With the succession of Narasimhadeva I to the Ganga throne in 1238 A.D., the Ganga Empire reached its zenith. His twenty-six years of glorious rule witnessed extraordinary achievements in every aspect of the Ganga administration. His aggressive and offensive military policy created panic in the minds of the Muslim rulers of Bengal and Oudh. This led the imperial Gangas to the pinnacle of power, glory and splendour. For the first time, he bore the title Gajapati exhibiting the vast possession of elephants and this title was borne by the later Ganga rulers occassionally and by the Suryavamsi kings invariably. The Sun temple at Konarka was the magnificent creation in the field of architecture that brought Narasimhadeva. He was popularly known as Langula Narasimhadeva among the people of Odisha.
Attack on Bengal
After his accession in 1238 A.D., Narasimha I followed the policy of aggressive imperialism. By that time, Tughril Tughan Khann (1233 – 1246 A.D.) had become the governor of Bengal. After consolidating his position, Narasimha marched with his grand army aided by Paramadrideva, his brother-in-law towards Bengal in 1234 A.D. The Odishan army overran a number of semi independent Hindu rajas of the neighbouring area, east ofthe river Ganges and made a calculated move to northern Radha, the territory of Tughri Tughan Khan. At this juncture, Tughril Tughan gave a clarion call to all the Muslims for a zihad (holy war) against the Hindus. Even Qazi Minhaj-us-Siraj joined this holy war.
In his Tabaqat-i-Nasiri Minhaj gives a vivid picture of the war. By 1244 A.D. Tughril Tughan launched a counter attack on the Odishan army. Gaining some initial success, the Muslim army compelled the forces of Narasimhadeva to retreat towards their frontier fort Katasin (Kantei in the Midnapur district of West Bengal) which was surrounded by jungles and cane-bushes and provided strategic defence to the Odishan army. Tughril-Tughan Khan retired to Lakhnauti in order to save his life. His rule over Radha came to an end. The victory of Narasimhadeva I over the Muslim army has been described in the Anantavasudeva temple inscription.
It certainly established the fact that Narasimha had extended his sway upto Radha by defeating Tughril-Tughan Khan. Narasimhadeva did not retire after conquering Radha. He wanted to extend his sway upto Varendra. By that time Lakhnauti consisted of two main divisions- Radha and Varendra, situated on either side of the Ganges. Lakhnor was the headquarters of Radha while Diwkot was that of Varendra. Having his sway over Radha, Narasimhadeva directed his army against Varendra. The Odishan army ransacked the Muslim territory at Bengal and created panic in the minds of the Muslims. Being fearful, Tughril Tughan Khan appealed to Sultan Alauddin Masud Saha of Delhi to come to his rescue who sent Quamuruddin Tamur Khan, the governor of Oudh to help Tugha Khan. However, after reaching Bengal, Tamur had a sharp difference of opinion with Tughril Tughan who was ultimately driven away from Bengal and Tamur Khan continued as its governor till his death in 1246 A.D.
Balban, the Sultan of Delhi Sultanate appointed lkhtiyar-ud-Din Yuzbak as the governor of Lakhnauti. Again Narasimhadeva carried on his arms upto Bengal. Minhaj’s Tabaqat-i-Nasiri mentions that four battles were fought between Yuzbak and Narasimha from 1247 to 1256 A.D. Again, the leader of this battle from the side of the Odishan army was Paramadrideva whom Minhaj mentions as Saba ntar. In the first two battles, Yuzbak gained success. In the third one he sustained discomfiture at the hands of Odishan army. He asked for military aid from Delhi and marched towards Umurdan (present Amarda Mayurbhanj district). However, in this great battle Paramadrideva, the valiant son-in-law of Anangabhimadeva III and brother-in-law of Narasimhadeva I lost his life. The victory of Yuzbak has been substantiated by the issue of silver coins from the mint of Lakhnauti in memory of the conquest of Umardan. However, after his death, Lakhnauti came under the direct grip of Delhi Sultanate and Narasimhadeva subjugated Bengal, Midnapur, Howrah and Hoogly to the Ganga empire.
Hostilities with the Kakatiyas
He not only subdued the Muslims but created terror in the mind of Kakatiya ruler Ganapati. The Lingaraj temple inscription refers to a struggle which took place between Ganapati and Narasimha. Ganapati was a very powerful ruler of Kakatiya dynasty who must have invaded the southern part of Kalinga grabing some portions of it as is known from the Bhimesvara temple inscription. So, it can be assumed that there might have been frequent struggle between the two kings and Narasimhadeva must have inflicted a crushing defeat upon Ganapati.
His achievements as a builder
Narasimhadeva’s achievement as a builder was unparallel. The outstanding Sun temple at Konarka bears the testimony in the field of art, architecture and sculpture. Though the main temple has been ruined, Jagamohana (Porch) is still standing. The marvelous art, architecture and sculpture of the temple allure the attention of millions of tourists all over the world who visit the Sun temple of Konark.
His contribution to religion, art and literature
He was not only a great military genius or builder but also he was a great statesman of his time. His sound administration was marked with catholicity. He was a champion of the cause of the Hinduism. His Lingaraj temple inscription reveals that he constructed a monastery called Sadasiva Matha in the Ekamrakhetra (Bhubaneswar). This monastery was the asylum for the refugee Hindus who came from Gauda and Radha being oppressed by the Muslim rulers.
Patron of Sanskrit literature
He was a great patron of Sanskrit literature. Vidyadhara, his court poet composed his famous Alankara work Ekavali which describes the achievements of Narasimhadeva I. His court was adorned with great men of letters as is gleaned from the language and style of different inscriptions of, his period. Narasimhadeva was famous for his religious toleration. If the Sun temple at Konarka makes an impression that he was a great devotee of sun God his Kapilasa inscription terms him as Sri Durga Putra, Sri Purusottam Putra and a devotee to God Mahesvara. He definitely followed the policy of his father Anangabhimadeva III. Narasimhadeva I bore the high sounding titles befitting to his status. The Ekavaii crowns him with the title ‘Vavanani Uallabha’ the Lingaraja temple inscription adorns him with the title ‘Vira-NaraKesari-Dharadhipa’ and the Kapilash inscription entitles him as ‘Gajapati. His glorious rule came to an end in 1264 A.D.
Thus, Narasimhadeva-I was a king of a many laudable qualities. He was skilled in the art of government and also patronized men of letters. He was famous due to his heroism and marvelous creation of the Sun temple, at Konarka.