Gajapati Empire

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Coordinates: 20°31′25″N 85°47′17″E / 20.52361°N 85.78806°E / 20.52361; 85.78806

Gajapati Empire
Location of the Gajapati Empire and neighbouring polities, circa 1500 CE.[1]
The Gajapatis at their height in the mid-15th century[citation needed]
The Gajapatis at their height in the mid-15th century[citation needed]
Common languages
• 1434–66
Kapilendra Deva
• 1467–97
Purushottama Deva
• 1497–1540
Prataprudra Deva
• 1540–1541
Kalua Deva
• 1541
Kakharua Deva
Historical eraMedieval India
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Eastern Ganga dynasty
Bhoi dynasty
Vijayanagara Empire
Golconda Sultanate

The Gajapati Empire,[5][6] was an empire established by the Suryavamsa (IAST: Sūryavaṃśa, "Solar dynasty")[7][8][9] dynasty, which was a medieval dynasty from the Indian subcontinent, it originated in the region of Trikalinga (most of the present-day Odisha and North coastal Andhra) and reigned from 1434 to 1541 CE. It succeeded the reign of the Eastern Gangas. Under Kapilendra Deva, Gajapati empire stretched from lower Ganga in the north to Kaveri in the south.[10][11][12]

The Gajapati dynasty was established by Emperor Kapilendra Deva (1434–66 CE) in 1434. During the reign of Kapilendra Deva, the borders of the empire expanded immensely; Gajapati Empire acquired large parts of Andhra Pradesh and western regions of West Bengal,[13] it also included the eastern and central parts of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Purushottama Deva and Prataparudra Deva are the significant rulers of this dynasty. The last ruler Kakharua Deva was killed by Govinda Vidyadhara in 1541, who founded the Bhoi dynasty.

The Gajapati kings patronized Vaishnavism and were ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu. They also build many temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu.[14]


In Odia, "Gaja" means elephant and "Pati" means master or husband. As such, Gajapati etymologically means a king with an army of elephants.


The region known as Kalinga (present-day Odisha) was controlled by the Odia rulers Eastern Gangas.The early Eastern Gangas ruled from Kalinga-nagara (Mukhalingam near Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh). They shifted their capital to Cuttack in the 13th century. Religious leader Ramanujacharya had a great influence on the Raja Choda Ganga Deva, who renovated the temple at Puri. Narasingha Deva built the Sun Temple at Konark and Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Simhachalam at Visakhapatnam. The Gangas were succeeded by the Gajapati rulers. Two copper plates of the early Pallava dynasty have been found in the Kolleru Lake, traced to Gajapati Langula Narasimha Deva, an Oriya ruler (Odia Raja). According to legend, the Gajapati fort was located at Kolleti Kota on one of the eastern islands of the lake, which protected the Odia forces. The enemy general encamped at Chiguru Kota located on the shores and tried to excavate a channel in the modern-day Upputeru, so that the water of the lake would empty into the sea and allow an attack on the Gajapati fort.

Kapileswar Temple at old Bhubaneswar built during the reign of Kapilendra Deva (r. 1434–66).

The Gajapatis of Odisha, at the height of their power in the 15th century, ruled over an empire extending from the Ganges in the north near Hoogly to the kaveri in the south under Gajapati Kapilendra Deva. But by the early 16th century, the Gajapatis lost great portions of their southern dominion to Vijayanagar and Golconda.[15] This period was marked by the influence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and by the expansion of Jaganatha temple across the length and breadth of the empire. One of the causes of the reduction in militarism of the population has been attested to the Bhakti movement initiated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who arrived in the empire at the time of Emperor Prataparudra and stayed for 18 long years at Puri.[citation needed] Emperor Prataparudra was highly influenced by the works of Chaitanya and gave up the military tradition of the Odia emperors.[16] He retired himself into the life of an ascetic leaving the future of the empire uncertain. Govinda Vidyadhara took the opportunity to murder the sons of the emperor and usurped the throne himself and carved out the destruction of the once mighty empire.[citation needed]

Gajapati military[edit]

The records of the Suryavamsi Gajapatis gives a picture of their military administration which they had inherited from the Eastern Gangas rulers. The Gangas had a vast and well-organised military which was improved by Kapilendra Deva. The empire was built on the lines of a military state, with the protection of the state and its expansion being the responsibilities of the state and population. Militarism had penetrated into different ranks of the society and the king had a large standing army which included a large number of soldiers and local-militants in the standing army. Besides the feudal tributary states of Odisha also provided a stipulated number of soldiers at the time of war and had to fight for the Gajapati in the battle field.[17]

Military titles[edit]

Some of the military titles include:[18]

  • Senapati, Champati, Routray, Paikaray (commander of the cavalry), Sahani (commander of elephant force), Dandapata, Dandasena, Paschimakavata, Uttarakavata (guardian of the marches), Samantray, Bidyadhara, Bhramarabara, Harichandana, Jagadeva, Mardaraja, Samantasimhara, Raya, Singha, Mansingha, Baliarsingha, Pahadasingha, Nayaka, Pattanayaka, Dandanayaka, Gadanayaka, Patra, Mohapatra, Behera, Dalabehera, Jena, Badajena, Pradhana, Samala, Routa, Khuntia, Parichha, Parija, Padhihari, Dandapani

Gajapati military divisions[edit]

Sculpture of Kapilendradeva.

The Odia poet Sarala Das who lived during the era of Kapilendra Deva, has given descriptions about the military divisions in his Odia Mahabharata.[18] The divisions mentioned are:-

  • Hantakaru Dala: The first division of the army. It was in the forefront of the marching army and was responsible forward scouting, clearing jungles and marking roads for the army. It was equivalent to the engineering division of the modern armies of the world.
  • Aguani Thata: The advance units or the first in line to march or charge in the battle formations. The division marched ahead of the main army.
    • Dhenkiya: The attack groups
    • Banua/Dhanuki: The archers
    • Cavalry
  • Pradhana Vala: The main division of the army with maximum concentration of the soldiers.
    • Dhenkiya: Warriors wielding Sword and Shield. Forming the frontline of battalion.
    • Banua: Marksmen with poisoned arrow and composite bows with formidably accurate shots.
    • Phadikara: The fighters bearing mostly close combat weapons. They wore leather armor.
    • Cavalry
    • Elephant Corps
    • Itakara: Mainly used for motivating the army with war time music and dance with Ghumura. Carried with them various musical instruments and reported to the officer with the rank of Bahubalendra, in charge of non-combatants.
  • Pachhiani Thata: The fourth and the rear division guarding the flanks.
  • Angavala: The groups with the main bodyguards of the monarchs, other royalties, commander, military generals and officers.
  • Paridhana: The detachments with commanding officers and fort duty officers left in charge of the captured territory and forts. The rank of the officer involved in this division is Nayak or Gadanayak.
    • Dhenkiya
    • Banua
    • Phadikara
    • Prahari: The guards on duty and also serve as military police at home.

Gajapati Infantry units[edit]

Depiction of Gajapati Prataparudradeba in Sarpeswara temple, built during his rule at Balarampur village near Kakhadi.

The infantry units of the Gajapati military are as follows:[18]

  • Dala: Band of 27 Paikas, mostly from the same locality and commanded by an officer with the rank of Dalabehera.
  • Bhuiyan: A platoon of 70 Paikas and commanded by an officer with the rank of Paikaray.
  • Vahini: A brigade consisting of multiple Bhuiyan platoons and commanded by an officer with the rank of Vahinipati.
  • Chamu: An entire regiment of the army consisting multiple Vahinis and commanded by an officer with the rank of Chamupati or Champati.

Military instruments and weapons[edit]

The different musical instruments used to motivate soldiers during the march and warfare. The names of the music instruments include Damalu, Damame, Tamaka, Bizighosa, Daundi, Ghumura, Bheri, Turi, Ranasingha etc. The names of the weapons used by the Gajapati army are also mentioned like Dhanu, Trona, Sara, Asi, Parigha, Pattisa, Kunta, Jathi, Buruja, Saveli etc. Information with regards to breaking of the gateways and the walls of the fort with the help of horses, elephants and iron instruments are also found in the same text.[18]

Contemporary sources[edit]

Other contemporary sources also give accounts about the characteristics of the Gajapati military. Muslim texts like Buhan-m-Mansir gives accounts of Kapilendra Deva having an elephant force numbering two hundred thousand. This number of war elephants is usually a very huge number compared even to any military of the existing kingdoms during the times of Kapilendra Deva himself in India. Nizzamuddin writes that the Gajapati encamped on the Godavari river banks with an infantry of seven hundred thousand. Fernão Nunes. the Portuguese traveler who spent three years at Vijayanagara, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire estimates size of the army of Prataparudra Deva to the extent of 13,000 elephants, 20,000 horses, while fighting against the Vijayanagara Empire and also praises that the Odia soldiers were excellent fighters. Rayavachakamu also gives interesting accounts about the feats and exercises practised by the Odia soldiers at their capital at Cuttack.[19]


Talcher branch[edit]

During the reign of Purushottama Deva, the overlordship of Bhimanagari was established in 1471 CE in the region by Narahari Singh who was the scion of the family of the ruling Suryavanshi Gajapati Kings of Odisha. Later in 1578 under the reign of Padmanabha Birabara Harichandan, the kingdom was renamed as Talcher after the name of the family goddess Taleshwari.[20][21] The kingdom acceded to India and merged into the state of Odisha following independence in 1947.


List of Rulers[22]
List of Gajapati rulers
Picture King Reign Notes
Gajapati Kapilendradeva.jpg Kapilendra Deva 1434–1467 Founder and first ruler of dynasty
Purushottam Deva Return from Kanchi Expedition.jpg Purushottama Deva 1467–1497 Second ruler of dynasty
Gajapati Prataprudra Deva.png Prataparudra Deva 1497–1540 Third ruler of dynasty
Kalua Deva 1540–1541 Fourth ruler of dynasty
Kakharua Deva 1541 Fifth and last ruler of dynasty


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schwartzberg, Joseph E. (1978). A Historical atlas of South Asia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 148, map XIV.4 (c). ISBN 0226742210.
  2. ^ Tripathī, Kunjabihari (1962). The Evolution of Oriya Language and Script. Utkal University. p. 19. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  3. ^ Mansinha, Mayadhar (1962). History of Oriya Literature. Sahitya Akademi. p. 50. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  4. ^ Srichandan, G. K. (February–March 2011). "Classicism of Odia Language" (PDF). Orissa Review. p. 54. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  5. ^ Mishra, Patit Paban (11 January 2016). "Eastern Ganga and Gajapati empires". The Encyclopedia of Empire. The Encyclopedia of Empire. pp. 1–4. doi:10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe402. ISBN 9781118455074.
  6. ^ Panda, Shishir Kumar (2008), "Gajapati Kingship and the Cult of Jagannatha: A Study on the Chhamu Chitaus (Royal Letters)", Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Indian History Congress, 69: 225–229, JSTOR 44147183, empire...Suryavamsi Gajapatis
  7. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Pusalker, A. D.; Majumdar, A. K., eds. (1960). The History and Culture of the Indian People Volume=VI: The Delhi Sultanate. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 365. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  8. ^ Hermann Kulke (1976), Kshatriyaization and social change: A Study in Orissa setting (PDF), Popular Prakashan, p. 402, Suryavamsa...kings of the Suryavamsa(1435-1540)
  9. ^ Sen, Sailendra Nath (15 March 2013). A Textbook of Medieval Indian History. Midpoint Trade Books Incorporated. pp. 121–122. ISBN 978-93-80607-34-4.
  10. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Pusalker, A. D.; Majumdar, A. K., eds. (1960). The History and Culture of the Indian People. Vol. VI: The Delhi Sultanate. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 367. [Describing the Gajapati kings of Orissa] Kapilendra was the most powerful Hindu king of his time, and under him Orissa became an empire stretching from the lower Ganga in the north to the Kaveri in the south.
  11. ^ Mishra, Patit Paban (January 2016). Eastern Ganga and Gajapati empires.
  12. ^ Sengupta, Debapriya; Saha, Goutam (25 February 2016). "Identification of the major language families of India and evaluation of their mutual influence". Current Science. Current Science Association. 110 (4): 676. doi:10.18520/cs/v110/i4/667-681. JSTOR 24907928.
  13. ^ R.C.Majumdar, A.D.Pusalker, A.K.Majumdar (1967). The History and Culture of the Indian People, The Delhi Sultanate, Volume:-6. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 366.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ B. Hemalatha (1991). Life in Medieval Northern Andhra: Based on the Inscriptions from the Temples of Mukhalingam, Srikurmam, and Simhachalam. Navrang Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 9788170130864. The study of Gajapati temples reveals that they patronized Vaishnavism . Purushottama Gajapati called himself Parama - Vaishnava in an undated inscription found at Draksharama.
  15. ^ Sastri, K.A.N. (1976). A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar. Oxford India paperbacks. Oxford University Press. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-19-560686-7. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  16. ^ Das, H.C. (1989). Sri Chaitanya in the Religious Life of India. Punthi Pustak. p. 145. ISBN 978-81-85094-22-9. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  18. ^ a b c d "MILITARY SYSTEM UNDER THE SURYAVAMSI GAJAPATIS" (PDF). pp. 153, 154. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  19. ^ "MILITARY SYSTEM UNDER THE SURYAVAMSI GAJAPATIS" (PDF). p. 155. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  20. ^ ODISHA DISTRICT GAZETTEERS ANGUL (PDF), GAD, Govt of Odisha, 2010, pp. 51–54
  21. ^ Mishra, DP (1998). People's Revolt in Orissa: A Study of Talcher. Atlantic. pp. 51–54. ISBN 978-81-7074-014-8. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  22. ^ Sen, Sailendra (2013). A Textbook of Medieval Indian History. Primus Books. pp. 121–122. ISBN 978-9-38060-734-4.