Udayagiri Cave Complex – Hathi-gumpha & King Kharavela

Cave 14: Hathi-gumpha – Architecturally, this large natural cavern is of no interest, however it is famous for its inscription, incised on its brow. The inscription has suffered much damage, all natural causes like weather, rain etc., and a shed was constructed in 1902 in order to save it from further damages. For the present name, Beglar1 mentions that, as per a tradition, it was a stable for the elephants of king Lalitendra Kesari and thus named Hathi-gumpha.


There are few caves, consisting of only cells but no veranda, excavated at different levels on the same rock adjoining the Hathi-gumpha. These excavations were known as Pavana-gumpha or cave of purification2.

Inscription of King Kharavela

As there is nothing interesting about the style and architecture of the cave, we directly move to the most interesting part of it, the famous Karavela inscription. Prinsep3 writes, “All who take an interest in Indian antiquities will at once see the value of the above record, perhaps the most curious that has yet been discovered to us, and will lament the irretrievable obscurity in which the dilapidation of ages has involved the greater part of its contents”.

This is the only available inscription of King Kharavela and interestingly describes the life and events of the famous king. Though it has survived in not very good condition, however it provides ample information to reconstruct the life and events of that period. The inscription is in Prakrit and its written in Brahmi characters of 1st BCE. Let us have a look on the discovery and past studies on this inscription.

Chronology of Kharavela Inscription
1820: Colonel Mackenzie – prepared a lithograph facsimile on behest of A Stirling
1825: A Stirling – published the inscription in Asiatic Researches vol. XV.
1837: James Prinsep – Lieutenant Kittoe reexamined Mackenzie’s lithograph on behest of James Prinsep. Prinsep published a translation of the inscription in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal vol. VI. Prinsep identifies the name of a king as Aira
1871: H Locke – Principal, Government School of Art, Calcutta, surveyed the caves with his students and prepared casts of inscriptions
1877: Alexander Cunningham – published an improved translation in Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. I based upon Locke’s cast and Kittoe’s hand copy,
1880: Rajendralala Mitra – published an improved translation over the Prinsep’s transcript in the Antiquities of Orissa vol. II
1885: Bhagwanlal Indraji – published an edited version as per his eye copy in Actes de Sixieme International Congres des Orientalistes part III, section II. He was the first scholar who rightly identifies the king’s name as Kharavela. On dating of the inscription, his view was that it was dated in Maurya era, and the 13th regnal year of Kharavela corresponds with the year 165 of the Maurya era which he counted from 255 BCE as the supposed date of Ashoka’s conquest of Kalinga
1895: George Buhler – edited the inscription with few corrections in his Indian Studies No. III. He is also of opinion that the inscription was dated in Maurya era
1898: George Buhler – revised his readings in Epigraphia Indica vol. II
1906: Sten Konow – accepted the interpretations of Bhagwan Lal Indraji in Annual Report for Archaeological Survey of India for year 1905-06
1908: V Smith – proposed that the Maurya era mentioned in the inscription may be synonymous or identical with Seleucidan era of 312 BCE, in Early History of India
1910: Luders – in List of Brahmi Inscriptions, published a summary of the inscription stating there is no date mentioned in it
1910: J F Fleet – published two notes on the inscription questioning the reading of Bhagwan Lal Indraji stating that it was not based upon scientific process, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1910
1913 – K P Jayaswal – requested R D Banerji to verify the readings of Indraji.
1917 – K P Jayaswal & R D Banerji – published their notes on this inscription in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. III. Jayaswal published an improved reading where he identifies the king of Magadha, Bahasatimita with Pusyamitra Sunga, placing his reliance on the fact that Brhaspati is the ruling deity of Pusya nakshatra. Banerji published his note on the date of Kharavela, Maurya era and summary of inscription.
1918: K P Jayaswal – personally visited the cave to examine the contents of two important paragraphs. He published a revised reading in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. IV
1919: R P Chanda – examines paleography of the inscription expressing his views that the inscription is contemporary with that of Nanaghat inscription, placing the date of Kharavela to 1st BCE, in Memoirs of Archaeological Survey of India vol. I
1922: R D Banerji – assigns the inscription slightly later than that of Nanaghat, in Memoirs of Archaeological Survey of India vol. XI
1927: K P Jayaswal – published his revised readings with new interpretations in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. XIII
1928: K P Jayaswal – published his revised notes on the inscription in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. XIV
1929: B M Barua – published his version of reading in Old Brahmi Inscriptions in the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves.207 and 169 BCE, in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. XIII
1930: Jayaswal and Banerji – jointly examined the inscription copies and published a revised reading in Epigraphia Indica vol. XX. A S Altekar published his notes on the inscription in the same volume
1938: B M Barua – published his revised reading in Indian Historical Quarterly vol. XIV where he corrected many conjectural mistakes he made in his earlier attempt due to reconstruction of missing parts of the inscription
1942: D C Sircar – published a revised reading over the readings of Jayaswal and Barua, in Select Inscriptions vol. I
1963: N K Sahu – published a revised and improved reading of the inscription, in Utkal University History of Orissa vol. I

Translation of Inscription



Translation of the Inscription4

Lines 1-2 – Salutation to Arhats. Salutation to all Siddhas. Arya Mahameghavahana Maharaja Sri Kharavela, the overlord of Kalinga, who heightens the glory of dynasty of Chetaraja, who possesses many auspicious signs, and is gifted with qualities spreading over four quarters, and who has handsome brown complexion, played the childhood games for fifteen years.
Lines 2-3 – Thereafter, being proficient in writing, coinage, arithmetic, law and procedure and skilled in all arts, (he) ruled as the Crown Prince for nine years. After completing of his twenty-four year and with the ripening of the age of minority, (he) as glorious as Vainya, was crowned king in the third generation of the royal dynasty.
Lines 3-4 – In the very first year of his coronation (His Majesty) caused to be repaired the gate, ramparts and structures of the fort of Kalinga-nagari, which had been damaged by storm, and caused to be built flight of steps for the cool tanks and laid out all gardens at the cost of thirty-five thousand (coins) and thus pleased all his subjects.
Lines 4-5 – In the second year, without caring for Satakarni (His Majesty) sent to the West a large army consisting of horse, elephant, infantry and chariot, and struck terror to Asikanagara with the troop that marched up to the river Krishna. Thereafter, in the third year, well-versed in the Gandharva Veda, (His Majesty) made (Kalinga) nigari play, as it were, by arranging festivals and convivial gatherings, and organizing performances of acrobatics, dance, as well as, of vocal and instrumental music.
Lines 5-6 – Then, in the fourth year, (His Majesty)…..the Vidyadhara tract, that had been established by the former kings of Kalinga and had never been crushed before. The Rastrika and Bhojaka Chiefs with their crowns cast off, their umbrella and royal insignia thrown aside, and their jewelry and wealth confiscated, were made to pay obeisance at the feet (of His Majesty).
Lines 6-7 – And, in the fifth year, (His Majesty) caused the aqueduct that had been excavated by King Nanda three hundred years before, to flow into (Kalinga)nigari through Tanasuli.
Further, in the sixth year of his coronation (His Majesty) in order to display the regal wealth, remitted all taxes, cesses and benevolences for urban and rural population, to the extent of many hundred thousands (of coins).
Lines 7-8 – And, in the seventh year of his reign (the Queen) of Vajiraghara blessed with a son attained motherhood.
Then in the eighth year, having destroyed the strong (fort) of Gorathagiri with a mighty army (His Majesty) oppressed Rajagrha.
Lines 8-9 – Getting the tidings of all these achievements, the Yavanraja who returned to Mathura for the rescue of his army encamped there (surrendered)
The Sage (Kharavela), with the Kalpa tree burdened with foliage and with the horses, elephants, and chariots………..distributed (gifts) to all houses and inns and with a view to making gifts universal, gave away the spoils of victory to the Brahmanas.
Lines 9-10 – And, in the ninth year, (His Majesty) caused to be built (in Kalinganagari) the Great Victory Palace – the royal residence at the cost of thirty-eight hundred thousand (coins). Then in the tenth year, (His Majesty), the embodiment of politics, diplomacy and peace, caused (the army) to march through Bharatavarsa for conquest.
Lines 10-11 – And, in the eleventh year, (His Majesty) secured jewels and precious stones from the retreating (enemies). (His Majesty) caused to be cultivated Pithunda, founded by former kings of Kalinga, with ploughs drawn by asses. Also (His Majesty) shattered the territorial confederacy of the Tamil States having populous villages, that was existing since thirteen hundred years.
Lines 11-12 – And, in the twelfth year, (His Majesty) terrorized the Kings of Uttarapatha by (an army of) hundred thousand; after that (His Majesty) generated great fear among the people of Magadha while making the elephants and horses drink in the Ganges. (His Majesty) made Bahasatimita, the king of Magadha, pay obeisance at his feet. (His Majesty) then brought back the image of Kalinga Jina with its throne and endowment that had been taken away by King Nanda and the jewels plundered by him (King Nanda) from the Kalinga royal palace, along with the treasures of Anga and Magadha.
Line 13 – (His Majesty) brought to submission the people of ………… And in the thirteenth year Upasaka Sri Kharavela a devoted worshipper of those, who used to clothe themselves in fine sloth, enjoy royal endowment and take to rainy season retreat, excavated in the Kumari hill, where the wheel of Victory had been well turned, dwelling cells for the resting of the bodies of Yapannapaka Arhats who had renounced their sustenance.
Line 14 – …….(His Majesty) caused to erect towers with strong and beautiful gateways at the cost of two thousand coins. (His Majesty) obtained horses, elephants and jewels losing strange and wonderful elephants and ships. The King of Pandya caused to be brought here various pearls, jewels and precious stones hundred thousand in number.
Lines 15-16 – (As desired by) the Queen of Simhapatha, (His Majesty) built (an edifice) in front of and close to the dwellings of the Arhats with thirty-five hundred thousand stone slabs, raised from the best quarries and (brought) from a distance of many yojanas, for the convenience of the honored Sramanas and for the Yatis, for the Rsis and Samghiyanas, who hailed from all directions, and also set up on the pink colored floor, pillars bedecked with emerald at a cost of one hundred and five thousand (coins).
(His Majesty) revived the Tauryatrika included in the sixty-four branches (of art) that had been suspended during the time of the Mauryas.
Lines 16-17 – (Thus reigns) the King of bliss, the King of prosperity, the Bhikshu king and the king of Dhamma, (His Majesty) the mighty conqueror Sri Kharavela, the descendent of Rajarsi Vasu, the embodiment of specific qualities, the worshipper of all religious orders, the repairer od all shrines of gods, the possessor of invincible armies, the upholder of law, the protector of law, and the executor of law, having seen, heard and felt all that is good.

Interpretations from above inscription

Kalinga-nagara – Barua5 identifies it with Mukhalingam in Ganjam district and Jayaswal6 identifies it with Tosali. With the discovery of Sisupalgarh in 1948, all the speculations were put to rest when B B Lal7 identifies Sisupalgarh with Kalinga-nagara, the capital of Kharavela. This identification has been accepted now by majority of scholars.

Date of Kharavela – Jayaswal and Banerji8 mentions that there is no date mentioned in the line 16 of this inscription as assumed earlier by themselves and other scholars. Therefore, the dating of this record will be based upon contemporaneity with other historical figures mentioned in the inscription. One such mentioned figure is Satakarni, whom they identified with Sri Satakarni or Satakarni I, the first such named ruler of the Satavahana dynasty. However, they mentions that the most suitable synchronism for dating the record was the Indo-Greek king Demetrios, mentioned as Dimita in the record. However, this reading of Dimita is not accepted by all the scholars. Below are the dates as suggested by various scholars, the latest accepted date for Kharavela is 1st century BCE.

4th century BCE – R L Mitra9
3rd century BCE – Fleet10, H Luders11
2nd century BCE – Bhagwan Lal indraji12, Sten konow13, K P Jayaswal14, R D Banerji15, K C Panigrahi16
1st century BCE – R P Chanda17, H C Raychaudhury18, N N Ghosh19, D C Sircar20
1st century CE – B M Barua21

Bahasapatimita – D C Sircar20, while describing the Pabhosa cave inscription, tells that the king Bahasatimitra mentioned in that inscription may be the same Bahasapatimita of Hathigumpha inscription. He also compares this king with the one whose coins are found at Ramnagar and Kosam.

Kalinga-Jina – The inscription mentions that king Kharavela recovered Kalinga-Jina, which was carried away by Nanda king around 300 years back. This Kalinga-Jina would, in most probability, be an image representing a jina. The question arises, which jina it could be. Jayaswal22 inclines that it would be Parsvanatha. He further tells, on the authority of Muni Jinavijaya, there are many instances where the image of jina is known with the place where it is installed, i.e. Satrunjaya-jina, Arbuda-jina etc. Therefore it is not surprising to find Kalinga-jina in the inscription. Thus, it is not necessary that Kalinga-jina needs to be associated to a jina connected to Kalinga, but it may merely denote an image in worship at Kalinga.

Next: Cave 15 to Cave 18


1 Beglar, J D (1882). Report of Tours in the South-Eastern Provinces in 1874-75 & 1875-76, vol. XIII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 93
2 Mitra, Rajendra Lal (1880). The Antiquities of Orissa vol. II. Indian Studies. Calcutta. p 56
3 Mitra, Rajendra Lal (1880). The Antiquities of Orissa vol. II. Indian Studies. Calcutta. p 49
4 Sahu, N K (1984). Kharavela. Orissa State Museum. Bhubaneswar.
5 Barua, B M (1929). Old Brahmi Inscriptions. University of Calcutta. Kolkata. pp 191-201
6 The Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. IV. p 440
7 Ancient India, no 5. pp 62-105
8 Epigraphia Indica vol. XX, pp 71-89
9 Mitra, Rajendra Lal (1880). The Antiquities of Orissa vol. II. Indian Studies. Calcutta. p 52
10 The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1910. p 242 (Jan 1910) & pp 824-828 (Jul 1910)
11 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. appendix no 1345, p 160
12 Actes de Sixieme International Congres des Orientalistes part III, section II. pp 152-77
13 Acta Orientella I. pp 22f
14 The Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. III. p 425-487
15 The Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. IV. pp 364-403
16 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains in Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal. Cuttack. pp 192-203
17 Chanda, Ramaprasad (1919). Dates of the Votive Inscriptions on the Stupas at Sanchi. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 10
18 Raychaudhuri (phai 1950 p 377-418)
19 Ghosh N N (1939). Early History of India. Allahabad. p 186
20 Sircar, D C (1942). Select Inscriptions. University of Calcutta. Kolkata. p 206
21 Barua, B M (1929). Old Brahmi Inscriptions. University of Calcutta. Kolkata. p 268
22 The Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society vol. IV. p 386