Bhopal (bō´päl), former principality, Madhya Pradesh state, central India. A region of rolling downs and thickly forested hills, it is predominantly agricultural. Its Buddhist monuments include the famous stupa (3d cent. BC) at Sanchi. Bhopal was founded in the early 18th cent. and was ruled from 1844 to 1926 by the begums of Bhopal, famous women leaders. Although the population was mainly Hindu, the princely family was Muslim. Bhopal became part of the state of Madhya Pradesh in 1956.
The city of Bhopal (1991 pop. 1,062,771), the former capital of the principality and now the capital of Madhya Pradesh, was founded in 1728. It is a trade center with manufactures of cotton cloth, jewelry, electrical goods, and chemicals. Bhopal has a very modern section and an old city, and hills and lakes give the environs much scenic beauty. The city is the seat of several institutions of higher education and a large mosque, the Taj-ul-masjid. There are many sites of historical and archaeological interest in Bhopal and nearby.
In Dec., 1984, a cloud of methyl isocynate gas escaped from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. An estimated 3,000 to 7,000 died immediately, 15,000 to 20,000 died from the effects in the years after the disaster, and 50,000 to 100,000 suffered from serious injuries as a result of the world's worst chemical disaster. The Indian government sued on behalf of 570,000 victims and in 1989 settled for $470 million in damages and exempted company employees from criminal prosecution. The Indian judiciary rejected that exemption in 1991, and the company's Indian assets were seized (1992) after its officials failed to appear to face charges. The chairman of Union Carbide's Indian branch and seven other of its Indian employees (one deceased) were convicted of death by negligence in 2010, and later that year the Indian government sued to increase the damages paid to $1.1 billion.