Vishnu Mohapatra


"Agratah chaturo vedah, prushThatah sasharam dhanu"
"ଅଗ୍ରତଃ ଚତୁରୋ ବେଦାଃ, ପୃଷ୍ଠତଃ ସଶରଂ ଧନୁ" 
"अग्रत: चतुरो वेदा: पृष्‍ठत: सशरं धनु:"

Meaning: “one who is well-versed with the four Vedas, and sports the bow & arrow on His back - that is the one who has the radiance of both the Brahman and the Kshatriya” These words from the part of a verse, originally described about SriParashuram, one of the avatars of SriVishnu; but in the context of this article, it denotes one of the most charismatic ministers named Vishnu- who was well versed both as a scholar and as a military commander & mentor during the rule of the Eastern Gangas in Odisha.

In medieval ଓଡ଼ିଶା Odisha, though the active warfare management in military expeditions used to be mostly led by the kings, there have been many instances where able ministers & commanders have shown their remarkable skills by valorously leading the army successfully in combat

During the early 13th Century CE, the political scenario of the then Odisha was in turmoil mainly because of looming military & invasive threats on most of its borders. The Turko-Afghan Muslim rulers of Bengal had started posing a serious threat to the Ganga empire on their northern borders. On the other hand, the Kalachuris had been in constant rivalry & strife with the Gangas over the preceding years on their western borders. At the same time the empire of the imperial Cholas, though on the verge of collapse, was still a potential threat at the southern extremities of the Ganga kingdom.

In such turbulent times, Anangabhima Deva-III (ଅନଙ୍ଗଭୀମ ଦେବ ତୃତୀୟ) succeeded his father King Rajaraja-III, as the ruler of the Ganga kingdom in Odisha. Anangabhima Deva-III was a wise, strong, brave, resilient, and foresighted ruler. His governance as well as decisions & actions as a king are stuff of legends.

Anangabhima Deva-III was the very first ruler in Odisha’s history who declared himself as just being a ରାଉତ ‘Rauta’ of the supreme lord of the universe ମହାପ୍ରଭୁ ଜଗନ୍ନାଥ Mahaprabhu Jagannath (i.e. a mere servitor to God SriJagannatha), and considered SriJagannath as the ‘King of the Kingdom’. Such simplicity and non-arrogance in one’s power & kingship is rare to find; and, after his times, all the rulers of the land continued using the same philosophy of ruling Odisha merely as the Rauta of Mahaprabhu Jagannatha. This trait of Anangabhima Deva-III gives us a peep into his spirituality & level-headedness, makes us realize how simple yet determined he must have been, a strong & formidable warrior for standing up against aggressors so as to defending the conscience & the soul of his motherland

Anangabhima Deva-III stressed upon the fortification of the kingdom, including a strong capital city. He, very pragmatically, chose a location at the bifurcation of the rivers ମହାନଦୀ Mahanadi & କାଠଯୋଡ଼ି Kathajodi for the fort site of his new capital and named it the ଅଭିନବ ବାରାଣାସୀ ‘Abhinav Varanasi’ - ବିଡ଼ାନାସି କଟକ ‘Bidanasi Cuttack’. (‘Abhinav Varanasi’ means a new place estd. at the bifurcation of two important rivers, and ‘Bidanasi Cuttack’ means a place of fortification where the royal troops are stationed). At this strategic site, he commissioned the building of a strong fort ବାରବାଟି ‘Barabati’ that spanned a sprawling twelve ‘bati’ measuring units of land measurement. Under the able guidance of Vishnu (also referred to as Vishnu Mohapatra; ବିଷ୍ଣୁ ମହାପାତ୍ର)- his Brahmin minister (who was also his military advisor), he built up a strong & powerful martial force along with the strong fort. Vishnu was a master of the ଶାସ୍ତ୍ର shastras (texts & treatises for knowledge) as well as the ଶସ୍ତ୍ର shastras (arms & weapons for military combat). He proved his ability as a great minister overseeing administrative duties, and at the same time as an able mentor for training & guiding the king’s army.

With Vishnu’s acumen & expertise, Anangabhima Deva-III went on to become one of the most successful rulers & martial achievers of the times - with many fruitful military campaigns. Along with recapturing many of the territories that had been lost during the previous years & decades before his reign, he was also successful in defending & protecting the kingdom from the greater threats of invasions from the Turko-Afghan Muslim rulers of Bengal, by crossing over into their territory and establishing his control in those parts. He also extended the kingdom’s reach beyond its southern borders all the way till Srirangam in the Chola kingdom (located in the core of today's Tamil Nadu).

The southern Haihayavansi kings of Tummana (in present day Chhattisgarh) were also aggressive against the Ganga forces. The Ratnapura Kalachuri rulers, who had previously over the years overpowered the last of Odisha’s Somavanshi rulers and occupied the western tracts of the ancient Kalinga kingdom of Odisha, continued their previous aggression & were in constant conflict with Anangabhima Deva-III. The Kalachuri king Pratapmalla along with his son Paramardi Deva, continued attacking the borders of the Ganga land. (On a different note, in later years, Paramardi Deva went on to wed princess Chandrika, the daughter of Anangabhima Deva-III and served as a commander in Anangabhima Deva’s son & successor King Narasingha Deva’s army & valiantly defended the integrity, sovereignty, soul of Odisha from the invading Yavanas - which deserves an entire write up on him because of his notable contributions to Odia war history; and a separate article is in the pipeline dedicated to Paramardi Deva).

To combat these attacks by the Kalachuris & Haihayavanshis, King Anangabhima Deva-III dispatched a large army with his able commander Vishnu at the helm. The armies clashed at the SeoriNarayana / ‘Shivrinarayan’ village (currently in Chhattisgarh) near the Vindhya hills in the earlier undivided Sambalpur district. The outcome of this battle was quite redeeming & refreshing for the Gangas & Odisha. After years of aggressive attacks by the Kalachuris, for the first time in years the Kalchuris were finally conquered in a remarkable victory by the Odia Force.

An inscription at the ଚାଟେଶ୍ୱର ମନ୍ଦିର Chateswara Temple, Salepur describes:
Vindhyadreradhisima-Bhimatatini-kunje.... Vishnu-Vishnu
Visnumayam Yatha Parinatam Tummana Prithivipateh

[Meaning: Vishnu, the Brahmin minister & general of Anangabhima Deva-III terrified the king of Tummana on the bank of the Bhima river nearby the Vindhyas so much so that the latter perceived Vishnu universally all over his kingdom.]

King Pratapmalla, the king of the Kalachuris, was taken prisoner and was made to cede the Sambalpur-Sonepur-Balangir tracts along with portions of present-day Chhattisgarh to the Gangas, thus back to Odisha. Eventually, with the wise counsel of his minister Vishnu, King Anangabhima Deva-III established both a diplomatic as well as a matrimonial alliance with the Kalachuris by offering the hand of his daughter princess Chandrika in marriage to the brave & dynamic Kalachuri prince, Parmardi Deva. With this matrimonial alliance, the defeat of the Kalachuris was repurposed into a mutually beneficial relationship between the kingdoms. The military power & strength of the Gangas increased multifold in strength, and the Kalachuris also gained a strong ally in the Gangas. Such a diplomatic decision was made keeping in foresight the invasive & devastating foreign threat for each of them looming at their borders from the foreign Turko-Afghan Muslim rulers of Bengal.

Invasive threats from the Khilji-Malik rulers of Bengal were also posing a constant challenge to Odisha. Ghiyasuddin-Iwaj Shah, the ruler of Bengal was a successor (as the ruler of Bengal) of Bakhtiyar Khilji, the Delhi Sultan Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak’s infamous military general who had carnaged thousands of monks, scholars, commoners and razed & destroyed the university of Nalanda. Ghiyassuddin who had managed to build up quite an influential navy and set out invading the neighbouring territories of Kamarupa (Assam) & Odisha. He invaded the northern territories of Odisha by sending naval war fleets over the river Mahanadi with an aim to capture Odisha’s newly founded capital city at Cuttack & occupy various dominions, and mainly to destabilize the military strength of Odisha. To defend from such enemy attacks from an incoming military via the river, the newly built fort of Barabati proved to be a strategic & strong line of defence. A strong fort & its security system with guards & troops defending the fort had been made ready by rigorous planning tactics & preparatory training & exercises by the foresighted & pragmatic Vishnu to be ready for combat at the threat of any such situation & threats. At this time, hundreds of miles away at the northern borders, Vishnu Mohapatra was personally commanding the imperial forces against the Bengal sultans, and successfully managed to chase away the invading Muslims away from the soils of his motherland Odisha. The role of Vishnu, the minister & commander of King Anangabhima Deva-III in the battle against the Yavanas was exemplary & significant to the overall success of his King.

The inscriptions at Chateswara Temple in Salepur, Cuttack and Ananta Vasudeva Temple, Bhubaneswar confirm vociferously about how the invading Muslim Yavana forces of Bengal were defeated:
Karnottam-Sita-Savakasya-Subhata-Nekakina Nighnatah
Kimbruna-Yavanavanindra-Samare Tattasaya-Varabratam (Chateswara Temple Inscription)
Yadvamse-Vaijayanti-Patamiva-Subhato-Anangabhimah Pravavah
-Pradhvastaratiraja Vraja -Yuvati-Yanodgita Gambhirasarah
Asidasivisire-Radhikataratarasta Drugarvorugarobah-Svante
Svantapasarpata Yavamapi Yavanam Sangare Sanjahara(Ananta Vasudeva Temple Inscription)
[Meaning: Like a high-flying flag to the Ganga lineage, the valiant Anangabhima, whose profound strength was celebrated by the young girls of a assembly of antagonistic kings demolished by his power, and who was exceptionally proud of his swift horses, the swiftness of which surpassed that of snakes' foe Garuda, he made a culmination of the war by beating the Yavanas with impetuosity after entering into their territory beyond the frontier.]

On the southern borders of his kingdom because of recurrent rivalries with the neighboring ruler Ganapatideva, Anangabhima Deva-III led his army and advanced all the way till the Krishna river and established his encampment there. By the year 1230 CE, these areas were subsequently merged into Odisha. According to Allalanatha temple inscription, Anangabhima Deva-III overran the Kanchipuram & Srirangam towns in southern India. There are inscribed records of his consort, Queen Somaladevi Mahadevi, to have made a generous gift of treasures to the temple of Allalanatha. Anangabhima Deva-III also became the first ruler from the Eastern Gangas of Odisha to place his inscription at the Simhachalam Temple. Starting with the mighty Gangas esp. Anangabhima Deva-III, the next three centuries proved to be a glorious period for Odisha as there was a renewed vigor in reinstating the glorious past of Odisha’s power as it used to be once during the time of Mahameghavahana Kharavela almost a millennium ago.

Kings & ministers such as Anangabhima Deva-III & Vishnu Mohapatra have left lasting legacies whose echoes vibrate even today throughout the corners of Odisha. Their names bring a sense of immense pride & great reverence in every Odia heart & mind. They are the ones who not only defended the sovereignty of Odisha against threats of brutal invasions, but also established its hegemony as a large, powerful, & strong kingdom at a very crucial junction of history. While doing so, they managed to leave behind strong legacies of smart & intelligent diplomatic proactiveness & foresights which were balanced with a spiritual finesse.

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