“History enhances our self-consciousness, enables us to see ourselves in perspective, and helps us toward that greater freedom and understanding which comes from self-knowledge” Keith Thomas

Indian civilization could survive multitude of invasions and attempts at colonization due to its deep cultural roots and heroic Hindu resistance & sacrifices on battle fields. Among these people are valiant Rajputs, Jats, Marathas, the Nayakas, Ahoms, Sikhs and many more. One people who are usually not mentioned in this millennial long struggle are Paikas of Odisha. Paikas came into prominence during the rule of Eastern Gangas and their fight against Muslim rulers of Bengal.The role played by Eastern Ganga Kings and Paikas in their army in halting the attempt to colonise and then Islamise the Eastern India is one of the less understood part of Indian history.

Conventional historiography is mostly silent about these wars between Odias and Muslim Turks/Afghans as about most of the regional histories of India. Muslim historians are as usual not very vocal about these as there were no easy victories. Epigraphic and literary sources are our guides here.

It was in the reign of Raja Raja-II (1198-1211 A.D) that the Muslims planned invasion of Odisha for the first time. Bhaktiyar Khalji sent Muhammad-i-Sheran and Ahmmad-i-Sheran to invade Odisha around 1205 A.D. But the proposed invasion did not yield any result due to the assassination of Bhaktiyar Khalji by one of his lieutenants. As per Draksaram inscription of Rajaraja II, Odisha army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Muslim invaders. But this claim made by the inscriptions of Rajaraja III lack historicity.

Ghiyasuddin Iwaz had war with Anangabhima III between 1212 and 1222 A. D. As per Tabaqaf-i-Nasirt, Ghiyasuddin Iwaz had made the Ganga king tributary to him. This is contradicted by Chateswar inscription (Salepur, Cuttack District) where Anangabhima III is credited with a victory over the Muslims.

Anangabhlma III was succeeded by his son, Langula Narasingha Deva I, the second great king of the Eastern Ganga dynasty. He invaded Bengal and defeated Turks more than once. His oft-overlooked victory over Turks at Katasin stemmed the tide of Islamic expansion into Eastern India.

Battle of Katasin (1243 AD): In the first phase of the war, a sieze was led on the fort of Lakhnauti by Narsingha Deva and his brother-in-law Paramardidev of Kalachauri clan. Due to good counterattack by the other side, the Odia army retreated to a more defensible position of Katasin (located in Present-day Midnapore). The army of Tughral Khan (then Bengal Governor) emboldened by the apparent “initial success” followed the Odia army into Katasin. Katasin at the time was filled with bushes large and thick enough to hide entire Odia army. The Odia army had dug trenches to force the advancing Muslim cavalry to slow down and halt. The unprepared army of Tughan Khan came under a heavy cavalry charge. Thousands of soldiers of the Bengal army were slaughtered and Tughan Khan himself had a narrow escape with his life.

Bengal expedition (1244 AD): In the subsequent year of 1244 AD, a second sieze was led by Ganga army to the fort of Lakhnauti. Governor of Awadh, Qamruddin Tamur Khan – A vassal of Delhi Sultanate arrived to the rescue of Tughan Khan only to find the forts already surrounded by Odia armies. Tughan Khan was discharged from the governorship of Bengal. Meanwhile, the Odia army ransacked the forts creating panic among the armies of rulers of Bengal.

The next stage in the Odia-Turk wars reached in the reign of Bengal governor Yuzbak. Three battles took place between Turks and Odia forces; Yuzbak was victorious in the first two while Odia forces won the last one. With Yuzbak’s  death in Assam in 1257 AD, Muslim aggression ceased fearing retaliation from the Ganga forces.

In the words of R. D. Banerjee,By taking the offensive against the Musalmans of Bengal Narasimha I adopted the only policy that was likely to be successful against the Musalmans of Northern India. His campaign instilled a wholesome respect for the Hindus of Orissa in the minds of the Governors of Musalman Bengal.

Narasingha Deva I will be remembered as the builder of the great temple of the Sun-God at Konark. This in essence was defiance of a Hindu King to aggressors that Temple could still be raised in India. The galloping horses in the main entrance of the Sun temple trampling over human figures symbolise the victory of a Hindu monarch over the Muslims invaders.

First direct conflict between Delhi sultanate and Gajapatis came in the year of 1321 AD during kingship  of Bhanudeva II. Delhi sultan Giyasuddin Tughlaq’s son, Ulugh Khan, (Later Emperor Muhammad Bin Tughlaq Shah) invaded Odisha from the South after capturing Warangal. He raided the neighboring kingdom of Odisha to chastise Dharmik king Bhanudeva II for his military support to Warangal during its fight with Tughlaqs.

In the words of R.C Majumdar: “we must presume that  Ulugh Khan suffered some reverse, and his expedition was not as  successful as Isami describes it to be. This is supported by the very cryptic reference to it by Barani, and explains the sudden retirement of Jauna Khan after a victorious campaign, which has  struck modern historians as rather unusual”. (The Delhi Sultanate,vol.6)

Bhanudeva III’s rule also saw first real defeat of Eastern Ganga Gajapatis at the hands of Muslim powers. Firoz Tughlaq invaded Odisha and captured Cuttack. Bhanudeva III sued for peace and Firoz Tughlaq returned with immense plunder. This expedition took place in 1361 A. D.

Ganga rule continued to weaken throughout the long reign of Narasimha IV. Bhanudeva IV (1424–1434) was the last king of Ganga dynasty. The wars with Bengal sultans continued in his reign also. Chandrakala Natika was written and staged on the occasion of victory over the Muslim kingdom of Bengal by Bhanudeva IV, son of Narasimhadeva IV.

The Eastern Ganga rule of long three hundred and fifty years rested on the economic prosperity, strong military system, chivalrous character of its people, strong administrative policy based on religion, dedication of the empire to Shri Jagannath who was regarded as the head of the state, strong personality and military genius of the monarchs, flourishing trade.

Ganga rule was ended by the emergence of a powerful military leader, named Kapilendra Deva who overthrew the Gangas and founded a new dynasty, called Suryavamsi (solar dynasty). The administrative and military system continued as before. Paikas under Suryavamsi Kings continued to fight Muslim invaders for next 130 plus years.

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