Kharavela was one of the greatest kings of ancient India. Kharavela was the first great historical monarch of ancient Kalinga who belonged to the soil, and styled himself as “Kalingadhipati”.
His personality is known from the Hathigumpha Inscription. It says that King Kharavela 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 Crown Prince, to assume the burden of royal responsibilities. By that time he was already proficient in five main subjects, namely, Writing, Coinage, Arithmetic, Law, and Procedure. He also earned knowledge in various other arts.
Kharavela as the King
As the King of Kalinga, Kharavela immediately turned his attention to the fortification of his capital city of Kalinga Nagari.
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 forts. He also improved the conditions of the tanks and gardens for the beautification of the city. The King pleased his subjects by his works of public welfare.
King Kharavela strengthened his capital and enlarged his 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 Hathigumpha Inscription, Kharavela, without caring for the power of the King Satakarni sent his large army westward. It consisted of horse elephant, infantry and chariot. The army struck terror to the city of Asika and marched victoriously as far as river Krishna.
After a successful show of strength far outside his own territory, Kharavela entertained the people of Kalingana in the third year of his reign. The king himself was well versed in the art 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 Kalingan, as if, a city of pleasureful play.
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.
Kharavela’s rule saw great charitable activities for the satisfaction of his subjects. These benevolent measures were meant for both the urban and rural populations of the empire.
In the seventh year, Kharavela’s chief queen gave birth to a son.
At that very time when the victorious army of Kharavela was advancing towards the Magadhan capital, the Indo-Greek invaders under king were advancing towards Magadha. The Yavana King was already occupation of Mathura, and he thought of the invasion of Pataliputra. Unfortunately, the name of the Yavana King has so much been damage in the Hathigumpha Inscription that his identity has not been established. It is known, however, from the inscription that when the Yavana 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.
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 build the Great Victory Palace 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 Bharatavarsha for conquests. This second invasion of the north also ended in victory and success.
In the eleventh year, Kharavela achieved a great military victory in the south. 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 that the earlier ones. His soldiers entered into the Magadhan territory and forced the ruling king of Magadha, Brihaspatimitra, to surrender. The Hathigumpha Inscription describes that after his great victory, Kharavela brought back from there the image of Kalinga Jina that had been taken away by some Magadhan King.
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 carrier.
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. King Kharavela became a Jain monarch and entered upon his new role to champion the cause of Jainism.
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 year 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.