Gajapati Kapilendra Deba

Be it the Kasia-Kapila folklore or be it the Bimala Mandira tale from the Madala Panji; Be it the son of Jageswara Rauta or the Bhramarabara of Matta-Bhanu Deva’s army! An average Odia thumps his chest (even today) with utmost pride uttering the name of this braveheart and the myth & legends associated with him. A commoner from a very humble beginning to the mightiest emperor of 14 th century C.E., this Suryavanshi Samrat true to one of his epithets Biradhibirabara -with his unconquerable bravery and stubborn approach to each threatening obstacle and crushing enemies from all the Directions- this Digbijayee Odia has achieved rarest of the rare splendours with the blessings of Shree Jagannatha Mahaprabhu.

Gajapati Kapilendra Deba, the founding father of the Suryavanshi Gajapati dynasty in Odisha, ascended the throne on 29 th June 1435 C.E. An instinctive spearhead, he vindicated his accession by extraordinary reign of more than thirty years, a supremacy that is termed as one of the most fruitful reigns of Odia history. Gajapati Kapilendra Deba took over the charge of a realm which was waning away from its earlier splendor during the mightiest of the Gangas. By virtue of his astonishing valour, he again rebuilt this declining empire of the Odias. In some of the most challenging times of Odia history when the freedom of Odisha was challenged & attacked from multiple fronts- Bengal Sultanate, Bahmani Sultanate, & Vijayanagar kingdom- Gajapati Kapilendra not just thrived in defending the frontier from external aggressions, but carried on outstanding conquests into the lands of the invaders and seized some sizeable chunks from the kingdoms of Bengal, Bahmani & Vijayanagar. Till then, in the chronicles of Odia history, no monarch of Odisha apart from MahaMeghaVahana Aira Kharavela, had conquered such an extensive territorial realm as Gajapati Kapilendra Deba. True to his dynastic lineage of being a ‘Suryavanshi’, the Gajapati appeared like a blazing sun in the Odia historical timeline when dark clouds of foreign invasions were fast crowding in the Kalingan Sky. He achieved an unparalleled supremacy and brought the highest of glories to his motherland and gifted her the most spectacular chapter of her history.

Soon after his coronation, the early deteriorating leadership of Odisha got a fresh momentum with a restructured military (armed forces) and the Gajapati focused his might against the hostile neighbours around his realm. True to the first of his epithets ‘Gajapati’, lord & master of two lakh war-elephants under his command (because of which the epithet ‘Dantiraja’), the wrath of the Odia Gajabahini can be found even in the descriptions of historians & scholars of the enemy forces. The Odia military supremacy of that era can fairly be imagined from the very fact that, extreme offensive attacks against the Kingdoms from all 3 sides -the east, west and south- were carried out to an unforeseen & unimaginable success.

From the pages of the “Burhan - i - Ma'asir”, “..that the amazed Sultan when he compared his own elephant force with that of Kapilendra Deva, he saw it to be not even of a poor number of two hundred only as against two lakhs of the great Gajapati”. Such an auspicious beginning (Shubh-Arambh) of this powerful militia was carried out against the Islamic sultanates of Bengal & Malwa.

During the twilight of the Ganga rule, the Sultans of Bengal were constantly causing offensive attacks & disturbances to the eastern frontier of Odisha. In addition to that, the rising Sultanate of Malwa was growing to a threatening extent so that gradually it came to touch the north-western frontier of Odisha. The Gajapati understood this predicament and realised that there must be a permanent settlement to such a looming threat from both these quarters before he could think about starting any major martial campaigns to the south!

His military campaigns against these two Sultanates were thus taken as a priority to vanquish them. The war against the Bengal Sultanate continued for several years which finally bore successful results with the Gajapati achieving permanent conquest deep inside the Gouda (Gaur) region of Bengal earning him the Goudeshwara epithet.

After this northern stint of conquering Gauda, Gajapati Kapilendra Deba went on to take care of the southern disputes and seized Rajahmundry and vassalized the Reddis. After the successful campaign to Rajahmundry, next the Odia army trooped to Khambhammettu (modern Khammamet in Telangana), where, according to a Telugu poem (catu poem), “Gajavaru Tippa , one of Hamvira's Velama leaders , earned his master's favour by defeating the Yavanas led by Sanjar Khan ( Bahmani Sultan Allaudin Shah Il's officer ) . According to the Burhan - i - Maasir, Sanjar Khan was quite a notorious general who was infamous for his tyrannical ways of capturing civilians and selling them as slaves. The timely intervention by the forces of Hamvira provided respite to the local population.”

After Khambhammettu, by 1453 CE, finally the most strategic fort of the-then-southern India, Kondavidu, was captured by the Gajapati forces. In 1457 C.E., as Humayun Shah, thirsted for revenge from the rebellious Hindu Velama chieftain of Devarakonda, Madaya Linga, he dispatched his officers Khwaja-i-Jahan and Nizam-ul-Mulk with a massive army of 20,000 cavalry, 40 elephants, and a vast infantry against Devarakonda. When Madaya Linga realised he was outnumbered, he took refuge in the Devarakonda fort. By the year 1458 CE. Linga realised that the only emperor who would sympathise with his prayers and had the ability to crush the Bahamanis was the Godly Gajapati and hence pleaded to Kapilendra Deba for help. Kapilendra Deba dispatched an army under the command of his best man Prince Hamvira Deba. The combined forces of Odisha and Devarakonda humbled the Bahmani troops, who soon had to retreat. Following the battle, Madaya Linga became a vassal of Gajapati Kapilendra Deba.

Syed Ali Tabataba, in his Burhan - i - Ma'asir wrote about the battle as below: " The king of Orissa from greed of gain and for the defence of paganism, thought himself bound to assist the infidels of that fortress; so, he sent a countless force with a hundred elephants to the assistance of the defenders of the fortress (of Devarakonda ) . The Bahmani commander learnt in time of the advance of the Odia army, but before he could extricate his troops from their unfavourable position, the Odia army came upon them and the Velamas also sallied out from the fort. Caught between the two forces, the Bahmani army was routed, and the whole of their baggage, elephants and horses looted. The Musulmans were pursued to a distance of 3 jarsakhs; nearly six or seven thousands of their cavalry were killed, and a great number, besides, died of thirst in the deserts. "

With the Sultanate in disarray, in the winter of 1460 CE, Warangal was attacked. And such was the might of Odia bravehearts of that era, the Bahmani General fled from the assault of the formidable Gajapati army; and the Odias easily overcame the Bahmani’s leftover defence. Next, the Gajapati army along with the Velamas, raided the Bahmani capital Bidar (then called Bedadakotta) twice in the year 1460 CE. Prior to Bidar, the Bahmani sultanate’s earlier capital in Gulbarga had already been annexed by the Gajapati, due to which he got his epithet of Kalabargeshwara- ‘Lord of Kalaburagi/ Gulbarga region’.

In 1464 CE, Udayagiri in Andhra Pradesh, followed by certain regions in Tamil Nadu (all the way upto Rameshwaram), and thus a massive chunk of Vijayanagar were seized & annexed by the Gajapati kingdom. According to an inscription at Munnur, Tamil Nadu, Hamvira's son Dakshina Kapilesvara Hamvira Kumara Mahapatra was appointed the ruler of that territory. Hamvira is reported to have cleaned his blood-stained sword in the waters of the southern sea after defeating the Vijayanagara emperor. Thus, the Gajapati also got the epithet of the lord of Nabakoti Karnata.

Even after all this magnificent triumphs, this mighty emperor of 14 th century C.E. reverently & affectionately known in each Odia household “Lakhye Raja ra Mauda Mani” (the resplendent crown jewel among a hundred thousands kings), true to his pure Odia Identity remains humbled and grounded throughout his life serving as a mere representative & vassal of his paramaradhya ShreeJagannath (who is considered to be the only monarch of Odisha) and ruled his vast kingdom -thus getting the epithet “Rautaraya” .

Gone are the days of the Suryavanshis and long gone is their grandeur. But, the amazing accomplishments of the first of the Suryavanshi Gajapatis, even now inspires every Odia to achieve glories and do their bit for their motherland.

This truly great ruler, leader, braveheart, administrator - the Gajapati Gaudeshwara Nabakoti Karnata Kalabargeswara Biradhibirabara Bhramarabara Dantiraja Routaray Shree Shree Shree Kapilendra Deba - who has had unmatched legacies, is yet to obtain his due recognition in the pages of the mainstream history of India, and more importantly his life & times need to be remembered in the hearts of the people.

REFERENCES:Various Sources

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