The antiquity of Gwalior goes back to prehistoric times, shown by a number of Stone Age artifacts found at Gupteshwar, 3 km west of Gwalior. In the early historical period, this area was inhabited by Mauryas, Sungas and Kushanas which is evidenced by the discovery of brick structures, terracottas, metal objects and a variety of potsherds ranging from BC 600 to AD 600. In BC 600, the region was ruled by the Nandas of Pataliputra and in AD 100 it was under the domain of a Naga king who ruled from Pawaya (Ancient Padmabati). The region also holds the Besnagar Buddhist remains, which range from the 3rd century B.C. to the 5th or 6th Century A.D. In the 6th century Gwalior fort came into the hands of the Huns.
Suraj Sen, a Kachhwaha Rajput Prince, was responsible for building much of the Gwalior fort as we know it today. Rajput rule continued till 1196 when Qutub-ud-Din Aibak took the fort for Sultan Muhammed Ghori. Gwalior’s golden age started with the entry of the Tomars. The most illustrious among them was Raja Man Singh, who built the magnificent Man Mandir Palace and the Gujari Mahal. His famous Queen Mrignayani, who lived in Gujari Mahal, was associated with the Gwalior school of music. Raja Man Singh died in 1517 and soon afterwards Ibrahim Lodhi of Delhi was in possession of the fort. It subsequently became a stronghold for the Mughals during Akbar’s reign, as well as a political prison. Suleman Shikoh and Sipihi Shikoh (Dara’s sons) and Sultan Muhammad (Aurangzeb’s son), died in prison here. With the rise of the Marathas, especially the Peshwas in Pune, Malwa came under Maratha rule. Peshwa Baji Rao was forced to return south but he appointed as agents three young men who were rising to fame as soldies in his own service: Ranoji Scindia, Malhar Rao Holkar and Udaji Pawar. They were entrusted with the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi in the Malwa districts. For their own remuneration they were to take half of the Mokassa, the remaining 65% of the revenue.
In this role as a representative of King Shahu, Ranoji Scindia first came to prominence in central India and later founded the Scindia dynasty. The Scindias, who descended from an ancient Kshatriya family, are one of the 96 kulas or clans into which all pure Marathas are divided. The original name of the family appears to have been Sendrak from which the name Scindia has been derived. Members of the family had risen to royal notice during the time of the Bahmani kings in the Deccan, as well as holding command in Aurangzeb’s army. Savitrabai, a daughter of the house, was even married to Shahu. Ranoji belonged to a younger branch of the house and was brought up as the playmate of Baji Rao, the Peshwa’s son. He later served in the Peshwa’s army, and by his military qualities rapidly rose to the front. So rapidly indeed that he was still a young man when he was appointed as an agent in Malwa.