Coronation anniversary of Anantavarman Chodaganga on February 17.(This article was published in the Bhubaneswar edition of The Pioneer)

Scultpture of Annatavarman Chodaganga at Chudangasahi, Puri,Odisha
Picture Credit-Wikipedia,Deepak Kumar Nayak.

The Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha does not need any introduction to people across the globe. It is not only the sacred abode of the “Lord of People” who patiently listens to everybody but also  famous for its marvel of Kalingan architecture .The 214 ft. enchanting structure and the surrounding complex of temples, witness tens of thousands of devotees on any given day and have a footfall of about ten to fifteen lakh devotees on the special day of Ratha Yatra, the chariot festival of the three main deities of the temple- Lord Jagannath,  Lord Balabhadra ,  Maa Subhadra along with Sri Sudarshan. However much isn’t known among the masses about the person who envisaged the idea of constructing this grand temple :- Anantavarman Chodaganga or popularly known as Chodaganga deva in Odisha.

Anantavarman Chodaganga was the worthy son of Eastern Ganga king Devendravarman Rajaraja-I and the Chola princess Rajasundari. The title Chodaganga is perhaps unique and an interesting one in history of India. It’s a combination of the two illustrious dynasties of India-the Imperial Cholas of Thanjavur & the Imperial Gangas of Kalinganagara (modern day Mukhalingam in Andhra Pradesh). Eastern Gangas were one of the longest ruling dynasties of India and had their capital at Kalinga nagara for few centuries, and finally moved their capital to Cuttack in Odisha in 13th century.

Devendravarman was a valiant ruler, who defeated great powers of that time such as Cholas, Chalukyas and Somavamsis of Utkala (regions in around and north of Mahanadi river). Within a span of 7 years, Devendravarman brought Eastern Ganga dynasty into the league of most powerful kingdoms of India. However he passed away at an early age, passing the throne to young Anantavarman. The too young inexperienced and also unwilling Anantavarman was coronated at Kalinganagara on shukla pakhya truteeya tithi of the kumbha month in 1078 AD. as per the astronomical data in inscriptions. The initial years of Chodagangadeva were difficult and full of zigzags. He faced the invasion of Chola king Kulottunga-I, as a teenager, and even saw number of internal revolts in his kingdom. From his early childhood  he was being groomed and taught by his mother to surrender to the supreme power for every action, which had made him to adopt to the difficult situations at the quickest and leaned the techniques of remaining cool and not to lose nerve.

 He was a man of patience and daunting courage. After few years of the Chola invasion of Kalinga, he reorganized his army and captured his lost territories up to the river of Godavari. The declining power of Somavamsi rulers of Utkala came as an opportunity for Anantavarman to annex territories up north and bring major parts of present day state of Odisha & southern Bengal under his control. The inscriptions of his time shower on him with superhuman titles such as Gangeswara, Parama-bhattaraka, Sri Ganga Chudamani etc. He used the title of Kunjara Adhiswara (Lord of elephants) which is another form of Gajapati, the title  used by  rulers of Odisha since 13th century.

Chodagangadeva like his forefathers was a great devotee of Shiva and most of the records of his time indicate that during the zenith of power and success  he built a number of Shiva temples and made good donation there. In that era of multiple sects, he was a person of liberal mind and also showed his inclination to Vaisnavism. He declared himself as Parama-Vaishnava in some of his grants. The sacredness of Purushottama khetra at Puri is very old and there existed many old temples for worship of Vishnu/ Narasimha. The oldest among them was in a very dilapidated condition and as per the holy “Madala Panjika” that was built by Maharaja Indradyumna, the King of Malwa and all rituals were designed by Lord Brahma.. Chodagangadeva out of his devotion, decided to go for a massive reconstruction at the original worship site and built a huge structure for the Lord of the Universe : SRI JAGANNATH in around 1133 AD. Some scholars opine that Chodaganga deva wanted to build this  huge temple as a mark of his gratitude to the Lord for he believed that his decisive victory over Cholas was only due to the blessings of Sri Jagannath. They think so because of the fact that the Shikhara (the structure that houses the main deities of the temple) of the temple is nearly as tall as that of Brihadeswara Temple of Thanjavur, which was built by the Chola ruler Raja Raja-I. Whatever may be the truth,  Lord Jagannath temple was among  the biggest temple projects of the world at that time. The entire temple complex was completed during the reign of one of Chodaganga deva’s successors Anangabhima-II in 13th century. Chodaganga deva ruled for 70 years & his glorious rule ended in 1147 AD.

Besides Jagannath Temple,traces of Chodagangadeva’s name and fame can be found in many places of Odisha such as Chudanga Sahi, a quarter in Puri town, in Chudanga pokhari; a tank about six miles south-west of Cuttack town, in Saranga gada or Chudanga gada fort near Baranga, Cuttack and in the Gangeswara Temple, Cuttack district. According to the local tradition in Puri, Chodaganga deva built jaga gharas (gymnasiums for wrestlers) in each sahi for the protection of Puri. The jaga gharas are still present in Puri and budding wrestlers train there. His idol is present in one of the jagagharas & is worshipped by wrestlers before training. The famous Gosani Jatra of Puri likely owes its origin to the times of Chodagangadeva.

From his inscriptions, we get to know that Chodagangadeva was a good conversationalist. He was also proficient in Vedic lore, in the poetical compositions, in fine arts, and in managing different affairs of his kingdom. He patronized scholars and many scholars such as Satananda flourished during his rule.

Anantavarman Chodaganga, the rising sun of the Imperial line of the Ganga monarchs was unquestionably a glittering and reputed ruler of Odishan history. He was one of the most brilliant monarchs of his age and worthy of a high place not only in the annals of Odisha’s history but also in Indian history. He was destined to lead the Ganga dynasty to a marvelous ascendancy which transformed their small kingdom into a far flung empire .His foresight has put Odisha in the world map.

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