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Medieval Odisha

Suryavamsi Administration of Medieval Odisha

The Vast empire of the Suryavamsi Gajapatis extended from the river bank of the Ganges to that of Godavari. The capital of this vast empire was Kataka-Pattana (Cuttack) which was known during the glorious days of the Gangas as Abhinava Varanasi Kataka. The second citadel of the Gajapati power was Kruttivasa Kataka (Bhubaneswar) where Kapilendradeva had been coronated. In order to give stability to the vast empire, the Gajapati rulers had given a good administration. The Suravamsi Gajapatis had given a benevolent administration to their subjects which can be discussed as follows.

The Theory of Kingship

The Suravamsi Gajapatis had given a benevolent administration to their subjects When the feudatories became disobedient to him Kapilendra went to the temple of Lord Jagannatha and engraved an order on the Jagamohana invoking the name of Jagannatha and declaring that the chiefs revolting against him, would actually rebel against this great deity.

From the reign of Kapilendra the Suryavamsi kings assumed high-sounding titles such as Maharajadhiraja, Paramesvara, Gajapati, Gaudesvara, Navakoti Karnataka Kalavargesvara etc. Kapilendra first assumed these titles after his conquests in Bengal, the Bahamani kingdom and the Vijayanagara empire and all these titles were continued by his son and grandson and even by the Bhoi rulers.

Council of Ministers

The king was assisted by a good number of ministers and officers in discharging his duty. Some of them were the amatyas (ministers), Mantri sreni siromani (Head of the ministers), Sandhivigrahi (Minister of war and peace), Sena-narendra (Chief of the army), Vahinipati(Leader of the ontingent), Rautaraya (Captain of the army), Kathaghara, Samantaraya. Pariksha (Secretary for treasury), Mudra Hasta (Seal bearer). Budha Lenka (Chief priest of the temple of God Jagannath). Srikarana (writer of accounts) etc.

Land revenue

The land revenue system of the Gajapati period was well developed. The land was measured and accordingly tax assessment was made. The Guntha (20 Cubits square). Mana (25 Gunthas) and Bati (20 Manas) denoted different units of land. The crown lands were divided into Khanda or Bisi under two hereditary officers like Khandadhipati or Bisayee respectively. To facilitate revenue collection from the village, the king appointed its headman like pradhan or Bhai. The revenue officers in the south were called as the Nayaka and Naidu. At the time of natural calamities, the peasants were assisted by the state with seeds to carryon their cultivation.

Military organization of the Gajapati rulers

A strong military organisation was an indispensible concomitant of a strong state, which was necessary both for its protection and expansion. The Gajapati kings like that of the Gangas were famous for their military organisation. The Suryavamsi records however enable us to form a clear picture of their military organisations. The Suryavamsis inherited from the Gangas a well-organised military system which was improved upon and made a very strong force that accounted for their success in building up an empire. In the reign of Kapilendradeva Odisha was virtually made a military state and all the castes and communities were called upon to render military service at the time of emergency. The Brahmins seems to have been exempted from a compulsory military service, but even then some Brahmins entered into the army as big and small officers. If the Madalapanji is to be believed, the traitor Vasudeva Ratha, a Brahmin, was the commander-in-chief of the last Somavamsi king and it is through his treachery that Chodaganga succeeded in conquering Odisha. In the Chatesvara Inscription Vishnu, the Brahmin minister of Anangabhimadeva HI (A.D. 1211-1238), is represented to have led an army against the Kalachuris of Ratnapura and to have succeeded in wresting the Sonepur tract from them. In the Gopinathapura Stone’ Inscription Gopinatha Mahapatra is represented to have been a Brahmin minister and general of Kapilendradeva. From these evidences it is clear that Brahmins also occupied high posts in the army, though they, as a rule, were exempted from compulsory military service. The other castes had no option but to serve in the military organisation as officers and soldiers.As is apparent from Sarala Dasa’s Mahabharata, which, as we have seen, was composed in the reign of Kapilendra, a belief was created in the minds of the Oriyas that dying in the battle field was the surest way to go to the heaven. To die in the battle field with weapons in hands, has been considered by the poet to be a most religious and meritorious act, which, according to him, provides for the person so dying a secure place in the heaven and exempts him, from the serious sins committed in this world. In the Sabha Parva Narada tells Sri Krishna the ways with which a man killing a Brahmin can escape from this terrible sin, and prescribes inter alia death in the battle field while fighting with weapons in hands. The poet lays great emphasis on the necessity begetting male children and has nothing to say about the necessity from female ones. The birth of a son was a joyous occasion which he has sometimes described in detail, but has ignored the occasions of the birth of daughters. According to him a wife without male children is unlucky and inauspicious and for her he prescribes in the Adi Parva of his Mahabharata eight ways for begetting sons. Since a very large number of young men were required for the army and many of them were losing their lives in the battle field, we can easily understand the poet’s partiality for male children and his anxiety for increasing the male population. The protection of the state and its expansion were the joint responsibilities of the entire population and not of the king alone. Militarism penetrated into all ranks of the society and all able-bodied persons were called upon to perform military service. The king had a standing army, but the number of the local militia was far greater than the number of the soldiers in the standing army. Besides, the feudal lords also supplied to the king a stipulated number of soldiers at the time of war and had to fight for him in the battle field.

A vast number of the Odias and even the Adivasis and Harijans still bear military titles which their ancestors must have received from the Gajapatis. It seems that, even though some people did not actually serve in the army, they received honorary military titles from the monarch for helping him in some way or other in perfecting his military organisation. Among the local militia the vast majority were cultivators who took to cultivation at the time of peace and turned into soldiers at the time of war. A rough survey indicates that about fifty percent of the people of Odisha still bear military titles, of which a few examples are cited below: Senapati, Chamupati (Champati), Routaraya (the commander of the cavalry), Sahani (the commander of the elephant force), Dandapata, Dandasena, Paschime Kava te, Uttara Kavata etc. (the guardians of the marches), Samantaraya, Vidyadhara, Bhramaravara, Harichandana,Jagaddeva, Marddaraja, Samantasimhara, Raya Simha, Manasimha, Valiyarasimha, Pahadasimha, Nayaka, Pattanayaka, Dandanayaka, Gadanayaka, Petre, Mahapatra, Behera, Da/abehera, Jena, Badajena, Pradhana, Sama/a, Rauta, Khuntia, Parichha, Parija, Padhihari, Dandapani etc. Sarala Dasa’s Mahabharata also gives us an idea about the different divisions of the Gajapati army on march. The first division was known as the Hantakaru Da/a Le., the pioneer force clearing jungles and making roads; the second was known as the Aguani Thata i.e., the advance units; the third was Pradhana Vala i.e., the main army and the fourth division was Pachhiani Thata i.e., the rear guards. The king and the big military officers were furnished with bodyguards who were known as Angavalas; and the detachments which were placed in charge of the captured forts and conquered territories, were known as Paridandas.

Sarala Dasa also gives us a picture of an army on the move, in which flags and other decorative devices were used and the musical instruments such as Damalu, Dadama Tamaka, Bijighosa, Daundi, Ghumura, Bheri, Turi, Ranasinga etc. were sounded. The weapons used have been given as Dhanu, Trona, Sara, Asi Parigha, Patiisa, Kunta, Jathi, Guruja, Saveli etc. The above few facts are gleaned from Sarala Dasa’s Mahabharata which is not a historical work, but though these facts occur in connection with the fights among different characters of his Mahabharata, we may be sure that in making such references he was merely drawing upon his own knowledge and experience gained in actual wars. From the poet’s description we also gather that the gateways and the walls of the forts used to be breached with the help of horses, elephants, crow-bars and shovels.

The size of the Gajapati army

About the size of the Gajapati army different sources give us different accounts which may not represent the actual number of men and animals employed in it. The Muslim sources have sometimes exaggerated or sometimes belittled its number. In the Burhan-i-Ma’rtasir it is stated that Kapilendra possessed elephants numbering two hundred thousand, which is obviously an exaggeration. Nizam-ud-din tells us that Purushottamadeva had encamped on the bank of Godavari with 7,00,000 foot soldiers. Azizullah writes that Kapilendra attacked Bidar with only ten thousand foot soldiers, which appears to be an absurdly small number. The figures given by the Portuguese writer Nuniz appear to be more reliable. He states that the king of Odisha opposed Krishnadeva Raya with an army of thirteen hundred elephants and twenty thousandhorses. “The people of Otisa” writes Nuniz “are very good fighting men.” The king of Otisa has a mighty army of foot soldiers.” In one section of the Rayavachakam an account of the teats of strength exhibited in the Gymnasia at the Capital of the Gajapati has been given. This accont was given to the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadeva Raya by his spies, who had been employed by him for ascertaining the military strength of the Gajapati Prataparudradeva. Some southern scholars have considered the account to be an exaggerated one. Even granting that it is an exaggerated one, we have to respect the basic truth that the Oriyas of the time possessed great physical strength and were capable of showing wonderful physical feats. We reproduce below a summary of this account as given in Further Sources of Vijayanagara ”We entered the city, and saw the palace of the Gajapati, the mansions of the sixteen Patras, the Gymnasia and the people who take exercises therein. Even the gods and the demons are not capable of exhibiting such skill in physical exercises as they show. Your majesty might have observed the skill in physical exercises shown by the great wrestlers of other countries; but the style of the people at the capital of the Gajapati is totally different. They alone are capable of lifting up such heavy dumb-bells. They lift them up, and what is more, they lift them up cross-wise. They raise a sack weighing 10 paddes to the height of the uplifted arm of a standing man and throw it upon their own bodies. Moreover, they catch the sack between their thighs, and-suspend themselves in the air taking hold of the cross-beam (ot the gymnasium). The reason for taking this exercise is this; while engaged in battle, the troopers are accustomed to carry away their opponents bodily imprisoning them between one of their arms and the body; if, however, the opponents fight without losing their hold on their steeds, they abandon their attempt, considering the opponent to be unmanageable. The riders on the armoured horses are not afraid of any wound which they might receive. They attempt to carry away under their arm such riders (?). The soldiers practise this exercise in order to remain firm courageously (in their seats) on such occasions. They completely demolish walls of hundred feet with a rummi mattakhandam (?) which is heavy enough to be carried by a man on his head. They also cut with that sword strong tamarind pillars as easily as they cut the pitch of the plantain trees. Planting two crowbars together on the ground they cut them to pieces with their sword.

Judicial system

Coming to the judicial system of the time, it was quite effcient in discharging its function. The criminal justice was harsh. Gopinatha Badajena, a revenue officer was tried and put on the Chang (an instrument to give torturing death by putting a man under two swords). Similarly, Rama Patra was sentenced to death. Thus severe punishments were awarded to the criminals for committing crimes.

The provincial administration

The provincial administration under the Gajapati kings was quite efficient. The empire was divided into several provinces known as Dandapata or Rajya. The governors of such provinces were designated Parikhas or Rajas. Provinces were divided into simas which were further sub-divided into sthalas or muthas that consisted of some villages and the lowest unit of the provincial administration was village (grama).

The Samanta Rajas
The Gajapati empire was also divided into fragments, each under a Samanta or feudal lord. It is clear that feudalism was at its blooming phase during the Gajapati rule. Among the feudal lords, mention may be made of the Matsyas of Oddadi, the Suryavamsis of Nandapur, the chiefs of Panchadharala, Palkonda, Narasapur etc. This feudalism, an ugly feature of medieval period, contributed a lot for the downfall of the Suryavamsi Gajapati rule in Odisha.

The forts

The forts played a vital role in the military system of the Gajapatis. The Odishan kings occupied the old forts or established new ones in the entire stretch of their empire. In the north the great forts that were in their occupation, were Mandaran which is now known as Bhitargarh, situated in the Arambagh subdivision of the Hooghly district of West Bengal; Kotisamigarh, variously described as Kotasin, Katasin etc. which is now known as Kotsimul situated on the west bank of the river Damodara, and Raivania and Deulgoan in the Balasore district. In the Cuttack and Puri districts several forts which existed from earlier times, were also utilised during this period. They are Jajpur Kataka, Amaravati Kataka (near Chhatia), Chaudwar Kataka, Varanasi Kataka (modem Cuttack) and Chudanga Kataka or Sarangagarh near Barang. Kasiagarh, situated on the road from Chandaka to Khurda near the village Dalua, was also a great fort which was probably meant to conceal troops, in the dense forest at the time of war. Besides these big forts, there were also smaller ones which have been referred to by Abul Fazl in his Ain-i-Akabari. In south Odisha ancient forts of considerable importance existed at Humma, Khimidi, Chikiti, Palur, Khallikot and Athagarh. In the conquered territories of the south great forts existed at Rajahmundry, Undrakonda in the Krishna district, Kondapalli near Bezwada in the Krishna district, Adanki inthe Ongole Taluk, Vinukonda in the Vinukonda Taluk, Vellamkonda in the Sattenapalle Taluk, Nagarjunakonda on the bank of the river Krishna, Tangeda in the Palnad Taluk and Ketavarman in the Sattenapalle Taluk. In Telingana the great fort of Devarakonda, situated in the Nalgonda district, and also the famous fort of Warangal were in occupation of the feudatories of Gajapatis. But the forts of Udayagiri in Nellore district and Kondavidu near Guntur, were the strongest of all occupied by the Odishan kings. The occupations of these two great forts by Krishnadeva Raya decided the fate of the Gajapati empire in the south.

In order to give stability to the vast empire, the Gajapati rulers had given a good administration. The Suravamsi Gajapatis had given a benevolent administration to their subjects. The Suryavamsis mainly based their administration on that of the Gangas and introduced a few innovations. Kapilendra Deva could not give a good administration during his rule as he was involved in wars and conquests. It was during the rule of Purusottama Deva, the people enjoyed peace and tranquility. However, Prataprudra Deva‟s period saw instability due to external attack. So, good administration was not possible during his reign.


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