Kalinga was roughly comprised of the present day
districts of Puri, Ganjam and Cuttack within the state of Orissa.
The name Kalinga appears prominently during Emperor
Ashoka's reign (269-232 BC), and later during the reign of King Kharavela of
Kalinga (c.177-152 BC, or c.50 BC - theories vary to a large extent).
The name also has a mention in the book 'Indica'
by the Greek traveller, Megasthenes.
Kalinga must have been a powerful kingdom, even during the reign of
Ashoka, for it dared to challenge the might of the Magadhan empire
which was under Mauryan control.
Ashoka invaded Kalinga around 260 BC, presumably to chastise Kalinga
for refusing to accept its suzerainty, or for a dispute over a Nanda
canal and allowing access to the Magadhans over the eastern trade
routes. The Magadhans managed to defeat the Kalingans after a gruesome
battle. But the loss of life and destruction of property
that followed was so enormous that it is said to have dramatically
transformed King Ashoka into renouncing violence and accepting
Buddhism. Kalinga was annexed to the Magadhan empire. Peace
prevailed until the end of Maurya rule in 185 BC. The rule of the
inherited by the Sunga dynasty, and later by the Kanva dynasty
which ruled the Magadhan empire with Kalinga as a subsidiary.
Later the Chedi dynasty established its rule over Kalinga. The Chedi
dynasty was commenced by Mahameghavahana. The great king of the
dynasty, Kharavela, was
probably his grandson and the son of King Vakradeva. Kharavela is
also said to have descended from the royal sage, Vasu. A Jain text
also calls him a descendent of the Asura king, Ravana, from the
Kharavela was the third ruler in the Chedi dynasty, ruling
Kalinga around the first (or second) century BC. He ascended the throne
at the age of twenty-four and his rule was said to be the golden period for
the Kalingans. Kharavela was a Jain, but all religions could be
freely practiced during his rule. He was often referred to as
Bhikshuraja (or the monk king), apparently because of his patronage
of the monasteries.
Hathigumpha inscriptions discovered near present day Bhubaneshwar
give us an insight into the life of Kharavela. After becoming king, Kharavela is said to have immediately started repairs
the city. He restored the gardens, built embankments around the lake,
constructed tanks and cisterns, started several irrigation and
public welfare projects in the city. This pleased his subjects
immensely. After gaining the confidence of his people, Kharavela embarked on his conquests.