Kannauj is one among the most ancient place of India having rich archeological and cultural heritage, The ancient name of this place is Kanyakubja or Mahodya (as per Balmiki Ramayana, Mahabharat and Puran) later name kanyakubja was changed as Kannauj the present name of the District.
The early history of the region now covered by the present district of Kannauj goes back to remote antiquity. During the Bronze age numerous pre historical weapons and tools were find here. Large numbers of stone statues are found here. Kannauj can claim great antiquity in sculpture. The Aryans settled in this region who were close allies of Kurus. The traditional history of the district from the earliest times till the end of The Mahabharata war is gleaned from the Puranas & Mahabharata.
‘Amavasu’ founded a kingdom, the capital of which later was Kanyakubja (Kannauj). Jahnu was a powerful king since the river Ganga is said to have been named after him as Jahnaui. This region rose into great prominence during the Mahabharata period. Kampilya was the capital of South Panchala and it was here that the famous Svayamvara of Draupadi. The name Panchala being used for the entire region, of which Kampilya (Kampil) was the chief city which has till then been the capital of South Panchala.
Panchala figures as the tenth in the list of the sixteen premier states (Mahajanpada) in the time of Mahavira and Buddha and is said to have comprised the region covered by the present districts of Bareily , Badaun and Farrukhabad. About the middle of the fourth century B.C., probably in the reign of Mahapadma, this territory was annexed to the Nanda empire of Magadha. Ashoka also built a monolithic pillar at Sankisa, which was noticed by the Chinese traveler, Fa-hien. A large number of coins were found at places like Mathura and Kannauj and in Panchala region which are supposed to be associated with the Mitra rulers. The basis of the coins are generally believed to have flourished between C.100 B.C. and C.200 A.D.
Kannauj was a famous and important city in the second century is also attested to by its mention under the name of Kangora or Kanogiza by the geographer, Ptolemy (C.140 A.D.). The present district of Farrukhabad shared the fruits of the golden age of the Guptas and contributed much towards its peace and prosperity.
Fa-hien, the Chinese pilgrim visited Kannauj between 399 and 414 A.D., during the reign of Chandragupta II. Fa-hien spent his retreat at the Dragon-Shrine and when it was over he traveled seven yojanas to the south-east, which brought him to Kannauj. Sankisa was one of the greatest Buddhist pilgrims centre at the time of Fa-hien’s visit. Fa-hien remarks “This country is very productive and the people are flourishing and happy beyond compare. When men of other nations come, care is taken of all of them and they are provided with what they require”. There was a renewed invasion of the Hunas with far greater success. After this, Harivarman appears to have been the founder of the Maukhari house of Kannauj. Harsha also advanced towards Kannauj. The Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, visited Kannauj in 643 A.D.. There were 100 Buddhist Monasteries with more than 10000 priests. A religious assembly was also held here by Harsha. Hiuen Tsang mentions Kah-Pi-Ta (Kapitha, identified with Sankisa) as the other important place of the district.
The close of the 10th century was marked by the Muslim invasion of India. Rajyapala was the ruler of Kannauj when Mahmud of Ghazni attacked India. After sacking Mathura, Mahmud proceeded towards Kannauj in 1018 A.D. He saw “a city which raised its head to the skies and which in strength and beauty might boast of being unrivalled.” Mahmud captured all the seven forts of Kannauj in 1019 A.D.
An inscription of the Chalukya dynasty of Lata, dated 1050 A.D. associates the Rashtrakuta dynasty with Kannauj. During 1089-90 A.D. Chandradeva the first Gahadavala king of Kannauj ruled and have protected the sacred places of Kushika (Kannauj). Kannauj once more recovered a large measure of its old importance during 1114 A.D. to 1154 . During the reign of Chauhans (1170-1194 A.D.) Kannauj became powerful and annexed to Delhi. Kannauj (Jaichandra’s capital) was the scene of Svayamvara of his daughter Samyogita, who was carried off by Prithviraj III. Mohammad Ghauri invaded India and killed Jaichandra in 1193 A.D.
Jaichand’s son, Harichandra continued to occupy Kannauj even after 1193 A.D. The Muslim supremacy over the kingdom was perplexing or abhorrent to him and so he discreetly omitted any specific reference to Harichandra or his Muslims overlord. In 1233-34 Iltutmish ordered the Kannauj Garrison to join the imperial forces in an expedition against Kalinjar. In 1244, The district of Kannauj was conferred by the dissolute Alauddin Masaud on his uncle Jalaluddin for his maintenance. The royal forces reached Kannauj and besieged the fort of Balsandah. This fortress was very strong and the royal forces returned with immense booty.
Ghiasuddin Balban, who then possessed the Delhi throne, (1268-87) marched towards this region and divided the whole area into a number of military commands. At each of these place he erected forts,garrisoned with seasoned Afghan troops. Balban himself remained in the vicinity for many months. Ziauddin Barani writes “Sixty years have passed since these events, but the roads have ever since been free from robbers.” In 1290 Jalaluddin Firoz Khalji visited the fort of Bhojapur and is believed to have built bridge across the Ganga near the fort. In 1346-47 Muhammad Tughlaq went on another expedition on to this region and reach Sargdaori. In 1392, after a gap of about forty five years, this region was once again up in arms against the imperial authority of this area. In collusion with the Chauhans and Solankhis of the surrounding tracts, the Rajputs of this area broke out in open rebellion. In 1394, the suspected outbreak of another rebellion in this region, the sultan conferred on Khwaja Jahan the title of Malik-ul-Sharq “and appointed him governor of Hindustan from Kannauj to Bihar devolving upon him full power.” Malik-ul-Sharq died in 1399 and his adopted son, Mubarak Shah became the virtual ruler at Delhi and reached Kannauj.
In 1414, Khizr Khan (whom Timur had left in charge of his possessions in India) occupied the throne of Delhi and inaugurated the rule of Saiyid dynasty. Immediately after his accession in 1423, Mubarak Shah Saiyid marched to Kampil to suppress the Rajputs of the place.
On Sikandar Lodhi’s death in 1517, his son, Ibrahim, became emperor. He reached Kannauj where he was greeted by Azam Humayun Sarvani, the governor of Kannauj. The result was that several Afghan chiefs willingly joined and Kannauj became a fief under the sovereignty of the Mughals. Kannauj appears to have been recovered by Afghans. In 1527 Babar mobilized his forces against the rebel chief of Chanderi. Babar now captured Chanderi but lost Kannauj and Shamsabad to the Afghans. Kannauj became a dependency of the rebels who found themselves at the head of Muslims and Rajputs. Humayan’s continued occupation in the north and gave the ambitious Sher Shah Suri a free hand to prosecute his designs in the east. In July 1537, he entrusted the government of Kannauj to his brother-in-law Nur-ud-din Mohammad. Sher Shah Suri now cut off Humayun’s communication with Delhi while the desertion of Hindal and Nur-ud-din (governor of Kannauj) completely blocked Humayun from all sides. Humayun fled across the river to Mainpuri and later in 1543 left India for Kandahar.
It appears that immediately after the capture of Kannauj Sher Shah destroyed the old city and built a fort of burnt brick there “and on the spot of gaining victory he built a city Sher Sur.” In 1555 the Afghans were over thrown and the power of the Mughals was once again established by Humayun, who returned India after 12 years but he died soon in January 1556 and he was succeeded by his son Akbar. Kannauj was the headquarter of a Sirkar containing 30 Mahals. Kampil, Saurikh, Sakrawa, Sakatpur and Kannauj of Akbar’s time have also retained their old names except Kannauj. In 1592 Kannauj was given to Muzaffar Hussain Mirza, but he proved to be a drunkard and was soon deprived.