The District derives its Name from the Head Quarters town of Vidisha. The earliest reference of Vidisha is contained in Ramayana by Valmiki. It is stated there that Shatrughna’s Son Shatrughati was placed in charge of Vidisha. In Brahmanical religious observance again, the place is called Bhadravati, the residence of Yuvanashva who supplied the famous horse to Yudhishthira during his Ashvamedha sacrifice.
The historicity of the ancient city of Besnagar, three Kilometers from Vidisha and identified with ancient Vidisha, goes back to some centuries before the birth of Christ. Besnagar figures prominently in Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical Literature in various forms such as Vessanagar, Vaisyanagar etc. Tradition connects the town with Raja Rukmangada who neglecting his own wife for the Apsara Visva named the town Vishvanagar after her.
On the destruction of Besnagar, located on the western side of the river Betwa sometime after 7th century A.D., a new town sprang up on the Eastern bank of the River. This new town was known as Bhailaswamin or Bhillaswamin, the name of the place was later corrupted to ‘Bhilsa’ or Bhelsa. The name Bhelsa appears to have probably been obtained on account of the famous Suryamandir dedicated to God Sun.
Samrat Ashok, still a prince aged 18, was appointed as a Viceroy by his father, Bindusaar, at Ujjain. While on his way from Patliputra to that place he met Devi, a banker’s daughter of Vidisha or Besnagar of the Sakya clan and married her. Her son Mahendra, and daughter Sanghmitra are famous in history as their father’s religious ambassadors to Ceylon. They are known to have carried a twig of the original ‘Bodhi’ tree and led a Buddhist Mission to that country. Devi never visited Patliputra. She stayed at Besnagar only and embraced Buddhism afterwards. A monastery type of building has been excavated near Sanchi setup (nearly 8 kms away from Vidisha Town) which is stated to have been constructed for her residence. It is said that before sailing for Ceylon Mahendra came to visit his mother at Besnagar. The mother took her son to a ” Chaitya Giri ” which, by popular belief was none other than the Sanchi Stup.
After the Mauryas the Sungas, the Kanvas, the Nagas, the Vakatakas, the Guptas, the Kalchuris of Mahishmati the Parmars, the Chalukyas remained in power at Vidisha. Idols regarding these regimes have been found in the Vidisha territory. Some Idols and monuments are placed in the District Archaeology office Vidisha.
Later this region remained under Mughals, Marathas and Peshwas and thereafter became a part of the Sciendia’s Gwalior State and was a Tehsil of Isagarh Pargana. In 1904 Vidisha was raised to a District having two Tehsils of Vidisha and Basoda till the formation of Madhya Bharat in 1948. The District was enlarged in 1949 by the merger of small States of Kurwai. The Sironj Sub-Division which was formerly in Kota District of Rajasthan State and small pargana of Piklone belonging to the Bhopal State were added to the District with the formation of new Madhya Pradesh. At the same time, the town and the District were renamed as Vidisha. However, under the Mughals Aurangzeb tried to rename the City as Alamgiri Nagar after himself, but without success.
Even today, the antiquity and the modern historical progress of the plateau of Vidisha vividly reflects its grandeur in the form of Besnagar, Gyaraspur, Udaypur, Udaygiri, Badoh-Pathari etc.
In 2011, Vidisha had population of 1,458,875 of which male and female were 769,568 and 689,307 respectively. Vidisha District population constituted 2.01 percent of total Maharashtra population. Average literacy rate of Vidisha in 2011 were 70.53 compared to 61.83 of 2001. If things are looked out at gender wise, male and female literacy were 79.14 and 60.85 respectively. For 2001 census, same figures stood at 74.23 and 47.40 in Vidisha District. Total literate in Vidisha District were 862,918 of which male and female were 512,344 and 350,574 respectively. In 2001, Vidisha District had 608,083 in its district. There was change of 20.09 percent in the population compared to population as per 2001.