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 himself, 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 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 'Bharhivas Vakatak' Dynasty. Inscriptions 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 changed hands, it remained with the Baghels till the time of Independence of India. In the year 1617 A.D. 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 forests of Bandhavgarh area. 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 constantly reducing human pressure, habitat around the fort responded and a dense, diverse jungle started flourishing there-by helpeing the Tiger and other wild animals establish themselves firmly in this area. The fort and adjoining habitat were gradually deserted completely and the last few human inhabitants left the fort in 1935 A.D.. However the ownership of the fort remained with the Maharajas of Rewa, who after moving to Rewa had declared it as their private hunting game reserve with only the Royal family having the rights to hunt. Thus before coming under the control of Government of India, post-independence; Bandhavgarh was the “Game Reserve” of the Maharajas of Rewa.