagha—known as Mawta—is helpful to the early summer wheat and germ crops.
The most popular fairs are held in the months of Phalguna, Chaitra, Bhadra, Ashvin and Kartik. The Chaitra fair, held at Biaora, and the Gal yatras, held at more than two dozen villages in Malwa are remarkable. Many fairs are held in the tenth day of the month of Bhadra to mark the birth of Tejaji. The Triveni mela is held at Ratlam, and other fairs take place in Kartika at Ujjain, Mandhata (Nimad), Nayagaon, among others. In the Belisarius series, by David Drake and Eric Flint, the people of Malwa are chosen by malicious beings from the future to change the course of history. The Byzantine general Belisarius is set against them by a creature sent by a benevolent group of future beings