While the Medieval India is considered to be primarily a period of rulers who were Islamic by Origin, there were significant bright spots in Non-Islamic rule. My co-author Ratnakar is writing a series on the Vijayanagar Empire. Feel free to check his writings.
I will focus on the Gajapati kings of Odisha or shall we say, Kalinga as more popularly known in those days. The year was 1435. The Great Ganga Empire was in it’s dying throes. The last Ganga king Bhanudeva IV was quite unpopular. Kalinga had difficult neighbours. There was the Vijayanagara empire which was hostile to it in the South. The Kings from Delhi always had dreams of conquering Kalinga. Jaunpur was a ever-present threat. Also, In the North Bengal was hostile to it.
In such circumstances a king called Kapilendra Deva took the throne from the Gangas and started the Gajapati dynasty. They are also known as Surya Vamsi dynasty.
In context of modern borders, it is important to note a significant difference. In those days we did not have electric fences, borders were porous. The main sphere of conquest were strategic forts. So, Kapilendra Deva deposed the last king of Gangas. At that point, most historians agree, that Kalinga Borders were under threat. The previous Ganga dynasty at it’s peak was from Ganga [Hooghly] till Kaveri. This was not the case anymore.
The first task of Kapilendra Deva was to suppress rebellions from local Rajahs.
Some names like Silavamsis of Nandapura, Matsyas of Oddadi and Vishnuvardhana Chakravartins of Panchadharla, according to KC Panigrahi.
The MadalaPanji states that he suppressed the revolt of Khemudis , small principalities in Ganjam and Gajapati district. Names like Parla Khemudi, SanaKhemudi and Bada Khemudi are still popular in such areas.
Kapilendra Deva In Bengal
In an inscription in 1447 AD, Kapilendra Deva has been given a title of Gaudesvara . This means lord of Gauda or erstwhile Bengal. Obviously this does not correspond to Modern Bengal, But, it will be fair to say, that Kapilendra Deva’s empire reached all the way till Hooghly or till Ganga River. Even the MadalaPanji seems to substantiate that.
Conquest of Rajahmundry
Around this time in Southern Borders the Reddys occupied a lot of coastal Andhra.
Some of them owed allegiance to Deva Raya – II the mighty Vijaya Nagara king while others were independent.
Then things changed in 1446. Deva Raya – II was succeded by Mallikarjunaya. The next 20 years were a Golden period for Kalinga. Kapilendra Deva showed his prowess as a strategist. The Reddys without support from Vijayanagar became weak, and Kapilendra Deva easily captured Rajamundry by 1448. The powerful elephant corps of Odisha army was just unbeatable.
Conquest of Kondavidu
The next Reddy kingdom to be captured was Kondavidu, located in Modern Guntur dt, and strategically very important.Lots of the South Indian wars centered around this fort. 1454 AD we have the earliest inscription which proves that Kapilendra Deva completely ruled of Rajahmundry and Kondavindu. In More geographic , The Gajapati empire had Krishna-Godavari delta in it’s control.
Conquest of Telangana
In between this period, The Bahmani kingdom had conquered large parts of Telengana. The Velama chiefs , had sided with all parties at some time or the Other right from Bahmani kings, to Vijayangar empire and local lords. Now, The Bahmani sultan faced a rebellion which he put down effectively. At that point he besiged the Fort of Devarkonda. The Velama chief Linga sent a message to kapilendra deva asking for help. The king responded quickly and reached Devarkonda. The Large elephant corps came into action. This was 1458 AD. The Bahmani army was destroyed.
Now, Kapilendra pressed home his advantage. He left a huge army with his son Hamvira. Hamvira went on to, capture most of the forts of that time including Warangal. the 1460 inscription confirms that.
It is believed that in 1461 and combined army with Kapilendra deva as it’s leader attacked the Bahmani kingdom. The previous Sultan was dead and his son was just 8 years old. There are multiple versions on the outcome. Ferishta seems to talk of divine intervention. But, the Bahmani kingdom survived. The word is that , Kapilendra had an attack on Odisha from jaunpur under the sharqui kings. Maybe there was religious angle at play here. But, it will be fair to say, Kalinga controlled all the way till Modern Bidar.
He took the title of Kalavargeswara, which is the Odia equivalent of Modern Gulbarga.
Southern India and Vijayanagar skirmishes -:
Simultaneously, there was a slow conquest of the Vijayanagar dominions inside Tamil Nadu. Udayagiri[Modern Nellore district] was definitely captured by Hamvira. It has been said, that , the Gajapatis built the fort there. There is a 1460 inscription which proves that. Srisailam in 1460 is also proven. At this point, the Bellama Chief was working for Kapilendra Deva.
1464 inscription in Srirangam Temple near Trichinpally proves that kalinga empire ruled that place.
It is fair to say that Udayagiri remained in kalinga empire for a very long time. all the way, till krishna deva raya destroyed it in 1512.
This marked the epitome of the Kalinga dynasty under Kapilendra deva.
Prof RD Bannerjee states that kapilendra ruled all the way till the Kaveri river.
Rajendra Chola constructed a capital called “Gangaikonda Cholapuram” for his conquest of Ganga river. That was essentially a raid. Kapilendra Deva did the reverse and has more sustainable results for close to 100 years. He ruled an empire all the way from ganga to Kaveri.
I’ve not spoken of his early origins. But, most people would call him a rags to riches story. He might have been the best king of india in his time. He had his contemporaries like Deva Raya-II, Rana Kumbha . Tells you a lot about him.
There is a lot more. I can write a seperate blog on art and literature, in his reign. The Title Gajapati [Lord of elephants] acquired new meaning under his kingdom.