Kapilendra Deva: The Odia Conqueror

The medieval history of eastern India in general and Odisha in particular, is one of the least discussed topics in Indian history. Odisha does have a glorious history in the said period and this was possible due to many great warriors it produced one after another. Kapilendra Deva who ruled during 1435-67 was the greatest among those Odia kings and arguably the greatest Hindu king of 15th century India. He started a new dynasty known as Suyavamsi Gajapati Dynasty. His previous ruler Bhanudeva IV of Eastern Ganga dynasty was a weak ruler and during the last days of his rule thekingdom had lost its glory and was reduced to mere 5-6 districts surrounding thecapital Cuttack. During this hour of despair, a hero arises as a meteor in the sky for the Odias in the form of Kapilendra Deva.  The exact origin of Kapilendra is unknown and there were different theories regarding his origin. He was probably a commander of Bhanudeva’s army. Kapilendra was coronated on 29 June 1435 in Kritivasa Kataka (Present day Bhubaneswar) by some of the ministers who didn’t want Bhanudeva to continue. That day was the turning point in the annals of the history of Odisha.

Some Images in of Kapilendra Deva:

Images of Kapilendra Deva
Kapilendra Deva Images
Some Images of Kapilendra Deva

Credit: Wikipedia

Early Years of rule

Kapilendra’s initial days after coronation were not easy. It is known from the fact that he was coronated in Bhubaneswar instead of capital Cuttack(Probably he wanted to do it in extreme caution). Just after getting the throne he had to face challenges from multiple fronts. His authority was limited to capital and its surrounding areas only. The Sultan of Bengal from the north and Reddies of Rajahmundry from south had captured large chunk of land. The Malwa sultan from the west and Bahamanis from the South-West had made multiple raids and destroyed economy of once prosperous kingdom. Other than this, he was also facing rebellionsfrom the feudatories, who had declared independence during the period of confusion during transfer of power in Cuttack. The Matsyas of Oddadi, Silavamsis of Nandapur, Khimdi and Vishnuvardhan dynasty all had declared independence. So, the first task Kapilendra undertook, was to punish these feudatories. He was successful in doing so after almost 8 years period. One attack from Malwa was also thwarted. However, in the meantime the Sultan of Bengal Shams-Ud-Din tried to invade Odisha. The able minister of Kapilendra, Gopinath Mohapatra was sent to face him. Gopinath kicked the Sultanate army out of Odisha.

Gauda campaign

By the year 1450 Kapilendra in his inscription used the title Gaudeswara, i.e. Lord of Gauda (Bengal). From other sources (Persian work:Risalat-us-Sihada), we know that the Mandaran fort in Hooghly district was under his control. Now, The Gajapati kingdom stretched up to Ganga(Hooghly river) in north.

War with Reddies

The Reddi kingdom in south had weakened and was controlled by Vijayanagar ruler. In the first attempt Kapilendra failed to defeat it probably due to an invasion from north.But in the second attempthe could crush the Reddies and capture Rajahmundry by 1448.By the year 1454 the Kondavidu fort south of Krishna river fell into the hands of Kapilendra and whole of Reddy kingdom was merged in Gajapati empire.

War with Bahamanis

After fall of Kondavidu, Gajapati army now came in direct conflict with the Bahamani of Gulbarga(Kalabarga in Odia)rulers for the first time. Sanjar Khan a commander from Bahamani court was suppressing the Hindus of Telangana and selling them as slaves. He was confronted by the Gajapati army and was killed in the battle of Khammamet. These victories were achieved by the son of Kapilendra, Hamavira Deva. In 1458, the Velama chief Linga had earlier helped the rebels against Humayun Saha, the Bahamani Sultan. To take revenge he sent an army to punish Linga, who asked for help of Kapilendra. Describing this incident Ferishta says, “The Raya of Odisha from the greed of gain and for the defense of Paganism” thought himself bound to help Hindus of Devarakonda.  Devarakondafell and the Bahamani army was routed. After this Kapilendra got the title Kalavargeswara, i.e. The lord of Gulbarga. Hamavira did not stop his campaign after this. He captured Warangal from the Bahamanis by February 1460. Fort of Warangal came under the direct control of Hindus for the first time after the fall of Kakatiyadynasty during invasion of Tughlaqs. The Bahamani Minister Khwaja Mahmud Gawan was defeated in this battle. Almostentire Telangana came under Gajapati rule. The capital of the Bahamanis, Bidar was now in the radar of Odia army. Ferishta in his typical style says that Odia army reached 10 miles from the outskirt of Bidar. However, a small detachment of the Bahamani army(160 Cavalry) forced them to retreat and pay tribute. This statement of Ferishta should be taken with a pinch of salt. A large army of Gajapati forces had no reason to retreat in advance of a small detachment of Bahamani army. Rather the reason was different. The Sultan of Jaunpur(eastern UP) Hussain Sarqi observed the absence of Odia army for a long time in north and invaded Odisha with 3 lakh horses and 1400 elephants(as per Nizamuddin- Ahmad). Therefore, the Odia army had to retreat. Once the matter with Jaunpur was settled the Odia army under Kapilendra returned and defeated the Bahamani Army and captured the capital, Bidar. By doing this he justified the title Kalavargeswara.As per the Veligalani plate, Kapilendra is said to have made Gulbarga devoid of horses (metaphor for defeating the Bahamanis). He is also said to have threatened Dhar the capital of Malwa sultanate.There are some Telugu Catu verses which suggest that the Gajapati army captured Mahur fort in present day Maharashtra from the Bahamanis (Probably this happened during attack on Malwa). However, there is no other evidence available on this.

War with Vijayanagar

The Gajapati and King of Vijayanagar were in constant conflict from 1444. Kapilendra had an upper hand in this conflict. He slowly captured one fort after another from Vijayanagar.  As per the Anantavaram plate of Kapilendra Deva’s Grandson Pratap Rudra Deva, Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagar was attacked and Vijayanagar army was defeated by Hamavira Deva and king Mallikarjunwas forced to pay tribute. However, Gangadhara the Vijayanagar court poet in his poem Gangadasavilasam seems to suggest that the Gajapati army was defeated. It is difficult to know the exact truth. But, it is almost certain that the Gajapati army reached till gates of Hampi. Nonetheless, Kapilendra Deva got the title Navakoti Karnatai.e. Lord of Nine crore people of Karnata/Vijayanagar empire. His complete title now becameGajapati Gaudeswara Navakoti Karnata Kalavargeswara.

March of Army:

Gajapati empire at its zenith

Now slowly the Gajapati army moved southward and captured smaller forts one after another. One commander named Tama Bhupala captured the fort of Udayagiri in Nellore district of Andhra before 1460. After that Chandragiri fort failed. Mallikarjun, the king of Vijayanagar tried his best to stop the march of Odias. But, all his attempts failed. The Odia army captured upto Kaveri river. Dakshina Kapileswara Mohapatra, the grandson of Kapilendra Deva and son of Hamavira Deva was made the Pariksha(Governor) of the Tamil Land. His father Hamavira, marched further south and conquered upto Rameswaram, where he is said to have washed his bloodstained sword in the southern sea (Madala Panji and Anantavaram plate of Prataprudra). This happened in 1464, the Odia empire reached its zenith of power and prestige. It stretched from Hooghly in north to Rameswaram in the South for some time. All major neighboring kingdoms were defeated. In the words of R C Majumdar: “Odisha attained its highest glory in all direction” under the Gajapatis and “the making of Odisha came to a completion during those glorious days”.

Odia language, identity and nationalism

The Odia identity as we know today mostly is the gift of this period of Kapilendra. The Odia nationalism reached its zenith in this period. He proclaimed: Odisha (Odra Desha) is our Rastra, Odia is our Rastra Bhasa and Jagannatha is our Rastra Devata. The Odia language was being used earlier. However, it got a major boost in this period. He himself wrote some part of his book Parshurama Vijaya(which is in Sanskrit) in Odia. Famous poets like Sarala Das flourished in this period who wrote Mahabharata in Odia.

Construction activity and religious affiliations

Kapilendra was a Vaishnava. But,He constructed the Shaivite temple of Kapileswara in Bhubaneswar which shows that he was tolerant to every sectarian belief under the Hindu domain. Kapilendra Deva declared himself as “Routaray”which means deputy or servant king of the lord Jagannatha.He also built Narendra Puskarini in honor of his martyred younger brother, Veer Narendra Deva. Fourteen out of sixteen Ghats of the tank are named after his fourteen nephews. The Kurma Prachira and Meghanada Prachira were constructed during the rule of Kapilendra Deva. The Chandan Jatra festival of Lord Jagannatha was initiated during his rule. He himself donated a large amount of jewelry and utensils to the temple during his rule. He removed the Chaukidari tax paid by the Brahmins previously also banned the resumption of waste and pasture lands.He had ordered his officials to follow the path of justice, righteousness and spiritual teachings and had issued warning to them to face the punishment of exile if they failed to do so. During his rule, two Dadhivamana temples were constructed, one each in the village of Kaunrpur and Gopinathpur in Cuttack district. Kapilendra Deva was a builder of a welfare state and had ordered not to commit atrocities or impose excessive hardships on the people of his kingdom.

Prepared by: Nihar Ranjan Nanda

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