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Know Me Kalinga :King Kharavela was a powerful king of Kalinga from ancient India – #KnowMeKalinga – Article by Saroj Kumar Mohapatra

King Kharavela was a powerful king of Kalinga from ancient India

After the downfall of the Mauryan empire, when the imperial tradition was under an eclipse and the country as a whole was heading towards an anarchical disruption, Kharavela took over the charge of the throne of Kalinga. The meteoric career of this monarch is one of the brightest interludes in the history of India.

Observes Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra ( R. P. Mohapatra ), eminent scholar of Odishan (Orissan) Studies, The great emperor was born at a time when Kalinga was beginning to revive herself under her new dynasty from the devastation caused by Magadhan imperialism.   The monarchs of his dynasty assumed the pompous title of Mahameghavahana or the “Rider of the Mighty Clouds”.

Kharavela was the greatest monarch of ancient Kalinga who built a far-flung empire with Kalinganagari as his capital. Though the date of this monarch caused some controversy, historical evidences, as available now, place him in first century B.C.

The short reign of Kharavela was an era of extensive conquests. Unlike most of the great emperors of India, this emperor ruled for a very brief period of time, yet within that brief period he dazzled the history with successful wars and far-flung conquests.

The first fifteen years of Kharavela’s life were spent in games befitting a young prince and in the study of matters relating to writing, coinage, accounting, administrative and legal procedures. He was also taught music and was given liberal education covering other sciences, so as to make him an accomplished emperor. He was associated with administration at the age of sixteen when he was installed as Yuvaraja.  When he completed the twenty-fourth year, he was appointed Maharaja of Kalinga. He assumed the title of Kalingadhipati or Kalinga Chakravartini and no doubt claimed the status of a Chakravartini or universal ruler.

At the commencement of the second year’s reign the revived might of Kalinga was set in motion against king of Satakarni of the Satavahana dynasty, who rose to power almost simultaneously with the  Mahameghavahanas of Kalinga.

#KnowMeKalinga :King Kharavela was a powerful king of Kalinga from ancient India

Sri Satakarni was a very powerful monarch and his empire was direct neighbour of Kalinga. It remained as a threatening menace to the rising power of Kalinga and Kharavela did not think it wise to leave him in the rear and lead the army to the north. The war machine of Kalinga, consisting of the four wheels of ancient military science such as infantry, cavalary, chariot and elephant, rolled on towards the west defying the strength of Sri Satakarni and praying no heed to his empire and army.

It was sudden attack at the heart of the most powerful rival. This encounter no doubt  served as a check on the further expansion of Satavahana empire to the neighboring areas. The Kalingan army reached the river Krishna and terrorized the city of Assak, the capital of assak. After a long and victorious march for a year the army returned back to the capital of Kalinga; the dread of Kharavela was shown in the Deccan.

Emboldened by the success in the maiden campaign in the fourth year of his rule Kharavela led the army against the Rathika and Bhojakas whose territories were lying to the west of Kalinga. Those Rathikas bore all insignia of royality, i.e., crown, caparisoned horse, umbrella and golden pitcher, and when crushed they cast of their umbrella, etc., and their jewellery and wealth confiscated and were compelled to pay obeisance at the feet of Kharavela. The Rathikas and Bhojakas, who were also known as the Maharathis and Mahabhojas and whose names are to be frequently found in the rock edicts of Ashoka and other inscriptions, were undoubtly two great peoples of the Decan. The defeat and conquest of these people add lusture to the glory of Kharavela as an invincible conqueror and to
his army as a formidable institution.

Emboldened by the success in the maiden campaign in the fourth year of his rule Kharavela led the army against the Rathika and Bhojakas whose territories were lying to the west of Kalinga. Those Rathikas bore all insignia of royality, i.e., crown, caparisoned horse, umbrella and golden pitcher, and when crushed they cast of their umbrella, etc., and their jewellery and wealth confiscated and were compelled to pay obeisance at the feet of Kharavela.

seventh year of his reign the emperor caused a military exhibition to be opened where his people saw different acts of warefare, the parade of guards, swords-play and charioteering, the cavalry charge and the rest

The Rathikas and Bhojakas, who were also known as the Maharathis and Mahabhojas and whose names are to be frequently found in the rock edicts of Ashoka and other inscriptions, were undoubtly two great peoples of the Decan. The defeat and conquest of these people add lusture to the glory of Kharavela as an invincible conqueror and to his army as a formidable institution.

In the seventh year of his reign the emperor caused a military exhibition to be opened where his people saw different acts of warefare, the parade of guards, swords-play and charioteering, the cavalry charge and the rest. These military exercises were perhaps held to gear up the army to mobilise successful campaign against the rulers of the north that commenced from the very next year.

From the west, Kharavela now turned his attention to the north. In the eighth year of his reign Kharavela led an expedition to the north and invaded Magadha. The verdict of Ashoka's Kalinga war was thus reversed. By the cruel irony of history, Magadha now stood prey to the invading army of Kalinga, to be humbled and captivated by her once subject country. The Kalingan army entered into the territory of Magadha and fought out an import engagement with the army of that empire at Gorathagiri or modern Barbara hill in the district of Gaya and stormed the outlying fortress which guarded Rajagriha, the former capital of Magadha. After having stormed and destroyed the stronghold of Gorathagiri, Kharavela moved towards the interior and humbled and captured Rajagriha that one time capital city and prosperous abode of the Magadhan monarchs. Proceeding further, Kharavela seems to have turned his attention towards far west of Mathura. It may be that there was some depredation from the north and Mathura was temporarily occupied by an aggressor and Kharavela drove him out. He is generally identified as Yavana king. Kharavela, the champion of Jainaism, does not seem to have tolerated an attack on Mathura, the age-old stronghold of Jainism. Mathura was not annexed by Kharavela and therefore it seems that on liberation it was restored  to its original ruler by display of a rare piece of ancient Indian magnanimity. The whole Bharatvarsa now lay in awe at the scepter of this illustrious monarch, Kharavela.

From the west, Kharavela now turned his attention to the north. In the eighth year of his reign Kharavela led an expedition to the north and invaded Magadha. The verdict of Ashoka’s Kalinga war was thus reversed. By the cruel irony of history, Magadha now stood prey to the invading army of Kalinga, to be humbled and captivated by her once subject country.

The Kalingan army entered into the territory of Magadha and fought out an import engagement with the army of that empire at Gorathagiri or modern Barbara hill in the district of Gaya and stormed the outlying fortress which guarded Rajagriha, the former capital of Magadha. After having stormed and destroyed the stronghold of Gorathagiri, Kharavela moved towards the interior and humbled and captured Rajagriha that one time capital city and prosperous abode of the Magadhan monarchs. Proceeding further, Kharavela seems to have turned his attention towards far west of Mathura. It may be that there was some depredation from the north and Mathura was temporarily occupied by an aggressor and Kharavela drove him out. He is generally identified as Yavana king. Kharavela, the champion of Jainaism, does not seem to have tolerated an attack on Mathura, the age-old stronghold of Jainism. Mathura was not annexed by Kharavela and therefore it seems that on liberation it was restored  to its original ruler by display of a rare piece of ancient Indian magnanimity. The whole Bharatvarsa now lay in awe at the scepter of this illustrious monarch, Kharavela.

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As noted by the eminent historian and archaeologist, Dr. Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra (Dr. R. P. Mohapatra),  “The war like spirits of Kharavela and his bold undertaking of campaigns in the distant kingdoms clearly prove that militarism was in full vigor in the country in spite of Ashoka’s advocacy of Dhamma. As a result of these wars, Kharavela always kept his subjects away in excitement.

The rapidity of movements of the army can be evident from the way he conducted these wars. The second invasion of Magadha is a glaring testimony of the fact. From Odisha(Orissa) to Uttarapatha(North-Western India) and to Magadha and again back to Odisha(Orissa) in the same yearKharavela must have moved with Napeleonic rapidity. He had no doubt the benefits of the Mauryan roads, yet he had to cover thousands of miles and maintain huge army moved thousands of miles from his kingdom.”

To sum up,The military career of this emperor was one of the rare examples of oriental valor, his twelve years of ceaseless warfare in all corners of India was the real manifestations of true Chakravartin.

To know more about Kharavela’s military and other achievements, readers are advised to refer to following works of Dr. R. P. Mohapatra. The notes furnished here mostly adopted from his books.

  • Mohapatra R. P., Military History of Orissa (Odisha), 1986, Cosmo Publications, Delhi
  • Mohapatra R. P., Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, 1981, D. K. Publications, Delhi  
Saroj Kumar Mohapatra

By Saroj Kumar Mohapatra

I love and my contributions towards Odisha Archaeology, Odishan Art, Temple Architecture, Fashion, Ornaments, History, Art History, Sculptural Art, Iconography, Religion and Traditions