The Chetas or the Chedis were the original inhabitants of Maddhyadesa. Probably some member of the clan migrated to Kalinga and occupied the land and established their own kingdom. The history of Kalinga under the Chedis is known from the Hatigumpha Pillar inscription. According to this inscription, Maha Meghavahana, a member of the Chedi clan founded the Chedi dynasty of Kalinga. Kharvela, the famed king of Chedi Dynasty was the kinsman of Maha Meghavahana.
Kharvela was one of the most remarkable figures in ancient Indian History. As far historical records suggest, he ascended the throne in second century B.C., probably in 25 B.C. Substantial details of his career and achievements till the 13th year of his reign are available from the Hatigumpha Pillar inscriptions. In his boyhood, Kharvela received physical training and education befitting a prince. At the age of sixteen he was appointed the crown prince of Kalinga and at twenty-four he was ushered in as the king of Kalinga. Kharvela assumed the title Kalingadhipati or Kalinga Chakravartin.
After his ascension to the throne, Kharvela emphasised on the internal and administrative reforms in Kalinga in order to form a strong foundation of his Empire and at the same time prepared his country for aggressive campaigns. He renovated the gates and walls of Kalinganagara city, damaged by cyclone and the invasion of kings and princes. He dug tanks to supply cool and fresh water to the citizens.
In the second year of his reign Kharvela commissioned a vast army to march westward towards the kingdom of Satakarni. Satakarni, the Sattavahana king was a valiant conqueror and a powerful adversary of Kharvela in western India. With a motive to subjugate his adversary Kharvela with his army marched to the bank of Krishnabena and threatened the city of Musikanagara. Musikanagara was one of the important parts within the confines of the Sattavahana territory. However the expedition of Kharvela against the Sattavahana king failed to produce any concrete result because Kharvela failed to wrest the suzerainty of Musikanagara from the Sattavahanas. Moreover the Hatigumpha inscription does not mention any battles between the two.
In the third year of his reign, Kharvela did not lead any aggressive campaign, rather he emphasised in the maintenance of his kingdom in Kalinga. He therefore provided entertainment and recreation to the to the subjects by arranging theatrical, musical and dance performances.
In his fourth year, Kharvela again turned towards military expedition and captured the capital of a prince, Vidyadhara. He also reduced the Bhojakas and the Rathikas to submission. Ashokan inscription also mentioned about the Bhojakas and the Rathikas. They concentrated in the areas of Berar, Ahmednagar and Khandesh. Hence the entire area of Berar, Ahmednagar and Khandesh came under the sway of Kharvela, who annexed it to the Kalinga Empire. These kingdoms formed an important part of the Sattavahana Empire. Kharvela, by occupying these lands not only extended the Kalinga Empire but also subjugated their adversary, the Sattavahanas.
Kharvela was a keen observer to the condition of his subjects. He not only proved himself a mighty conqueror, he also was famous among his subjects as a generous king. The most important task he adopted for the well being of his subjects during the fifth year was the land distribution system and proper land maintenance. Kharvela extended the canal constructed by the Nandas in Tanasuli upto his capital, with a solemn desire that most of the land would be drained. Moreover he himself managed the uniform distribution of land and also reduced the rate of taxation payable by the peasants. In the sixth year of his reign Kharvela introduced many reforms for the well being of his rural and urban subjects. Since the authentic records of the seventh year of his reign are still not found and there is no description about the said year in the Hatigumpha Pillar, hence historians are silent about this period. In the eighth year of his reign Kharvela, the mighty king of Kalinga, turned his attention towards the north. He advanced as far as Rajagriha in Gaya district and demolished the fortification of Gorathagiri on the Barabar hills and led the siege in Rajagriha. The intensity of Kharvela's exploitation caused terror within the mind of the Yavana invader. The Yavana invader was pushed back to Mathura by the mighty army led by Kharvela. Regarding the identity of the Yavana invader there is keen controversy among the historians. According to some scholars he was Demetrius. But many historians identified him as a later Indo-Greek ruler of Timitra. However the Hatigumpha pillar inscription depicted the battle of Kharvela with the Yavanas, but did not mention specifically the name or identity of the Yavana invader. In the ninth year of his reign Kharvela erected a great palace on the bank of river Prachi in order to commemorate his victories in the north. In the tenth year Kharvela set out again for the second expedition towards the Gangetic valley in the north. But unfortunately he failed to achieve any substantial success. Kharvela became the master of the major parts of northern India within the tenth year of his reign. In the eleventh year he turned his attention towards south. With the help of his commanding army he sacked the city of Putindra, the capital of king Masulipatam. He overran the Tamil country of south as far as the Pandya kingdom and the king of that empire paid Kharvela a tribute in pearls. Kharvela's unquenched thirst for the conquest of north was not satiated even after his successful expeditions in the south. In the twelfth year of his reign, Kharvela set out with his mighty army to the northern plains. He compelled Brihatsvamitra of Magadha to submit to him. Kharvela moved upto the Ganges and washed his horses and elephants in the river. The humiliation of Kalinga by the Nandas and the Mauryas was avenged by Kharvela through this victory. He compelled the Anga and the Magadha kings to pay him a large tribute. Kharvela also carried the image of a Jain saint from Magadha. This image had been removed from Kalinga by a Nanda king. The booty, which Kharvela brought from Magadha, was utilised in the building of a magnificent temple. In the thirteenth year of his reign Kharvela crowned his conquering career by the pious deeds of building caves for the monks in the Udayagiri hills. Kharvela was a devout of Jainism and he made liberal gifts to the Jain saints. In spite of being a staunch follower of Jainism, Kharvela was tolerant towards other religious creeds. As a benevolent ruler, public welfare was the holy duty of Kharvela. The records of his achievements are mentioned in the Hatigumpha Pillar inscription, which was inscribed by Kharvela himself. These inscriptions are considered the next great ones only after those of Ashoka. Kharvela's reign was the epoch of Jainism in Orissa. About the great king Kharvela, historians have opined that he is a meteor who suddenly rose to glory and greatness and then vanished from the political horizon of Kalinga. The legacy of Kharvela was however not sustained by any ruler.