Kapilendra Gajapati of Odisha is an Unsung King

On Kapilendra Deva Coronation Day Sand Art created by Sudarshan Pattnaik on Puri beach.
  • Know briefly about the life, contributions and shortcomings of the Odiya king Kapilendra Gajapati.

Politics in history writing has always been a part of the discussion in our country. Glorification of invaders, covering up misdeeds and reducing great Indian kings to a mere footnote are some of the prominent characteristics of our history writing (though things are changing). Many Hindu emperors thus suffered. Kapilendra Gajapati of Odisha is one such example.  


The Ghurid invasion opened the gates of India for invaders. Mighty dynasties like Chauhans, Gahdvalas, Kakatiyas, Seuna Yadavas, Hoyasalas succumbed to the invaders. However, Kalingas was one region that kept the fire of Hindu resistance alive. The region was ruled by the Ganga and Kapilendra dynasties.  


Ganga Dynasty was prior to Kapilendra G

With the death of Narasimha I in 1264, the great days of the Ganga dynasty came to an end. One of his successors Bhanudeva II defeated the Tughlaq Sultan, Ghiyas-ud-din. Firuz Tughluq invaded and occupied the capital city, massacred locals, desecrated the famous temple of Jagannatha of Puri. The Reddi king Kumaragiri invaded Orissa in 1390 and reached the shores of the Chilika Lake. The last ruler Bhanudeva IV was engaged in the south. Taking advantage of his long absence from the capital his ministers made Kapilendra king (1434-35).


Early Days

Kapilendra Gajapati born to Vellamma and Jageshwara. He had three brothers and the dynasty established by him is known as Suryavamsa, because kings of the family claimed descent from the sun.  


He was coronated as king on 29th June 1435 and faced much resistance initially. Various chiefs and vassals revolted against him. But a proclamation in favour of Kapilendra by the royal priests of Jagannatha Temple pacified all as Jagannatha was considered as the supreme ruler of Kalinga.


Kapilendra ascended the throne at a crucial juncture. After the fall of the Tughlaqs in the north many local sultanates emerged. Actions of Malwa, Jaunpur, Gujarat and Bengal Sultanates created havoc in the Deccan. These sultanates were eying independent Hindu kingdoms with an aim to spread their religion.


Military Campaigns  

Kapilendra led his first expedition against the Sultan of Bengal. His general Gopinath Mohapatra crushed the sultan of Bengal, Shams-ud-din. He assumed the title Gaudadhipati to celebrate this victory. There is a sculpture in a temple which refers to this war. It shows Shams-ud-din kissing the foot of Kapilendra Gajapati. This victory gave relief to Kalinga.  


Further, Kapilendra marched towards Kondavidu and captured it in 1454 besides recapturing Rajahmundry. Earlier he captured Vizag district in 1443.


At that time the Vijayanagara Empire was struggling with internal conflicts. Taking advantage of this, the Bahamanis started invading Telangana. Sanjar Khan, the Governor of Telangana was extremely oppressive towards Hindus. He and the Bahamani Sultan besieged Vellama chieftain Linga at Devarkonda. As Vijayanagara was pre-occupied in internal conflicts, Linga wrote a letter to Gajapati Kapilendra as he was the only hope for Hindus.


Without wasting time Kapilendra (or his son Hamvira) marched with a large army.  He attacked them at Devarkonda (1458) and in a fierce battle he inflicted a crushing defeat on Bahamani Sultan thus freeing Telangana from the Bahamanis. Shortly afterwards, Hamvira conquered Warangal.


Subsequently, Kapilendra marched towards the Bahamani capital, plundered Bidar and devastated their provinces. The Sultan did not offer any resistance and fled. Kapilendra had to leave his campaign and return home due to sudden invasion by the Sultan of Jaunpur.


After thwarting the Jaunpur invasion, Kapilendra once again set his eyes towards campaigns in South India. This time he was helped a lot by his brave son Hamvira.


Hamvira marched towards Hampi, the capital of vijayanagar and extracted heavy tribute. During his southern campaign, he defeated Bahamani forces in the Battle of Warangal (1460). After defeating the Bahamanis he freed Mahur (Shakti Peetha) from the Muslims. 


The Gajapati army was unstoppable. The grandson of Kapilendra conquered areas up to Tiruchirapalli now Trichy (1464).


Patron of Arts 

Kapilendra was also a patron of arts and dharma.  He was a great scholar of Sanskrit and wrote a play Parshurama Vijaya in Sanskrit. He patronised many authors during his lifetime and during his reign a renaissance of Odia literature occurred. He built the outer wall of Jagannatha and Kapileshwara temples in Bhubaneswar and Gokarneshwara temple in Midnapore. His reign gave relief to Hindus from persecution by Muslim forces.


Last days

His last days were not peaceful. After conquering a larger part of subcontinent he had to pacify/crush revolts. His pain is described in a poem dedicated to Bhagwan Jagannath. He died in 1467, after a glorious reign of 32 years.


During a period when invaders hounded locals Kapilendra supported  Hindus/Dharma.



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. However, he failed to recognise the importance of forming an alliance with the Hindu rulers of Vijayanagra against the Muslim rulers of Deccan and West Bengal. Instead he spent his resources and energy in capturing the outlying areas of Vijayanagara. He thus left a legacy of hostility with Vijayanagra and the two Muslim enemies. This eventually led to the downfall of his dynasty. 1 Pg. 367


It is because of the Hindu king of Orissa (Kapilendra grandson Prataparudra) that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spent most of this life there. Persecution of Chaitanya and his followers in the hands of the officers of Husain Shah (ruler of Bengal) must be noted. Note that of the 24 years he remained in his mortal frame after he renounced the world, he hardly spent a year in dominion of Muslim rulers but lived for twenty years in the Hindu kingdom of Orissa of which the last seventeen were in Puri.



1. The History and Culture of Indian People Volume 6 published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan


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