Around the middle of the fourth century AD, the Kalinga region’s history underwent dramatic changes. following Sarnudragupta’s campaign in South India. The political climate of the era aided in the establishment of a new ruling dynasty known as Mathara. The Mathara family enjoyed high political and social status in ancient times and had matrimonial relations with several powerful ruling families in Kosala and South India.
The Mathara family under Vishakha Varman (350 to 360 CE)
Around the middle of the fourth century, Vishakha Varman of the Mathara family established a small principality in Kalinga region, with its headquarters at Sripura, which is now known as Batiasripua in Ganjam district. Vishakhavarman took the title Sri Maharaja and began his political career as the humble ruler of a petty territory. His domain was subdivided into several Panchalis, one of which was named Karosodaka. Visakhavannan is known to have donated the village Tapoyoka in that Panchali to five Brahmanas in the seventh year of his reign. According to the early Ganga king’s records, the Karasodaka Panchali was included in the Kalinga territory. However, Visakhavarman never assumed the title “Lord of Kalinga.” There is no record of Visakhavarman after his seventh regnal year. He appears to have founded the new kingdom for his family in the latter part of his life and ruled for approximately a decade between circa 350 and 360 CE48.
Umavarman (360 CE-395 CE)
Umavarman, who was most likely his son, succeeded Maharaja Visakhavannan. Umavarman began his career, like his father, as a modest ruler with Sripura as the capital of his small principality. However, he was an ambitious ruler who took advantage of the political changes of the time to expand his territory and power at the expense of neighbouring territories. By the sixth year of his reign, he had expanded his kingdom to the Svetaka region (modern Chikiti) and established a new capital at Sunagara. From this headquarters, King Umavarman issued two of his copper plate grants—the Baranga grant and the Dhavalapeta grant—donating the lands to the Brahmins.
By the ninth year of his reign, his territory had expanded to the south, encompassing the modern Tekkali region. He relocated his headquarters from Sunagara to Vardhamanpur, from which he issued the grant for the Tekkali copper plate. Thus, Umavarman steadily expanded his territory, and by his thirty-first regnal year, his domain included the present Srikakulam district. He then proclaimed himself “Lord of Kalinga” and relocated his capital from Vardhamanpura to Simhapura. It was from this new headquarters, which he named Vijaya Simhapura, that he issued his Vrihatproshtha grant, in which he declared himself the “Lord of Kalinga.” The territory of Kalinga had remained in obscurity following the Chedi Call in the first century CE and its historical tradition was revived at the end of the fourth century CE by Maharaja Umavarman. Thus, Umavarman was the Mathara dynasty’s first great ruler, and with him, Kalinga embarked on a long and illustrious political career, whose influence was felt throughout Eastern India and the Deccan. Maharaja Umavarman reigned for approximately 35 years and was Sankarvarman succeeded him in approximately 395 CE
Sankarvarman (395 CE-400 CE)
Sankarvannan was almost certainly a brother of Umavarman, and his reign appears to have been brief. As of yet, no copper plate grant issued by him has been discovered. According to his son’s records, Maharaja Sankaravarman married into the Vasishtha family, which ruled the Devarastra region following Samudragupta’s South Indian campaign. This matrimonial relationship laid the groundwork for the Mathara kingdom’s expansion into the middle Kalinga region. Around 400 CE, Maharaja Sankaravarman died. and his son Maharaja Saktivarman succeeded him.
Maharaja Saktivarman (400 CE-420 CE)
Maharja Saktivarman was a ruthless and ambitious ruler who succeeded in uniting Northern and Southern Kalinga. Saktivarman’s occupation of South Kalinga must have been greatly aided by the vasishthas of the middle Kalinga region with whom the Matharas had matrimonial relations. South Kalinga’s occupation heralds the end of the Salankayana dynasty in Vengi. According to the Ningondi grant of king Prabhanjanavarman, Saktivarman, the son of Sankaravarman, extended his territory from the Mahanadi to the Krishna and ruled the vast empire according to ancient laws. At the expense of the Salankayanas, the Mathara kingdom expanded up to Krishna. By that time, the Pallavas, the Salankayanas’ allies, were also in decline. Saktivannan almost certainly defeated the combined forces of the Salankayanas and Pallavas in order to extend his territory all the way to the banks of the Krishna. Thus, Saktivarman built a strong empire on Umavarman’s foundations and enhanced the Matharas’ prestige and power. By the time of Saktivarman, three imperial powers dominated India’s political landscape: the Matharas in the south, the Guptas in the north, and the Vakatakas in central India.
Maharaja Saktivarman relocated his capital from Simhapura to Pishtapura before issuing his Ragolu copper plate grant from his new capital. This indicates that he conquered the Southern region prior to his 13th regnal year and maintained the empire’s integrity throughout his reign. Maharaja Saktivarman died in approximately 420 CE, and his son Anantasaktivarman succeeded him.
Anantasaktivarman (420–450 CE)
By that time, South India’s political history had shifted dramatically, owing to the rise of the Vishnukundin dynasty. The founder of this dynasty, Madhavavarman I, was a powerful and ambitious ruler who was almost certainly a contemporary of Anantasaktivarman. The Ipuru plates (of Madhavavarman-Il) reveal that he engaged in successful battles with his neighbours and sacrificed eleven horses in addition to thousands of other animals. The Vishnukundins had to fight the Pallavas in the south and the Matharas in the north for their rise and stability. King Madhavavarman fought and defeated the Mathara king Anantasaktivarman and the Pallava king Simhavarman-II. He occupied the southern regions of the Mathara kingdom, including south Kalinga, after defeating Anantasaktivarman. In his 14th regnal year, Anantasaktivarman issued his Andhavarman grant from the military camp at Vijayapura. His wars with the Vishnukundins appear to have continued at the time of this grant’s issuance, and he was almost certainly forced to flee Pishtapura by that time. His Sakunaka grant, issued in his 28th regnal year, was carried out by two of his senior military officers: Commander in chief (Mahabaladhikrita), Sivabhojaka, and General (Dandarieta), Vaasudatta. This demonstrates that the military exercised an unusual amount of control over civil administration during his reign. Anantasaktivarman was incapable of preserving the empire he inherited from his father. He was forced to relocate his headquarters from Pishtapura to Simhapura following the loss of south Kalinga and attempted to consolidate his position in northern and middle Kalinga. He died in approximately 450 CE and was succeeded by Chandravarman, most likely his son.
Maharaja Chandravarman (450 CE-460 CE)
Maharaja Chandravarman is best known for granting the Bobbiii and Komarti copper plate grants in his fourth and sixth regnal years, respectively. His two grants reveal no evidence of this ruler’s political activity. He was known by the ephithets Paramabhagavata and Parmadaivata and ruled from Sirnhapura as his capital. Chandravarman most likely died before 460 CE, when he was succeeded by Prabhanjanavarman, another of Saktivarman’s sons.
Prabhanjanavarman (460 CE-480 CE)
It appears as though there was a schism between Saktivarman’s two sons, Anantasaktivarman and Prabhajanavarman, following his death. This internal conflict contributed to the Mathara dynasty’s demise. The Matharas’ defeat at the height of their power by newly organised Vishnukundins was almost certainly due to internal strife. It is worth noting that Maharaja Prabhanjanavarman ignores Anantasaktivarman and Chandravarman in the Nirgondi grant, declaring himself the direct successor of Saktivarman, the son of Sankarvarman. This demonstrates the schism between the Anantasaktivarman and Prabhanjanavarman houses. The Mathara power was unable to recoup their lost prestige and territory, and they began a steady decline. Without a doubt, king Prabhanjanvarman attempted to reclaim South Kalinga and took the title “Sakala Kalingadhipati.” This epithet was not used by previous Mathara rulers and denotes his brief victory over Visbnukundins. He died around the year 480 CE
Nandapravanjanavarman (480 CE-498 CE)
Prabhanjanavarman was succeeded by Nandapravanjanavarman. However, his relationship with the latter is unknown. He was the final Mathara king, and during his reign, the Matharas’ political status reverted to that of Visakhavarrnan and the early years of King Urnavarrnan. King Nandapravanjanavarman established Vardhamanapura as his capital, which had previously been the capital of King Urnavarman in his ninth regnal year. Despite his political decline, Prabhanjhanavarrnan retained the title “Sakala Kalingadhipati,” which his successor Nanda Pravanjanavarman assumed. Towards the end of his reign, the Eastern Gangas established themselves in Trikalinga territory and expanded their control over the Kalinga region. Dantapura, the renowned city of Kalinga, was declared the Eastern Gangas’ capital. The Ganga era, which began in 498 AD, heralded a period of political transition marked by the ascension of the Eastern Gangas and the fall of the Matharas.
Thus, the Matharas ruled for 150 years. Politically autonomous from Gupta suzerainty, the Mathara monarchs referred to themselves as Maharajas and Lords of Kalinga (Kalingadhipati). Their rule established a functional administrative structure in the Kalinga region. They divided their kingdom into Panchali, Bhoga, and Vishava territorial units. Their inscriptions include references to Mahendrabhoga, Dantayavagubhoga, Bhillingabhoga, Vishaya, Kalinga Vishaya, and Varahavarttini Vishaya. The smallest territorial unit was the village. The Mathara king was aided by a number of civil and military officials, including Amatya (minister), Kumara-Amatya (minister of royal blood), Talavara (revenue official), ueshaksapatla (record keeper), Mahapratihara (chamberlain), Ajna Bhogika (messenger), Dutata (spy), Mahavaladhikrita (head of the army), Mahadanda nayak ( (commander of a group). Culturally, the Matharas followed the prevalent trend in north India at the time. In Orissa during the Mathara period, such Brahmanical cults as Bhagavata and Saiva developed. The Matharas fostered an interest in Sanskrit literature. Pre-Mathara Orissa was dominated by non-Brahmanical religions such as Jainism and Buddhism. However, during the Mathara period, the Brahmanical religion gradually gained prominence. During this time period, the people of Kalinga engaged in maritime trade with countries in south-east Asia. Dantapur (modern Palur), the great city port, was located within Matharas’s territory.
Sources and References
1. History of Odisha Vol-I by Dr Manas Kumar Das
2. History of Odisha Vol-II by Dr Manas Kumar Das
3. History of Odisha Vol-III by Dr Manas Kumar Das
4. History of Odisha Sahu, Sahu, Mishra
5. History of Odisha Vol-I by Y.K. Sahu
6. History of Odisha Vol-II by Y.K. Sahu
7. History of Odisha by RD Banerjee
8. Odishara Itihasa by Satyanarayan Rajguru