Mesolithic rock painting, Bhimbetka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Chausath Yogini Temple, Mitavli, Morena
Sahastra-bahu Temple, Gwalior Fort
Teli Ka Mandir, Gwalior Fort
Ancient temples, Amarkantak
Isolated remains of Homo erectus found in Hathnora in the Narmada Valley indicate that Madhya Pradesh might have been inhabited in the Middle Pleistocene era. Painted pottery dated to the later mesolithic period has been found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters. Chalcolithic sites belonging to Kayatha culture (2100–1800 BCE) and Malwa culture (1700–1500 BCE) have been discovered in the western part of the state.
The city of Ujjain arose as a major centre in the region, during the second wave of Indian urbanisation in the sixth century BCE. It served as the capital of the Avanti kingdom Tejas. Other kingdoms mentioned in ancient epics—Malava, Karusha, Dasarna and Nishada—have also been identified with parts of Madhya Pradesh.
Chandragupta Maurya united northern India around 320 BCE, establishing the Mauryan Empire, which included all of modern-day Madhya Pradesh. Ashoka the greatest of Mauryan rulers brought the region under firmer control. After the decline of the Maurya empire, the region was contested among the Sakas, the Kushanas, the Satavahanas, and several local dynasties during the 1st to 3rd centuries CE. Heliodorus, the Greek Ambassador to the court of the Shunga king Bhagabhadra erected the Heliodorus pillar near Vidisha.
Ujjain emerged as the predominant commercial centre of western India from the first century BCE, located on the trade routes between the Ganges plain and India's Arabian Sea ports. The Satavahana dynasty of the northern Deccan and the Saka dynasty of the Western Satraps fought for the control of Madhya Pradesh during the 1st to 3rd centuries CE.
The Satavahana king Gautamiputra Satakarni inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Saka rulers and conquered parts of Malwa and Gujarat in the 2nd century CE.
Subsequently, the region came under the control of the Gupta empire in the 4th and 5th centuries, and their southern neighbours, the Vakataka's. The rock-cut temples at Bagh Caves in the Kukshi tehsil of the Dhar district attest to the presence of the Gupta dynasty in the region, supported by the testimony of a Badwani inscription dated to the year of 487 CE. The attacks of the Hephthalites or White Huns brought about the collapse of the Gupta empire, which broke up into smaller states. The king Yasodharman of Malwa defeated the Huns in 528, ending their expansion. Later, Harsha (c. 590–647) ruled the northern parts of the state. Malwa was ruled by the south Indian Rashtrakuta Dynasty from the late 8th century to the 10th century. When the south Indian Emperor Govinda III of the Rashtrakuta dynasty annexed Malwa, he set up the family of one of his subordinates there, who took the name of Paramara.
The Medieval period saw the rise of the Rajput clans, including the Paramaras of Malwa and the Chandelas of Bundelkhand. The Chandellas built the majestic Hindu-Jain temples at Khajuraho, which represent the culmination of Hindu temple architecture in Central India. The Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty also held sway in northern and western Madhya Pradesh at this time. It also left some monuments of architectural value in Gwalior. Southern parts of Madhya Pradesh like Malwa were several times invaded by the south Indian Western Chalukya Empire which imposed its rule on the Paramara kingdom of Malwa. The Paramara king Bhoja (c. 1010–1060) was a renowned polymath. The small Gond kingdoms emerged in the Gondwana and Mahakoshal regions of the state. Northern Madhya Pradesh was conquered by the Turkic Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century. After the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate at the end of the 14th century, independent regional kingdoms re-emerged, including the Tomara kingdom of Gwalior and the Muslim Sultanate of Malwa, with its capital at Mandu.
The Malwa Sultanate was conquered by the Sultanate of Gujarat in 1531. In the 1540s, most parts of the state fell to Sher Shah Suri, and subsequently to the Hindu king Hemu. Hemu, who had earlier served as the General of the Suri dynasty, operated from the Gwalior Fort during 1553–56 and became the ruler of Delhi as a Vikramaditya king winning 22 battles continuously from Bengal to Gujrat and defeating Akbar's forces in the Battle of Delhi on 7 October 1556. However, he chose Delhi as his capital after his formal Coronation and left Gwalior. After Hemu's defeat by Akbar at the Second Battle of Panipat in 1556, most of Madhya Pradesh came under the Mughal rule. Gondwana and Mahakoshal remained under the control of Gond kings, who acknowledged Mughal supremacy but enjoyed virtual autonomy.
The Mughal control weakened considerably after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. Between 1720 and 1760, the Marathas took control of most of Madhya Pradesh, resulting in the establishment of semi-autonomous states under the nominal control of the Peshwa of Pune: the Holkars of Indore ruled much of Malwa, Puars ruled Dewas and Dhar, the Bhonsles of Nagpur dominated Mahakoshal-Gondwana area, while the Scindias of Gwalior controlled the northern parts of the state. The most notable Maratha rulers of the region were Mahadji Shinde, Ahilyabai Holkar and Yashwantrao Holkar. Besides these, there were several other small states, including Bhopal, Orchha, and Rewa. The Bhopal state, which paid tribute to both the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad, was founded by Dost Mohammed Khan, a former General in the Mughal army.
After the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the British took control of the entire region. All the sovereign states in the region became princely states of British India, governed by the Central India Agency. The Mahakoshal region became a British province: the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories. In 1861, the British merged the Nagpur Province with the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories to form the Central Provinces.
During the 1857 uprising, rebellions happened in the northern parts of the state, led by leaders like Tatya Tope. However, these were crushed by the British and the princes loyal to them. The state witnessed a number of anti-British activities and protests during the Indian independence movement. Several notable leaders such as Chandra Shekhar Azad, B. R. Ambedkar, Shankar Dayal Sharma, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Arjun Singh were born in what is now Madhya Pradesh.
After the independence of India, Madhya Pradesh was created in 1950 from the former British Central Provinces and Berar and the princely states of Makrai and Chhattisgarh, with Nagpur as the capital of the state. The new states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, and Bhopal were formed out of the Central India Agency. In 1956, the states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, and Bhopal were merged into Madhya Pradesh, and the Marathi-speaking southern region Vidarbha, which included Nagpur, was ceded to Bombay state. Jabalpur was chosen to be the capital of the state but at the last moment, due to some political pressure, Bhopal was made the state capital. In November 2000, as part of the Madhya Pradesh Reorganization Act, the southeastern portion of the state split off to form the new state of Chhattisgarh.