Odisha’s cultural renaissance during the Ganga period was unquestionably the result of capable leadership, political stability, robust administration, and economic prosperity. During the Ganga period, art, architecture, and sculpture developed. Additionally, the Ganga rulers were great promoters of learning and literature. Their court was graced by a number of notable literary figures. The society was peaceful because the kings of the Ganga dynasty were benevolent in nature.
To appreciate the cultural significance of the Ganga dynasty, it is necessary to understand the society and circumstances of the Ganga period, including religion, art and architecture, music and dance, language and literature, and trade and commerce.
Traditional Varna system
The traditional Varna system (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra) prevailed during the Ganga period. During this period, the Brahmanas held the highest status and most privileges in society. As scholars and priests, many of them benefited from land grants (Agraharas). During this time period, it is discovered that a number of Brahmanas pursued non-religious careers such as military service, other types of government service, and commerce.
The evolution of the Karanas (Kayasthas) caste
The Ganga period records mention the Karanas (Kayasthas) as a significant caste that developed during this time period. They were a bloodline of writers. Their status in Varna is unknown based on the available records. According to some sources, they were Kshatriyas. According to others, they were Shudras. Whatever their Varna status, they held positions in government ranging from village headman and accountant to prime minister and army general.
Women’s position during the Ganga period
During the Ganga period, women were held in high regard in society, particularly royal women. Numerous donor records include the donors’ mothers’ names. Royal ladies were renowned for their piety and devotion to their husbands. The royal ladies appear to have had access to education and specialised forms of art such as music and dance. Chandrikadevi, Anangabhimadeva III’s daughter, was a gifted musician and dancer. She constructed the Ananta Vasudeva temple in Bhubaneswar. Sivarani, a lady descended from the Ganges, was dubbed the Kaliyuga Saraswati (Goddess of Learning in Kali Age). However, women’s status appears to have deteriorated somewhat during this time period. Their liberty is restricted by the Smritis and Nitisastras of the time. Women were expected to be devoutly married. However, the Ganga kings were polygamous. Additionally, the Smritis permitted rulers to engage in poligamy. In practise, it appears as though women had a great deal of autonomy. Additionally, they performed as Devadasis in temples. Women are frequently depicted as singers and dancers, erotic partners, and seductive Nayikas, all of which emphasise their independence.
Religion in the Ganges era
The early rulers of the Ganga were devout Saivites. However, following their conquest of Odisha, the Gangas converted to Vaishnavism. They devoted themselves to Purushottam-Jagannath, who was considered to be a manifestation of Vishnu. Chodagangadeva constructed the current colossal temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath. Anangabhimadeva-III declared that he ruled the empire as Lord Jagannath’s Routa or deputy. Puri became a major centre of Vaishnavism during the Ganga period, with Lord Jagannath as the presiding deity. During this period, great Bhakti saints such as Ramanuja, Narahari Tirtha, and Jagannath Tirtha came to Odisha from other states. The recital of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda (a Vaishnava poet of this era) was incorporated into the Jagannath temple’s daily rituals.
The Ganga rulers’ secular nature
The Ganga rulers were by nature secular. Despite their devotion to Lord Jagannath, the state deity, the Gangas encouraged the worship of other deities, including Siva, Parvati, and the Sun-God. Chodagangadeva donated a village to support the maintenance of a perpetual lamp in Bhubaneswar’s Lingaraj temple. During the Ganga rule, the Parvati temple was constructed within the precinct of the Lingaraj temple. Narasihmhadeva-I constructed the Sun-God temple in Konark. The Ganga rulers appear to have sought to reconcile Saivism and Vaishnavism. The transformation of Siva in the Lingaraj temple into Harihar (Vishnu and Siva), and the construction of the Ananta Vasudeva Vishnu temple by a Ganga princess named Chandrika devi in the midst of the Siva temples, both indicate attempts at this synthesis of Hari-Hara cult.
During the Ganga period, art and architecture
Odisha’s art and architecture reached their pinnacle of glory during the continuous and strenuous construction activities of the great Ganga monarchs such as Chodaqanqadeva, Anangabhimadeva-III, and Narasimhadeva-1. The Gangas constructed two unmatched and magnificent monuments – Puri’s Jagannath temple and Konark’s Sun temple. These two temples are remarkable for their massive structure, architectural skill, exquisite ornamentation, and exquisite images of animals, gods, goddesses, mythological episodes, and erotic partners.
Patron of Education
The Ganga monarchs, being learned and cultured themselves, extended their patronage to the advancement of learning. They granted land to learned Brahmins, temples, and mathematicians (monasteries). Temples and maths were both centres of religious culture and education. Copper plate grants and stone inscriptions document the zenith of Odisha’s Sanskrit literature during the Ganga era. Odisha was home to a number of intellectual luminaries during this era. The Ganga period is represented by Pandit Vidyadhar (Ekavali), Jayadeva (Gita Govinda), Shridhar Acharya and Nilambar Acharya (Smriti writers), Viswanath Kaviraj (Sahitya Darpan), and Satyananda (the astronomer who wrote Surya Siddhanta).
The Odia Language’s Evolution
Several stone and copper plate inscriptions from the Ganga period clearly indicate that the Odia language and script developed during this time period. As a result, Sarala Das was able to write his magnum opus, Mahabharat, in the popular language of Sanskrit during the reign of Kapilendradeva, the Gangas’ immediate successor. Odia.
During the Ganga’s reign, music and dance were prevalent.
The Ganga kings were ardent supporters of music and dance. The temples’ Natamandapas (Dancing Halls) were places where the Devadasis (temple maidens) performed dances to the accompaniment of compositions and musical instruments. Natamandapas are found in the Jagannath Temple in Puri and the Sun Temple in Konark (both of which were built by the Gangas). Natamandapa was added to the temple of Lingaraj in Bhubaneswar by Anangabhimadeva-III. The Ganga kings employed damsels to sing and dance in the temples. According to tradition, Padmavati, the poet Jayadeva’s wife, was a Devadasi dedicated to Lord Jagannath. She used to dance to the beat of her husband’s songs. The Ganga temples, particularly the Natamandapas, are teeming with singing and dancing girls in ecstatic poses, accompanied by musical instruments concealed within the panels.
Odisha’s economic prosperity enabled the development of cultural activities during the Ganga period. Odisha maintained her ancient commercial ties with South East Asian countries during this time period. The engraving of boats in the Bhoga Mandapa of Puri’s Jagannath temple, a panel depicting elephant transportation (preserved in the Odisha State Museum), and the reference to a township inhabited by artisans and traders in Anangabhimadeva-1I1’s Nagari plate, are all evidence of Odisha’s international trade and commerce during the Ganga period. Odisha exported clothing, diamonds, and elephants to other countries.
Thus, the Gangas’ four hundred years of glorious rule are unprecedented in many ways throughout the history of mediaeval Odisha. Politically and culturally, the land was united. During the Ganga period, the Kalinga school of architecture reached its zenith. Additionally, the Sanskrit literature flourished during this time period. The overall socioeconomic, political, and cultural landscapes of this era attest to the fact that peace and tranquillity prevailed throughout the empire during the reign of the Ganga dynasty’s mighty rulers.