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History of Orissa in the Medieval Period

Orissa from 1568 to 1866

The year 1568 is regarded as the split line between the glorious period of Orissa history and the gloomy times that fell thereafter.Orissa had maintained her political vitality intact for centuries with many powerful rulers and had in the process developed a distinction of her own.She had been hugely successful in achieving milestones in the field of art, architecture, religion, philosophy and literature. She had been able to not only maintain her independence but register an increase in political strength at a time when the entire nation had given up in its fight to the Muslim rule.

Orissa’s political strength was so spectacular even so late as 15 th century A.D. that during the rule of Kapilendradeva (1435-1466 A.D.) the Oriya armies threatened and attacked most powerful kingdom in the neighbouring regions as well as in the far south and established political supremacy over a vast territory outside the limits of geographical Orissa. Kapilendra ruled from Ganges in the north-east to Arcot in the south. His successors Purushottamdeva and Prataprudradeva, though not very powerful, retained their hold over an extensive territory, and during the rule of the latter from 1497 A.D. to 1541 A.D. his kingdom extended from the Hooghly and Midnapore districts of West Bengtal to the Guntur district of Tamil Nadu.

 Political decline came soon after the Muslim ruler of Bengal, Suleiman Karrani succeeded in conquering the land in 1568, ending thereby the independence of this powerful Hindu kingdom which had resisted Muslim invasions successfully for three centuries. Orissa was one of the last of the Indian territories to succumb to the Muslim invasion though most part of the sub-continent had come under the Muslim rule much earlier.

Afghan Rule

With the victory of Karrani, Orissa came under the rule of the Afghans. But the new rulers could not establish their authority in the effective manner. In areas those were inaccessible, the local chiefs declared themselves independent. Suleiman Karrani died in 1572 leading to a downfall of the Afghan rule. His son and successor Bayazid was murdered in no time, and Daud Karrani, his younger brother ascended the throne as the ruler of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

At this time,Akbar thought of subjugating the entire of Orissa,Bihar and Bengal to his kingdom.Though the Afghan rulers of Bengal had earlier acknowledged the suzerainty of the Mughals, Daud Karrani assumed the role of an independent sovereign thus defying Akbar. This led to the inevitable conflict between the Mughals and the Afghans in which Orissa became an arena for their battles. With the Mughal victory in Bengal, the Afghan forces withdrew into Orissa to fight for their survival. Akbar’s General, Raja Mansingh proceeded to Orissa to destroy the Afghan resistance. The operation continued from 1590 to 1595 resulting in the complete defeat of the Afghans. Orissa thus was acquired for the Mughal Empire and was governed as a part of the Bengal Subah for sometime.

Mughal RuleAkbar the great, completed the conquest of Orissa

Though Orissa came under the direct rule of the Mughals, large parts of it remained free. Akbar was satisfied that the territory had been conquered from the Afghans and brought under the suzerainty, but he did not try to destroy the local Hindu chiefs who ruled in various places in their hill and remote regions.Akbar didn’t have any contention with the local rulers and let them enjoy their autonomous authority .He, paid adequate respect to Raja Ramachandra Deva-I of Khordha, permitting him to enjoy the dignified position of a subordinate king. In matters of general administration, most of the indigenous systems were permitted to continue and the land and revenue systems of Raja Todar Mal were introduced in conformity with the prevailing local practices.

During the rule of Akbar’s son and successor, Jahangir, Orissa was constituted into a separate province in 1607, with Cuttack as capital and placed under a Subahdar. This arrangement continued till the end of the rule of the Great Mughals.

The process of the disintegration of Orissa in fact, began from the Mughal Period. The Mughals did not try for political consolidation of the conquered territory. Akbar’s leniency towards Orissa princes gave them a semi-independent status.This resulted in further disintegration of the state. The worst thing to happen was the the negligence of the border territories of Orissa. The Qutub Shahis of Golkonda extended their power as far as Lake Chilika during the first phase of the Mughal rule, and when their power was finally destroyed by Aurangzeb, the Mughals did not try to incorporate these southern areas into Orissa mainland.

Similarly, the Mughals did not attempt to exercise their authority over a large portion of western Orissa including Sambalpur. During the closing years of Aurangzeb’s rule, when Murshid Quli Khan-I governed as the Subedar, a bigger portion of Midnapore district was taken away from the Jaleshwar Sarkar of Orissa and placed under the direct administration of the Bengal Subahder. In subsequent years, the river Subarnarekha was made the southern boundary of Bengal. A large portion of Orissa’s territory was thus detatched from the main land in the north-east. In the far south, the Sarkars of Rajmahendri of Kalinga Dandapat got separated from Orissa.