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Medieval Odisha

Purusottama-Padmavati Episode

The Padmavati episode or Kanchi-Kaveri legend is a romantic episode among the people of Odisha till to-day. According to this tradition, King Purusottama wanted to marry Padmavati, the daughter of Saluva Narasimha, the ruler of Kanchi. Although, Saluva Narasimha had given his consent for the marriage but his visit to Puri and observation of the work of Purusottama who performed Chherapahanra (sweeping away the dirts before the cars of Gods with golden broom during car-festival) led the former to deny the marriage proposal of his daughter with the latter. This infuriated Purusottamadeva who led an expendition to Kanchi but was defeated at the hands of Saluva Narasimha. This led the king to fall at the feet of God Jagannath who told the former ina dream to march towards the Kanchi for the second time and in that expedition success was bound to kiss the feet of Purusottama. Surcharged with enthusiasm, Purusottamadeva marched towards the south.

While proceeding with galloping march, he had to take a halt on the bank of Chilka lake at the prayer of Manika, a milk-maid. She narrated the fact that two young soldiers of the king, one dark and the other fair complexioned, riding black and white horses respectively ate all the curd from her pot. When she asked for payment, they presented her a ring saying that the Gajapati of Odisha who was about to come on that way, would make payment to the milk- maid on their behalf. King Purusottama looked at the ring and knew that it was of God Jagannath. His eyes were filled up with tears of joy who established a village near the lake named Manikapatana after the name of the milk-maid. As is apparent, the king of Kanchi was defeated and Purusottama forcibly brought Padmavati to Odisha. He instructed his minister that the princess would be given in marriage to a Chandala (lower-born) so that his anger would be pacified. The clever minister of the king waited for an appropriate opportunity. At the time of the car festival, Padmavati garlanded Purusottamadeva by instruction of the minister, when the king was performing the work of a Chandala i.e.Chhera pahanra. The king had no alternative but to accept Padmavati as his queen.

This legend has been accepted by many scholars as a historical truth. However, a few scholars also reject the legend. Almost all the scholars accept Saluva Narasimha as the ruler of Kanchi. Of course, Chandragiri was the base of Saluva’s political power and it remained under the Vijayanagara empire. There was no place named Kanchi upon which Saluva Narasimha held his sway. Prof. K. C. Panigrahi states that Chandragiri was a sacred place. In cultural activities, it was so famous that it assumed the name Kanchi after the capital of the Pallavas. To justify his stand, Prof. Panigrahi says that as Kapiiendradeva conquered Bidar, the capital of Bahamani and called himself as ‘Kalavargesvara’, similarly, Chandragiri would have taken the place of Kanchi.

Prof. Panigrahi, while accepting the historicity of the Padmavati episode, cites Sarasvati vilasam where the name of Prataparaudra’s mother appears as Rupamvika. He further says that perhaps, the name of Saluva Narasimha’s daughter was Rupamvika which was changed into Padmini or Padmavati after her marriage following the tradition of the change of bride’s name after marriage by the family members of the groom which is prevalent in Odisha and other parts of the country too. Here, again attention can be drawn towards the institution of Chherapahanra. Some scholars are of the opinion that it was introduced by Purusottamadeva in order todemonstrate his boundless devotion for the throne of Jagannath. He exploited the situation whose creator was his father Kapiiendradeva. Since, the choice of Purusottama by Kapilendra to the throne of Odisha was illegal, Purusottama wanted to legalize it by showing his greater devotion to God Jagannath who had already occupied a unique position in the mind and heart of the people of Odisha. However, this enumeration is to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is a fact that Purusottama had framed this story through the priests of the temple. The scene of the encounter of God Jagannath and Balarama with Manika, the milk-maid with a pot has been depicted in the Jagamohana of the temple of God Jagannath. That scene might have been utilised by the Brahmins to mobilise the pilgrims in favour of Purusottama who held the Brahmins with high esteem. On the other hand, it can alternatively be suggested that Purusottama might not be the creator of the institution of Chherapahanra. It might have been instituted by his father Kapiiendradeva. As Kapilendra was an usurper to the throne of the Gangas, he might have started this tradition of Chherapahanra in order to efface the bitter memory from the mind of the Odishan people in the light of the Ganga theory of kingship that made the king a subordinate to God Jagannath. This tradition which had, perhaps, not been highlighted during the reign of Kapilendradeva, was fully capitalised by Purusottamadeva. Later on, it was popularised by the Odia poets and writers.

Prof. K. C. Panigrahi, in his much controversial book Sarala Sahityara Aitihasika Chitra written in Odia correlates the Kanchi-Kaveri legend with Surekha-harana episode of the Odia Mahabharata which is fantastic and superfluous. Here, a simple question can be asked. When was the Sarala Mahabharata composed? It is definitely during the reign period of Kapilendradeva. So how this Kanchi-Kaveri legend be related with the episode of Surekha harana by poet Saraladasa who composed the Mahabharata during the reign of Kapilendradeva ? Could the poet visualise the future activities of Purusottamadeva from a distant past? Keeping all these facts in mind, as an impartial observer it can be stated that the romantic Padmavati episode is not a historical fact. Purusottamadeva had framed it through the priests of the Puri temple (or through Brahmins) to legitimatise his position as his father Kapilendradeva had ignored the claims of his eldest son Hamvira. The episode, undoubtedly, gave a subordinate position to Purusottama in relation to the God and Brahmins but however, it was an impending necessity on the part of the king to stabilise his position on the throne of the Gajapati Kings of Odisha

1. P. Mukherjee, The Gajapati Kings of Orissa, Calcutta, 1953.
2. R. Subramahmanyam, The Suryavamsi Gajapatis of Orissa, Waltair,1957.
3. A.C. Pradhan, A Study of History of Odisha, 2006.
4. K.C. Panigrahi, History of Odisha,2008.
5. H.H. Panda, History of Odisha, 2008.
6. D.B.Mishra, Concise History of Odisha,2009.
7. B.K. Rath, Cultural History of Orissa, Delhi, 1983.

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