The Ganga dynasty was followed by the establishment of the rule of another glorious dynasty known as the Suryavamsi Gajapatis. The political chaos which had been prevailing in Odisha from the middle of the fourteenth century A.D. due to the weakness and ineffectiveness of the later Gangas was ended by the emergence of a powerful military leader, named Kapilendradeva who overthrew the Gangas and founded a new dynasty, called Suryavamsi (solar dynasty). For personal glorification, the rulers of this dynasty claimed their descent from the mythical solar dynasty to which Lord Ramachandra belonged. As they possessed large elephantry in their army, they were popularly known as Gajapatis, i.e. the lords of the elephants.
The Suryavamsi rulers traced their origin to the Sun God. The title ‘Gajapati’ or ‘Lord of elephants’ was invariably born by the rulers of this dynasty. Earlier some Eastern Ganga rulers also bore ‘Gajapati’ title but they were not famous as Gajapati rulers. Perhaps the royalty of the rulers of this dynasty owed a lot to the possession of a large number of elephants. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Odisha reached the zenith of its glory under the Suryavamsi kings. The Suryavamsi Gajapati kings were not only noted for their aggressive imperialism but their rule for a century and also for the renaissance in Odia literature.
The rule of Suryavamsi Gajapatis started with the rule of Kapilendradeva. He was a great military genious. After centuries of military inactivity, he brought Odisha into the chess board of Indian politics. He took the pompous title like ‘Gajapati Gaudesvara Navakoti Karnata Kalavargesvara’. Besides that he himself was a man of literature and a great patron of poets. On the other hand, Purusottamadeva was a great diplomat . During his reign, the boundary of Odisha did not expand. As an administrator, Purusottama was a liberal man. His reign was peaceful which created circumstances for the growth of Odia literature. However, during the rule of Prataprudradeva, the imperial greatness of Odisha, built by Kapilendradeva and maintained by Purusottamadeva was lost. Due to the appearance of Sri Chaitanya and the Panchasakhas, the people of Odisha lost their military tactics which opened the path for the decline of Gajapati dynasty.
Governance and administration of Gajapatis
The Vast empire of the Suryavamsi Gajapatis extended from the river bank of the Ganges to that of Godavari. The capital of this vast empire was Kataka-Pattana (Cuttack) which was known during the glorious days of the Gangas as Abhinava Varanasi Kataka. The second citadel of the Gajapati power was Kruttivasa Kataka (Bhubaneswar) where Kapilendradeva had been coronated. In order to give stability to the vast empire, the Gajapati rulers had given a good administration.
The Suravamsi Gajapatis had given a benevolent administration to their subjects When the feudatories became disobedient to him Kapilendra went to the temple of Lord Jagannatha and engraved an order on the Jagamohana invoking the name of Jagannatha and declaring that the chiefs revolting against him, would actually rebel against this great deity.
From the reign of Kapilendra the Suryavamsi kings assumed high-sounding titles such as Maharajadhiraja, Paramesvara, Gajapati, Gaudesvara, Navakoti Karnataka Kalavargesvara etc. Kapilendra first assumed these titles after his conquests in Bengal, the Bahamani kingdom and the Vijayanagara empire and all these titles were continued by his son and grandson and even by the Bhoi rulers.
The king was assisted by a good number of ministers and officers in discharging his duty. Some of them were the amatyas (ministers), Mantri sreni siromani (Head of the ministers), Sandhivigrahi (Minister of war and peace), Sena-narendra (Chief of the army), Vahinipati (Leader of the contingent), Rautaraya (Captain of the army), Kathaghara, Samantaraya. Pariksha (Secretary for treasury), Mudra Hasta (Seal bearer). Budha Lenka (Chief priest of the temple of God Jagannath). Srikarana (writer of accounts) etc.
The provincial administration under the Gajapati kings was quite efficient. The empire was divided into several provinces known as Dandapata or Rajya. The governors of such provinces were designated Parikhas or Rajas. Provinces were divided into simas which were further subdivided into sthalas or muthas that consisted of some villages and the lowest unit of the provincial administration was village (grama).
The Gajapati empire was also divided into fragments, each under a Samanta or feudal lord. It is clear that feudalism was at its blooming phase during the Gajapati rule. Among the feudal lords, mention may be made of the Matsyas of Oddadi, the Suryavamsis of Nandapur, the chiefs of Panchadharala, Palkonda, Narasapur etc. This feudalism, an ugly feature of medieval period, contributed a lot for the downfall of the Suryavamsi Gajapati rule in Odisha.
In order to give stability to the vast empire, the Gajapati rulers had given a good administration. The Suravamsi Gajapatis had given a benevolent administration to their subjects. The Suryavamsis mainly based their administration on that of the Gangas and introduced a few innovations. Kapilendra Deva could not give a good administration during his rule as he was involved in wars and conquests. It was during the rule of Purusottama Deva, the people enjoyed peace and tranquility. However, Prataprudra Deva?s period saw instability due to external attack. So, good administration was not possible during his reign.
Land revenue under Gajapatis
The land revenue system of the Gajapati period was well developed. The land was measured and accordingly tax assessment was made. The Guntha (20 Cubits square). Mana (25 Gunthas) and Bati (20 Manas) denoted different units of land. The crown lands were divided into Khanda or Bisi under two hereditary officers like Khandadhipati or Bisayee respectively. To facilitate revenue collection from the village, the king appointed its headman like pradhan or Bhai. The revenue officers in the south were called as the Nayaka and Naidu. At the time of natural calamities, the peasants were assisted by the state with seeds to carryon their cultivation.
Millitary administration under gajapatis
A strong military organisation was an indispensible concomitant of a strong state, which was necessary both for its protection and expansion. The Gajapati kings like that of the Gangas were famous for their military organisation. The Suryavamsi records however enable us to form a clear picture of their military organisations. The Suryavamsis inherited from the Gangas a wellorganised military system which was improved upon and made a very strong force that accounted for their success in building up an empire. In the reign of Kapilendradeva Odisha was virtually made a military state and all the castes and communities were called upon to render military service at the time of emergency. The Brahmins seems to have been exempted from a compulsory military service, but even then some Brahmins entered into the army as big and small officers. If the Madalapanji is to be believed, the traitor Vasudeva Ratha, a Brahmin, was the commander-in-chief of the last Somavamsi king and it is through his treachery that Chodaganga succeeded in conquering Odisha. In the Chatesvara Inscription Vishnu, the Brahmin minister of Anangabhimadeva HI (A.D. 1211-1238), is represented to have led an army against the Kalachuris of Ratnapura and to have succeeded in wresting the Sonepur tract from them. In the Gopinathapura Stone’ Inscription Gopinatha Mahapatra is represented to have been a Brahmin minister and general of Kapilendradeva. From these evidences it is clear that Brahmins also occupied high posts in the army, though they, as a rule, were exempted from compulsory military service. The other castes had no option but to serve in the military organisation as officers and soldiers.