The earliest signs of human habitation in the area was at Dihar.
By about 1000 BC chalcolithic people had settled on the north
bank of the Dwarakeswar.
In later pre-historic times this area was inhabited by various
Proto-Australoid and a few Proto-Dravidian tribes. The tribes
were spread across different strata of development –
food-gathering, hunting, animal-raring and agriculture. Bankura
district was part of Rarh in ancient times.
From around 7th century AD till around the advent of British
rule, for around a millennium, history of Bankura district is
identical with the rise and fall of the Hindu Rajas of Bishnupur.
Romesh Chunder Dutt wrote in the late 19th century, “The ancient
Rajas of Bishnupur trace back their history to a time when
Hindus were still reigning in Delhi, and the name of the
Musalmans was not yet heard in India. Indeed, they could already
count five centuries of rule over the western frontier tracts of
Bengal before Bakhtiyar Khilji wrested the province from the
Hindus. The Musalman conquest of Bengal, however, made no
difference to the Bishnupur princes… these jungle kings were
little known to the Musalman rulers of the fertile portions of
Bengal, and were never interfered with. For long centuries,
therefore, the kings of Bishnupur were supreme within their
extensive territories. At a later period of Musalman rule, and
when the Mughal power extended and consolidated itself on all
sides, a Mughal army sometimes made its appearance near
Bishnupur with claims of tribute, and tribute was probably
sometimes paid. Nevertheless, the Subahdars of Murshidabad,
never had that firm hold over the Rajas of Bishnupur which they
had over the closer and more recent Rajaships of Burdwan and
Birbhum. As the Burdwan Raj grew in power, the Bishnupur family
fell into decay; Maharaja Kirti Chand of Burdwan attacked and
added to his zamindari large slices of his neighbour’s
territories. The Marathas completed the ruin of the Bishnupur
house, which is an impoverished zamindari in the present day.”
The area around Bishnupur was called Mallabhum The core area
would cover present day Bankura police station area (excluding
Chhatna), Onda, Bishnupur, Kotulpur and Indas. In olden days the
term was used for a much larger area, which probably was the
furthest extent of the Bishnupur kingdom. In the north it
stretched from Damin-i-koh in Santhal Parganas to Midnapore in
the south. It included the eastern part of Bardhaman and parts
of Chota Nagpur in the west. Portions of the district appear to
have been originally the homes of aboriginal tribes, who were
gradually subdued. The Khatra region was Dhalbhum, the Raipur
region was Tungbhum, and the Chhatna region was Samantabhum.
They were eventually overshadowed by the Malla kings of
Bishnupur. There also are references in old scripts to
Varahabhumi or Varabhumi (present day Barabhum) on whose borders
run Darikesi river, and Sekhara mountain (probably present day
Adi Malla was the founder of the Malla dynasty.
Adi Malla ruled in Laugram for 33 years and has been known as
the Bagdi Raja. He was succeeded by his son, Jay Malla, who
invaded Padampur and captured the fort, then the power-centre.
Jay Malla extended his domains and shifted his capital to
Bishnupur. The subsequent kings steadily extended their kingdom.
Among the more renowned are: Kalu Malla, the fourth in line, Kau
Malla, the sixth in line, Jhau Malla, the seventh in line, and
Sur Malla, the eighth in line, who defeated the Raja of Bagri, a
place now in northern Midnapore. He was followed by 40 other
kings, all of whom were known as Mallas or Mallabaninath, which
means lords of Mallabhum or Mallabani. Family records show that
they were independent of foreign powers.
Bir Hambir, the 49th ruler of the Malla dynasty who flourished
around 1586 AD and ruled in 16th-17th century, was a
contemporary of the Mughal emperor Akbar.
Bir Hambir was both powerful and pious. He was converted to
Vaishnavism by Srinivasa. There is mention in two Vaishnava
works, Prem-vilasa of Nityananda Das (alias Balaram Das) and
Bhakti Ratnakara of Narahari Chakrabarti, about Srinivasa and
other bhaktas (devotees) being robbed by Bir Hambir, when they
were travelling from Vrindavan to Gaur with a number of
Vaishanava manuscripts. However, Bir Hambir was so moved by
Srinivasa’s reading of Bhagavata that he converted to
Vaishnavism and gave Srinivasa a rich endowment of land and
money. He introduced the worship of Madan Mohan in Bishnupur.
Raghunath Singh, who followed Bir Hambir, was the first
Bishnupur Raja to use the Kshatriya title Singh. It is said that
he was conferred upon with this title by the Nawab of
Murshidabad. Bishnupur kingdom had entered its golden age. With
exquisite palaces and temples built during the period that
followed Bishnupur was reputed to be the most renowned city in
the world, more beautiful than the house of Indra in heaven.
However, it has also been recorded that while these royal
patrons of Hindu art and religion were busy building temples
they had lost much of their independence and sunk to the
position of tributary princes. Raghunath Singh built the temples
of Shyam Rai, Jor Bangla and Kalachand between 1643 and 1656.
Bir Singh built the present fort, the temple of Lalji in 1658,
and seven big lakes named Lalbandh, Krishnabandh, Gantatbandh,
Jamunabandh, Kalindibandh, Shyambandh and Pokabandh. His queen,
Siromani or Chudamani, built the temples of Madan Mohan and
Murali Mohan in 1665. He walled up alive all his sons, eighteen
in number. The youngest, Durjan, alone escaped, having been kept
in hiding by the servants.
Durjan Singh built the Madan Mohan temple in 1694. According to
family records, the kings of Bishnupur continued to pay tribute
to the Muslim rulers but they were free to do things internally.
There was no interference by the Muslim rulers in the internal
affairs of Bishnupur. This is also confirmed by Muslim
historians. The status of the Raja of Bishnupur was that of a
tributary prince, exempted from personal attendance at the court
at Murshidabad, and represented there by a resident.
The Bishnupur Rajas who were at the summit of their fortunes
towards the end of the 17th century, started declining in the
first half of the 18th century. First, the Maharaja of Burdwan
seized the Fatehpur Mahal, and then the Maratha invasions laid
waste their country.
Gopal Singh (1730–1745) was a pious king but was not fit to cope
with the difficulties that faced his kingdom. He issued an edict
that people of Mallabhum should count their beads and chant
Harinam (name of God) every evening at sunset.
While they failed to take the fort and pillage the treasury, the
Marathas harried the less protected parts of the kingdom. The
Maratha chief, Sheobhat, made Bishnupur his headquarters in 1760
during the invasion of Shah Alam. The Marathas fell with their
heaviest weight on border principalities such as Bishnupur and
Birbhum. Exactions of a hundred sorts reduced the once powerful
kingdom to poverty. The tenants fled and the country became
Chaitanya Singh was another pious ruler unfit to face the
difficulties. As he was too involved in religious matters he did
not have time for administrative matters. He faced internal
feuds. Damodar Singh, a cousin of his, tried to gain power. He
was able to convince the court at Murshidabad about his
capabilities. Initially, Siraj ud-Daulah lent him forces but he
was unable to capture Bishnupur. Later, after the British
defeated Siraj, Mir Jafar lent him stronger forces. He succeeded
in taking Bishnupur, and Chaitanya Singh escaped to Kolkata with
the idol of Madan Gopal, but the British restored the latter to
power. However, intrigue and litigation continued for many
years. Litigation ruined the Bishnupur Raj family and eventually
in 1806, the estate was sold for arrears of land revenue and
bought up by the Maharaja of Burdwan.
Bishnupur was ceded to the British with the rest of Burdwan
chakla in 1760. The Marathas had laid the country waste and
famine of 1770 completed the misery of the kingdom. A large
section of the population was swept away, cultivation fell, and
lawlessness spread. The once powerful king had been reduced to
the status of a mere zamindar. In 1787, Bishnupur was united
with Birbhum to form a separate administrative unit, the
headquarters was shifted to Suri, and a rebellious situation
prevailed. The situation was so bad that the people of Bishnupur
came to be known as Chuars or robbers. Bankura continued to be
one district with Birbhum till 1793, when it was transferred to
the Burdwan collectorate.
In 1879, the district acquired its present shape with the thanas
of Khatra and Raipur and the outpost of Simplapal being
transferred from Manbhum, and the thanas of Sonamukhi, Kotulpur
and Indas being retransferred from Burdwan. However, it was
known for sometime as West Burdwan and in 1881 came to be known
as Bankura district.