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Kalingadhipati ("Lord of Kalinga")
Reign c. first or second century BCE
Predecessor possibly Vriddharaja (aka Vudharaja)
Successor possibly Vakradeva (aka Vakadepa)
Dynasty Mahameghavahana

Kharavela was a king of Kalinga in present-day Odisha, India. The best known king of the Mahameghavahana dynasty, he ruled somewhere around first or second century BCE. His name is also transliterated as Khārabēḷa.

The main source of information about Kharavela is his rock-cut Hathigumpha inscription. The inscription is undated, and only 4 of its 17 lines are completely legible. Different scholars have interpreted it differently, leading to a number of speculations about Kharavela's reign. The inscription credits the king with several welfare activities, patronage of arts, repair works and military victories. Although it exaggerates his achievements, historians agree that Kharavela was one of the strongest rulers of Kalinga.

Kharavela is believed to be a follower of Jainism, although the Hathigumpha inscription describes him as a worshipper of all religious orders.


Sources of information[edit]

Hathigumpha cave on Udayagiri Hills
The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela

Much of the available information about Kharavela comes from the undated and partially damaged Hathigumpha inscription, plus a few other minor Inscriptions found in Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, in present-day Odisha. The Hathigumpha inscription records Kharavela's life up to his 38th year, including 13 years of his reign. The inscription is badly mutilated: out of its 17 lines, only four are completely legible.[1] Thefore, it is open to multiple interpretations, and has given rise to different speculations by different scholars.[2][3]


The kingdom of Kalinga had been annexed by the Mauryan empire Ashoka around 262-261 BCE. Kalinga seems to have regained independence soon after Ashoka's death, and Kharavela was born in an independent Kalinga.[1] Based on the Hathigumpha and other minor inscriptions, historians date him around first or second century BCE. However, the exact period of his reign is highly debatable.

Bhagwan Lal and some other scholars believe that the 16th line of the Hathigumpha inscription (which describes the 13th year of Kharavela's reign) contains a reference to 165th year after the Maurya era. However, some other scholars deny this interpretation.[4] According to Bhagwan Lal, the calculation of 165 years starts from the 8th year of Ashoka's reign, when the Kalinga War resulted in Mauryan conquest of Kalinga. Based on this, Bhagwan Lal concludes that Kharavela was born in 127 BCE, and became the king in 103 BCE.[5]

Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya argues that the 16th line doesn't mention Maurya kala (Maurya era); instead it reads Mukhya kala ("the main era"). He relies on the description of Kharavela's 5th regnal year in the Hathigumpha inscription. According to him, this record 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 either 103 or 300 years. According to Chattopadhyaya, 103 is not plausible, because that would make Kharavela's inscriptions contradictory to the Ashoka's records. Based on this, he places Kharavela in second half of the 1st century BCE, or first half of the 1st century CE.[6]

Alain Daniélou places Kharavela somewhere between 180 BCE and 130 BCE, mentioning him as a contemporary of Satakarni and Pushyamitra Sunga.[7] Rama Shankar Tripathi states that Kharavela floushed somewhere in the third quarter of the first century BCE.[4]


The first line of the inscription calls Kharavela "Chetaraja-vasa-vadhanena" (चेतराज वस वधनेन, "the one who extended the family of the Cheta King").[8] The word "Chetaraja" probably refers to Kharavela's father and his immediate predecessor, but this cannot be said with certainty. A number of scholars[who?] believe that "Cheta" was the name of the dynasty to which Kharavela belonged. There is a small crack in the stone above the letter ta (त), giving the impression of medial "i". This crack misled some eminent scholars like R.D. Banerji and D.C. Sircar to decipher the word as Cheti (चेति). This conjectural reading led them to speculate that this dynasty might have been descended from the dynasty that ruled the Chedi mahajanapada.[9]

The Hathigumpha inscription also mentions a word that has been variously 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: ऐरे महाराजा कलिंगाधिपतिना महामेघवाहन). Early scholarly readings of the inscription, such as those by James Prinsep and R. L. Mitra, interpreted Aira as the name of the king in the Hathigumpha inscription. Bhagwan Lal Indraji was the first scholar to assert that the king's name was Kharavela. Now, a section of scholars[who?] believe that Aira refers to Aryan ("noble"), a self-designation used by the ancient Indo-Aryan peoples. Others believe that it refers to Aila dynasty, an ancient dynasty mentioned in Hindu mythology; Kharavela's family might have claimed descent from this dynasty.[10]


The Hathigumpha inscription describes Kharavela as a descendant of Mahameghavahana.[5] It does not directly mention the relationship between Mahameghavahana and Kharavela, nor does it mention the number of kings intervening between them.[1] Bhagwan Lal interprets the inscription to come up with the following possible family tree:[5]

          Khemaraja                        |
      (aka Kshemaraja)                  Unknown
              │                            │
              │                            │
          Vudharaja                    Hastisaha
     (aka Vriddharaja)             (aka Hastisimha)
              │                            │
              │                            │
          Kharavela                        |
 (aka Bhiku/Bhikshuraja)────────┼─────Daughter
                        (aka Kudepasiri)
                          (aka Badukha)


Suniti Kumar Chatterji interpreted "Kharavela" as a name of Dravidian origin, possibly derived from the words kar ("black and terrible") and vel ("lance").[11] However, Richard N. Frye did not find his etymology satisfactory.[12] Braj Nath Puri etal also mention that it is difficult to suggest a Dravidian cultural origin for Kharavela's dynasty, or connect it to South India with certainty.[13] NK Sahu also doubts this theory, stating that Kharavela and his successor Kudepasiri use the epithet "Aira", which Sahu identifies with Sanskrit Arya.[9]

Early life[edit]

The Hathigumpha inscription says that Kharavela spent the first 15 years of his life in sports and amusements. He was formally appointed as the heir apparent prince (yuvaraja) at the age of 16, and remained in that office for 9 years. During this time, he mastered various branches of learning, including royal correspondence, currency, finance, civil and religious laws.[5][14]


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

Year 1

Kharavela repaired the gates and the 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 Bhagwan Lal Indraji, it states that 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 the repair works.[2]

Year 2

The inscription mentions a king named "Satakani" or "Satakamini" (identified with Satakarni) and dispatching of an army comprising cavalry, elephants, chariots and men. It also mentions Kharavela's threat to a city variously interpreted as "Masika" (Masikanagara), "Musika" (Musikanagara) or "Asika" (Asikanagara). NK Sahu identifies Asika as the capital of Assaka.[9]:127 According to Ajay Mitra Shastri, Asika-nagara was located in the present-day Adam village in the Nagpur district, which is located on the bank of river Wainganga. A terracotta seal excavated in the village mentions the Assaka janapada.[15][16]

The inscription also mentions a word read as Kanha-bemna or Kanhavemṇā. According to most scholars, this was the name of a river; Kharavela's army advanced up to this river. One theory equates it with the Krishna River flowing in coastal Andhra Pradesh. However, the epigraph indicates the river was located to the west of Kharavela's kingdom, while Krishna lies to the south of Kalinga. Therefore, Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi identifies Kanha-bemna with the combined flow of Kanhan River (Kanha) and Wainganga River (Bemna or Vemṇā), which flows to the west of Kalinga.[17]

Different 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 also states that Kharavela sent out an army that advanced up to river Krishna, and threatened the Musika city (Musikanagara) located near the junction of Krishna and Musi rivers (near present-day Nalgonda).[1]
  • According to Bhagwal Lal, the king Satakarni of the western region wanted to avoid an invasion of his kingdom by Kharavela. So, he sent horses, elephants, chariots and men to Kharavela as a tribute. In the same year, Kharavela captured the city of Masika with assistance of Kusumba Kshatriyas.[5]
  • According to Alain Daniélou, Kharavela was friendly with Satakarni, and only crossed his kingdom without any clashes.[7]
  • According to Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, Kharavela's army failed to advanced against Satakarni, and then diverted its course to threaten the city of Asika (Asikanagara).[6]

Year 3

Well-versed in the science of the Gandharvas (i.e. music), Kharavela entertained the city with shows of singing, dancing and instrumental music. He held festive gatherings.[5][14]

Year 4

This line is broken, and is difficult to interpret.

  • According to K.P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, Kharavela attacked and subdued the Rathika (Rashtrika) and the Bhojaka kings.[2]
  • According to Alain Daniélou, the Rathikas and Bhojakas were vassals of Satvahanas. Kharavela subdued them in "a kind of tournament", which did not lead to annexations.[7]
  • According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela repaired an old temple (chaitya) on the Dharmakuta hill, and worshipped it after furnishing it with umbrellas and kalasha. This was done to inspire faith in the triratna among his tributary kings, Rashtrika and Bhoja.[5]

Year 5

This part is broken as well. It appears that Kharavela commissioned a water work, 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 had brought it into the capital.[4] The expression ti-vasa-sata can mean either 103 or 300 years.[6] Some scholars such as K.P. Jayaswal also interpret the inscription as stating that this canal originated at Tanasuli, which they identify with Tosali.[18]

Bhagawan Lal interprets the record differently, and concludes that Kharavela renewed the 3-year sattra (meaning not known) of the Nandaraja. He adds that due to the damaged record, the interpretation is doubtful.[5]

Year 6

The record is mostly lost, but Kharavela is probably mentioned as having benefited 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 the taxes.[2]

Year 7

According to Bhagwan Lal, the record of the 7th year is entirely lost.[5] However, according to another interpretation of the surviving text, his wife Dhusi (who belonged to the house of Vajira) gave birth to a son.[19]

Year 8

The record is partially broken. According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela took on a king, who had killed another king and was harassing the king of Rajagriha. This king fled to Mathura, and Kharavela led an expedition pursuing him, causing great noise in the process. According to Bhagwan Lal, the names of these kings are lost in the broken part.[5]

According to some other scholars, including Alain Daniélou, Kharavela sacked Gorathagiri (near Barabar Hills) with a very large army, and subdued the town of Rajagriha (identified with present-day Rajgir).[7] Ananta Prasad Banerji-Sastri suggests that Kharavela expelled members of the Ajivika sect (a rival of the Jains) from the Barabari caves, and mutilated their inscriptions.[20][21]

Kharavela's inscription claims that fearing this act, a Yavana (Greek) king or general retreated to Mathura, escaping with his demoralized army.[14] The name of the Yavana king is not clear, but it contains three letters, and the middle letter can be read as ma or mi.[22] 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] According to Sailendra Nath Sen, the Yavana ruler was certainly not Demerius; he might have been a later Indo-Greek ruler of eastern Punjab.[1] Numismatist P.L. Gupta interprets the name as "Vimaka", and identifies him with Vima Kadphises.[22] Again, there are problems with this interpretation: Vima Kadphises was a Kushana king. It is otherwise unknown for a Kushan emperor to have been referred to as a Yavana, and for Vima Kadphises to be referred to as "Vimaka". Also, there are palaeographic problems with dating the Hathigumpha inscription to Vima Kadphises' period.

Year 9

Much of this is broken and lost. According to it, Kharavela gifted Kalpavriksha, horses, elephants, chariots, houses and other largesses to Brahmins. He also built a palace.

According to Bhagwan Lal, the palace was named Mahavyaya, and was built at a cost of 280,000.[5] Another source interprets the name of the palace as Mahavijaya ("palace of great victory"), and the cost as 3,800,000.[14]

Year 10

Much of the record is lost. The inscription mentions Bharatavarsha (a term now used as a name of India), which, in this context refers only to the Gangetic valley in northern India.[1][23] According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela set out a journey over Bharatvarsha, and took concerted measures when he came to know that several kings were coming to oppose him.[5] Another interpretation states 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.[14] Sailendra Nath Sen states that he did not achieve any distinct success in this expedition.[1]

Year 11

The record is lost, but can be made out with partial records for Year 10 and 12. According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela appears to have removed a toll levied by former kings on the Gardabha city. There is a mention of something renewed after 1300 years.[5]

According to another interpretation, Kharavela "ploughed down" the Pithuda city, founded by the Ava king. He also broke up the confederacy of the "T[r]amira" countries of 1300 years, which had been a source of danger to his country.[14] According to Sailendra Nath Sen, Pithuda was near present-day Machilipatnam. Sen, Alan Daniélou and some other scholars interpret "Tramira" as "Dramira" (i.e. "Dravidian"). They believe that 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 was becoming a threat to 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 Sunga, stating that Bahasati refers to Bṛhaspati (Jupiter), who is the lord of Pushya nakshatra in Hindu astrology. However, Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri discredits this theory, pointing out that Divyavadana mentions a king named Bṛhaspati, distinct from Pushyamitra. Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya believes that Bahasatimita was possibly a king of Kaushambi, and his rule might have extended over Magadha as well.[6]

The record also mentions elephants. According to Bhagwan Lal, Kharavela as "watered his elephants in the Ganges", which means he reached as far as the Ganges.[5] According to another interpretation, Kharavela caused panic among the people of Magadha by driving his elephants into the Sugamgiya (Palace).[14]

Kharavela brought back an idol of Agrajina (possibly Rishabha), which had been taken by Nandraja in the past. He also brought home the wealth of Anga and Magadha.[2][24]

Next, the record mentions that Kharavela built some structures. According to Bhagwan Lal, he built lofty structures, "by sitting on the summits of which the Vidyadharas could reach the sky". Next, there is the mention of an elephant gift made by Kharavela—a gift that had not been made by anyone before. There is also a mention of the people of some province subdued by him.[5]

According to K.P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, he built also a settlement of hundred masons, and exempted it from land revenue. He also built an enclosure of stockade for driving in elephants and horses and wealth brought in from the Pandya king.[2]

Year 13

Parts of this record are lost. Kharavela is mentioned as Bhikshuraja (the king of monks), a worshipper of all sects, the possessor of an invincible army and an illustrious king in general. According to Bhagwan Lal, the record mentions that he did some work near the outer seat close to the Arhat temple on the Kumari Hill. He organized an assembly of scholars and ascetics, and commissioned the construction of something (probably a cave) by skillful workmen. He also commissioned erection of pillars in Vaiduryagarbha in Patalaka and Chetaka (probably names of caves). This work was executed in 165th year, after 164 years of Maurya rule had passed. 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-revolved" (i.e. his faith, possibly Jainism, had been preached). He organized a council of wise ascetics and sages from all places. He constructed a shelter for the Queen Sindhula of Sinhapatha (or Simhapatha) with stones brought from far away, quarried from excellent mines. At the cost of 2,500,000 he commissioned the compilation of the text of the seven-fold Angas of the sixty-four (letters). The record also mentions that he is a descendant of the royal sage Vasu.[14]

According to K.P. Jayaswal and R. D. Banerji, in this record, Kharavela claims descent from the family of royal sage Vasu.[2]

Later years[edit]

Kharavela's empire is believed to have disintegrated soon after his death.[25] Only two of his successors - Vakradeva (aka Kudepasiri or Vakadepa) and Vadukha - have left inscriptions. According to Bhagwan Lal, Vakradeva was probably Kharavela's son and successor. Vakradeva's inscription is found in Udayagiri, and he has same epithets as Kharavela: Kalingadhipati (Lord of Kalinga) and Mahameghavahana (having an elephant as his carrier). Further, Vaduka seems to be a son of Vakradeva.[5]

Extent of the kingdom[edit]

Kharavela's inscriptions mention him as a Chakravartin (universal) emperor.[26] While the achievements of Kharavela have been exaggerated in his inscriptions, he was undoubtedly one of the strongest rulers of Kalinga.[1][13]

Kharavela's kingdom certainly included the present-day Puri and Cuttack districts of Odisha. It might have also included parts of present-day Vishakhapatnam and Ganjam districts.[1] According to Dietmar Rothermund and Hermann Kulke, his empire included "large parts of eastern and central India".[25]


An inscription by Kharavela's wife has been engraved in the upper storey of Mancapuri Cave. She calls herself as the daughter of Hathisaha (or Hathisimha), the grandson of Lalaka (or Lalarka). No information about Hathisimha or Lalarka is available from any other source. The Hathigumpha inscription mentions that in the seventh year of his reign, the Queen of Vajiraghara was blessed with a son. R. D. Banerjee has identified Vayiraghara with Wairagarh in present Chanda district of Maharastra, because in some medieval inscription this place is found referred to as Vayirakara. However, Dr. M. K. Sahu identifies this place with Vajradantadesa mentioned in the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana.

The line 15 of the Haithgumpha inscription refers to the queen of Simhapatha, who was likely another queen of Kharavela. Simhapatha may be same as Simhapura which was the capital of Kalinga during the rule of the Matharas in the 4th century. The place is identified with modern Singupuram in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.


The Hathigumpha inscription mentions that Kharavela brought back an idol of Agrajina to Kalinga. Many historians identify Agrajina with Rishabha, the first Jain tirthankara.[27] Kharavela is thus believed to be a follower of Jainism. However, the Jain records do not mention Kharavela.[28]

Moreover, the Hathigumpha inscription claims that Kharavela was the worshipper of all religious orders (सव पासंड पूजको / sava-pasanda pujako) and repairer of temples of all gods (सवदे[वाय]तन सकार कारको / sava-de[vaya]tana-sakara-karako).[29][30] Thus, it is difficult to say to what extent Kharavela was a devout Jain.[31]


Kharavela Nagar, an important commercial district of Bhubaneswar, is named after Kharavela.


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