Mandsaur was earlier called Marhsaur. The name was derived from names of two places 'Marh' and 'Saur', which might have been merged to form this town. It was also said to be called Dashapura, when it was ruled by the Dasharnas during the Mahabharata period. Bandhuvarma was one of the rulers of this dynasty, who appears in an inscription at Mandsaur. It is said that the silk workers of Mandsaur had constructed a Sun temple here, it was repaired by Bandhuvarma in Samvat 493 (436 CE).
The Risthal stone slab inscription discovered in 1983 has brought to light the Aulikara dynasty, which succeeded the Dashapura dynasty. Two monolithic pillars were erected in a small village called Sondani (4 km from Mandsaur) by a king called Yashodharman of this dynasty in 528 AD. These described his exploits and achievements. The Indian Archaeology Department records that these were excavated from the original site in Sondani.
Before Independence in 1947, Mandsaur was a part of the princely state of Gwalior. It lent its name to the treaty made with the Holkar Maharaja of Indore, which helped put an end to the Third Anglo-Maratha War and the Pindari War in 1818. Later as it neared the 20th century, it became a thriving centre for the Malwa opium trade.
Mandsaur District forms the northern projection of Madhya Pradesh from its western Division, the Ujjain Commissioner's Division. It lies between the parallels of latitude 230 45' 50" North and 250 2' 55" North, and between the meridians of longitude 740 42' 30" East and 750 50' 20" East.
The District is bound by two Districts namely Neemuch in the North-West and Ratlam District of Madhya Pradesh in the South. The District is an average sized district of Madhya Pradesh. It extends for about 142 km. from North to South and 124 km. from East to West. The total area is 5521 sq. km.
The climate of this district is generally dry except under South-West Monsoons. Year may be divided into four seasons. The cold season is from December to February. This is followed by the hot season from March to the middle of June. Thereafter the South West monsoon season starts and continues till about the middle of September. In District there is a rapid increase in temperatures after February. May is generally the hottest month with the mean daily maximum temperature at 39.80 C and the mean daily minimum at 25.40 C. Days are intensely hot in summer and hot dust-laden winds which below during this season add to the discomfort. On individual days in the summer session and in June before the onset of the monsoon the day temperatures often go up above 450 C. January is the coldest month with the mean daily maximum temperature of 35.00 C and mean daily minimum of 9.30 C.
The average annual rainfall in the District is 786.6 mm. The rainfall in the Districts in the region around Sitamau - Mandsaur - Malhargarh in general increases in the northern part of the District from the West towards the East.
Mandsaur is a developed town with thriving industries of slate pencil, flour and opium. It is equipped with all the basic facilities like schools and colleges (both govt. and private), medical facilities, electricity etc. Mandsaur district falls under the Ganga basin and Chambal River sub-basins. The river is situated in a broad, flat, shallow valley with low gradient because the Chambal has reached the base level of erosion. Vertical erosion has reached and lateral erosion is taking place. Other tributaries of Chambal River are Retam, Shivna and Chhoti Kali Sindh. Mandsaur district has limited irrigation facilities. Only 28.64% of net sown area is irrigated and rest of the area is rain-fed. Surface water irrigation in the district is only 8.0 % of the net sown area. Groundwater is the main source of water in the district.
The architecture of Mandsaur is that of any bustling town. It has caught up to its brick and concrete counterparts in both dwellings and commercial buildings. It is steeped in archaeological eminence. The homes of the craftsmen are built around their crafts. The humble brick and tile dwellings have their work spaces right at the entrance.
Malvi is the language mostly spoken in Mandsaur. It is a mix of Rajasthani and Hindi. The place is rich in archaeological and cultural history. Nevertheless, Mandsaur is popularly known for its temple of Lord Pashupatinath, located on the bank of River Shivna. Its idol has a parallel only in Nepal.
Most of the people in Mandsaur are Hindus. There are, however, sizeable minorities of Muslims, Jains, Christians and Buddhists. There is also a small Sikh population. Hindi language is the main language. Dialects of the language, such as Bundelkhandi, Malwi and Chhattisgarhi are found to be spoken too. Agriculture is the main occupation. The others include trading and crafts. Many people from the tribal background are nowadays found to be working as workers in factories, as shopkeepers or as street hawkers.
Majority of the male community wears dhotis along with Bandi (a kind of jacket) and a turban. Most of their clothes are very colorful. The women wear Lehenga (long skirt) and Choli (blouse) with an Odhni or Lugra (cloth wrapped around their head and waists). They also wear saris.
Mandsaur is famous for the Pashupatinath temple with its eight-faced Shivling. Hoards of devotees flock to the temple for the 'Mela' or fair held in this temple. The water in the Shivna River swells every monsoon and touches the bottom of the Shivling. This is termed 'Jalaabhishek' (Offerings of water) and is celebrated with great reverence. The Nalcha Mata temple, 3kms from Pashupatinath temple, is another site of religious importance.
A famous historical spot here is the Mandsaur fort. It was built during the Dashapur dynasty and is also called the Dashpur fort.
Mandsaur is famous for its Opium production. The slate pencil industry is a prospering business here. Culinarily, Mandsaur is famous for its distinctive Dal Baafla(a dish comprising of lentils and wheat) and Kachori (fried hollow flour patties with lentil stuffing).