India is famously a land of mythology, folklore and legends and same is true for Bandhavgarh too. Legend has it that the Bandhavgarh Fort was given to brother Lakshman by Lord Ram, one of the most revered Hindu God-incarnates; to keep watch on Lanka and hence the fort acquired the name “Bandhavgarh” (Bandhav – brother, Garh – fort). Elaborations tell that the Monkey-god Hanuman and his followers raised the high cliff-walls of the Fort to make it almost impenetrable.
References to this fort are also found in the Narad Panch Ratna and Shiva Sanhita Puran.(Purans are ancient Hindu texts eulogizing various deities in Hindu religion). The man-made caves with their inscriptions and rock-paintings have made archaeologists to date Bandhavgarh settlements back to Pre-Christ times if not pre-historic.
The earliest available historical data is from “Bhimseni Sanwat” which dates back to 300 A.D., during which the fort was under the BharhivasVakatak Dynasty. Inscription of king Bhimsen are still found in one of the caves. Subsequently the fort came under the possession of Sengars, Kalachuris Rajputs and Baghels which were ruling the area till 1494 A.D. From 1495-1535 A.D. the Kuruvanshees took over the custody of the fort, however it came under the rule of Baghels again in 1535 A.D.
Once the fort changes hands, it remained with the Baghels till the time of Independence of India. In the year 1617 A.D. the Baghels decided to shift their capital to Rewa, a move which not only made Baghels to be famously known as Maharajas of Rewa but also became a boon for the area now under the reserve. Once the royal family moved to Rewa the fort gradually became less and less inhabited and the villages around the fort also started moving to other areas.
With the constantly reducing human pressure, the habitat around the fort responded and a dense, diverse jungle started flourishing which helped the Tiger and other wildlife establish itself firmly in the area. The fort and adjoining habitat were gradually deserted completely and the last few inhabitants left the fort in 1935 A.D. though the ownership to the fort remained with the Maharajas of Rewa, who after moving to Rewa had declared the area as their private hunting game reserve with only the Royal family having the rights to hunt the Tiger. Thus before coming under the control of Government of India post-independence, Bandhavgarh was the “Game Reserve” of the Maharajas of Rewa.