Battle of Lakhnauti: A Beginning of Dharmic Reconquest

Back in the eleventh century, a just-born desert cult with world domination as core religious obligation rushed towards a vibrant polytheistic land annihilating the once-thriving Buddhist and Zoroastrian centers along the Silk Road. Now the tussle was not between that cult named Islam and the existing indigenous inhabitants, but between the narrow-minded exclusivism and the inherently plural instincts of the land named Bharat. Taking benefit of enmity amidst emperors across India, foreign bloodthirsty ghazis (warriors for Islam) poured in with intention of uprooting thousands of ways of living and replacing it with their own.

That was a dark age for natives across the earth who along with thousands of cultures were brutally smashed at the hand of the “holy” Jihad. Likewise in India, thousands of temples and cities were destroyed. The death toll was hard to substantiate. Indians or infidels (according to the “holy” text of that desert cult) were mercilessly butchered, looted, women were humiliated, traded like commodities in the market. When holy cities of India like Varanasi, Ayodhya were on verge of collapse at the hand of rigorous onslaughter, rich universities were burnt, the iconoclastic fervor of Islam was adamant to wipe out every trace of Hindu architecture from the India, Eastern Ganga dynasty of Kalinga aka Odisha rose to roar farther.

Since Hindu kingdoms stood split among each other, the savage troupe found it easier to conquer them one after the other. Had there been the advent of Krishna or another Chanakya again who could unite all these chieftains despite the bitter ties. Or was a Chakravarti already there, an emperor that turns the wheel of Dharma?

Langula Narasimha1
Broken sculpture from Konark Sun Temple depicting the Ganga King Narsimha worshipping Jagannath and Chandi

Who else can that Chakravarti be other than Krishna who manifests himself as Jagannatha of Kalinga? In Kalinga (now Odisha), even the kings of the land feel proud to be termed only as the servitors of Jagannatha. Thousands of quasi-democratic territories in Kalinga consider Jagannatha as the only sovereign monarch. Aiming at restoring Dharma till Varanasi, young Gajapati Anangabhimadev III as the first general of Jagannatha’s militia established a new fortress “Abhinava Bidanasi Kataka” (translates as the new fortress of Varanasi). Acting along the war strategy shown by his Brahmin minister Bishnu Mohapatra, the king launched multiple military campaigns defeating the invading barbarian hordes. Turkish military general Bakhtyar Khalji who razed the Nalanda university sent troops after troops but was defeated by the brave Odia armies soon. The inscriptions found in Chateswar of Cuttack district and Anantvasudev temple of Khurda serve as epigraphic evidence that clearly mentions the defeat of Yavanas (Turks or Mohammedans) by King’s highly learned Commander Bishnu Mohapatra.

DelhiSultanate.PNGYet the fanatical cultmen kept marching into the state. Observing this his son Langula Narasimha Deva aka Narasimha Deva III made up his mind to seize the Bengal Sultanate instead of merely defending the invading Islamic army. He was the first king of the Bharatavarsha who led successive wars against the invading Turks and came out as a victor in expelling the proceeding Yavana (Mohammedans). Overrunning some semi-independent Hindu kingdoms, Narasimha Deva marched towards Radha (Rahr), the territory of the then governor of Bengal, Tughral Tughan Khan. As a counter-attack against Kalinga, Tughral Tughan Khan accompanied by Qazi Minhaj-us-Siraj (Persian chroniclers) got ready for jihad against Hindus. While advancing towards the fort of Contai outpost (now Kantei in Bengal’s Medinipur) in the year 1243 AD, the hordes got struck in the jungle. When Odia forces followed guerrilla warfare, the vast army of Bengal Amir were annihilated and the wounded Tughral Khan had to run towards his headquarter Lakhnauti to save his life.

In the end, the brave military campaign led by Narsingha Deva and his brother-in-law Paramardidev of Kalachauri lineage seized the Lakhnauti fort, the capital of the governor of Bengal, Tughral Tughan Khan the following year in 1244 CE. Fort was knock down. The eastern Ganga army retreated till the Turks went entirely armless and starved for reinforcement from Delhi Sultanate. Sultan’s navy was dismantled. In the same year, the Odia forces again seized two provinces Rahr and Varendra (two wings of Gauda or Lakhnauti on either sides of the river Ganga). Kendupatna bronze inscription of his later successor, Narasimha Deva II narrates the dramatic account of the event.

“राढ़ा वरेन्द्र यवनी नयनांजनाश्रु
पूरेय दूर विनिवेशित कालिमश्री: ।
तदविप्रलंम करयाद्भुत निस्तरङ्गा
गङ्गापिनूनममुना विदघे नृपेण ।”

which means the river Ganga got darkened like the muddy Yamuna river for the flood of tears washing away the collyrium from the eyes of widowed Yavani (Muslim women) of Radha (Rahr) and Varendra whose husbands had been killed by Narasimha Deva’s army.

After Karimuddin Laghri, the Muslim commander of the Lakhnauti fort was killed in battle with Kalinga, Tughan Khan urged Muslim governors of Awadh and Kara (Uttar Pradesh) and later fleed to Delhi in 1246.

Langula Narasimha2
A panel from Konark Sun Temple featuring king Narasimha deva mounted on an elephant receiving giraffe from African traders

To commemorate the massive victory over the iconoclastic cult, Narasimha Deva built the great sun temple of Konark. Many grand monumental marvels were elevated across the Ganga domain in the time when all the other major Indian cities were devastated under the sword of Khiliji,

The Sanskrit court poet of Narasimha deva, Vidyadhara praises him in his narration Ekavali with the titles like Yavanibaniballava and Hammiramanamardana that means conquerors of Yavanas (Turks) and Muslim Amirs (Governors).

Tughlaq Tamar Khan, the Sultanate Governor of Oudh disposed Tughan Khan from office and led a relief army to check Kalinga. However, Narasimha Deva’s brother-in-law Paramardi Dev reconquered North Bengal in 1947.

Thereafter Delhi Sultanate assigned Masud Jani as Bengal Governor in 1947. Due to incompetence to repeal the lionhearted Kalinga monarch Narasimha Deva, he was removed from office in 1251 by Delhi Sultanate.

New Khiliji governor of Bengal Malik Ikhtiyaruddin Yuzbak led the lead in the next Odia-Turk wars. Though he secured victory in two initial wars, Kalinga won the last war with the death of Yuzbak in 1257 AD. In the first two battles, Paramardi Deva was martyred, Gauda and Varendra outposts were reoccupied by Turks while Rarh was still used Kalinga empire. He signed a treaty of alliance with Narasimha Deva and declared himself independent of Delhi Sultanate. Sultan after being executed by a local strong leader Sandhya of Kamarupa (now Assam) due to seasonal flood, Narasimha Deva broke the alliance and took over the regions he lost.

Since Yuzbak’s death, Kalinga’s Ganga dynasty had acquired the most portion of Bengal leading to a shortage in revenue for the Delhi Sultanate. In the year In 1272, Delhi Sultan Ghiyas ud din Balban appointed Governor of Awadh, Amin Khan Aitigin as Governor and defeated Tughral Khan as Sub-Governor to challenge Hindu rule in Bengal. But Tughral Khan toppled Amin and declared himself as Bengal Governor once again. He re-established the Bengali Navy that was destroyed by Hindu ruler Narasimha Deva at the Fort Narikella of Sonargaon in 1243. He then took advantage of severe drought to invade Jajnagar capital of Kalinga who was then murdered in 1281 by the Delhi Sultanate owing to separatism. In such way, Delhi Sultanate had to change the governorship of Bengal five times to counter the triumphant Narasimha Deva I, but all went in vain.

The direct conflict between Delhi Sultanate and Ganga dynasty began in 1323 CE under the reign of Bhanudeva II. Annexing the Kakatiya Kingdom with Delhi Sultanate, Ghiasuddin Tughlaq’s eldest son Ulugh Khan (Muhammad bin Tughluq) then launched a war against Jajnagar (now Jajpur). Failing to conquer any territory, Ulugh Khan returned to Delhi with capturing only some elephants from Kalinga.

Eastern Ganga dynasty saw its first real defeat in 1361 AD when savage ruler Firuz Shah Tughlaq. He destroyed the Jagannath Temple of Puri, and captured the capitals Cuttack and Jajnagar of Kalinga and compelled Gajapati to surrender. Firuz Khan being the staunch Islamist, banned every practice in his domain that he considered un-Islamic or not Sharia-compliant. Bhanudev III first fled to an island in Chilika lake and then made to sign a treaty with Sultan by offering twenty big elephants to give annual tribute. The Ganga dynasty got weakened, yet the war with Bengal sultans and Delhi were continued till the last ruler of the dynasty. Chandrakala Natika, a Sanskrit drama, written by the prolific scholar Viswanatha Kaviraja depicts the conquest of Gauda (Bengal) by the last Ganga king Bhanudeva IV.

But the valiancy in Odia’s blood never withered. Eastern Ganga dynasty was then succeeded by a new Solar Dynasty established by brilliant Kapilendra Deva Routray. He tactically solved internal anguish in the region while Minister Gopinath Mohapatra defeated Bengal Sultan Ahmed Shah. In the year 1444, newly accessed Kapilendra Deva was left to check multiple enemies at a time. Mahamud Shah of Jaunpur was ready to attack from the north while forces from Rajamundry and Vijayanagar were at the southern front. The elder son of Hamvira stood like a fort against the southern attack while Kapilendra Deva gave the entire focus on repealing the Muslim invaders. Purushottama Deva, his younger son born of a Brahmin lady, succeeded Kapilendra Deva who in the last days could reconquer the territories lost earlier. His son Prataprudra Deva retreated Bengal Sultan Ala-ud-din Husain Shah and made a treaty with Vijayanagara Empire with help of matrimonial tie. Even after Odisha fell entirely under Afghan rule during Mukundadeva’s reign (1593 CE), the land resists the conversion zeal of Islam even today.

For every single intrusion by foreign invaders, Odisha has stood at the forefront to defend Dharma and its regional selfdom, be it Battle of Lakhnauti or movement for Odia renaissance that subsequently lead to the formation of the first linguistic province on basis of its prosperous mother tongue Odia, the only classical language of northern India besides Sanskrit. Valiant Odisha was the first province demanding swatantrata in the Paika rebellion of 1817 against the colonial rule that even precedes the Sepoy mutiny of 1857.

Peace advocacy is a wonderful thing, but Pacifism is not. Pacifism combined with a modern-day political religion Political Correctness blurs the reality that power play is incessant. To my limited understanding, true evilness or Adharma is when one imposes own doctrine against individuals or another way of living or belief system that was eternally resisted by natives of Odisha. Yet while reading about my state, neologism in the education system compel me to buy Kalinga war that lacks historicity to a greater extent while the Battle of Lakhnauti, which had restrained the severity of Mohammedan tribes and facilitated conditions for the emergence of other dharmic rules like Maratha, is found nowhere in textbooks.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. 009 says:

    Intriguing and beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. excellent. i really like the way you recite history

    Like

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