Betul is a city and municipality in southern Madhya Pradesh, India. It is the administrative center of its eponymous district and forms the southernmost part of the Bhopal Division in the Betul-Harda Parliamentary Constituency. The district also includes Amla, which serves as a separate headquarters.
The mean elevation above the sea is about 2000 ft. The country is essentially a highland tract, divided naturally into three distinct portions, differing in their superficial aspects, the character of their soil and their geological formation. The northern part of the district forms an irregular plain of the sandstone formation. It is a well-wooded tract, in many places stretching out in charming glades like an English park, but it has a very sparse population and little cultivated land. In the extreme north a line of hills rises abruptly out of the great plain of the Narmada valley. The central tract alone possesses a rich soil, well watered by the Machna river and Sapna dam, almost entirely cultivated and studded with villages. To the south lies a rolling plateau of basaltic formation (with the sacred town of Multai, and the springs of the Tapti River at its highest point), extending over the whole of the southern face of the district, and finally merging into the wild and broken line of the Ghats, which lead down to the plains. This tract consists of a succession of stony ridges of trap rock, enclosing valleys or basins of fertile soil, to which cultivation is for the most part confined, except where the shallow soil on the tops of the hills has been turned to account.
The climate of Betul is fairly healthy. Its height above the plains and the neighbourhood of extensive forests moderate the heat, and render the temperature pleasant throughout the greater part of the year. During the cold season the thermometer at night falls below the freezing point; little or no hot wind is felt before the end of April, and even then it ceases after sunset. The nights in the hot season are comparatively cool and pleasant. During the monsoon the climate is very damp, and at times even cold and raw, thick clouds and mist enveloping the sky for many days together. The average annual rainfall is 40 in.
Betul district is rich in forests and biodiversity. The main timber species of Betul Forest is Teak. Many miscellaneous types of trees such as Haldu, Saja, Dhaoda etc. are also found in abundance. Many medicinal plants are also found in the forest areas of Betul. Large amounts of commercially important minor forest produce such as Tendu leaves, Chironji, Harra, Amla are also collected from the forests of Betul. Asia’s biggest wood depot in Betul.
The major rivers flowing in the district are the Ganjal River (a tributary of the Tapti River), and the Morand River and the Tawa River (tributaries of the Narmada River). The Tapti river originates from Multai in the Betul district; Multai’s Sanskrit name ‘Multapi’ means ‘origin of Tapi or the Tapti River’.
Little is known of the early history of the district except that it must have been the centre of the first of the four ancient Gond kingdoms of Kherla, Deogarh, Garha-Mandla and Chanda-Sirpur. According to Ferishta, the Persian historian, these kingdoms engrossed in 1398 all the hills of Gondwana and adjacent countries, and were of great wealth and power. About the year 1418 Sultan Hoshang Shah of Malwa invaded Kherla, and reduced it to a dependency. Nine years later the raja rebelled, but although with the help of the Bahmani kings of the Deccan he managed for a time to assert his independence, he was finally subdued and deprived of his territories. In 1467 Kherla was seized by the Bahmani sultan, but was afterwards restored to Malwa. A century later the kingdom of Malwa became incorporated into the dominions of the emperor of Delhi. In 1703 a Muslim convert of the Gond tribe held the country, and in 1743 Raghoji Bhonsle, the Maratha ruler of Berar, annexed it to his dominions.
The Marathas in the year 1818 ceded this district to the East India Company as payment for a contingent, and by the treaty of 1826 it was formally incorporated with the British possessions. The district was administered as part of the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories until 1861, when the territories were incorporated into the Central Provinces. Betul District was also part of the Nerbudda (Narmada) Division of the Central Provinces and Berar, which became the state of Madhya Bharat (later Madhya Pradesh) after India’s independence in 1947.
Detachments of British troops were stationed at Multai, Betul and Shahpur to cut off the retreat of Appa Sahib, the Maratha general, and a military force was quartered at Betul until June 1862. The ruined city of Kherla formed the seat of government under the Gonds and preceding rulers, and hence the district was, until the time of its annexation to the British dominions, known as the “Kherla Sarkar.” The town of Multai contains an artificial tank, from the centre of which the Tapti is said to take its rise; hence the reputed sanctity of the spot, and the accumulation of temples in its honour.
This district suffered very severely from the famine of 1896–1897, in 1897 the death-rate being as high as 73 per 1000. It suffered again in 1900, when in May the number of persons relieved rose to one-third of the total population. In 1901 the population was 285,363, showing a decrease of 12% in the decade, due to the results of famine.
In 1901 the population of the town was 4,739. The administrative headquarters of the district were transferred to the town of Badnur, 3 miles north. At the beginning of the 20th century, the principal crops in the district were wheat, millet, other food-grains, pulse, oil-seeds, and a little sugar-cane and cotton.
Other tourist spots include Sona Ghati, Kerpani, and the Shapna Water Reservoir.