Archeological excavations have traced the history of Bareilly region to the times when the Aryans arrived in the Ganga-Yamuna Valley around 1800 BC-1500 BC. The region saw successive settlements – was part of the ancient kingdom of Panchala and of the Panchala Mahajanapada in the later Vedic period, of the Maghadhan Empire and so on but had no separate existence till about the 1500s. Around this time one Jagat Singh Katheriya (a member of the local ruling clan) founded a village and named it Jagatpur. It is believed that his two sons, Bans Deo and Barel Deo, laid the foundation of another town in Jagatpur’s vicinity; since the town was co-founded by the two brothers, the city was named ‘Bans Bareilly’ after them. Of course, Bareilly is the name generally used.
The Katheriyas are known to have successfully defended their autonomous kingdom against attacks of the Delhi rulers; but when Akbar ascended the throne, the Katheriyas failed to resist the Mughal army, resulting in the annexation of Bareilly in the Mughal Empire.
17th century was an era of progress in the history of Bareily. In the 1650s, as per orders of the faujdar of Bareilly, Mukrand Rai, the new city of Bareilly was built by cutting down a sal-forest. He also ordered the construction of the Jama Masjid of Bareilly and a fort (which now houses the Police Station).
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Rohillas rose to power and prominence in the Bareilly region (which was then known as ‘Rohilkhand’ or “the land of the Ruhelas”).
In 1772, Rohilkhand was invaded by the Marathas and so the Rohillas formed an alliance with the Nawabs of Awadh to ward off the Marathas. Although the alliance succeeded in its goal, it gave rise to another problem – the then ruler of Awadh, Shuja-Ud-daula, asked to be compensated for the help extended to the Rohillas. The Rohilla chief, Hafiz Rahmat Khan, refused to give in and Rohilkhand was annexed to the Awadhian territory in 1774.
Bareilly (rather the entire Rohilkhand region) remained a part of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (which had its capital at Lucknow) only till 1801, when it had to be surrendered to the East India Company.
About half a century later, when news of the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) spread, the Bareilly people organized a revolt under Khan Bahadur Khan, the grandson of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Khan Bahadur Khan was able to form a government and ruled the city for almost a year. However, like elsewhere, this revolt was quashed and Bareilly became a part of the British Empire.
Bareilly once again became the center-stage of revolts against the British rulers when Gandhiji paid two successive visits during the Khilafat movement – both Hindus and Muslims in great numbers were arrested. The city and its inhabitants were actively involved in the other freedom movements – both the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and the ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942.
Bareilly has made immense progress in the post-independence era. The city achieved industrial and commercial growth in the 20th century; this, coupled with the fact that a lot has been done to improve infrastructure and has made Bareilly one of the important urban-centers of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.