The two hundred-year reign of the Somavamsis is a glorious epoch in Odisha’s history. Kalinga, Utkala, Kongoda, and Kosala were unified and placed under a single political authority for the first time. The uniform administration pattern eliminated anarchy and confusion throughout the state, paving the way for a cultural synthesis that resulted in the emergence of a distinct Odia culture. During the Somavamsis, Odishan temple architecture took shape, and the kingdom experienced peace and prosperity.
- The early history of the Somavamsis
- Dynastic history and achievements of the Somavamsi rulers
- Administration of the Somavamsis
- Cultural significance of the Somavamsi rule
The early history of the Somavamsis
From the middle of the ninth century CE to the early twelfth century CE, the Somavamsis, also known as Panduvamsis, ruled over Odisha. They initially ruled over a region known as Dakhina Kosal or South Kosala in the seventh and eighth centuries CE (corresponding to the Raipur and Bilaspur districts of Madhya Pradesh and the Sambalpur and Kalahandi districts of Odisha). Sirpur, a town in the Raipur district, was the capital of the south Kosala Somavamsis. This dynasty was founded by Udayana.
Tivaradeva, the line’s fourth king, was its most powerful monarch. He established his hegemony over all of Kosala. He expanded his territory westward to the Vindhyas. However, his efforts to bring Kangoda under his political sway in the east were unsuccessful. Tivaradeva reigned between 700 and 725 CE At the dawn of the ninth century CE, Govindalll, the Rastrakuta king, invaded the Sornavamsi kingdom. For a time, the Somavamsis were subject to the Rastrakutas’ hegemony. After Govinda-death III’s in 814 CE, the Somavamsis gained their independence from the Rastrakutas’ hegemony. However, they were soon threatened by another power, the Kalachuris of Ratnapur (a place in the Bilaspur district of Madhya Pradesh). By the middle of the ninth century CE, the Somavamsis were expanding eastward, most likely in response to the Kalachuri threat. Balarjuna Sivagupta, the last known king of Somavamsis in south Kosal, died in 810 CE Following him, there is a more than half-century-long genealogical void. With the emergence of Janrnejaya-l in the final quarter of the ninth century CE, a continuous genealogical line of the Sornavarnsis is established up to the beginning of the twelfth century CE Sivagupta is mentioned in the inscription of Janmejaya-I, the builder of the Somavamsi power in Odisha. Odisha’s Somavamsi rulers alternated between the titles Mahabhavaupta and Mahasivagupta. Apart from these facts, the same dynastic name strongly implies that Janmejaya-I was a descendant of the south Kosala Somavamsis.
There is no such written record of the Somavamsi rulers’ complete history and accomplishments. However, the following inscriptions provide us with some information. The Banda copper plates of Tivaradeva, the Adhavara copper plates of Mahanannararaja, and the Banda copper plates of Mahasivagupta; the Patna, Kalibhana, and other copper plates of Janrneiaya Cuttack, Nibinna, and Patna copper plates of Yayati I; the Kalanjar stone inscription, the Arang store inscription, the Sirpur stone inscription, and other inscription.
Dynastic history and achievements of the Somavamsi rulers
Janmejaya I Mahabhavagupta (C- 882 – 922 CE)
Janmejaya I became the first ruler of the Somavamsi dynasty of Kosala after he was driven out of Dakshina Kosala, which comprised the undivided Sambalpur and Bolangir districts of western Odisha that he dubbed Kosala and whose capital was Suvarnapura (modern Sonepur). Janmejaya I desired to clash with the Bhanjas of Khinjali MandaI, who were the feudatory of the Bhauma-Karas of Tosali, after consolidating his empire. Ranabhanjadeva, the Bhanja king, fell victim to Janmejaya, who dealt the former a crushing defeat and annexed the Baud-Phulbani area to his kingdom. This paved the way for Utkala’s conquest.
Additionally, Janmejaya I desired to expand his influence over Utkala. He was instrumental in establishing Tribhuvana Mahadevi II alias Pritivi Mahadevi, Subhakaradeva IV’s widow queen, on the Bhaumas throne. Though he defeated the King of Odra, he may have made peace with him as a result of having to deal with the kalachuris of Oahala. His attempt to extend his authority up to Utkala, on the other hand, was certainly commendable. Additionally, Janmejaya I subdued the Kalachuris. Subhatunga (Janmejaya I) is said to have defeated the Chaidyas in the record of his son and successor Yajati I. (Kalachuris). Janmejaya I was a powerful Somavamsi dynasty ruler. He assumed lofty titles such as ‘Parmesvara,’ ‘Paramabhattaraka,’ and ‘Trikalingadhipati,’ among others.
Mahasivagupta Yayati I (C-922-955 CE)
Yayati I succeeded Janmejaya I on the throne. He not only solidified his empire but also pursued an expansionist policy. Soon after his accession, he relocated his capital from Suvarnapura to Vinitapura, which has been identified as Binka, a town located approximately twenty-five kilometres from Sonepur on the banks of the river Mahanadi. He relocated the capital to Yayatinagara near Baud fifteen years later. Biswarup Das, on the other hand, associates Yayatinagara with Jajpur, which was also known as Yayatitirtha. I had a schism with the Kaiachuris, Yayati. His two copper plate grants, as well as a charter for his son and successor, state that he captured 32 elephants and rescued captive women who were being forcibly removed from Kosala by Yuvaraja, the Kalachuri king of Dahala. Yayati I not only rescued the women and elephants of Kosala, but also murdered the protector and set fire to a portion of the Kalachuri country, according to the charters. Thus, it can be stated with a reasonable degree of certainty that he subdued the Kalachuris. Yayati I’s crowning achievement was the annexation of the Bhauma kingdom. Though the circumstances surrounding Yayati I’s occupation of the Bhauma throne are unknown, it is certain that the territory was under his authority. He granted a village Chandragrama in Dakshina Tosali in his ninth regnal year to a Brahmin named Sankhapani of Odra desa, as recorded in his Cuttack plate charter. This demonstrates that he had extended his influence all the way to Tosali. Yayati I played a significant role in subjugating the Bhanjas. He offered a village named Gandharadi in the later Bhanja period as a gift in the Gandhatapati mandala, as evidenced by his copper plate grant of the fifteenth regnal year. Gandharadi is located twelve miles south of Baud. It occurred during Satrubhanja’s reign, when he was defeated by Yayati I. If this were not the case, he would not have been able to grant a village in the heart of the Bhanja territory. I was a valiant warrior, Yayati. Not only did he fight the Kalachuris, but he also subdued the Bhanjas and ruled the Bhauma kingdom of Tosali.
Bhimaratha Mahasivagupta I (C-955-980 CE)
Following Yayati I, his son Bhimaratha ascended to the throne of Somavamsi. His political career is obscured by the records of his time. According to the Kalachuri king Yayati I’s inscription on the Bilhari stone, Lakshmanaraja, who ruled at Tripuri from approximately 945 to 970 CE, “worshipped Somesvara and with the effigy of Kaliya wrought of jewels and gold obtained from the prince of Odra after defeating the Lord of Kosala.” This demonstrates that Odra had become a part of the Kosala kingdom by that time. The defeat of Kosala’s king and the removal of the effigy of Kaliya (the serpent) from Odra by Lakshmariaraja demonstrate unequivocally that Odra was under Kosala’s control, and most likely that the appointment of subordinate rulers for Odra began with Bhimaratha. In Dharmaratha’s Khandapara plates, he is praised as “religious, courageous, and valorous who performed marvellous acts and attained the status of Devaraja (Indra).” Without a doubt, his reign contributed to the consolidation of the Somavamsi Empire and brought the country peace and tranquillity.
Dharmaratha (C-980-1005 CE)
Dharmaratha, Bhimaratha’s successor, was unquestionably a powerful ruler. His grant of a village in Antaruda Visaya (Antarudra Pragana of the undivided Puri district) demonstrates unequivocally that he was the Bhauma Kingdom’s master at the time. He is referred to as the ‘Second Parasurama’ in the Brahmesvara temple inscription. Perhaps he subdued the Pala power in Gauda and fought valiantly against the South’s Estern Chalukyas.
Nahusa (C-1005-1021 CE)
Dharmaratha’s brother, Nahusa, succeeded him to the throne of Kosala after he died without issue. His tenure was relatively uneventful. His inefficiency may have contributed to his unpopularity. Perhaps he was assassinated by Indraratha, another of Dharmaratha’s brothers who succeeded him on the throne.
Indraratha (C-1021-1023 CE)
Dharmaratha had appointed Indraratha as Kalinga’s governor. Perhaps Indraratha’s ambition to ascend to the throne of Kosala drove him to confront Nahusa. As a result, the latter was assassinated alongside his uncle Abhimanyu. Because Indraratha was regarded as a usurper, his name is omitted from the Somavamsi charters. He was defeated and probably killed by Rajendra Chola.
Chandihara Yayati II (C-1 023-1040 CE)
Rajendra Chola’s assassination of Indraratha at Yayatinagara sowed anarchy and confusion within the Somavamsi dynasty. At that critical point, the ministers installed Chandihara Yayati II as king of Kosala, the son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Vichitravira, a lineal descendant of Janmejaya. With his accession, Yayati II focused his attention on the kingdom of Utkala, which had become vacant following the death of Dharma Mahadevi, the Bhauma-Karas’ last ruler. Yayati II immediately took possession of it. As a result, Utkala was completely subjugated and absorbed into the kingdom of Kosala.
Chandihara Yayati II was the Somavamsi dynasty’s mighty ruler. According to his charter, his “footstool is kissed by the great jewels of all kings or subordinate kings, who in character resembled such renowned kings as Nala, Nahusa, Mandhata, Dilipa, Bharata, and Bhagiratha.” He is also credited with conquering Karnata, Lata, Gujrat, Dravida country, Kanchi, Gauda, Radha, and Trikalinga and assuming the title ‘Maharajadhiraja’ in his records. Naturally, the conquest of the aforementioned lands is a poetic exaggeration. He appears to have maintained a friendly relationship with Rastrakutas, as his records make no mention of himself or his army transporting arms to Kosala or Utkala during the reign of Krishna III. After Krishna III, no Rastrakuta king has mentioned the latter’s victory over Kosala or Utkala.
Yayati II was an ardent supporter of Brahmanism. According to tradition, he invited 10,000 Brahmins from Kanyakubja (Kanauj) to Jajpur to perform the Dasasvamedha sacrifice. It was a significant milestone in Odisha’s cultural heritage, and the memory of Yayati II’s noble work is still reflected in every corner of the state during marriage ceremonies and at the time of giving pinda at Navigaya in Jajpur. Yayati II is also credited with completing the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar during his successor Udyotakesari’s reign. Naturally, Yayati II’s family deity was Panchamvari Bhadramvika, a manifestation of Goddess Durga.
Yayati II was the dynasty’s greatest ruler. He firmly established order in an empire that was rife with anarchy and confusion. From the Bay of Bengal in the east to Sambalpur in the west, and from Dandakabhukti to Ganjam in the south, his vast empire stretched. Brahmanism flourished in Odisha under his patronage.
Udyotakesari Mahabhavagupta (C-1 040-1 065 CE)
Udyotakesari, Yayati II’s successor, was a deserving son of an illustrious father. He made amends with Karna, the Kalachuri ruler who had invaded the Somavamsi kingdom in the first place. Udyotakesari later invaded Dahala and defeated it. Similarly, the enmity between Gauda and Kosala ended with the defeat of the Pala dynasty’s Vigrahapala II. As a result of the attacks from various directions, Udyotakesari divided his kingdom into two parts, leaving the Kosala portion in the care of his grandfather Abhimanyu and ruling over the Utkala portion himself. He also completed the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar.
Janmejaya II (C-1065-1085 CE)
With the accession of Janmejaya II, Udyotakesari’s son, the Somavamsi dynasty began to disintegrate. Somesvaradeva, the Chandika Naga ruler during his reign, sent his general, Yasorajadeva of the Telugu Choda family, to occupy Eastern Kosala. By that time, the Western Kosala had also fallen into the Kalachuris’ hands. Janmejaya II also faced an invasion by Raja Raja II of Kalinga, the Ganga king. All of these invasions caused Janmejaya distress, and he died following the Ganga invasion.
Puranjaya (C-1085-1100 CE)
Puranjaya I succeeded Janmejaya II. During his reign, the Ratnagiri inscription states that he maintained control over his feudatory chiefs. Additionally, he successfully resisted the invasions of the kings of Gauda, Dahala, Kalinga, and Vanga. It appears as though the above-mentioned powers invaded the Somavamsi kingdom and paved the way for its demise by exploiting the Somavamsis’ weakness.
Karnadeva (C-1100-1110 CE)
Karnadeva was the last surviving ruler of the Somavamsi dynasty and Puranjaya’s brother. Though he is praised in his records as a great ruler with complete control over his feudatories, this is not true. According to his fragmented inscription preserved in Bhubaneswar’s Jayadev museum, his kingdom extended up to Balasore district (from Gandibeda village, the inscription is found), which was Uttara Tosali’s final boundary. Jayasimha, the feudatory of Bengal’s Ramapala, ruled the Dandakabhukti mandala at the time. Chodagangadeva attacked Utkala multiple times during his reign. The Ratnagiri inscription and the Ramacharita of Sandhyakara Nandi both attest to the fact that Krishnadeva, Karnadeva’s astute and capable minister, rescued Utkala from the Gangas’ onslaught with the assistance of the Palas. However, this resistance was frail, and the Somavamsi Kingdom eventually fell to the Gangas, who established their dominance over Utkala.
Administration of the Somavamsis
Odisha’s political unification under the Somavamsis resulted in the establishment of an efficient administration. The Somavamsi kings periodically relocated their capital for political reasons. Due to the lack of a permanent capital, they issued charters from various locations including Vinitapura, Murasima, Suvarnapura, and Yayatinagara. Yayatinagara, colloquially known as Jajpur, is well-known as the capital of the Somavamsis.
The King’s Position
In terms of administrative structure, the king held the highest position. While kingship was unquestionably hereditary, ministers occasionally had a say in the selection of a king, as was the case with Yayati II. When a king was a minor, he was regent by a member of the royal family. The king possessed unrestricted royal authority. The king generously granted grants to the merchant community in order to promote trade and commerce within the country. They granted lands to the Brahmins to promote learning. They patronised Brahmins and performed several Vedic sacrifices, including the Asvamedha sacrifice, in order to spread Brahmanism throughout the land. Additionally, they constructed a sizable number of Saiva temples to accomplish the same goal. All of these activities demonstrate that, while the Somavamsi kings were powerful, they were not despotic; rather, they were liberals who looked out for the welfare of their subjects.
Ministers and government officials
Numerous important ministers and officers aided the king. Among the notable ministers were Mantritilaka (Chief Minister), Mahasandhivigrahika (Minister of War and Peace who was also responsible for the charter’s preparation), and Mahakshapatalika (Minister, preparing charter). The Mahasenapati (Commander-in-chief) was responsible for promoting religion and morality within the army. Additionally, several officers such as Samahartri, Sannidhatri, Outaka, Niyuktaka, Dandapasika, Mahakashapataia, Mahakshapataladhyaksha, Chattas, Bhattas, Ranaka, and Rajaputra were appointed. The Somavamsis divided their kingdom into mandalas, each of which represented a province. A mandala was further subdivided into several bhuktis, with each bhukti subdivided into bhoga, khanda, and grama, the smallest administrative unit under the Somavamsi kings. The rulers of Somavamsi maintained substantial standing armies comprised of infantry, cavalry, and elephantry. The kings were the supreme commanders of the military forces, leading them into battle.
Cultural significance of the Somavamsi rule
The Somavamsis have made significant cultural contributions in a variety of ways. The Somavamsis embraced Varnashrama dharma, or the traditional division of society into four Varr.as (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra), and accorded Brahmanas the highest status. By performing Vedic sacrifices and facilitating the migration of Brahmanas from northern India via generous land grants, the Somavamsi rulers facilitated the Brahminization of Odisha’s socio-religious life as well as the assimilation of north Indian Sanskritic culture into Odishan culture.
Women held a respectable position in Somavamsi society. Several of the Somavamsi queens accomplished significant tasks such as temple construction. Queen Kolavatidevi, Udyota Keshari’s mother, built the Brahmeswar temple in Bhubaneswar. Nonetheless, women’s status appears to have deteriorated during this time period. Prostitution and the Devadasi practise (dedicating maidens to temples) were prevalent during this period. Karnadeva, the last Somavamsi king, married Karpurasri, a dancing girl who was the daughter of a Mahari or Devadasi.
The Somavamsi rulers’ religious life
The rulers of Somavamsi were devout Saivites. They contributed to the growth and spread of Saivism by erecting Siva temples and generously granting land to Saiva temples, priests, and ascetics. As a result, several Saiva gurus, including Sadasivacharya, Rathamacharya, and Acharya Gagana Siva came from far and wide to Odisha and was patronised by the Somavamsi rulers. Gagana Siva constructed the Someswar temple in Ranipur-Jharial with the assistance of Janmejaya I. Yayati-I constructed Mukteswar’s magnificent Saiva temple. Yayati-ll initiated the construction of the colossal Saiva temple of Lingaraj, which was completed by Udyotakeshari. While the Somavamsis were devout Saivites themselves, they continued the Bhaumakara tradition of religious tolerance. Other sects such as Jainism, Vaishnavism, and Saktism were tolerated. Navamuni and Varabhuja caves were carved by king Udyota Keshari for Jaina ascetics.
Architecture and Art
The Somavamsis left an indelible mark on art and architecture. Odishan temple architecture began in the Sailodbhava period and reached its pinnacle of perfection near the end of the Somavamsi period. By the end of the Somavamsi period, the Odishan temple had taken on its final form. Though not insignificant, architectural activities in the later period were more concerned with elaboration than with the introduction of novel features or forms indicating new directions of development. Among the numerous temples constructed by the Somavamsis, Lingaraj, Brahmeswar, Mukteswar, and Rajarani are the most magnificent (all in Bhubaneswar). Each one is a work of art in Odishan architecture. The representations of these temples are also among the finest examples of sculpture.
Promotion of Education
During the Somavamsi period, there was a phenomenal growth in the field of Sanskrit learning and literature. The period’s inscriptions attest to the scholars’ proficiency in the Vedas, Vedanga, Smtitis, and Puranas, as well as in medical sciences, astronomy, arthasastra, grammar, poetry, history, political science, and logic. The land grants made possible the study of Sanskritic literature by the learned Brahmanas. Several Sanskrit scholars flourished during the Somavamsi period, including Sadharana, Purushottam Bhatta, Bhavadeva, Acharya Subhachandradeva, and Narayana Satakarni. Sadharana, Janmejava I’s chief minister, was versed in Veda, Vedanga, Vidya, Siksa, Kalpa, Itihas, Smriti, and Arthasastra. Purushottam Bhatta memorialised King Udyota Keshari in a eulogy. Several of the Somavamsi kings were scholars. The Somavamsi inscriptions contain a number of Odia terms, including Khamba, Punya, and Machha. This period undoubtedly played a significant role in the development of the Odia language.
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