Aira Maharaja Mahameghavahana Kharavela (193 BC – 170 BC) was one of the greatest kings of ancient India. The main source of information about this great ruler is his seventeen line rock cut at Hati Gumpha cave in the Udaygiri hills near Bhubaneswar, Odisha. According to the inscriptions, Kharavela belonged to the Chedi clan. He possessed many auspicious signs on his body, was gifted with many qualities and was handsome in appearance. He was the first great historical monarch of ancient Kalinga who belonged to the soil.

Early life

For first fifteen years of his life, Kharavela was groomed through for his future role. The princely education system of ancient India is depicted in the inscriptions of Hati Gumpha. The future kings in their early life were obliged to pass through a system of education and learning, in order to dispense their royal duty effectively. They were required to be proficient in five main subjects:

Lekha (Writing): Mode of state correspondence, necessary for administration.

Rupa (Coinage): Science of currency or money.

Ganana (Arithmetic): Subject of absolute need, specially for administrators.

Vyavahara (Law): Knowledge of judicial system as well as of the established Law of the land.

Vidhi (Procedure): wide subject which included the usages and customs, various established rules relating to Niyama or Samstha or Dharmasastra. 

Similar subjects of education have some other ancient works like Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

Apart from these five subjects, Kharavela also earned knowledge in various other arts.

Crown Prince Kharavela

At the age of 15, Kharavela became the Yuvaraja (Crown Prince), to assume his royal responsibilities. With a sound educational background, he as the Crown Prince acquired practical experience of administration while learning more and more of the above branches of knowledge.

At the age of 24 years, Kharavela was crowned as the king of Kalinga and began his glorious rule. He belonged to the third generation of the Mahameghvahana dynasty (250BC – 400 AD).

Kharavela: The King

Aira Maharaja Mahameghavahana Kharavela

1st year of reign

By the time Kharavela took to the thrones, his capital city Kalinganagari was earlier devastated by a mighty storm.  Thus it became his priority to fortify the city by going for major repairs and reconstructions. He repaired the gates, ramparts and structures of Kalingnagari. The condition of tanks and gardens also were improved for the beautification of the city. The cost of such work as per Hati Gumpha inscriptions was Thirty five hundred thousand and the entire expense was disbursed from the royal treasury, without passing on the taxes to the people. His subjects were pleased by the king’s works of public welfare.

2nd year of reign

Having strengthened the capital city, Kharavela enlarged his army which was already strong and big under the earlier Mahameghavana kings. As per Hati Gumpha inscriptions,  Kharavela launched a military attack on the powerful King Satakarni-I of the Satavahana dynasty of South. The Mahameghavahanas of Kalinga and the Satavahanas of the south were contemporary rivals. The Satavahana king Satakarni-I was ruling over the Krishna Godavari region as well as the Maharashtra region next towards the river Krishna. Kharavela proved the might of the Kalingan forces by an invasion, with a large army consisting of horses, elephants, infantry and chariots. The army struck terror in the city of Asika or Asikanagara which was probably situated between the rivers Krishna and Godavari. The expedition of the Kalingan army in western and southern directions proved that Kharavela was powerful enough to challenge the Satavahana supremacy in the Deccan.

3rd year of reign

After the successful show of strength outside his own territory, Kharavela focussed on patronising ancient musical traditions of India during the third year of his reign. Himself being well versed in the Gandarva Veda (Arts & science of Music), he arranged festivals and performances like dancing, singing and playing of vocal and instrumental music in the capital city of Kalingnagari. Large scale feast were organised to please the population of his capital.

4th year of reign

In the fourth year of his reign, Kharavela consolidated his position in a territory named Vidyadhara. According to the inscription, Vidyadhara was established by the earlier kings of Kalinga but had never been crushed before. The consolidation might mean that a turbulent area within the kingdom or on its borders was crushed and subdued. The same year, Kharavela also launched his second invasion of the Satavahana kingdom. His first invasion perhaps was inconclusive, so a more determined effort was launched to conquer the Western and Southern regions of India. This campaign resulted in great victory for the Kalingan forces. The Hati Gumpha Inscriptions describe the victory as: “The Rashtrika and Bhojaka Chiefs with their crown cast off, their umbrella and royal insignia thrown aside, and their jewellery and wealth confiscated, were made to pay obeisance at the feet (of Kharavela).” The Rashtrikas and the Bhojakas were ancient races who lived in the Berar and Maharashtra regions, guarding two sides of the Satavahana territory. The defeat of the chiefs was a blow to the Satavahana power. Kharavela’s victory over them brought a large part of the Deccan within the Kalinga Empire.

5th year of reign

In the fifth year of his reign, Kharavela once again turned his attention to the development of his capital. A canal which had been dug by Nadaraja ti-vasa-sata ago, was extended to flow into Kalinganagari through Tanasuli. Tanasuli most probably was Tosali and Kharavela might have extended the canal to his expanding capital by way of the old city of Tosali.

6th year of reign

The sixth year of Kharavela’s rule saw his great charitable activities and benevolent measures which were meant for both the urban and rural populations of the empire. He remitted all taxes and cesses to the extent of many hundred thousands of coins. It was like a display of the wealth of the king which was meant for the happiness of the people.

7th year of reign

In the seventh year, Kharavela’s chief queen, named as the ‘Queen of Vajiraghara’ gave birth to a son.

8th year of reign

Kharavela began his military campaigns in the North during the eighth year of his reign. His armies marched towards the ancient city of Rajagriha. The fort of Gorathagiri, which stood to protect Rajagriha, was stormed and destroyed. The fort of Gorathagiri, identified with the modern Barabar hill, was like a military fortification to protect the capital of Magadha, Pataliputra. When that strong fortification was demolished and the city of Rajagriha was brought under the control of the Kalinga army, the people of Pataliputra were struck with fear and terror.

At that very time something happened which will highlight the strength of Kharavela’s character. After victory over Rajagriha, when the victorious Kalingan army of Kharavela was advancing towards the capital of Magadha, the Indo-Greek invaders under their king were also advancing towards Magadha. Having occupied Mathura, the Yavana King thought of invading Pataliputra. Unfortunately the identity of the Yavana king could not be established due to the damage in the inscriptions of Hati Gumpha. It is known, however, from the inscription that when the Yavana King heard of Kharavela’s advance towards Pataliputra, in fear and panic, he quickly retreated towards his stronghold at Mathura. Magadha was thus saved from foreign invasion because of Kharavela’s military power. Kharavela thereafter followed the Yavanas towards Mathura and attacked them. They were defeated and driven out of Mathura by the forces of the Kalinga Emperor. Kharavela chose to drive the foreign invader over defeating his arch rival, the king of Magadha. The victorious monarch thereupon entered Mathura with his horses, elephants and chariots and “distributed (gifts) to all houses and inns and with a view to making gifts universal gave away the spoils of victory to the Brahmanas.” Kharavela’s northern expedition was, thus, a grand success. He had shown his power to the Magadhan people and also to the foreign power by his victories over them.

9th year of reign

In the ninth year of his rule, Kharavela built the Great Victory palace (the Mahavijaya Prasada), in his capital Kalinganagari. The cost of construction of the palace was estimated to be a whopping Thirty eight hundred thousand coins.

10th year of reign

In the tenth year of his reign, Kharavela once again led his army to the North, describing it as a march towards Bharatavarsa for conquests. This second invasion of the North also ended in victory and success.

11th year of reign

In the eleventh year of his reign, Kharavela received jewels and precious stones from his defeated enemies. That year, he achieved a great military victory in the South. There existed a confederacy of the Tamil states in the South, consisting of the territories of the Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras, Keralaputra and Tamraparni (Ceylon). The Kalinga ruler thought it necessary to break its power for his own hegemony in the South. The Hati Gumpha Inscription states that this Confederacy had maintained its political unity for 1300 years before the time of Kharavela. In his inscriptions, Asoka mentioned of these people as living independently outside the Maurya Empire. When Kharavela extended his power over the Deccan during his earlier invasions of the South, the Tamil powers took alarm. A struggle for supremacy in the South thus became natural and Kharavela came out successful in his battles against the Tamil States. He defeated their combined armies and destroyed their ancient Confederacy which had existed for centuries.

12th year of reign

In the twelfth year of his reign, with more military campaign, Kharavela took up his third invasion of the North. According to Hati Gumpha Inscription, Kharavela terrorised the kings of Uttarpatha by an army of hundred thousand. His soldiers entered into the Magadhan territory, and “generated great fear among the people of Magadha while making the elephants and horses drink in the Ganges.” Kharavela forced the ruling king of Magadha, Brihaspatimitra, to surrender. It was, Kharavela’s revenge upon Magadha for the role which the famous king of Magadha, Mahapadma Nanda had played centuries earlier. The Hati Gumpha Inscription describes that after his great victory, Kharavela brought back from there “the image of Kalinga Jina with its throne and endowment that had been taken away by King Nanda and the Jewels plundered by him from the Kalinga royal palace, along with the treasures of Anga and Magadha.” It is supposed that during this third invasion of the north, Kharavela’s army was led to distant lengths of Uttarapatha in the north-west India. Kharavela’s victory over the north was his greatest achievement as a conqueror. His victory over Magadha, in particular, was like the crowning glory of his heroic career.

After such a remarkable role as a conqueror and a military genius, Kharavela suddenly changed the course of his career and turned to religious activities. As a Jaina monarch, he entered upon his new role to champion the cause of Jainism.

13th year of reign

In the thirteenth year of his reign, one finds him as ‘Upasaka Sri Kharavela’ as described in the Hati Gumpha inscription. Even in that year when Kharavela was putting an end to his rule as a conqueror, the King of the Pandyas brought from the south “various pearls, jewels and precious stones hundred thousand in number” to be deposited at the feet of Kharavela in his capital Kalinganagari.

The Hati Gumpha Inscription suddenly closes itself by describing the religious activities of Kharavela in his thirteenth regional year. That year, therefore, is taken as the last of Kharavela’s reign. He might have lived for long after giving up kingship and while devoting his years to religious activities. But the accounts of that part of his life have not survived for future.

Empire of Kharavela                                                     (Photo Credit:

Thus in a brief period of his role as a king, Kharavela achieved splendid victories in Western, Southern and Northern India. He established his supremacy over a large part of India raising thereby the status of Kalinga to that of an empire. Rightly, therefore, Kharavela has been described in the Manchapuri Cave inscription of his chief queen as the ‘Chakravarti’ monarch of Kalinga.


  3. Kharavela by D N Shanbag  (ASIN B003MGKWES)

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