In its long meandering course through history, different regions of Odisha came under different geographical units at various times; namely Kalinga, Utkal, Odra, Kosala, Trikalinga, Kangoda, Tosala etc. Since the Suryavamshi kings (15th-16th century), the land came to be definitely known as Odisha. This Odisha is called Bhagawat desh and Puriis called Purusottama Kshetra or in short form Purastam. Odisha is therefore called the land of Purusottama or Jagannath Desh. Scholars say that Anangabhima Deva, the great ruler and staunch Vaishnav when anticipated trouble from the neighbouring kingdoms, made a proclamation declaring that the kingdom of Utkal which extended from the Hoogly in the north-east up to Godavari in the south were donated and left under the protection of Purusottam Jagannath, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. He therefore, acted as the representative(Raut) of the Divine Lord in the affairs of the day-to-day administration of the kingdom. The declaration called upon all the hostile kings to ensure the safety and tranquility of the Jagannath Desh. The faith of Hindu kings since then was established that the God's kingdom Utkal was invincible and divinely protected. This religious belief has been handed down from generation to generation. From the epigraphical sources, it was found that Anangabhima Deva inflicted heavy defeat on the Chedis through his Commander called Vishnu who threatened the Chedi king (Sisupal) by appearing on his side. The Commander Vishnu (Jagannath) was a terror to the Chedi king. The Hindu World, therefore, was made to believe that the country of Utkal was under the direct control of the Divine Lord Vishnu or Jagannath. Consequently, Odisha is considered as the sacred seat of the highest god of the Hindus and the land and the people are deemed as sacred and holy.
[ King of Puri coming for Chera Panhara during Car Festival ]
Kapileswara's Inscriptions (JASB, 1893, pp.100-103) in the temple of Lord Jagannathshow that the king treated the deity as the Supreme Lord of Odisa and himself as his representative. He used to bring to the notice of the Lord important facts relating to the administration of the kingdom. Even for granting charities or inflicting punishment the king used to seek permission of the Lord. In one inscription the king proclaimed that "all the kings living in the kingdom of Odisha should work for the good of the paramount sovereign (Lord Jagannath). If they acted badly towards the sovereign, they would be expelled from the kingdom and all their properties would be confiscated." This type of proclamation through inscription before a deity in a temple is quite unique in India. Temple chronicle Madala Panji says that the king also requested the Lord to guide him in the selection of his successor. Where upon the Lord advised him in a dream to consecrate his son Purusottama of the younger queen as the heir apparent. This enraged the sons of his chief queen and they all attacked the heir apparent in a combined effort. The story goes that they threw spears from a certain distance aiming at Purushottama, but their aim failed. It proved that Lord Jagannath protected the Yuvaraja (heir apparent) Purushottama. Thereafter all the other eighteen sons left the capital. Whenever the king had any difficulty Lord used to help him forthwith. The Lord used to give in every case his verdict in dreams to the kings who sought for his judgement. This belief fortified the king's position as the Lord's Representative and the whole administration was running under the orders of Lord Jagannath. The Suryavamshi King Purushottama Deva also acted as the representative of the Lord. When he made an expedition to conquer Kanchi, Lord Jagannath and Lord Balabhadra on black and white horses went ahead of the army to participate in the war. King Purushottama Deva could easily conquer Kanchi and brought the princess Padmavati and the presiding deity of Kanchipuram, Sri Ganesh. This event is known as 'Kanchi Vijaya' of king Purushottam Deva.
Next king also followed the said tradition and gave charities to the people in the name of Lord Jagannath. Sri Chaitanya and the Panchasakha (Five Comrades) poets sang the glory of Lord Jagannath and made the name of Jagannath quite popular in every Odia household. Odia Bhagavat of Jagannath Das became so popular that the people were led to have a firm faith on Lord Jagannath as the central figure of their life. The history of Odisha is the history of the administration centering around the temple and worship of Lord Jagannath.
When the British occupied Odisha in 1803, army under their Colonel Harcourt took possession of Puri town and temple of Jagannath on 18th September 1803. The officer commanding of the British troops Colone Campbell was instructed by Lord Wellesely that on the occupation of Puri, all possible precaution should be taken to preserve the religious beliefs and shrine without interfering in the activities of the priests. The control over the temple finally was transferred to Raja of Khurda (Puri) Sri Birakishora Deva in 1863 and the government thereafter ceased to have any connection with the management of the temple. According to Act of 1840, the duties of the Superintendent of the Temple was vested with the Raja of Puri. This title enabled the king to be the Sevaka Raja of the Jagannath temple. Since then the Raja of Puri is the Thakura Raja and he is respected both by law and custom to be the Chief Sevaka of the Lord. After independence, the temple was managed by the Raja of Puri and now it is managed by an Administrator under Sri Jagannath Temple Act, 1952 but honour for the Raja of Puri as the Chief Sevaka is retained even now.
The role of Gajapati Maharaja of Puri is to spread of awareness of Shri Jagannath culture throughout the whole world. Starting from Ganga dynasty till the present regime of Bhoi kings all the Gajapati Maharajas of Puri have placated Shri Jagannath Mahaprabhu as the principal deity.