(This article was published in the Odishabytes portal)
The Eastern Ganga dynasty, which ruled most of present-day Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh, is one of the illustrious dynasties of India and of the world as well. It’s one of the few royal houses in India, which existed for more than a millennium. On one hand, the dynasty produced warrior kings such as Anantavarman Chodaganga, Rajaraja-III, Anangabhima-III, Langula Narasinghadeva, Bhanudeva-II etc., who excelled on the battlefield with their valorous deeds, and on another hand, the kings of the dynasty offered patronage to art and temples of Kalingan architecture such as Jagannath Temple of Puri, Konarka Sun Temple and Simanchalam temple at Vishakhapatna.
Anantavarman Chodaganga or Chodagangadeva has been credited for the construction of the Jagannath Temple of Puri and also for cementing the rule of Gangas in Utkala. However, not much is known about Chodagangadeva’s father Devendravarman Rajaraja Deva or Rajaraja-I, who played an important role in raising the status of Eastern Gangas to a formidable name in Southern India.
The Eastern Ganga dynasty initially had their capital at Dantapura (part of erstwhile undivided Ganjam and now in Andhra Pradesh) and later moved it to Kalinganagara (present-day Mukhalingam in Andhra and earlier a part of undivided Ganjam). The Cholas of Thanjavur (in Tamil Nadu) were at the peak of their power in the 10th-11th century under mighty rulers like Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola. Rajendra Chola’s invasion of Kalinga and of eastern India greatly impacted the kingdoms of present-day Odisha in the late 11th century. Eastern Ganga ruler Vajrashasta-V, however, rose up from the debris of the devastation and restored the kingdom. He built matrimonial alliances with dynasties like Vaidumbas & Chalukyas of Vengi in Andhra, and even with Kalachuris of Tripuri, who ruled over present-day Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
Devendravarman was born to Vajrahasta and his queen Ananga Mahadevi. In the words of an inscription, his birth has been compared to that of Kartikeya, who was born to Shiva and Parvati. Vajrahasta passed away in 1070 AD, and soon, Devendravarman was coronated on May 20, 1070 AD. He was initially named Rajaraja and later bore the epithet of Devendravarman post his coronation. It wasn’t a bed of roses for the young Devendravarman, as Gangas were surrounded by strong powers such as the Somavamsis of Utkala in the North and the Chalukyas in the South.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Imperial Cholas of Thanjavur turned grim. The tragic political death of the rule of the direct line of the Cholas presented a golden opportunity for the immediate rise of a general named Kulottunga, the Chalukya prince who by dint of his power usurped the Chola throne in around 1070 AD. Kulottunga was a mighty ruler who came out successful in many battles against the kingdoms of South India. After seizing power, he united the two kingdoms – Chalukyas and Cholas under his sway. He entrusted the entire responsibility of the administration of Vengi to the hands of his uncle, the Chalukya prince Vijayaditya. But unfortunately, Vijayaditya was an inefficient governor and couldn’t counter the aggression of the enemies of Vengi. Giving due allowance to the prevailing politics, Kulottunga removed his uncle from the throne of Vengi and appointed another strong general in his place. Vijayaditya was reduced to a desperate position by his dethronement and deposition. This was the golden opportunity that Devendravarman had been waiting for a long time. As a political diplomat of high rank, he became privy to Chola- Chalukya politics and championed the cause of Vijayaditya to the throne of Vengi, and extended the political asylum of Vijayaditya.
What might seem like a season cliffhanger from the famous Game of Thrones series was far from over. This action of Devendravarman became intolerable and a headache for the position of Kulottunga. Under this predicament, Kulottunga directed his war machine towards Kalinga to take political revenge against the Ganga ruler. Both the heroes met in a pitched battle where the Goddess of victory favoured Devendravarman. Devendravarman did the impossible and pulled out one of the biggest upsets in medieval history of India, and defeated the most illustrious kingdom of South India. After the war, Kulottunga was compelled to conclude a treaty with Devendravarman, where he gave the hand of a Chola princess, Rajasundari to Devendravarman. This marital alliance ensured peace between the two kingdoms for some time.
Devendravarman succeeded in the battleground because of his brilliant leadership skills and also because of his able generals. One such general was a Brahmin named Vanapati who has been eulogised in inscriptions and has been mentioned to have defeated the army of Cholas, Somavamsis of Utkala, Khimidi etc. At the zenith of his power, Devendravarman ruled a considerable portion, which extended from the Rusikulya River in the North to the mountains of Simachalam in the South. Apart from being an astute politician, he was a good administrator. His ideal of Kingship was guided by the principle of benevolence and the welfare of the people at large. The Rajarajesvara Shiva temple in the district of Ganjam is said to have been an achievement of Devendravarman.
Devendravarman Rajaraja ruled only for 7 years and passed away in 1077 AD, leaving his unfulfilled dream of creating a grand Eastern Ganga empire to a young Anantavarman Chodaganga. As destiny would have it, Chodaganga fulfilled his father’s dream by conquering lands from Ganga to Godavari. The achievements of Devendravarman fairly entitle him to be ranked among the most successful kings known in Kalingan history. It will not be out of place to mention that the greatness of Chodagangadeva would not have been possible unless the work of Devendravarman had prepared the field.