Kharavela of Kalinga – Revived from the Hatigumpha Inscription of Udayagiri and Khandgiri – 193 BC – 168 BC

Emperor Kharavela Jain of Kalinga was one of the most prominent rulers of his time. He is considered to be the third ruler of Maha-Meghavahana Dynasty.

Around 232 BC, when Emperor Ashoka died there was a lot of unrest in the Mauryan Empire and many of the kingdoms of Northern India declared their independence. One such kingdom to declare its independence was the kingdom of Kalinga (modern day Orissa) under the rule of King Mahameghavahana, the founder of Maha-Meghavahana Dynasty.

Udayagiri Caves, near Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India

Khandagiri Caves, near Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India

There is not much known about this dynasty and whatever little we know comes from the Hathigumpha (Elephant Caves) Inscriptions, discovered at Udayagiri Caves near Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

The inscription throws light upon a king who was very powerful and who, in a short span of thirteen years, glorified the Kingdom of Kalinga and restored its position to where it was before the ‘War of Kalinga’ took place during emperor Ashoka. The name of the king is disputed. Initially the historians predicted that the name of this powerful king was ‘Aira’. Later it was suggested (after studying the inscriptions thoroughly) that the name of the king was Kharavela, meaning ‘Salty Shore’.

Kharavela, King of Kalinga, 193 BC

Although, it was initially considered that Kharavela Jain was contemporary to Kushana rulers of 1st Century AD, recent discoveries have confirmed that Kharavela was rather contemporary to Brihadratha Maurya and Pushamitra Sunga (Bruhaspatimitra) of 2nd Century BC.

There is a description of first thirteen years of rule of Kharavela in Hathigumpha, there is not much known of him after that.

Hathigumpha Inscription of King Kharavela of Kalinga

Here is what Hathigumpha describes about Kharavela (His Majesty). The inscription starts with a version of the auspicious Jain Namokar Mantra:

Namo Arihantanam
 I bow in reverence to Arihants
Namo Siddhanam
 I bow in reverence to Siddhas
Namo Ayariyanam
 I bow in reverence to Acharyas
Namo Uvajjhayanam
 I bow in reverence to Upadhyayas
Namo Loye Savva Sahunam
 I bow in reverence to all Sadhus
Eso Panch Namoyaro
 This five-fold salutation
Savva Pavappanasano
 Destroys all sins
Mangalanam Cha Savvesim
 And amongst all auspicious things
Padhamam Havai Mangalam
 Is the most auspicious one

Description as given in Hathigumpha Inscription: 

  • In the first year of his rule, he spent wealth for the repairs of the Kalinga Nagari Gates, laid gardens and spent thirty-five thousand mudra (coins). Thus gained confidence of his people.
  • In the second year he led his troops to Southern India conquering Andra till the banks of Krishna River. Kunala’s son Satakarni died during this battle.
  • In the fourth year Kharavela further led his troops Southwards and conquered the Rashtrika and Bhojaka.
  • In the fifth he contributed to the repairs of water supply system, canals, into Kalinga. These canals were initially constructed by Nanda rulers 300 years ago.
  • In the seventh year Kharavela was blessed with a son to his Queen Vajiraghara.
  • In the 8th year of his rule he finally decided to square off with the long time rival Kingdom of Magadha. His forces attacked Rajagriha in Magadha, which, by that time, was lost by the Mauryans to an Indo-Greek ruler, Demetrius (Dimita). Kharavela’s army forced the Indo-Greeks to retreat back to Mathura. It was due to Kharavela’s courageous army that Indo-Greeks (Yavana) could never rule over Patliputra.
  • In tenth year Kharavela sent a huge army to Northern India for an unknown battle. (Probably to defeat the Indo-Greeks from Mathura)
  • In eleventh year he defeated some Tamil Kingdoms which had been flourishing in the peninsula since 1300 years.
  • In the twelfth year he attacked a lot of kingdoms of in the Northern India such as Kosala, Kasi, Anga, Vajji and Magadha and retrieved the Jain Idols that were taken away from Kalinga during the period of Ashoka.
  • He even made the king of Magadha, Bruhaspatimitra (possibly Pushamitra Sunga) to bow at his feet.
  • In the thirteenth year he contributed to the construction of a lot of religious welfare activities including the construction of Udayagiri and Khandagiri.

Kharavela Empire of Kalinga in 185 BC

Later years of Kharavela

There is not much known about Kharavela after the year thirteen of his reign. He probably ruled for 25 years. He was succeeded by his brother/son Kudepasiri. After the of death of Kharavela, a Mauryan Prince, Satakarni II, defeated Kalinga and annexed most of Kalinga Territories to his kingdom.

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