Aira Maharaja Mahameghavahana Kharavela was one of the greatest kings of ancient India.
He was the first great historical monarch of ancient Kalinga who belonged to the soil, and styled himself as Chetaraja-Vamsa Vardhana, and Kalingadhipati.
His personality is known from the Hatigumpha Inscription. It says that he possessed many auspicious signs on his body, was gifted with many qualities, and was handsome in appearance having brown complexion. For first fifteen years of his life, he played the usual childhood games meant for the royal princes to train them for their future role.
As the Crown Prince:
At the age of 15, Kharavela became the Yuvaraja, or Crown Prince, to assume the burden of royal responsibilities. By that time he was already proficient in five main subjects, namely, Lekha or Writing, Rupa or Coinage, Ganana or Arithmetic, Vyavahara or Law, and Vidhi or procedure. He also earned knowledge in various other arts.
The education of Kharavela, as known from the Hatigumpha Inscription, throws much light on the princely education of ancient India. A future king was obliged to pass in his early life through a system of education and learning, necessary for a royal career. Similar subjects -of education have some other ancient works like Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
The term Lekha does not mean just ordinary writing, but it means the mode of state correspondence necessary for a king to learn of administration. Similarly, Rupa was the science of currency or money, Ganana, or Arithmetic was of course, a subject of absolute need, specially for administrators. Vyavahara, that is Law, included the knowledge of judicial system as well as of the established Law of the land.
Vidhi or procedure was a wide subject which included the usages and customs, various established rules relating to Niyama or Samstha or Dharmasastra. With a sound educational background, Kharavela as the Crown Prince acquired practical experience of administration while learning more and more of the above branches of knowledge.
Kharavela worked as the Crown Prince for 9 years. After completion of his twenty-fourth year of life, he was crowned as the King of Kalinga when he crossed the age of a minor. He began his glorious rule as the king belonging to the third generation of his royal dynasty.
As the King:
As the King of Kalinga, Kharavela immediately turned his attention to the fortification of his capital city of Kalinganagari. The capital which was earlier damaged by a severe storm required repair and reconstruction. Kharavela, thus, in the very first year after coronation, repaired the gates, ramparts, and the structures of the fort of Kalinganagari. He also improved the conditions of the tanks and gardens for the beautification of the city. The cost of construction of such works has been stated in the Hatigumpha Inscription as thirty five hundred thousand. The King pleased his subjects by his works of public welfare.
At the time of Asoka, the capital of Kalinga was Tosali. On the other hand, Kharavela’s famous capital went by the name of Kalinganagara or Kalinganagari. In the opinion of many eminent archaeologists, the ruins of Tosali and of Kalinganagai’i might be lying buried near or around Bhubaneshwar. The archaeological excavations at Sisupalgarh, which is in near vicinity of both Asoka’s Dhauli Inscription and Kharavela’s Hatigumpha Inscription, revealed the existence of a strongly fortified site with defensive walls, towers and gates.
As the ruins of that place belong to the pre-Christian centuries, Sisupalgarh was most likely the place where Tosali and Kalinganagara stood during Asoka and Kharavela’s times. There are epigraphic evidences to suggest that Kharavela’s Kalinganagari was situated near Bhubaneswar, or more specifically, within the near distance of Udayagiri Khandagiri hills.
According to a noted archaeologist T.N. Ramachandran, both Tosali and Kalinganagari could be identified with the present day Sisupalgarh. Presenting various arguments from archaeological point of view he said that the “capital of Kalinga during Asoka’s time was located at Tosali and the Sisupalgarh ruins are in all probability Tosali’s ruins.” And, again, “Much can therefore be said in favour of Sisupalgarh being identified with Kalinganagara.”
The eminent archaeologist B.B. Lai who conducted the excavation work at Sisupalgarh wrote in his report. “The Hathigumpha inscription does not say anything about the distance and direction of the city of Kalinga from the Khandagiri-Udayagiri hills and therefore, the city could be anywhere far or near irrespective of location of the inscription. If the city was somewhere in the neighbourhood, the claim of Sisupalgarh has to be taken into consideration. According to the inscription, Kalinganagara was provided with fortifications and King Kharavela repaired the gateway and fortification wall which had been damaged by a storm.
Now no fortified town of comparable date except Sisupalgarh is known to exist near about the Khandagiri-Udayagiri hills; secondly, the excavation did reveal a collapse and subsequent repair of the southern gateway flank of the fortification. On these pieces of circumstantial evidence, a presumption is raised in favour of Sisupalgarh being identified with ancient Kalinganagara.”
It is evident that the capital of ancient Kalinga was a famous city, though passing under different names. Tosali and Kalinganagari could have been the same place from where the Mauryas and the Chedis ruled Kalinga. Unfortunately the excavation of Sisupalgarh was stopped just after it began, and the ruins of that place remain still unexposed.
Before the time of Kharavela, under the earlier Mahameghavahana Kings, the army of Kalinga was strong and big. Kharavela, after strengthening his capital, enlarged that army. In the second year of his reign, he could prove the might of the Kalinga forces by a military invasion of the south. According to Hatigumpha Inscription, Kharavela, without caring for the power of the King Satakarni sent his large army westward. It consisted of horses, elephants, infantry and chariots. The army struck terror to the city of Asika and marched victoriously as far as river Krishna.
It is noteworthy that the Mahameghavahanas of Kalinga and the Satavahanas of the south were contemporaries and rivals. King Satakarni I was then ruling over the Krishna Godavari region as well as over the Maharashtra region and next towards the river Krishna. The city of Asika or Asikanagara was perhaps situated between the rivers Godavari and Krishna. The expedition of the Kalinga army in western and southern directions proved that Kharavela was powerful enough to challenge the Satavahana supremacy in the Deccan.
After a successful show of strength far outside his own territory, Kharavela entertained the people of Kalinganagari in the third year of his reign. The king himself was well versed in the ‘Gandharva Veda’ or the arts and sciences of music. That speaks of Kharavela as a patron of India’s ancient musical traditions. In order to please the population of his capital he arranged festivals and feasts on a large scale. Various performances like dancing, singing and playing of vocal and instrumental music were presented. He made Kalinganagari, as if, a city of pleasureful play.
In the fourth year of his reign, Kharavela consolidated his position in a territory named Vidyadhara which, according to the inscription, was established by the earlier kings of Kalinga but had never been crushed before. It might mean that a turbulent area within the kingdom or on its borders was crushed and subdued.
The same year, Kharavela launched his second invasion of the Satavahana kingdom. His first invasion perhaps did not end in conclusive results, and therefore, a more determined effort was necessary to conquer the western and southern regions of India. This campaign resulted in great victory for the Kalinga forces.
The Hatigumpha Inscriptions describe of it in the following words : “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 and guarded two sides of the Satavahana power as part of that territory. The defeat of the chiefs of those peoples was a blow to the Satavahan power. Kharavela’s victory over them brought a large part of the Deccan within the Kalinga Empire.
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.
The sixth year of Kharavela’s rule saw his great charitable activities for the satisfaction of his subjects. These benevolent measures 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.
In the seventh year, Kharavela’s chief queen, named as the ‘Queen of Vajiraghara’ gave birth to a son.
In the eighth year of his reign, Kharavela began his military campaigns in the north. 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 when the victorious army of Kharavela was advancing towards the Magadhan capital, the Indo-Greek invaders under their king were advancing towards Magadha. The Yavana King was already in occupation of Mathura, and he thought of the invasion of Pataliputra. Unfortunately, the name of the Yavana King has so much been damaged in the Hatigumpha Inscription that his identity has not been established.
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. 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. So, in the ninth year of his rule, Kharavela built in his capital Kalinganagari the Great Victory Palace or the Mahavijaya Prasada to make his achievement memorable. The Palace was constructed at the cost of thirty-eight hundred thousand coins.
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. In the eleventh year of his reign, Kharavela received jewels and precious stones from his defeated enemies. That year, he caused to be cultivated a place named Pithunada which had been founded by some former kings of Kalinga.
In that eleventh year, Kharavela achieved a great military victory in the south. A Confederation of the Tamil states in the south, consisting of the territories of the Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras, Keralaputra, and Tamraparni (Ceylon) existed at the time of Kharavela and the Kalinga ruler thought it necessary to break its power for his own hegemony in the south. It is known from the Hatigumpha Inscription that this Confederacy had maintained its political unity for 1300 years before the time of Kharavela and that it contained many janapadas teeming with village settlements.
Asoka, in his inscriptions, mentioned of these peoples 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.
In the twelfth year of his reign, Kharavela took up his third invasion of the north. It was a more powerful military campaign than the earlier ones. According to Hatigumpha 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, and he paid obeisance at the feet of the victor.
It was, as if, Kharavela’s revenge upon Magadha for the role which the famous king of Magadha, Mahapadma Nanda, had played centuries earlier. The Hatigumpha 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. After defeating the Indo-Greek powers in the north-west, he led his victorious army through Magadha, and by humbling the king of Magadha, brought back the sacred image of the Kalinga Jina which the Nanda King had carried away from Kalinga. 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 like Asoka, and turned to religious activities. As a Jaina monarch, he entered upon his new role to champion the cause of Jainism.
So, in the thirteenth year of his reign, one finds him as ‘Upasaka Sri Kharavela’ as described in the Hatigumpha 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 Hatigumpha 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.
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.