Kharavela: Wikis


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Maximum extent of Kharavela (ଖାରବେଳ) Kalingan Empire: 2nd century B.C.E
Hathigumpha on Udayagiri Hills, Bhubaneswar
Hathigumpha inscription of King Khāravela at Udayagiri Hills
Khandagiri caves

Kharavela (ଖାରବେଳ) (IAST: Khāravela, Devanagari: खारवेल, Oriya: ଖାରେବଳ) (?209 – after 170 BCE) was the greatest Oriya emperor of Kalinga, the ancient name of Orissa state of India. The Chedi dynasty of Kalinga under the kingship of Khāravela ascended to eminence and restored the lost power and glory of Kalinga, which was subdued since the devastating Kalinga war with Ashoka. All these happened within a century of Ashokan era. The Kalingan military might was reinstated by Kharavela. Under Kharavela's generalship, the Kalinga kingdom had a formidable maritime reach with trade routes linking it to the then Simhala (Sri Lanka), Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Borneo, Bali, Sumatra and Jabadwipa (Java). On religion side, though extremely liberal, Emperor Khāravela patronised Jainism.

Emperor Kharavela (ଖାରେବଳ) led many successful campaigns against Kingdoms of Magadha, Anga, Satavahanas and the then South Indian regions of Pandya kingdom, present Tamil Nadu state, and expanded Kalinga till the river Ganga in North and river Kaveri in South, with full West to East coverage. Kharavela (ଖାରେବଳ) was the third king of the Mahameghavahana dynasty. The main source of information about Kharavela is his famous seventeen line rock-cut Hathigumpha inscription in a cave in Udayagiri hills near Bhubaneswar in Orissa.



The chief source of information about emperor Kharavela is the Hathigumpha inscription at Udayagiri caves, near present Bhubaneswar city. According to the inscription, Kharavela belonged to the Chedi clan, and was a lineal descendant of the sage king Vasu. Apart from this eulogic descent amounting to a myth, several historians have tried to speculate the origin of Kharavela. However, in absence of any material evidence to the converse, Kharavela has been accepted as being from an Odia descent.

Etymologically, the name Kharavela is the prakrit transformation of Sanskrit word Ksharavela (Devanagari:क्षारवेल). The first syllable Khāra (Devanagari:खार) is the corrupt form of Kshāra (Devanagari:क्षार) meaning 'saltish'. The letter Khā (Devanagari:खा) in the Hathigumpha inscription is the transformed corrupt (Apabhramsha) form of kshā (Devanagari:क्षा). The second syllable, Vela means 'wave' or 'shore'.

Incidentally, in north-western part of India, there is a clan of Jats having the clan name Khārvel, which claims descent from the Emperor Kharavela, originated during the north-western conquest of the emperor. Similarly, in history books Air (ऐर) has been stated as a clan that originated from Nagavanshi ruler named Airawat. [1] However, deep and multi-disciplinary research is required to arrive at the exact origin of Kharavela.

Hathigumpha Inscription

This inscription, consisting of seventeen lines has been incised in deep cut Brahmi script on the overhanging brow of a natural cavern called Hathigumpha (Oriya: ହାତିଗୁଂଫା) (Meaning in English: The Elephant’s Cave) in the southern side of the Udayagiri hills near present day Bhubaneswar. The inscriptions date back to the 1st Century BCE. It faces straight towards the rock Edicts of Ashoka at Dhauli, which is situated at a distance of about six miles.

The inscription was first discovered/noticed by A. Stirling in 1820 who published an eye copy of it in Asiatic Researches, XV , as well as , in his book titled “An Account, Geographical, Statistical and Historical of Orissa or Cuttack”. Thereafter, indologist and linguist James Princep succeeded in deciphering the inscription. Subsequently, Princep’s reading along with a facsimile prepared by Kittoe was published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society Bengal, VI (1837).

According to Princep, the referred personality in the Hatigumpha inscription was a king named ‘Aira’. Towards the end of 1871 A.D., a plaster cast of the inscription was prepared by H. Locke, which is now preserved in the Indian Museum, Calcutta. Later, Alexander Cunningham published this inscription in 1877 in the Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarrum Vol. I and in 1880 R.L. Mitra published a slightly modified version in the book Antiquities of Orissa, Vol. II.

The first authentic reading of the inscription is credited to historian Bhagwan Lal Indraji. Indraji presented the novel approach before the Sixth International Congress of Orientalists in 1885, which was widely accepted. Pandit Indraji was the first scholar to declare that the King referred to and eulogised in the Hathigumpha inscription was named Kharavela' and not Aira. However, there are a large number of lacunae and faults (Both syntactical and physical deformities) in the inscription, which obstruct its correct reading and the mutilated condition of the inscription has given the space for rival claims and given rise to controversies.


Salient features of the Hathigumpha Inscription

The Hathigumpha inscription starts with a version of the auspicious Jain Namokar Mantra: नमो अरहंतानं [।।] णमो सवसिधानं [।।] for in Jainism.

The body-text mentions that:

  • In the very first year of his coronation, (His Majesty) caused to be repaired the gate, rampart and structures of the fort of Kalinga Nagari, which had been damaged by storm, and caused to be built flight of steps for the cool tanks and laid all gardens at the cost of thirty five hundred thousand mudra (coins) and thus pleased all his subjects.
  • In the second year, without caring for Satakarni, (His Majesty) sent to the west a large army consisting of horses, elephants, infantry and chariots, and struck terror to Asikanagara with that troop that marched up to the river Kanhavemna.
  • Then in the fourth year, (His Majesty] .... the Vidhadhara tract, that had been established by the former kings of Kalinga and had never been crossed before. The 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 His Majesty).
  • And in the fifth year, (His Majesty) caused the aqueducts that had been excavated by king Nanda three hundred years before, to flow into Kalinga Nagri through Tanasuli.
  • And in the seventh year of his reign [the Queen] of Vajiraghara, blessed with a son attained motherhood.
  • In the 12th year of his reign, he attacked the king of Uttarapatha. Then 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.
  • (His Majesty) then attacked and vanquished the kingdom of Magadha, and Pataliputra, the then capital of the Sunga, and made king "Bahasatimita" (May be a Sunga king Bruhaspatimitra, or Pusyamitra himself) bow at his (His Majesty’s) feet.

The inscription states that the Emperor Kharvela had a liberal religious spirit. Kharavela describes himself as:

“ सव पासंड पूजको सवदेवायतन संकार कारको ” (Prakrit Language, Devanagari script)

Translation: The worshipper of all religious orders, the restorer of shrines of all gods.

Minor Inscriptions of Kharavela

Besides the celebrated Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela, there are several other minor inscriptions in the twin hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, which were deciphered earlier by Prof. R. D. Banerjee during the years 1915-16 (Epigraphic Indica - XIII) and subsequently by B. M Barua (Indian Historical Quarterly-XIV). These minor inscriptions pertaining to Emperor Kharavela have been engraved in Brahmi script, prakrit language. Shri Sadananda Agrawal, historian, has given details and clarifications about those.


The dating of Kharavela's period has been highly debatable and controversial. It has been a formidable challenge to ascertain the correct date of Kharavela’s ascendancy and reign within a definite chronological frame work.

The internal evidence from the Hathigumpha inscription, reasonably places the date of emperor Kharavela’s reign in second half of the first century BC. An exact time bracketing has been unachievable at present. The exact time bracket of Kalingan emperor Kharavela will continue to be controversial so long any other corroborative evidences have not been discovered.

The Indian numismatist P.L. Gupta has suggested that the Hatigumpha inscription is from the 2nd century CE:[2]: "The Hâthîgumphâ inscription refers in line 8 to a yavana-râja, who fled to Mathura when he realized the might of Khâravela. The name of the yavana-râja bears three letters, of which the second letter may be fairly read as ma or mi. It has been doubtfully restored as Dimita, meaning Demetrius the Indo-Greek king. But as early as 1951, I thought it to be Vimaka, meaning Vima Kadphises. The Patna Museum has a plaster cast of this inscription, which I personally examined when I was there as Curator. It confirms my suggestion."

There are some issues with this interpretation, since the stated facts are that the name consists of three letters, of which the second is mi or ma, and that the king is categorized as yavana, not kushan or tukhara, nor saka or pahlava. It is otherwise unknown for a Kushan king to have been referred to as a yavana, and for Vima Kadphises to be referred to as Vimaka (expanded from Vema/Vima). Also, there are palaeographic problems with dating the Hâthîgumphâ text so late as Wema Kadphises (Reign 90s-110s CE). The period of 1st century BC, or approximately contemporary with the Sanchi inscriptions from the reign of the Satavahana Satakarni, has been preferred by Indic script specialists.

Wars & Expeditions

It is revealed from Line-4 of the Hathigumpha inscription that Kharavela in the second year of his reign dispatched a strong force comprising cavalry, elephants, infantry and chariots to the western quarter without caring for or bothering about Sātakarnī, and the kingdom of Asikanagara was frightened of its (Kharavela’s army) reaching the river Kanhavemṇā. Some scholars prefer to read Masikanagara instead of Asikanagara and locate it in the coastal region of Andhra Pradesh.

An article about Emperor Kharavela mentions about the rule of Kaswan in 2nd century of Vikram samvat. It has been mentioned in ‘Hathi Gumpha and three other inscriptions’ (page 24) in Sanskrit as under:

Sanskrit - कुसवानाम् क्षत्रियानां च सहाय्यतावतां प्राप्त मसिक नगरम्

IAST - “Kusawānāṃ kshatriyānāṃ ca Sahāyyatāvatāṃ prāpt masika nagaraṃ”.

Translation: The city of 'Masiknagara' was captured with the help of 'Kuswan' Kshatriyas.

According to Sadananda Agrawal, interpretation of the city as Masikanagara is not well-supported. Kanhavemṇā is commonly equated with the river Krishna coastal flowing in Andhra Pradesh. However, Krishna lies much to the south of Kalinga, and not west as averred in the epigraph (Devanagari: पछिमदिसं). But there is another stream flowing to the west of Kalinga in Vidarbha and known locally at present as Kanhan which flows about 17 km northwest of Nagpur and joins the river Vena (Wainganga), and it is the combined flow of these two streams that is spoken as Kanhavemṇā in our records.

The recent find of a seal belonging to the Asikajanapada in course of intensive archaeological excavations at Adam (Nagpur district) has solved also the problem of locating the historical Asikanagara whose king or and people became frightful at the arrival of Kharavela's army at Kanhavemṇā, as per the Hatigumpha inscription. In view of the evidence of a highly prosperous city unearthed at Adam, Prof. A. M. Shastri is of the opinion that Adam itself represents the Asikanagara of Hathigumpha inscription. It is worth noting in the present context that a terracotta sealing having a legend, has been discovered from Adam, situated on the right bank of the river Wainganga, which reads Asakajanapadasa (Devanagari: असकजनपदस).

The Hathigumpha inscription tells us that again in his fourth regnal year Kharavela directed his invasion against the Satavahana territory. In course of the campaign the army of Kalinga marched headlong against the Rathikas and Bhojakas who inhabited the western Deccan and whose chiefs might have been subordinates or vassals under Satavahana king Satakarni.

It is quite likely that the Rathikas are to be located in southern Maharashtra region and adjoining Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh where a large number of coins of some chiefs styled Mahārathi have been found in excavations. Likewise , as regards the Bhojakas, it is not impossible that they flourished in the region of Goa and adjoining parts of Karnataka where the Bhoja Kings are found a few centuries later. As a result of this victory Kharavela’s suzerainty spread over the land from the eastern sea to western sea.

The eighth regnal year of Kharavela, three years after his war in western India, heard the war trumpets of Kalinga blowing in direction of the north.

Kharavela entered into the territory of Magadha and fought out important engagement with the army of that empire at Gorathagiri and stormed that outlying fortress which guarded Rajagrha, the former capital of Magadha. The strong fort was demolished and Rajagrha was put to great trouble.

Gorathagiri has been identified with the modern Barabar hill in the Gaya district in Bihar state. In the Sabhaparva of the Mahabharata this hill has been referred to by the name Gorathagiri wherefrom Girivraja (Rajagrha) the capital of Magadha was surveyed by Krishna, Bhima and Arjuna on the way of their campaign against Jarasandha.

It is worth nothing here that two small inscriptions are found engraved in that hill, which read Gorathgiri and Goradhagiri respectively. While the former belongs to Asokan period the latter seems to be incised by one of the men who had accompanied Kharavela in this campaign.

It was by that critical time that one Yavana King (Indo-Greek) who was then in occupation of Mathura was advancing against Magadha. The king's name has been read extremely doubtfully as "Dimita", and has been identified by many scholars with the famous Indo-Greek King Demetrius, son and successor of Euthydemus belonging to 2nd century BC.

In commemoration of this victory over the Indo-Greeks and age old enemy Magadha, Kharavela constructed the great victory palace in Kalinganagari at a cost of thirty eight hundred thousand coins which stood to personify in all its grandeur the great victory a great conqueror.

The tenth year witnessed another expedition towards north. According to Hathigumpha inscription that year he caused his army much towards Bharatavarsha. Dr Sahu remarks:

“In the epigraphic records of India the name Bharatavarsha appears for the first time in Hathigumpha inscription. This name however, denoted to Northern India by that time.”

When the twelfth year of his reign dawned Kharavela marched against Uttarapatha (Northwest India) with a vast army. This was his third onslaught against North India, forcing several chiefs to submission, who were very likely the Indo-Greeks. On his return from Uttarapatha Kharavela planned for the final encounter against Magadha and the Kalingan army encamped on the banks of the Ganges not far off Pataliputra. The people of Magadha were struck with terror at the sight of the elephants and horses and Brhaspatimitra, the king of Magadha was humbled by Kharavela and made the Magadhan king touch his feet. Many renowned scholars equate Brhaspatimitra with Pushyamitra, the founder of Sunga dynasty.

It is worth nothing in the present context that for recording the events of his reign Kharavela chose the Hathigumpha in the southern side of Udayagiri hill which faces straight towards the Dhauli hill bearing Rock Edicts of Ashoka. In the former hill we find the inscription of the victory of Magadha and in the latter that of the victory of Kalinga. Kharavela’s inscription seems to have been intended to counter affect Asoka’s inscription.

Before his home ward march the monarch brought back from Magadha the greatest and by far the most significant war trophy to his home land was the Original Idol of Kalinga's Jain Tirthankars (Gods) Idol that adorned the spiritual realm of Magadha. This Kalinga Tirthankars (Jain God) was once the invaluable religious property of Kalinga but was carried away from Kalinga during the first wave of the northern invasion under Mahapadmananda emperor of Magadha.

Dr. N.K.Sahu aptly remarks about his expeditions: “Thus 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. “

The political and military performances of Kharavela have, in fact, no parallel in history and this great monarch fully justifies the epithet Chakravarti given to him in the inscription of his chief queen.

He seems to have abandoned his throne in the 13th year of his reign, and was succeeded by his son Kudepasiri.


In the first line of Hathigumpha inscription Kharavela styles himself as

IAST-Airena Mahārājena Mahāmeghavāhana Chetarāja vasa Vadhanena xxx Kalimgādhipatinā Siri Khāravelan
(Devanagari:ऐरेण महाराजेन महामेघवाहनेन चेतराज वस वधनेन पसथ सुभलखलेन चतुरंतलुठन गुणउपेनेत कलिंगाधिपतिना सिरि खारवेलेन)

While the earliest scholar J. Princep and R. L. Mitra take the word Aira as the name of the king of Kalinga eulogised in the inscription, other few scholars are inclined to take the word as dynastic name and connected the ancestry of Kharavela with the puranic Aila belonging to the lunar Kshatriya dynasty. Bhagwan Lal Indraji is the first scholar to assert that the King whose activities are glorified in the inscription in named Kharavela.

It is a significant to note here that there is also no direct evidence in Hathigumpha inscription to show that Kharavela belongs to Cedi Dynasty. The only meaning conveyed by this expression is that Kharavela was the son of Cetarāja (Devanagari:चेतराज).

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 Ceti (Devanagari:चेति) and this conjectural reading led the renowned scholars to hold the view that Kharavela belongs to Cedi dynasty. But in no way this can be accepted. It is pertinent to note in this context that a small inscription is found engraved in the Mancapuri Cave where King Kudepasiri (one of the successor of Kharavela) styled himself as Aira Maharaja Kalingadhipati Mahameghavahana (Devanagari:ऐरे महाराजा कलिंगाधिपतिना महामेघवाहन).

The King Sada has also been styled himself as Maharaja Kalinga Mahisika Adhipati Mahameghavahana. Both Kudepasiri and Sada, happen to be the successors of Kharavela, have never been stated in their respective inscription to be belonging to Cedi dysasty. It is significant that the word Aira has not been prefixed with the name of Sada.

The Vahana ending dynastic (and personal) names were quite popular during the few centuries preceding. The meaning of Mahameghavahana is the great one riding on clouds. Dr. Sahu takes Maha as the prefix of Megha and opines: “ Mahameghavahana literary means one whose vehicle is great cloud”.

In line 17 of the Hathigumpha inscription Kharavela claims to have been descended from Rajarsi Vasu Kula. King Vasu recorded in Hathigumpha inscription can not be taken as Cedi king. It is pertinent to note in the context that in Mahabharata, Meghavahana as a dynastic name is found mentioned (Sabha Parva, XIV, 13) while the same epic preserves detailed accounts regarding the activities of Cedi dynasty. Cedi and Meghavahana have been flourished as two distinct dynasties since the early times, so both the dynasties should not be equated.

Cetaraja was the father of Kharavela and it seems probable that he was the immediate predecessor of Kharavela, belonging to be the second king in the Mahameghavahana line in Kalinga.

The line-7 of the Hathigumpha inscription indicates that the Queen of Vajiraghara (Chief Queen of Kharavela ?) gave birth to a son. Another inscription in the lower storey of the same caves informs us that it had been executed by the Aira Maharaja Kalingadhipati Mahameghavahana Kudepasiri. In this cave another inscription is incised which reveals the name of Kumara Badukha. It is to be noted here that Kumara Badukha has not assumed any royal title. However, it is difficult to be sure of the relationship between Kharavela and Kudepasir. As no available record speaks any thing more about prince Badukha, he stands an obscure figures, in history but seems to be the son or brother Kudepasiri.

Mahiska country denoted the modern coastal Andhra (Guntur – Krishna region) which was apparently added to the Mahameghavahana kingdom at least during the reign of Maharaja Sada.

The Sada rule came to an end during end first century / early second century A.D. On basis of above discussion we can say that Kharavela belonged to Mahameghavahana dynasty and the Genealogical chart of can be given as under:

1- Mahameghavahana 2- Cetaraja 3- Kharavela 4- Kudepasiri 5- Badukha 6- Mahasada 7- Sada’s successors.

Queens of Kharavela

The Hathigumpha inscription mentions that in the seventh year of his reign [the Queen] of Vajiraghara was blessed with a son attained motherhood. Sometime before his coronation the prince very probably married chief queen as per presence was essentially required in anointation ceremony. The chief queen, whose record has been engraved in the upper storey of Mancapuri Cave, was the great-grand daughter of Hastisimha and the daughter of king Lalaka or Lalarka. It is to be pointed out here that not much is known about Hastisimha and Lalarka from any other source. We find mention of Lal (लल) as a gotra of Jats living in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh, India, who originated from mahapurusha Lala (लल). The famous Panjtar stone inscription, now in (Pakistan), written in the year 122 of Saka ara, referse to one “ Lala, the protector of the Kushana dynasty of Maharaja Kanishka”. This Lala, was a Lalli “Jat” It also refers to the gift of two trees by one Moika in the eastern region of “ Kasua”. That last word Kasua is the same as Kasuan the name of the Kushana clan (and territory) which is still existing. [3][4]

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.

King Kharavela is known to have two queens. Line-15 of the Haithgumpha inscription refers to the queen of Simhapatha, who was very likely his second queen. Simhapatha may be same as Simhapura which was the capital of Kalinga during the rule of the Matharas in the 4th century A.D. The place is identified with modern Singupuram in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.

Remembering Kharavela

Kharavela Nagar is an important commercial district of Bhubaneswar and home to the city's first mall. With the rise of industry, in particular IT and higher education, the history of ancient Kalinga and in particular Kharavela is being revived as Orissa's golden age.

See also

Middle kingdoms of India
Timeline: Northern Empires Southern Dynasties Northwestern Kingdoms

 6th century BCE
 5th century BCE
 4th century BCE

 3rd century BCE
 2nd century BCE

 1st century BCE
 1st century CE

 2nd century
 3rd century
 4th century
 5th century
 6th century
 7th century
 8th century
 9th century
10th century
11th century

(Persian rule)
(Greek conquests)

(Islamic conquests)

(Islamic Empire)

External links


  1. ^ Dr Mahendra Singh Arya, Dharmpal Singh Dudee, Kishan Singh Faujdar & Vijendra Singh Narwar: Adhunik Jat Itihas (In Hindi) (Modern History of Jats), Agra 1998, Jaypal Agencies, Agra, Pp. 224 and 234
  2. ^ Kusâna Coins and History, D.K.Printworld, 1994, p.184, note 5; reprint of a 1985 article
  3. ^ EI, Vol.XIV, p-134
  4. ^ History of Lal Clan
  • 5. Shashi Kant (2000): The Hathigumpha Inscription of Kharavela and the Bhabru Edict of Ashoka, D K Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
  • 6. Mahajan, Dr. Malati (2003): Orissa : From Place Names in Inscriptions C. 260 B.C.-1200 A.D. (Cultural and Historical Geography), Sundeep Prakashan.
  • 7. Agrawal, Sadananda (2000): Śrī Khāravela, Sri Digambar Jain Samaj, Cuttack, Orissa.


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