The territory of present Purulia district was a part of Banga, one of the 16 Mahajanapadas according to Jaina Bhagavati Sutra (c. 5th century CE) and was also a part of the country known as Vajra-bhumi in ancient period. During medieval period, this territory was regarded as part of Jharkhand region. Little is known about Purulia before the British East India Company acquired this territory by obtaining the grant of Diwani of the subahs of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa in 1765.
By Regulation XVIIII of 1805, a Jungle Mahals district composed of 23 parganas and mahals including the present Purulia (known as 'Purulia' in those days) was formed. By Regulation XIII of 1833 the Jungle Mahals district was broken up and a new district called Manbhum was constituted with headquarters at Manbazar. The district was very large in size and included parts of Bankura and Bardhaman districts of present West Bengal state and Dhanbad, Dhalbhum and Seraikela-Kharswan districts of present Jharkhand states. In 1838 the district headquarters was transferred from Manbazar to Purulia. Since the formation of the district it was withdrawn from regular administration and placed under an officer called Principal Assistant to the agent to the Governor-General for South-Western Frontier. The title of the officer Principal Agent was later changed to Deputy Commissioner by Act XX of 1854. Finally in 1956 Manbhum district was partitioned between Bihar and West Bengal under the States Reorganization Act and the Bihar and West Bengal (Transfer of Territories) Act 1956 and the present Purulia district was born on November 1, 1956.