One of the few places in the world having a long pre-historical narration, Uttar Pradesh has evidences to indicate the presence of Stone Age Homo sapiens (hunter-gatherers) between around 85 and 73 thousand years old.
The pre-historical discoveries have included the middle and upper Paleolithic artifactsdating back to 21–31 thousand years old. While the Mesolithic (Microlithic) hunter-gatherer's settlement, near Pratapgarh has been found with a settlement period from around 10550–9550 BCE.
Villages with domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats and evidence of agriculture began as early as 6000 BCE. The rural settlements had gradually developed between 4000 and 1500 BCE beginning with the Indus Valley Civilization and Harappa Culture, followed by the Vedic period and further extending up to the Iron Age.
Kosala kingdom in the Mahajanapada era (16 kingdoms or oligarchic republics that existed in ancient India from the 6 Century BCE to 4 Century CE) was located within the regional boundaries of modern-day Uttar Pradesh.
According to Hindu legend, the divine King Rama of the Ramayana epic reigned in Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala. Lord Krishna, another divine king of Hindu legend, who plays a key role in the Mahabharata epic and is revered as the 18th avatar of God Vishnu, is said to have been born in Mathura.
The aftermath of the Mahabharata yuddh (war) is believed to have taken place in the region between the Upper Doab (hill areas of Uttarakhand and Delhi. Pandava king Yudhishthira ruled a section of Uttar Pradesh after the Mahabharata war.
While the kingdom of the Kurus corresponds to the black and red ware culture (early Iron Age from early 12-9th Century BCE) and painted grey ware culture (Iron Age in Gangetic plain from 1200 to 600 BCE).
In simple terms, Kurus reign marked the beginning of the Iron Age in north-west India around 1000 BCE.
Most of the invaders of south India passed through the Gangetic plains of what is today Uttar Pradesh. Control over this region was of vital importance to the power and stability of all the major empires of Indian subcontinent. All the major empires including the Maurya (320–200 BC), Kushan (100–250 CE), Gupta (350–600 CE) and Gurjara-Pratihara (650–1036 CE) empires thrived on the Gangetic plains.
Following the Huns invasions that broke the Gupta empire, the Ganges-Yamuna Doab saw the rise of Kannauj dynasty. During the reign of Harshavardhana (590–647 CE), the Kannauj empire reached its peak. The empire spanned from Punjab in the north and Gujarat in the west to Bengal in the east and Odisha in the south.
It included parts of central India, north of the Narmada River and it encompassed the entire Indo-Gangetic plain. Many communities in various parts of India claim descent from the migrants of Kannauj empire.
Soon after Harshavardhana's death, his empire disintegrated into many kingdoms, which were invaded and ruled by the Gurjara-Pratihara empire that challenged Bengal's Pala Empire for control of the region.
Kannauj was several times invaded by the south Indian Rashtrakuta dynasty from the 8th century to the 10th century.
In the 16th century, Babur from Timurid dynasty of warlord Timur (Turco-Mongol lineage) and Genghis Khan from Fergana Valley (modern-day Uzbekistan), swept across the Khyber Pass and founded the Mughal empire in India.
The Mughal empire ruled over a vast land area covering North India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Mughals were descendants from Persianised Central Asian Turks (with Mongol features). In the Mughal era, Uttar Pradesh became the heartland of the empire.
Mughal emperors Babur and Humayun ruled from Delhi. In 1540 an Afghan, Sher Shah Suri, took over the reins of UP after defeating the Mughal king Humayun. Sher Shah and his son Islam Shah ruled Uttar Pradesh from their capital at Gwalior. After the death of Islam Shah Suri, his Prime Minister Hemu became the de facto ruler of UP, Bihar, MP and the western parts of Bengal.
He was bestowed the title of Hemchandra Vikramaditya (title of Vikramāditya adopted from Vedic times) at his coronation at Purana Quila in Delhi. Hemu died in the Second Battle of Panipat, and UP came under Emperor Akbar's rule.Akbar ruled from Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.
In the 18th century, after the fall of Mughal authority, the power vacuum was filled by the Maratha empire. During the mid-18th century (1750 CE), the Maratha army invaded the Uttar Pradesh region, which resulted in Rohillas losing control of Rohillkhand to the Maratha rulers Raghunath Rao and Malharao Holkar.
The conflict between Rohillas and Marathas came to an end on 18 December 1788 with the arrest of Ghulam Qadir, the grandson of Najeeb-ud-Daula, who was defeated by the Maratha general Mahadaji Scindia.
In 1803, following the Second Anglo-Maratha War, when the British East India Company defeated the Maratha Empire, much of the region came under British suzerainty.
Starting from Bengal in the second half of the 18th century, a series of battles for north Indian lands finally gave the East India Company full control over the vast territories in the northern plains.
Ajmer and Jaipur kingdoms were also included in this northern territory, which was named the North-Western Provinces of Agra (NWPA). Although UP later became the fifth largest state of India, NWPA was one of the smallest states of the British Indian empire. Its capital shifted twice between Agra and Allahabad.
Due to dissatisfaction with British rule, a rebellion erupted in various parts of North India. Bengal regiment's sepoy stationed at Meerut cantonment, Mangal Pandey, is widely credited as its starting point. It came to be known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857. After the revolt failed, the British attempted to divide the most rebellious regions by reorganising the administrative boundaries.
The Delhi region was split from NWPA and merged with Punjab, while the Ajmer-Marwar region was merged with Rajputana. Oudh (or Awadh) region was incorporated into the state of NWPA. The new state was called the 'North Western Provinces of Agra and Oudh', which in 1902 was renamed as the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.
It was commonly referred to as the United Provinces or its acronym UP. In 1920, the capital of the province was shifted from Allahabad to Lucknow. The high court continued to be at Allahabad, but a bench was established at Lucknow.
Allahabad continues to be an important administrative base of UP even today and has several official buildings and quarters.
UP continued to be central to Indian politics and was especially important in modern Indian history as a hotbed of the Indian independence movement. Uttar Pradesh hosted modern educational institutions such as the Benaras Hindu University, Aligarh Muslim University and the Darul Uloom Deoband.
Nationally figures such as Chandra Shekhar Azad, Govind Ballabh Pant, Maulana Mohammad Ali and Ram Manohar Lohia were some of the towering personalities who sacrified their personal life for the freedom movement.
Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Gobind Ballabh Pant were important leaders of the Indian National Congress. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was formed at the Lucknow session of the Congress on 11 April 1936 with Swami Sahajanand Saraswati elected as its first president. AIKS addressed the grievances of the farmers and mobilised them against the zamindarilandlords who denied them the occupancy rights.
This mobilisation of farmers in North India sparked a movement for demanding the land rights of agricultural labourers and farmhands. During the Quit India Movement of 1942, Ballia district overthrew the colonial authority and installed their administration under Chittu Pandey. Ballia became known as 'Baghi Ballia' (Rebel Ballia) for this significant role in India's freedom movement.
The United Provinces were renamed Uttar Pradesh in 1950. The state has provided seven of India's prime ministers and is the source of the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. Despite its political influence, its poor economic development and administrative record, organised crime and corruption kept it amongst India's backward states. The state has been affected by recurring episodes of caste and communal violence.
In December 1992 the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was demolished by radical Hindu activists, leading to widespread violence across India. In 2000, northern districts of the state were separated to form the state of Uttarakhand.