The Last Gajapati

ईन्द्रद्युम्नो महाराजो जगन्नाथार्चकः पुर,
जातः प्रतापरुद्रः सन् सम ईन्द्रेण शो धून।

King Indradyumna, who previously worshiped Lord Jagannath and built His temple in Puri, was born as Prataprudra, with the same opulences as Indra himself. (Gauro Ganoddesha Dipika)

When the reigns of Gajapati kingdom were handed over to Gajapati Prataprudra Deva, borders of Kalinga extended from river Ganga in Bengal in the north to Kaveri in the south and bordered the Bahamani in the west. His title read Gaudeshwara – Lord of Gaudadesh (present day Bengal), Nava Koti – King of nine crore subjects, Karnata Kalabargeshwara – Lord of Karnataka and Gulbarga (Bahamanis ruled from Gulbarga, or Kalaburgi as it is known today). Undoubtedly the most illustrious King of Kalinga, he was the longest serving monarch of the Gajapati kingdom and ruled for forty-three years (1497-1540 AD), and he was also the last.  In 16th century AD the Indian subcontinent was going through unprecedented churning and the Gajapati empire of Kalinga was not untouched.

The last King to have ruled when Kalinga at its greatest extent also happened to rule during the time when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was spreading the message of Bhakti (devotion) through out the Indian subcontinent. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself. Such was his appeal among everyone that once when the fierce armies of Gajapati Prataprudra Deva and that of the Sultan of Bengal were fighting a battle with each other, He and His devotees crossed unharmed right across the battleground into Kalinga.

Gajapati Prataprudra Deva was a devout Vaishnava. Prataprudra Deva had always wished to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but was denied audience, because Mahaprabhu was an ascetic, and having renounced material life He did not want to have anything to do with women and Kings. Till the time He had only heard that Prataprudra Deva led a very simple life, unlike that of any other King, having utmost respect for scholars and learned men. To test Prataprudra Deva further, He even likened Prataprudra Deva to a black snake obsessed with power. The King was disheartened and even went to the extent of abdicating the throne, so that he would be able to meet with Mahaprabhu. Prataprudra Deva was advised against it.

The King of Kalinga is not the King, but merely a servitor of Lord Jagannath, and rules the land in His name and only as His representative. Lord Jagannath is the true King. As a normal servitor, the King with a broom in his hands, sweeps the three chariots of the siblings – Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra, during the annual Rathyatra festival, during which they embark on their annual visit to their aunt. And this has been the practice from millenia.

And it was during Rathyatra, that Mahaprabhu saw Prataprudra Deva sweeping the chariot like a common man. Impressed with Prataprudra Deva’s humility and piety, Mahaprabhu granted him a special power through which he could see miracle that was about to unfold. Prataprudra Deva saw there were seven groups of devotees dancing in front of the chariots, and each of the groups had Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu dancing with them. He was there with all seven groups, at the same time. Seeing the miracle Prataprudra Deva’s beliefs became stronger about Mahaprabhu being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and hence Lord Jagannath himself.

Devotees of Lord Jagannath praying when he appears on his chariot, during Rathyatra.

In the meantime, Prataprudra Deva saw that Mahaprabhu took a break from dancing and went to a nearby garden. He followed Him, changed his clothes from that of a King to that of a commoner, and started recited verses from Mahaprabhu’s favorite chapter from the Bhagavatam. Moved by the way the King recited the verses, Mahaprabhu told him, “I have nothing material with me to give you, however I can embrace you.” And then He embraced the King.

It is believed that the mythical King Indradyumna had built the Jagannath temple in Satyayug. Gundicha Devi, the aunt to whose place Lord Jagannath travels every year during Rathyatra was the queen of King Indradyumna. As events turned out, King Indradyumna could not meet his Lord for the last time before dying, and hence took birth as Gajapati Prataprudra Deva during the time of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu so that he could meet his Lord in flesh and blood.

More about Gajapati Prataprudra Deva:

Gajapati Prataprudra Deva did not have a smooth sailing as the King. He was only seventeen years old when he faced his first challenge, an invasion from the north, by the Sultan of Bengal (1497-1500 AD). He had just finished defending the north of his empire, when he was challenged from the south, this time by the Vijayanagara empire (you can read more about the Vijayanagara empire in my earlier post called “The Torchbearer” by clicking here). His Vijayanagara campaign was about to end after eight years (1500-08 AD), when the Sultan of Bengal again sent his general, who taking advantage of the absence of Gajapati, was able to march all the way till Puri. Prataprudra Deva hurried back and in 1509 AD drove out the invading army of Sultan of Bengal.

In 1509 AD, the most illustrious emperor of Vijayanagara, Krishnadevaraya ascended the throne (you can read about Krishnadevaraya in one of my earlier posts by clicking here). He challenged the Gajapati’s supremacy, and Kalinga and Vijayanagara were locked in battle that lasted for seven years (1512-19 AD). The battle ended when Prataprudra Deva conceded defeat after the capture and death of his son and crown prince Virabhadra. The Gajapati had to retreat to the north of river Krishna as per the treaty. A few years later, the Gajapati supremacy was challenged by Quli Qutub Shah, of Qutub Shahi dynasty of Golconda, and remained greatly intact with only minor losses of territory.

Apart from defending the borders of Gajapati kingdom to a very large extent during a largely tumultuous period in the Indian subcontinent, Prataprudra Deva also patronized art and literature, himself having authored nine literary pieces in Sanskrit. It was during his time that the Panchasakha (five poets and friends Balarama Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Ananta Dasa, Achyutananda Dasa and Jasobanta Dasa) produced their best work and flourished despite being openly opposed to few of Prataprudra Deva’s actions. This proves that the King was very tolerant and lenient towards his dissenting subjects too.

With the Gajapati kingdom ended the military hegemony that Kalinga held in the Indian subcontinent, which had so far helped Kalinga sway history in its favor, right from the time of Emperor Kharavela in 2nd century BC.

You can read my other works related Lord Jagannath here:
1. A wait too long – Click here
2. Sees it all – Click here
3. Master of the Universe – Click here
4. The Krishna Connection – Click here

In frame: Devotees of Lord Jagannath praying when he appears on his chariot, during Rathyatra. This unique way of praying, extending two arms in the air with open palms symbolizes the devotees urging to Lord Jagannath to rescue them from the figurative mortal sea. Interestingly, the followers of Mahima Dharma also pray in a similar fashion.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.



Published by

Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

One thought on “The Last Gajapati”

  1. the phenomenon of Chaitanya prabhu is just a bangali propaganda to potrait themselves as one great race that had immense influence on other regions. Since the bangalis were close to British education and press they used them to spread this propaganda of Chaitanya being a god himself and jayadeba being born in bengal. Today’s isckon is also a product of marketing done by bangali chauvinists who have want to spread the mythic phenomenon called ‘gaudiya’ vaishnabism . See how shamelessly they worship a group of bangalis like prabhupad and the panchatatwas instead of focusing on Lord jagannath and sri krusna himself. Now they are reaping yields in the form of a huge planetorium at mayapur completely funded by the foreign devotees with heavy pockets that will help boost bengal tourism.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s