The King Who Built Benares 2.0

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Anangabhima Deva III of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty is someone about whom we don’t talk much in our history books. Probably because he is overshadowed by his illustrious son Langula Narasingha Deva (the builder of the Konark Sun temple). Not many are aware of Anangabhima Deva III but his contributions towards building a strong Kalinga are as tall as the pinnacle of the Jagannath Temple in Puri. So the history geeks at Coffee Bytes thought of giving you a quick dose of Anangabhima Deva III, lest we all forget about him.

Anangabhima Deva III ascended to the throne sometime in 1211 AD taking the title of Tri-Kalinga Adhipati. A powerful ruler, who wanted to carry on his grandfather Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva’s legacy (the builder of the Jagannatha Temple, Puri) He inherited an empire which was small and susceptible to attacks. At this time the entire Indian sub-continent was embittered in numerous long lasting bloody wars which spilled over into the lands of Kalinga. In the North was Iltutmish the ruler of Delhi who had his own set of plans for the sub-continent and in the South a crumbling Chola empire along with the rise of regional powers like the Hoysalas, Pandyas, Pallavas, Kalachuris and Kakatiyas had a debilitating effect on Kalinga.

Anangabhima Deva III saw the threat and quickly realised that the identity and existence of Kalinga was at stake. He remembered the humiliation faced by his grandfather at the hands of the Chola rulers who had sacked Puri and desecrated the Jagannath temple. The fact that Anantavarman was married into the Chola family did not deter the Chola’s from sacking his lands. In the North the Delhi Sultanate’s invasions and subjugation of Bengal was also becoming a serious problem. The Delhi Sultanate wanted to unify these territories as quickly as possible so as to shore up on resources just in case if the Mongol horde led by Genghis Khan crossed the Khyber pass into India.

Jagannath Temple, Puri

These were dangerous times for the sub-continent and Kalinga’s existence was vital, lest it would become a buffer zone in a grand scheme of things. Ancient Indian empires were collapsing and now new empires and families were coming of age in the sub-continent.

In this bleak situation Anangabhima Deva III took a daring step and he founded new capital the Fortress of Abhinaba Bidanasi Katak (the word Cuttack meaning fort) today we know this city as Cuttack (the land of dahi bara and aloo dum). This city and its fortress provided excellent strategic value to any commander with a garrison. A key link between the tracts of Sambalpur-Balangir and the coastal Kalinga. Cuttack would become the bulwark of Anangabhima Deva III’s defensive and offensive campaigns.

His first major conflict happened when he faced off the Kalachuris who had come to dominate the Western parts of his empire. Kalachuris raided  his territory frequently and threatened the Western borders of his empire. His predecessors had tried to take control of these lands which are modern day Sambalpur-Balangir-Boudh regions but had failed.

The Kalachuri king, Pratapmalla continued his attempts to invade the frontiers of the Ganga territory along with his son Paramardi Dev. Anangabhima  Deva III sent a large force under the command of his able General Vishnu. The two forces met at the Seori Narayana village on the banks of the river Bhima near the Vindhya hills and the Kalachuris were defeated decisively for the first by the Gangas. Pratapmalla was taken prisoner and forced to cede the Sambalpur-Sonepur-Bolangir tracts along with parts of what is now Chhattishgarh to the Ganga kingdom. Later on the advice of his minister Vishnu, Anangabhima Deva III established a diplomatic and matrimonial alliance with the Kalachuris by offering the hand of his daughter Chandrika in marriage to the Kalachuri prince, Parmardi Dev. Once the alliance was secured, the Ganga forces multiplied in strength. This diplomatic decision was made keeping in mind of a major threat from the rulers of Bengal. For Anangabhima Deva III this alliance brought good fortune to his empire since Parmardi Dev was also an able General and Anangabhima Deva III quickly gave him control of a sizeable army.

With two generals and a huge professional army the Tri-Kalinga Adhipati now concentrated on the impending threat looming over Odisha’s northern borders.

A young and wily Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Shah the self proclaimed ruler of Bengal was another man vying for power and consolidation of land in the eastern part of the sub-continent. He was a skilled warrior and a great negotiator who had sacked parts of Assam, subjugated Bihar and parts of Northern Odisha. He now wanted to take over the ports of Kalinga and take the entire southern peninsula for which he raised a fresh naval force. He was an imminent threat to both Kalinga and the Delhi Sultanate. Soon Ghiyasuddin’s naval forces were plying up the Mahanadi and his troops marched into Odisha from Jajpur, hence began his invasion of Odisha. Anangabhima III by this time had completed the work on new fortress i.e. Abhinaba Bidanasi Katak which bore the brunt of the invasion. He dispatched forces led by his trusted General Vishnu and son-in-law Parmardi Dev who cut off the enemy supply lines and started reversing Ghiyasuddin’s fortunes. His naval attack on Cuttack also foundered causing heavy losses on the invaders. Soon the enemy forces retreated and Anangabhima Deva III won a hard fought but decisive victory. Couple of years later Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Shah died in the battle against the Delhi Sultanate his dream of great conquest of the East would never happen. Parmardi Dev on the other hand would go on to become a great general and later on would help Anangabhima Deva III’s son Langula Narsingha Deva in siege of Gauda (Bengal).

Ananta Basudev Temple, Bhubaneswar

Anangabhima Deva III’s next turned his attention to the Southern regions of Kalinga where the Chola empire was disintegrating  fast with the political and military void being filled up by Ganapati Deva- a Kakatiya ruler who now held vast swathes of what is now coastal Andhra Pradesh. As Anangabhima Deva III’s ancestors and even himself had ties to the existing Chola royalty, the political development prompted Anangabhima Deva III to interfere. This fact finds mention in the Allalanatha temple (Modern day Chennakeshava Temple, Belur, Karnataka) and also inscriptions at Kanchipuram where Somaladevi Mahadevi, the queen of Anangabhima Deva III had sent gifts after the successful conquest. By this conquest, the Ganga empire crossed the river Godavari and extended upto river Krishna.

By end of his reign Anangabhima Deva III had an empire stretching from the coast of the river Ganges till the deltaic regions of the river Krishna. Unchallenged he strengthened the Ganga empire and saw to it that all his threats were either eliminated by force or coerced by intermarriage or diplomacy.

Nations are not built just by conquest and diplomacy, great empires are also carved by taking into consideration the socio-political aspirations of their people. Anangabhima Deva III understood this fact just like his grandfather who built the Jagannath temple in Puri.

During his time as a ruler he made Lord Jagannatha the sole principal God of Kalinga and undertook heavy restoration of the Temple at Puri. He also completed the temple to what we see today- a task started by Anantavarman. During his time many other landmark temples like the Ananta Basudeva temple in Bhubaneswar were also built. Anangabhima Deva III proclaimed himself as the ‘Rauta’ or deputy of Lord Jagannath in 1216 AD. The subsequent Suryavamsi and Bhoi rulers followed Anangabhima Deva III’s policy of owing unquestioning loyalty to Lord Jagannath and professed themselves as the servants of the deity. This expression of loyalty and devotion to Lord Jagannath led to the origin of the practice of ‘Chhera Pahara’, according to which the king has to perform the job of a sweeper in front of the car of Lord Jagannath at the time of the annual car festival.

Anangabhima Deva III had great esteem for Saivism and Saktism. The Draksharam inscription of 1216 A.D. mentions him as the deputy of ‘Purushottama’, ‘Rudra’ and ‘Durga’. He fused Shaivism,  Vaishnavism, Shakti and  along with Tantric Buddhism into what we  today call   as modern Odiya culture. As a benevolent ruler, Anangabhima Deva III undertook massive humanitarian works for the welfare of his subjects. The Chatesvara temple inscription (located in Salepur) refers to the construction of roads, tanks, houses and temples for the general and religious purposes of his subjects. According to the Madalapanji he undertook land settlement with the help of two revenue ministers- Damodar Badapanda and Isana Pattanayak. The total land revenue collected during his reign amounted four crores and forty-three lakhs of tankas.

Not much is written in modern day texts apart from scholarly articles about this great ruler of Kalinga whose impact is even now felt till this day. Many of the temples, buildings and cities he made still survive and the fusion of various sects into an encompassing culture of the Odia people still exists. Anangabhima Deva III’s contribution towards forming an empire and building up a counter-balance in the sub-continent against those eyeing the rich coastal lands of Kalinga is beyond doubt a massive success. His contribution in making Lord Jagannath the supreme deity of Kalinga was also very important since it kept Odisha out of the morbid inter-religious warfare of Southern India plaguing it since the 10th century AD. Later on his son Narasimha Deva I fondly known as Langula Narasingha Deva would further his father’s vision and build upon his successes. But we can talk about him later.

By Aditya Nag

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