In ancient India, there was a famous Kshatriya race known as the Chedi. The Chedi people were prominently mentioned in Brahmanic, Buddhist and Jaina literature.
In the days of Buddha in sixth century B.C., the political map of India contained sixteen Mahajanapadas or great territories.
One of those Mahajanapadas was the Chedi territory which extended between the rivers Jamuna and Narmada. The Chedi race seems to have moved to other places in course of time.
It is gathered from the Jaina sources that a king named Abhichandra established a kingdom known as Chedirashtra in the region of the Vindhyas. The capital of this kingdom was Suktimati-Puri on the bank of the river Suktimati. This river has been identified by Alexander Cunningham with the river Mahanadi itself. D.C. Sircar is of the opinion that river Suktimati is Suktel which is a tributary of the Mahanadi (or of the Tel river). The river Suktel flows into the river Tel which meets the river Mahanadi.
If the Chedirashtra was founded somewhere in Kalinga by king Abhichandra, the Chedis had an ancient root in this land. But, some historians locate the river Suktimati and the capital city of Suktimati-Puri at some other places. The exact location of the Chedirashtra thus remains uncertain.
The son and successor of king Abhichandra of Chedirashtra was King Vasu. Vasu seems to have been a more powerful ruler, and he became famous for his pious deeds to earn the title of Rajarsi. King Kharavela of Kalinga regarded Rajarsi Vasu as the founder of his dynasty and took pride in describing himself in his Hatigumpha Inscription as a descendant of Rajarsi Vasu. This fact proves that the Chedis of Kalinga were the descendants of the ancient Chedi race of India, so prominently described in the Buddhist and Jaina literature.
The Chedi dynasty is also famous as the Cheta dynasty, or the Chetavamsa. Kharavela, therefore, mentioned in his inscription that he enhanced the glory of the dynasty of Chetaraja (Chetarajavasa Vadhanena). The history of the earlier kings of the Cheta dynasty in Kalinga is not known. While king Vasu was a much ancient ancestral figure of the dynasty, King Chetaraja was the immediate predecessor of Kharavela, ruling Kalinga. It is obvious that the Chedis were rising to power in Kalinga with their background of being an ancient race.
The dynasty also carried for its kings a grand designation or title, Mahameghavahana. The Chedi dynasty of Kalinga, therefore, is also known as the Mahameghavahana Family. The title speaks of the power of the rulers. The epithet Mahameghavahana means the ‘Lord of the Great Clouds’ who uses the clouds as his vehicle. It may mean that the kings were as powerful as Indra.
In India, in those times, some of the ruling dynasties carried such titles, ending with Vahctna. As for example, there was the famous Satavahana family in the south. It could also be that one of the earlier kings of the Kalinga Chedi dynasty was famous in his name of Mahameghavahana and his successors used that name as their family title as a mark of honour to the memory of that great king. The Chedi Dynasty of Kalinga, thus, could be more appropriately described as the Chedi Mahameghavahanas.
The dynasty also carries another name for it, namely Aira. Some scholars like Prinsep and Rajendra Lai Mitra thought that the word Aira of the Hatigumpha Inscription stands for one of the kings of that name belonging to the Chedi dynasty. But to others, Aira was a dynastic term of the Chedi kings of Kalinga. According to K.P. Jayaswal, the term Aira comes from the Puranic name Ila or Aila who belonged to the Lunar Kshatriya race. It is believed that the Chedi rulers of Kalinga called themselves as Aira in order to establish the faith that they belonged to the famous Lunar Kshatriya race of the description of the Puranas.
Thus, that the Chedi kings of Kalinga went by their dynastic name as the Aira Mahameghavahana, and also as the kings of the Chetaraja Vamsa. The Chedi dynasty rose to power in Kalinga over the grave of the Maurya Empire. They might have shifted their seat of power from the original Chedirashtra to Kalinga. It is supposed that Mahameghavahana was the first king of the dynasty to rule over Kalinga. It is also supposed that the second king of the dynasty in Kalinga was Chetaraja.
His successor was Kharavela who is famous in the history of Kalinga and of India as a mighty monarch. Kharavela belonged to the third generation of the Kalinga Chedi dynasty. It was under him that Kalinga became a great power, with extensive territories as an empire. The life and achievements of Kharavela are vividly known from his famous Hatigumpha Inscription. A reference to this remarkable inscription is necessary before one proceeds to discuss the reign of Kharavela.