The history of Narmada River is closely associated with the place Amarkantak and Narmadakund. Amarkantak and rivers originating from it are hardly mentioned in Vedic literature, but these have been mentioned many a times in Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vashishtha samhita and "Shatapatha Brahmana". After Mahabharata the history of a period of about 3000 years remains in dark. Professor Arjun Chaube Kashyap came to a conclusion that the Puranic name of Amarkantak was Riksh parvat. About 6000 years back the Suryavanshi samrat Mandhata established a town in the valley Riksh parvat and called it Mandhata. The queen of samrat Purukutsa, who was son of Mandhata, gave the title of Narmada to the river. Due to occupation of this area by Mandhata the descendents of Yayati migrated from this area to west of Madhya Pradesh and settled on the banks of Narmada River.
According to tradition, this Vindhyachal area, where the River Narmada flows was included in the Kingdom of Ayodhya, Bhrigu Rishi, Kapila Muni and Markandeya Rishi had ashrams here. It is also said that Pandavas resided along the riverbanks and gained spiritual benefits during their exile. After about 3000 years of Mahabharata the Adi Shankaracharya was born in 788 AD and sanctified on the banks of Narmada River. He established Pataleshwar Mahadev in Amarkantak at the origin of Narmada from the bamboo bunches. This place is known as Surajkund presently. There is no bamboo clumps here right now.
Ptolemy and the author of the Periplus have mentioned the river. The Ramayana, the Mahabharat and Puranas refer to it frequently. The Rewa Khand of Vayu Puran and the Rewa Khand of Skand Puran are full of references of the story of the birth and the importance of the Narmada River. It is said to have originated from the body of Lord Shiva. The river was created in the form of a lovely girl who enamored the Gods and hence the river was named by the Lord as Narmada, means delight giving.
It is also said to have been in love with the Sonbhadra, another river flowing on the Chhota Nagpur plateau. According to the Puranas the Narmada is also called the Rewa, from its middle course or the root through its rocky bed. To Shiva the river is especially sacred on the basis of its origin, and it is often called Shankari, i.e., daughter of Shankar. All the pebbles of the river were rolling on its bed are said to take the shape of his emblem with the saying - Narmada Ke Kanker utte Sankar. These lingam or the phallus shaped stones, called Banalinga are rare and in much demand for daily worship by the Hindus.
In the recent history, this area was offered in dowry to the Kalachuri King by the Chedi King of 10th to 11th century AD. The Kalchuri Maharaja Karnadeva (1042-1072 AD) had founded temples at Surajkund. In 1808 Amarkantak was reined by the King of Nagpur and later was taken under foreign rule. In the latest news, Amarkantak has been selected as the site for India`s first tribal university. UPA government decided to form a tribal university beside the banks of Narmada River.