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Kalingadhipati Lord of Kalinga
King of Kalinga
Reign1st or 2nd century BCE
Predecessorpossibly Vriddharaja (a.k.a. Vudharaja)
Successorpossibly Vakradeva (a.k.a. Vakadepa)

Kharavela (also transliterated Khārabēḷa) was a monarch of Kalinga in present-day Odisha, India, who ruled during the second or first century BCE. The primary source for Kharavela is his rock-cut Hathigumpha inscription. The inscription is undated, only four of its 17 lines are completely legible, others unclear, variously interpreted and disputed by scholars. The inscription written with Jainism-related phrases recites a year by year record of his reign and panegyrically credits him with public infrastructure projects, welfare activities, patronage of the arts, and many military victories. Historians agree that it is best and most complete biography of Kharavela available. He was a follower of Jainism.



Rock-cut cave with pillars
The Hathigumpha cave, one of the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves

Much of the available information about Kharavela comes from the undated, much damaged Hathigumpha inscription and several minor inscriptions found in the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in present-day Odisha. The Hathigumpha inscription records Kharavela's life until his 38th year, including 13 years of his reign. The inscription is badly damaged; of its 17 lines, only four are completely legible, the rest partly lost and eroded by natural processes.[1] It is open to "widely different" interpretations, giving rise to disputes and speculation by various scholars.[2][3][4]

Composed as it is in a very obscure Prakrit,
and its characters badly weathered
by centuries of exposure to the elements
and in places quite illegible,
the Hathigumpha inscription has long
been the subject of a great controversy
among historians and paleographers.

Arthur Llewellyn Basham[5]


The kingdom of Kalinga was invaded by Ashoka c. 262-261 BCE. The Hathigumpha inscription implies that Kalinga regained its independence from the Maurya Empire sometime after Ashoka's death, and Kharavela was born in an independent Kalinga.[1]

In 1885, the colonial era epigraphist Bhagwan Lal Indraji read the 16th line of the Hathigumpha inscription as a reference to Maurya kala and 165th year after this new timeline, which he called the Mauryan era. Indraji concluded that Kharavela was born in 127 BCE and became king in 103 BCE.[6] Indraji's interpretations were questioned by scholars and has been largely rejected.[7][8][9]

According to Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, the 16th line does not mention Maurya kala ("Maurya era") but reads Mukhya kala ("the main era"). Chattopadhyaya relies on the description of Kharavela's fifth regnal year in the Hathigumpha inscription, which he says implies that Kharavela flourished ti-vasa-sata years after the Nandaraja. Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri identifies Nandaraja with Mahapadma Nanda or one of his sons. The expression ti-vasa-sata can mean 103 or 300 years; Chattopadhyaya does not consider 103 plausible, since it would contradict Ashoka's records. Based on this, he places Kharavela in the second half of the first century BCE or the first half of the first century CE.[10]

Depending on the variant readings, different dates continue to be published in post-colonial era texts. Alain Daniélou, for example, places Kharavela between 180 BCE and 130 BCE, identifying him as a contemporary of Satakarni and Pushyamitra Shunga.[11] According to Rama Shankar Tripathi, Kharavela reigned during the third quarter of the first century BCE.[8] Many other scholars, such as D.C. Sircar and Walter Spink, date Kharavela and the Hathigumpha inscription in the 1st-century BCE to early 1st-century CE.[12][13]

Faint rock-cut inscription
Kharavela's Hathigumpha inscription


The first line of the Hathigumpha inscription calls Kharavela "Chetaraja-vasa-vadhanena" (चेतराज वस वधनेन, "the one who extended the family of the Cheta King").[14] R. D. Banerji and D. C. Sircar interpreted "Cheti" (चेति) to be referring to a dynasty from which Kharavela descended, namely Chedi mahajanapada. According to Sahu, this is incorrect and an artifact of a crack in the stone. The "Chetaraja", states Sahu, probably refers to Kharavela's father and his immediate predecessor.[15]: 18 

The Hathigumpha inscription also contains a word that has been interpreted as Aira or Aila. According to a small inscription found in the Mancapuri Cave, Kharavela's successor Kudepasiri also styled himself as Aira Maharaja Kalingadhipati Mahameghavahana (Devanagari: ऐर महाराजा कलिंगाधिपतिना महामेघवाहन). Early readings of that inscription by scholars such as James Prinsep and R. L. Mitra interpreted Aira as the name of the king in the Hathigumpha inscription. Indraji's work corrected this error, and established that the king mentioned in the Hathugumpha inscription was Kharavela and that he was a descendant of Mahameghavahana.[6] It does not directly mention the relationship between Mahameghavahana and Kharavela, or the number of kings between them.[1] Indraji interpreted the inscription to create a hypothetical family tree in 1885,[6] but this is largely discredited.

The word Aira or Aila was then re-interpreted, by Barua[16] and Sahu[17] to be the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word Arya ("noble"). Jayaswal and Banerji interpret the same word to be referring to the Aila dynasty, the mythical Pururavas dynasty mentioned in Hindu and Jain texts; Kharavela's Mahameghavahana family might have claimed descent from this Pururavas dynasty.[18] Scholars such as Sircar and Sharma, based on later discovered Guntupalli inscriptions, state that Kharavela was one of the ancient Mahameghavahana dynasty king from Kalinga.[19]


Suniti Kumar Chatterji interpreted "Kharavela" as a name of Dravidian origin, possibly derived from the words kar ("black and terrible") and vel ("lance").[20] Richard N. Frye, however, did not find Chatterji's etymology satisfactory.[21] According to Braj Nath Puri, it is difficult to suggest a Dravidian cultural origin for Kharavela's dynasty or connect it to South India with certainty.[22] N. K. Sahu also doubts this theory, where he interprets "Aira" or "Aila" word in the Hathigumpha inscription as Kharavela must be self identifying himself as an Aryan.[15]


The Hathigumpha inscription begins with a variation of the salute to arihants and siddhas. This is similar to the Jain Pancha-Namaskara Mantra, in which three more entities are invoked in addition to the arihants and siddhas.[23] Other parts of the Hathigumpha inscription, as well as the minor inscriptions found at Udayagiri from around 1st-century BCE use Jain phrases. He is therefore generally called a Jain king.[24] He brought back Jina idol from Mathura which was taken by Nanda king.[25]

Some scholars such as Paul Dundas question whether he was a Jain, or another ancient king who supported Jainism and is valorized in an inscription written at a Jain site. One reason for doubts is that Hathigumpha inscription explicitly states he was a devotee of all religious sects (sava-pāsanḍa pūjako) and repaired temples dedicated to a variety of gods (sava-de[vāya]tana-sakāra-kārako).[26][27]

Other reasons to doubt Kharavela was a devout Jain is also found in many lines of the Hathigumpha inscription.[28] The repeated mention of violence and wars in the inscription, says Dundas, raises questions whether Kharavela was merely partial to Jainism given the central doctrine of Ahimsa (non-violence) in Jainism.[29]

According to Helmuth von Glasenapp, he was probably a free-thinker who patronized all his subjects (including Jains).[30]


According to the Hathigumpha inscription, Kharavela spent his first 24 years on education and sports, a period when he mastered the fields of writing, coinage, accounting, administration and procedures of law.[31] He was the prince to the throne (yuvaraja) at 16, and crowned King of Kalinga at age 24. The Hathigumpha inscription details his first 13 years of his reign. Some notable aspects of this reign includes:

Year 1
Many public infrastructure projects: Kharavela repaired gates and buildings that had been damaged by storms, built reservoirs and tanks, and restored the gardens.[31]
Year 2
Dispatch of an army with cavalry, elephants, chariots, and men towards a kingdom led by "Satakani" or "Satakamini" (identified with Satakarni, near Krishna river valley). It also mentions Kharavela's threat to a city variously interpreted as "Masika" (Masikanagara), "Musika" (Musikanagara), "Asika" (Asikanagara, capital of Assaka).[15]: 127 [32] Scholars interpret the events described in the inscription differently. Jayaswal, Banerji and Sen say that Kharavela threatened Satakarni.[1] According to Bhagwal Lal, King Satakarni of the western region wanted to avoid an invasion of his kingdom by Kharavela and sent him horses, elephants, chariots and men in tribute. That year, Kharavela captured the city of Masika with the aid of the Kusumba Kshatriyas.[6] According to Alain Daniélou, Kharavela was friendly with Satakarni.[11] Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya writes that Kharavela's army failed to advance against Satakarni and diverged to threaten the city of Asika (Asikanagara).[10]
Year 3
Well-versed in Gandharvan music, Kharavela entertained the city with festive gatherings which included singing, dancing and instrumental music.[6][33]
Year 4
Rathikas and Bhojakas bow to him, he built monuments to Vidyadharas
Year 5
Kharavela commissioned extended a canal originally built by the Nandas ti-vasa-sata ago, thus brought it into the capital of Kalinga.[8] Ti-vasa-sata can mean 103 or 300 years.[10] Most scholars, such as Barua and Sircar interpret this to be 300 years. This implies that Kharavela came to power about 300 years when this region was under the Nanda dynasty rule.[34]
Years 6–7
His wife, who is stated to be from Vajiragraha family, gives birth to their child. Kharavela exempts taxes and performs charitable works that help hundreds of thousands of people. According to K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, the king also performed the Rajasuya sacrifice – a Vedic ritual for the king, then gives gifts to Jain monks and Brahmins.[35] According to Sircar, this ink impression and reading is doubtful. Similarly the alleged achievements of Kharavela here are problematic and doubtfu[36] Sircar also adds that this should not be read as "sacrifice ritual", but a different similar word with the meaning "royal fortune" he used to give away gifts.[37]
Years 8–9
The record is partially damaged. It mentions a Yavana king running away in fear and retreating to Mathura. Alain Daniélou writes that Kharavela sacked Gorathagiri (near the Barabar Hills) with a large army and subdued the town of Rajagriha (identified with present-day Rajgir).[11] According to Ananta Prasad Banerji-Sastri, Kharavela expelled members of the Ajivika sect (a rival of the Jains) from the Barabari caves and mutilated their inscriptions.[38][39]
Year 10
Much of the record is lost. The inscription mentions Bharatavasa and a series of military campaigns with victories. Kharavela defeats the Ava king and broke up the 113-year confederacy of the "T[r]amira" countries which had endangered Kalinga.[33] Sen and Alain Daniélou interpret "Tramira" as "Dramira" ("Dravidian") confederacy.[2]
Year 12
Parts of this record are lost. Kharavela sends his troops to Uttarpatha (the north), and subdues the king of Magadha. K. P. Jayaswal identified Bahasmita with Pushyamitra Shunga, but Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri discredits this theory. Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya believes that Bahasatimita may have been a king of Kaushambi, and his rule might have extended to Magadha as well.[10] This section of the inscription mentions a "Ka[li]ngajinam" taken by Nanda king in the past and he brought it back to Kalinga. Kharavela built a settlement of a hundred masons with a tax exemption.[33]
Year 13
This is the last part of the inscription and praises Kharavela. It also states that he organized a council of ascetics and sages, and constructed a shelter, commissioned the compilation of the text of the seven-fold Angas in the sixty-four letters (scripts). The inscription also claims that Kharavela was a descendant of the royal sage Vasu.[33]


Kulke and Rothermund state Kharavela's empire state that the history of ancient India is unclear including the times after Ashoka and Kharavela. Given the lack of major inscriptions by his successors, they surmise that the Kharavela empire likely disintegrated soon after his death.[40] A little is known about the next two generations of kings - Vakradeva (a.k.a. Kudepasiri or Vakadepa) and Vadukha - but through the minor inscriptions at Udayagiri.[40] Kharavela was succeeded by Sada dynasty kings.[41] Siri Sada is mentioned as a Mahameghavahana king in an inscription at Guntupalli.[41]


Kharavela's inscriptions call him a Chakravartin or an emperor.[42] He was one of Kalinga's strongest rulers.[1][22]



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