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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 king of Kalinga in present-day Odisha, India, who ruled during the second century BCE. He was the most prominent and best-known king of the Mahameghavahana dynasty, which is also known as the Chedi dynasty by some scholars based on a misreading of his father's name (Cheta-raja).

The primary source for Kharavela is his rock-cut Hathigumpha inscription. The inscription is undated, and only four of its 17 lines are completely legible. Scholars have interpreted it differently, leading to speculation about his reign. The inscription credits the king with welfare activities, patronage of the arts, repair works, and military victories. Although it exaggerates his achievements, historians agree that Kharavela was one of Kalinga's strongest rulers. He is believed to have been a follower of Jainism, although the Hathigumpha inscription describes him as a devotee of all religions.



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, partially-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.[1] It is open to a number of interpretations, and has given rise to speculation by various scholars.[2][3]


The kingdom of Kalinga was annexed by Ashoka's Maurya Empire c. 262-261 BCE. It seems to have regained independence soon after Ashoka's death, and Kharavela was born in an independent Kalinga.[1]

Although Bhagwan Lal Indraji and other scholars believe that the 16th line of the Hathigumpha inscription (which describes the 13th year of Kharavela's reign) contains a reference to the 165th year after the Mauryan era, the interpretation is controversial.[4] Indraji says that the calculation of 165 years begins with the eighth year of Ashoka's reign, when the Kalinga war resulted in the Mauryan conquest of the kingdom. Based on this, Indraji concludes that Kharavela was born in 127 BCE and became king in 103.[5]

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.[6]

Alain Daniélou places Kharavela between 180 BCE and 130 BCE, identifying him as a contemporary of Satakarni and Pushyamitra Shunga.[7] According to Rama Shankar Tripathi, Kharavela reigned during the third quarter of the first century BCE.[4]


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").[8] Although "Chetaraja" probably refers to Kharavela's father and his immediate predecessor, this is uncertain. The word "Cheta" has a small crack in the stone above the letter ta (त), giving the impression of medial i. The crack misled scholars such as R. D. Banerji and D. C. Sircar to decipher the word as "Cheti" (चेति), and the conjectural reading led them to speculate that the dynasty might have descended from the one that ruled the Chedi mahajanapada.[9]: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 was the first scholar to assert that the king's name was Kharavela. According to scholars such as N. K. Sahu[10] and B. M. Barua,[11] Aira is the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word Arya ("noble"), a self-designation used by the ancient Indo-Aryan peoples. Others believe that it refers to the Aila dynasty, an ancient dynasty mentioned in Hindu mythology; Kharavela's family might have claimed descent from this dynasty.[12]


The Hathigumpha inscription describes Kharavela as a descendant of Mahameghavahana.[5] 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 the following hypothetical family tree:[5]

Khemaraja (a.k.a. Kshemaraja)Unknown
Vudharaja (a.k.a. Vriddharaja)Hastisaha (a.k.a. Hastisimha)
Kharavela (a.k.a. Bhiku,Bhikshuraja)Daughter
Vakradeva (a.k.a. Kudepasiri)
Vadukha (a.k.a. Badukha)


Suniti Kumar Chatterji interpreted "Kharavela" as a name of Dravidian origin, possibly derived from the words kar ("black and terrible") and vel ("lance").[13] Richard N. Frye, however, did not find Chatterji's etymology satisfactory.[14] 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.[15] N. K. Sahu also doubts this theory, saying that Kharavela and his successor Kudepasiri use the epithet "Aira" (which Sahu identifies with Sanskrit Arya).[9]

Early life[edit]

According to the Hathigumpha inscription, Kharavela spent his first 15 years on sports and amusements. He was formally appointed the heir-apparent prince (yuvaraja) at age 16, and remained in that office for nine years. Kharavela mastered several branches of learning during that time, including royal correspondence, currency, finance, and civil and religious law.[5][16]


Kharavela was crowned king of Kalinga at age 24. The Hathigumpha inscription describes the first 13 years of his reign as follows:[5]

Year 1
Kharavela repaired gates and buildings that had been damaged by storms, built reservoirs and tanks, and restored the gardens. The inscription mentions a number, which is variously interpreted. According to Indraji, the king had 350,000 people in his city.[5] According to K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, Kharavela spent 3,500,000 rupees on repairs.[2]
Year 2
The inscription mentions a king named "Satakani" or "Satakamini" (identified with Satakarni) and the dispatch of an army with cavalry, elephants, chariots, and men. It also mentions Kharavela's threat to a city variously interpreted as "Masika" (Masikanagara), "Musika" (Musikanagara) or "Asika" (Asikanagara). N. K. Sahu identifies Asika as the capital of Assaka.[9]:127 According to Ajay Mitra Shastri, "Asika-nagara" was located in the present-day village of Adam in Nagpur district (on the Wainganga River). A terracotta seal excavated in the village mentions the Assaka janapada.[17][18] The inscription also mentions a word read as Kanha-bemna or Kanhavemṇā. According to most scholars, this was the name of a river to which Kharavela's army advanced. One theory equates it with the Krishna River in coastal Andhra Pradesh. However, the epigraph indicates that the river was located west of Kharavela's kingdom; the Krishna is south of Kalinga. Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi identifies Kanha-bemna with the Kanhan (Kanha) and Wainganga Rivers (Bemna or Vemṇā), which flow west of Kalinga.[19] Scholars interpret the events described in the inscription differently. According to K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, Kharavela sent an army against Satakarani. Sailendra Nath Sen says that Kharavela sent an army that advanced to the Krishna and threatened the Musika city (Musikanagara) located near the confluence of the Krishna and Musi Rivers, near present-day Nalgonda.[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.[5] According to Alain Daniélou, Kharavela was friendly with Satakarni.[7] Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya writes that Kharavela's army failed to advance against Satakarni and diverged to threaten the city of Asika (Asikanagara).[6]
Year 3
Well-versed in Gandharvan music, Kharavela entertained the city with festive gatherings which included singing, dancing and instrumental music.[5][16]
Year 4
This line is broken, and difficult to interpret. According to K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, Kharavela subdued the Rathika (Rashtrika) and the Bhojaka kings.[2] Daniélou calls them vassals of the Satavahanas whom Kharavela subdued in "a kind of tournament", without conquest.[7] According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela repaired an old temple (chaitya) on the Dharmakuta hill, and worshipped in it (after furnishing it with umbrellas and kalasha) to inspire faith in the triratna in the Rashtrikas and Bhojakas.[5]
Year 5
This part is broken as well. It appears that Kharavela commissioned water works involving a canal originally built by the Nandaraja. Rama Shankar Tripathi and others mention that Kharavela extended a canal that had not been used for ti-vasa-sata since Nanadaraja brought it into the capital.[4] Ti-vasa-sata can mean 103 or 300 years.[6] K. P. Jayaswal interprets the inscription as saying that the canal originated in Tanasuli, which they identify with Tosali.[20] Bhagawan Lal interprets the record differently, and concludes that Kharavela renewed the three-year sattra (meaning not known) of the Nandaraja. He adds that due to the damaged record, his interpretation is tentative.[5]
Year 6
Although the record is mostly lost, Kharavela is probably cited as benefiting hundreds of thousands of people through his good work.[5] According to K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, the king also performed the Rajasuya sacrifice and remitted taxes.[2]
Year 7
According to Bhagwan Lal, the year's record is lost.[5] According to an interpretation of the surviving text, however, his wife Dhusi (who belonged to the house of Vajira) gave birth to a son.[21]
Year 8
The record is partially damaged. According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela challenged a king who had killed another king and was harassing the king of Rajagriha. The king fled to Mathura and Kharavela led a noisy expedition in pursuit. According to Bhagwan Lal, the names of the kings are lost in the broken part.[5] 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).[7] 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.[22][23] Kharavela's inscription states that a Yavana (Greek) king or general retreated to Mathura, escaping with his demoralized army.[16] The name of the Yavana king is unclear, but it contains three letters and the middle letter can be read as ma or mi.[24] R. D. Banerji and K. P. Jayaswal read the name of the Yavana king as "Dimita", and identify him with Demetrius I of Bactria. However, according to Ramaprasad Chanda, this identification results in "chronological impossibilities".[6] Numismatist P. L. Gupta interprets the name as "Vimaka", and identifies him with Vima Kadphises.[24] This interpretation is also problematic, however, because Vima Kadphises was a Kushana king. It is otherwise unknown for a Kushan emperor to be referred to as a Yavana, and for Vima Kadphises to be known as "Vimaka". Palaeographic problems exist in dating the Hathigumpha inscription to Vima Kadphises' period.
Year 9
Much of this is broken and lost, but Kharavela gave Kalpavriksha, horses, elephants, chariots, houses and other gifts to Brahmins and built a palace. According to Bhagwan Lal, the palace was named Mahavyaya and was built at a cost of 280,000 rupees.[5] Another source interprets the name of the palace as Mahavijaya ("palace of great victory"), and its cost as 3,800,000 rupees.[16]
Year 10
Much of the record is lost. The inscription mentions Bharatavarsha (a term now used as a name for India), which in this context refers only to the Gangetic valley in northern India.[1] According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela travelled in Bharatvarsha and took measures when he learned that several kings opposed him.[5] Another interpretation is that, following the three-fold policy of chastisement, alliance and conciliation, Kharavela sent out an expedition to conquer Bharatvarsha. He conquered the land and obtained wealth from the kings he attacked.[16]
Year 11
The record is lost, but can be made out with partial records for Years 10 and 12. According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela appears to have removed a toll levied by former kings on the city of Gardabha. Something which was renewed after 1,300 years is mentioned.[5] Another interpretation is that Kharavela "ploughed down" the Pithuda (or the city of Pithunda), which was founded by the Ava king. He also broke up the 1,300-year confederacy of the "T[r]amira" countries which had endangered his country.[16] Sen, Alain Daniélou and other scholars interpret "Tramira" as "Dramira" ("Dravidian"), and this is a reference to Kharavela subduing the Pandya king.[1] K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji state that Kharavela broke up a confederacy of Tamil kingdoms which had been threatening Kalinga.[2]
Year 12
Parts of this record are lost. The record mentions that Kharavela harassed the kings of Uttarpatha (the north), probably by sending an expedition against them. It also mentions that he made Bahasatimita, the king of Magadha, bow at his feet. K. P. Jayaswal identified Bahasmita with Pushyamitra Shunga, saying that Bahasati refers to Bṛhaspati (Jupiter), the lord of Pushya nakshatra in Hindu astrology. Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri discredits this theory, pointing out that Divyavadana mentions a king named Bṛhaspati (distinct from Pushyamitra). Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya believes that Bahasatimita may have been a king of Kaushambi, and his rule might have extended to Magadha as well.[6] The record also mentions elephants. According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela "watered his elephants in the Ganges".[5] According to another interpretation, Kharavela frightened the people of Magadha by driving his elephants into the Sugamgiya (palace).[16] Kharavela brought back an idol of Agrajina (possibly Rishabha), which had been taken by Nandraja. He also brought home the wealth of Anga and Magadha.[2][25] The record then mentions that Kharavela built structures. According to Bhagwan Lal, he built lofty structures "by sitting on the summits of which the Vidyadharas could reach the sky". An unprecedented elephant gift by Kharavela and the people of a province subdued by him are mentioned.[5] According to K.P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, Kharavela built a settlement of a hundred masons and exempted it from land revenue. He also built an enclosure for elephants, horses and wealth from the Pandya king.[2]
Year 13
Parts of this record are lost. Kharavela is mentioned as Bhikshuraja (the king of monks), a devotee of all sects, the possessor of an invincible army and an illustrious king. According to Bhagwan Lal, he did work near the Arhat temple on the Kumari Hill; he organized scholars and ascetics, and commissioned the construction of what was probably a cave by skilled workmen and pillars in Vaiduryagarbha in Patalaka and Chetaka (probably names of caves). The work was done in the 165th year, after 164 years of Maurya rule. Two ancestors of Kharavela are mentioned: Khemraja and Vriddharaja.[5] According to another source, he made offerings to monks on the Kumari Hill where "the Wheel of Conquest had been well-turned" (his faith, possibly Jainism, had been preached). Kharavela organized a council of ascetics and sages, and constructed a shelter for Queen Sindhula of Sinhapatha (or Simhapatha) with fine stones from far away. At a cost of 2,500,000 rupees, he commissioned the compilation of the text of the seven-fold Angas of the sixty-four (letters). The inscription also notes that Kharavela was a descendant of the royal sage, Vasu.[16] K. P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji also say that Kharavela claimed descent from the royal sage Vasu.[2]

Later years[edit]

Kharavela's empire is believed to have disintegrated soon after his death.[26] Only two of his successors - Vakradeva (a.k.a. Kudepasiri or Vakadepa) and Vadukha - left inscriptions. According to Bhagwan Lal, Vakradeva was probably Kharavela's son and successor. Vakradeva's inscription is found in Udayagiri, and he has the same epithets as Kharavela: Kalingadhipati (Lord of Kalinga) and Mahameghavahana (having an elephant as his carrier). Vaduka seems to be a son of Vakradeva.[5]

Extent of the kingdom[edit]

Kharavela's inscriptions call him a Chakravartin (universal) emperor.[27] Although his achievements were exaggerated in his inscriptions, he was one of Kalinga's strongest rulers;[1][15]

Kharavela's kingdom certainly included the present-day Puri and Cuttack districts of Odisha. It may have also included parts of present-day Vishakhapatnam and Ganjam districts.[1] According to Dietmar Rothermund and Hermann Kulke, Kharavela's empire included "large parts of eastern and central India".[26]


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.[28] The inscription mentions that Kharavela brought back an idol of Agrajina to Kalinga. Many historians identify Agrajina with Rishabha, the first Jain tirthankara.[29] Although Kharavela is believed to have been a follower of Jainism, he does not appear in Jain records.[30]

The inscription notes that he was a devotee of all religions (sava-pāsanḍa pūjako) and repaired temples dedicated to a variety of gods (sava-de[vāya]tana-sakāra-kārako);[31][32] it is difficult to know to what extent Kharavela was a devout Jain.[33] According to Helmuth von Glasenapp, he was probably a free-thinker who patronized all his subjects (including Jains).[34]


According to Odia scholar Subrat Kumar Prusty, Kharavela's first-century BCE Hatigumpha inscription is evidence of past Odia cultural, political, ritual and social status.[35][36][37]



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