(One of the successful campaigns of Odishan king Narasimhadeva-I against the Delhi Sultanate & a fine example of feigned retreat warfare in early medieval India)

Narasimhadeva-I or Langula Narasinghadeva is one of the famous Indian kings & a popular name from the modern state of Odisha,better known as the builder of the famous Konarka Sun temple. He belonged to the Eastern Ganga dynasty which is known for its heroic resistance against Islamic armies from the north of Odisha along with military activities against other neighboring kingdoms , and more importantly for construction of beautiful temples of Kalingan school of architecture.(Narasimhadeva’s ancestor Anantavarman Chodaganga started the construction of the Jagannath Temple of Puri).Narasimhadeva’s father Anangabhima-III and grandfather Rajaraja-III had successfully defended their kingdom from the onslaught of the Khalji forces of Bengal.

The year was 1244 AD-roughly 6 years after the ascension of Narasimhadeva. The Delhi Sultanate under Mamluks, which started ruling & expanding post 2nd Battle of Tarrain, was gradually weakening at the centre. The Mamluk Governor at Bengal of Turkic descent- Tughril Tughan Khan had become quite powerful and dreamt of establishing an independent East Indian Sultanate and had some plans of expanding south into Eastern Ganga terittory.But Narasimhadeva seems to have read the opponent’s mind and had good understanding of the situation. He decided what a few Indian kings had dared of doing ie going for an aggressive move before the opponent has time to attack.Most of the evidence of Narasimhadeva-Tughan conflict comes from the literary work Tabaqat-i-Nasiri of Persian chronicler Minhaj-ud-Siraj Juzjani who was accompanying the Mamluk forces in Bengal and other places.

From Minhaj’s account it seems Eastern Ganga army had captured southern Bengal and by November 1243 AD had reached near Lakhnauti territory which shocked Tughan Khan.Tughan raised an army and seems to have given a clarion call of holy war against Narasimhadeva (perhaps the reason why Minhaj called it as a holy expedition in his work). Tughan’s forces started pushing the Ganga army to South and were successful in driving them out of Lakhnauti.The Ganga army retreated till Katasin fort,which seems to be located somewhere in southern Bengal or northern Odisha.

[There seems to be a debate regarding the location of Katasin among scholars.Major Raverty(the translator of Tabaq-i-Nasiri)thinks Katasin to be near river Mahanadi, but this has been objected by German orientalist Blochmann and seems to be quite not right given that Minhaj has mentioned that Katasin was the outpost of king of Odisha and should be somewhere north of Odisha or in south of West Bengal..NN Vasu and JC Bose suggest that it could be Raibania gada of Balasore,Odisha.This has been rejected by historian RD Banerjee who opines that Kostimul(on the western bank of river Damodar in Hooghly district of West Bengal)was Katasin.There is another view that Contai or Kantei of Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal was the locaton of Katasin.I think the Contai theory is right and assume the location of Katasin to be there]1

Katasin was more of a cane jungle and seems to be well known to the Narasimhadeva’s forces.The Eastern Ganga army dug three ditches on the road to the fort inorder to stop the advance of Tughan’s army. Tughan crossed the ditches and had a small engagement with Ganga army,who seemed to gradually retreat to the canegroves.According to Minhaj’s account,the Odishan soldiers hadn’t left anything behind the fort except for five elephants with their fodder.Tughan was quite happy seeing the elephants(the prized war animals in India)and decided to rest his army in the fort for food.

But the elephants were likely a trap by Ganga soldiers to allure the Mamluk force and stop their advance.Tughan fell for it.

From the canegroves, two hundred infantrymen and fifty cavalrymen roared with the flag of Bull & Moon insignia (insignia of Eastern Gangas) at the front and pounced upon the unprepared soldiers of Tughan Khan from behind. The Mamluk forces were thrown into confusion and started retreating north. However their retreat proved disastrous with loss of men on the way. The Ganga cavalry seems to have chased Tughan’s forces for about 70 miles till Lakhnor2. Tughan was lucky to get away for this time, until he again faced the Eastern Ganga army at Battle of Lakhnauti on 14th March,1245 AD.The Ganga army again clashed with the Mamluk forces in around 1260 AD at Umardan.

Narasimhadeva has been eulogized in the works of his courtpoet Vidyadhara. Vidyadhara in his treatise of Sanskrit poetics Ekavali described him as Yavanavani vallaba, Hammira mana mardana(Conqueror of Yavana forces and Destroyer of the pride of Hammrias).

The Kendupatna inscription of Narasimhadeva-II(grandson of Narasimhadeva-I) seems to have mentioned the victory at Katasin as follows :
"The white Ganga river herself blackened to a great distance by the collyrium washed away the by tears from the eyes of the weeping Yavanis(Turko-Afghan women) of Radha and Varendra(places of Bengal),and rendered waveless, as if by this astonishing achievement ,was transformed by that monarch(Narasimhadeva-I) into blackwatered Yamuna."

Some 300 years after the reign of Narasimhadeva,the scholars of Suryavamsi Gajapati(the dynasty succeding Eastern Gangas)court also seems to have remembered him. Kavi Dimdima Jivadeva Acharya writes in Bhakti Bhagavata Mahakavyam:
"His highness Narsingha having a tail like thing attached to his body who through the grace of God took birth in the famous Ganga dynasty and was the only eminent warrior to destroy Delhi"

The date of the battle falls on 16th April,1244 AD (some books mention it to be 15th April, I guess it is not much of an issue)as calculated from date given by Minhaj i.e 6th of the month of Zi-Kadah,641 H.

Battle of Katasin is perhaps one of the fine examples of feigned retreat warfare among Hindu kingdoms in early medieval India.An army smartly retreating to the area of their convenience and reworking on their strategy. One can find Mongols using a similar strategy with their mounted archers, however in this case(ie in Katasin) the dense topography was an important factor in the victory.

There is one question that has been making me think over and over again.Are the Odishan sawars mentioned by Minhaj,a regular cavalry force with swords and spears or could be a mounted archer unit (or atleast partly)?

Historians RP Mohapatra and Jagadish N Sarkar opine ,after having studied the sculptures of Konark temple,that there is good enough reason to believe that Eastern Ganga army had a mounted archer unit.

Horse archery wasn’t new to India in medieval times and existed since long .It was quite well known during the Gupta age.

There is a general opinion among scholars that mounted archery declined among Hindu kingdoms and this proved to be a weakness for medieval Hindu kingdoms against Turkic armies. But Katasin might be an exception here

However there is a debate if missile cavalry was relied by Indian ruler heavily like that of Turkic rulers and if bows of required size(to be used effectively by mounted archers) were used in good numbers. The Steppe climate provided an advantage to the archers in terms of good quality of horses unlike the Indian counterparts. Another opinion is that dismounted archers took better hits than mounted ones and hence most Indian kings might not have relied much on horseback archers.

Whatever be the views on possibility of use of mounted archers by Eastern Ganga army, battle of Katasin remains an untold story of feign retreat warfare in Indian history.

REFERENCES:Various Sources
1.400 years of Odisha: A Glorious Epoch-A.K Panda

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