- Kharavela (193 BCE–170 BCE) was the greatest king of the Mahameghavahana dynasty of Kaḷinga. It was an ancient ruling dynasty of Kalinga after the decline of the Mauryan Empire.
- The main source of information about Kharaveḷa is his famous seventeen line rock-cut Hatigumpha inscription in a cave in the Udayagiri hills near Bhubaneswar, Odisha. According to the inscription, Kharavela belonged to the Chedi clan.
- During the reign of Kharavela, the Chedi dynasty of Kaḷinga ascended to eminence and restored the lost power and glory of Kaḷinga, which had been subdued since the devastating war with Ashoka.
- Kaḷingan military might was reinstated by Kharavela. Kharavela led many successful campaigns against the states of Magadha, Anga, Satavahanas till the southern most regions of Pandyan Empire (modern Tamil Nadu) and made Kaḷinga a gigantic empire.
- He is credited to have broken the Tamil confederacy in the south, uprooted the western powers and probably defeated an Indo-Greek king. After his victory, the first Sunga emperor of Magadha, Pushyamitra Sunga accepted the suzerainty of Kharavela and became a vassal of Kalinga. Pushyamitra also returned the Jina statue of Mahaveera to Kalinga.
- Within a short span of ten years (form his 2nd to 12th regnal years) Kharavela could achieve a series of brilliant victories extending his suzerainty from the North-Western part of India to the farthest extend in the South.
- Although religiously tolerant, Kharaveḷa patronized Jainism.
- Under Kharavela‘s generalship, the Kaḷinga state had a formidable maritime reach with trade routes linking it to the then Simhala (Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), Vietnam, Kamboja (Cambodia), Malaysia, Borneo, Bali, Samudra (Sumatra) and Jabadwipa (Java).
- He seems to have abandoned his throne in the 13th year of his reign, and was succeeded by his son Kudepasiri (he is mentioned in few minor inscriptions).
- The Hathigumpha Inscription (“Elephant Cave” inscription), from Udayagiri, was inscribed by Kharavela during 2nd century BCE.
- Hathigumpha Inscription consists of seventeen lines incised in deep cut Brahmi letters, on a natural cavern called Hathigumpha in the southern side of the Udayagiri hill, near Bhubaneswar.
- It faces straight towards the Rock Edicts of Ashoka at Dhauli, situated at a distance of about six miles. In the former hill we find the inscription of the victory of Magadha and in the latter that of the victory of Kalinga.
- The inscription is dated 165th year of the era of the Maurya kings, and 13th year of Kharavela’s reign, which, considering the coronation of Chandragupta in 321 BCE as the probable start of the era, makes a date of 157 BCE for the inscription, a date of 170 BCE for Kharavela’s accession.
- The Hathigumpha inscription starts with an invocation of the Arthatas and the Riddhas in the Jain style.
Hathigumpha Inscription has following information about the military activities of Kharvela:
- In the second year of his coronation, without caring for Satakarni, King Kharvela sent a large army to the west consisting of horse, elephant, infantry and chariot.
- He also destroyed the capital of the Mushikas to help the Kaspa (Kasyapa) Kshatriyas.
- In the fourth year, he also conquered the Rathika and Bhojaka.
- Rathika and Bhojaka chiefs with their crown cast off, their umbrella and royal insignia thrown aside, and their Jewelry and wealth confiscated, were, made to pay obeisance at the feet of Kharvela.
- In the 8th year, He invaded Magadha and reached as far as the Barabar Hills (Gorathagiri) and forced rival king (described as “Yavana-raja”) to retreat to Mathura.
- In the 12th year of his reign, he attacked the king of Uttarapatha. He also caused fear amongst the people of Magadha and made their king do homage at his feet.
- He brought back the holy idols of Kalinga’s Jain Gods (The Blessed Tirthankars) which earlier Magadha rulers had carried away with them after Kalinga War in Past.
- Tirthankar’s idol was brought back with its crown and endowment and the jewels plundered by king Nanda from the Kalinga royal palace, along with the treasures of Anga and Magadha were regained.
But the reign of Kharvela was not limited to military activities only as the Hathigumpha Inscription mentions the followings:
- In the very first year of his coronation, King Kharvela caused to be repaired the gate, rampart and structures of the fort of Kalinga Nagari, which had been damaged by storm.
- He also built flight of steps for the cool tanks and laid all gardens at the cost of thirty-five hundred thousand (coins) and thus pleased all his subjects.
- In the third year of his reign, Kharvela, who was well versed in the Gandhavara-Veda or the science of music held theatrical performances, dances and other shows whereby he entertains the capital.
- In the fourth year, he repaired some sacred buildings called the adobe of the Vidyadharas.
- In the fifth year, He extended the old canal which had been excavated by King Nanda 300 years before, into the capital Kalinga Nagri through Tanasuli.
- In the sixth year, Kharvela granted privileged to the Paura and the Janapada corporations.
- In the 9th years, Kharvela gave costly gifts to Brahamans who accepted them by lavish feasts. He gave a Kalpa tree (a tree of gold leaves) along with gifts of elephants, horses, and chariots with their drivers. Kharvela built on both banks of the Prachi river a great palace called The Place of Victory at the cost of 36 lakhs of silver coins.
- In the 12th year, he built towers at home, the interior of which were carved and placed a number of trophies and presents there.
- In the 13th year, having satisfied himself with the extension of his Empire, he devoted his energies to the religious acts.
- At the Kumari Hill (Udayagiri), he did something for the Arhat Temple.
- Ninety hundred bulls maintained by the king are mentioned in the inscription. He built near the Arhat temple some edifice probably of stone. A pavilion on four pillars was also erected.
- The cave which has this inscription was also made.
- Kharvela is called the king of peace and prosperity, the Bhukshu king and the King of Dharma who has been devoting his life to seeing to hearing and experiencing Kalyanas.
- The inscription states that the Emperor Kharavela had a liberal religious spirit. Kharavela describes himself as: The worshiper of all religious orders, the restorer of shrines of all gods.
The Hathigumpha inscription concludes by saying that the personality of Kharavela reveals the confluence of both Raj rishi and Dhamma Rishi. But, it has to be kept in mind that this inscription is in the form of eulogy and many claims made in it are doubtful. In addition, Kharavela was only a conqueror but not an empire builder.
Minor Inscriptions of Kharavela:
- Besides the celebrated Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela, there are several minor Brahmi inscriptions in the twin hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves. These minor inscriptions pertaining to Emperor Kharavela have also been engraved in Brahmi script, Prakrit language.
- These minor inscriptions throw light on the reign and kingdom of Kharavela.