The founder of the Baghel (or Vaghela) clan is identified as Anoka, nephew of
the King Kumarpal Solanki of Gujarat (r 1143-1174). He obtained a grant of the village of Vaghela, the tiger's lair, from whence the clan takes its name. Subsequently the Vaghelas extended their power over the whole of Gujarat, but came under increasing pressure from the invading Muslims. In 1297 Sultan Ala ud-din Khilji invaded with a huge army, destroyed the capital at Anhilwara and expelled the Waghel ruler. Some authorities seek to identify the son and successor of this last ruler, Karan Dev, with the first ruler of Bandhogarh, but this does not seem to be correct.
The state of Rewa owes its origins to the foundation of a state dating to 1234 by Vyaghra Dev, a descendant of the Vaghelas of Gujarat. He married the daughter of the Raja of Pirhawan and conquered the territory between Kalpi and Chandalgarh. Karan Dev, son of Vyaghra married the daughter of the Raja of Ratanpur, bringing Bandhogarh into the family as her dowry. Karan conquered the Rewa territory establishing Bandhogarh as his capital.
Following the defeat of the senior branch of the family by Sultan Ala ud-din Khilji, a large section of the Vaghela clan migrated to Rewa in 1298.
Information on the dynasty for the next two hundred years is virtually unattainable from sources other than the family. Nothing is heard about them from other contemporary sources until the reign of Bhairam Deo [Virama Dev] in 1451. He flourished during the reign of Sultan Bahlol Lodi. Thereafter, the rulers of Bandhogarh frequently feature in the Imperial chronicles and histories of the age. They often entered the Imperial service, rising to high rank and wealth, or attended court at Delhi and Agra.
The legendary fortress of Bandhogarh fell into Mughal hands in 1597, almost by accident. At the death of Maharaja Virbhadra Rao in 1593, his minor son succeeded as Maharaja Vikramaditya. Sent to Delhi for his own safety, the emperor took advantage of his absence to send one of his loyal nobles as temporary governor. Once he had taken control of the fort, the Maharaja's nobles and officials were expelled and the fort annexed by the Mughals. On his return to his remaining domains, Vikramaditya was forced to establish a new capital at Rewa, from whence the state took its name.
Successive contests with the Marathas and the Pindaris reduced the power of the Baghels considerably. Territories were lost and huge debts incurred in paying out ransom to these invaders. Although there were some successes, notably by Maharaja Ajit Singhji against Peshwa Baji Rao in 1796, relief did not arrive until the treaty of alliance with the HEIC in 1812.
The protection afforded by the treaty and the ultimate defeat of the Marathas, allowed the rulers to concentrate on re-establishing control, developing the administration, making regular collections of revenue and achieving some successes in development and social progress. Maharaja Vishwanath Singhji, who took over the administration in 1813, succeeded in abolishing suttee and female infanticide.
Virtually all the subsequent rulers were keen scholars who patronised the arts, literature and education. Amongst them, perhaps Maharaja Raghuraj Singh could be counted as the greatest. Though hugely old fashioned in many ways and near medieval in appearance, his shrewd dealings with the British ensured a free hand in most things. He supported the British during the Mutiny in 1857 and received in reward a considerable increase in his territories, the first in a century of continuous decline. However, in his declining years, financial difficulties forced him to accept a British appointed administrator.
Maharaja Venkatesh Raman succeeded his father Raghuraj Singh in 1880. Like him, a keen scholar and patron of learning, Venkatesh earned himself distinction as a model ruler. Like his father, he also supported the British, particularly during the Great War. Although ruler of a comparatively small state, the contributions to the war effort were enormous, amongst them the famous "Solanki Squadron" of the Army Flying Corps. He died in 1918, one of the victims of the world-wide influenza epidemic, leaving his throne to his fifteen year old son. Alas, he is now best known for killing 111 tigers, 109 being the traditional number regarded as lucky.
Maharaja Gulab Singhji's reign began full of promise. Much trouble had been taken over his education, and his regency had afforded an opportunity for modern methods of government and administration to be introduced into the state. For some years, he ruled with considerable success, even being recognised with the higher title of Maharajadhiraja in 1930. When war broke out in 1939, just like his father and grandfather before him, he offered unstinting service to the King-Emperor. Alas, in 1942 he came under suspicion of conspiracy to murder a British official. The outcome of the enquiry went against him and he was ordered to reside outside the state in Bhopal. Once his only son had gained some experience, he abdicated in his favour in 1946.
Maharaja Martand Singhji inherited his throne just long enough to preside over the loss of ruling powers to a free India. He acceded to the Dominion of India in 1947 and merged his state into the Vindhya Pradesh Union in 1948. As the senior ruler in the region, he served as its first and only Rajpramukh. During the rest of his reign, he concentrated much of his efforts on animal conservation, in particular the protection of the Indian tiger. The creation of the world-famous Bandhogarh National Park in 1968 was largely due to his efforts, and her served as a highly popular and successful member of a number of animal conservation organisations. He was a very active social worker and philanthropist, who built hospitals, dispensaries and organised camps for providing medical aid to indigent and sick people. Satna and other properties were donated to establish educational institutions like Banaras Hindu University and Satna College. He died in 1995 and was succeeded as head of the dynasty by Maharaja Pushpraj Singhji. The latter continues his father's interest in wildlife and conservation. The traditional family interest in learning has not escaped attention either, as he served as the Madhya Pradesh State Minister for Education for a period of five years.