Bhoja (also Bhojadeva) was a philosopher king and polymath of medieval India, who ruled the kingdom of Malwa in central India from the early 11th century to 1055 CE. Also known as Raja Bhoja Of Dhar, he belonged to the Paramara dynasty. The name Bhoja means "bountiful, liberal" and appears as the name of a tribe, the descendants of Mahabhoja, in the Mahabharata.
Bhoja established numerous temples, including the Bhojeshvara Temple at Bhojpur, a city he founded, about 30 km from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh on the banks of river Betwa. He also established the Bhoj Shala which was a centre for Sanskrit studies and a temple of Sarasvatī in present day Dhar.
Raja Bhoja ruled the Mālwa region from the beginning of the eleventh century to about 1055. His extensive writings cover philosophy, poetry, medicine, veterinary science, phonetics, yoga, and archery. Under his rule, Mālwa and its capital Dhar became one of the chief intellectual centres of India. King Bhoja, together with the Solanki king Bhimdev of Gujarat (Anhilwara), rebuilt the temple at Somnath between 1026 and 1042 after it was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024. He founded the city Bhojpur. It is also said that Bhoja also founded the city of Bhopal, but it could be possible that the city was founded by another king of the same name. The Bhojtal (Upper Lake or bada talab) of Bhopal is said to have been constructed by Bhoja. The great Jain scholar Dhanapala lived at the court of Bhoja. The Jain scholar Dhanapala stated in his works that he convinced Bhoja to give up the practice of sacrificing animals for propitiation of gods and according to Dhanapala Bhoja also stopped to hunt animals.
The Paramaras was a medieval Indian kingdom who were at first feudal rulers of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty. The Paramara dynasty based themselves primarily at Dhar in central India, a city which remained de facto capital until its ultimate conquest in the fourteenth century. It was there that their greatest king and a remarkable genius, Bhoja came to power at the beginning of the 11th century and ruled for about half a century. He was the son of Sindhurāja, who was a notable conqueror, who defeated the Chalukyas and Shilaharas of the Konkan region. Bhoja's path was similar to other great Hindu rulers of the time engaged in wasteful internecine struggles for supremacy. We get some glimpses of his remarkable life from the apocryphal biography Bhoja Prabandham. Early in his career, just before he came to power, Bhoja was afflicted by a tumor in his brain which used to cause him intense headaches. Two learned Brahmin brothers from the school of Ujjain, who were pre-eminent surgeons of the era, performed a surgery on his brain and relieved him of his tumor. The description of the surgery that survives suggests that they artificially induced a coma with a special preparation known as the sammohini and then opened his skull to remove the tumor. He was then brought back to consciousness with another drug.
Bhoja survived this surgery remarkably well and had an illustrious reign both as a military commander and encyclopaedic scholar. Bhoja long desired to reduce his arch-rivals the Western Chalukya Empire of the Deccan and initiated several successful campaigns against them. Then he tried a remarkable political game to destroy the Chalukyas: by forming an alliance with the south Indian Emperor Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty, Bhoja induced him to attack the Chalukyas from the south. Likewise he induced the Kalachuri king Kumara Gangeyadeva (who claimed descent from the Haihayas who had survived the ancient assault of the Bhargavas) to attack the Chalukyas from the east. Bhoja himself pressed on them from the north. For this purpose he erected the mighty fortifications of Māṇḍū and initially put the Chalukyas on the retreat. But the Chalukyas, suddenly reviving the glory that Pulakeshin-II had taken them to, remained firm in the 3-front war, eventually causing Bhoja's allies to give up. Someshvara, the Chalukya king subsequently invaded the Paramara kingdom and stormed the fort of Mandu after a long siege, then took Ujjain, and finally captured Dhara the capital of Bhoja from him. Bhoja unfazed retreated north and with the help of Rajendra Chola I who kept the pressure from the south, took back Dhara and Ujjain. Then Bhoja conquered Chitrakuta (Chittor) and Medhapatha (Mewar) from the Shishodias and established his sway over the Arbuda fort (Mount Abu).
Raja Bhoja then organized his armies to attack Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi who had invaded Somnath. Ghaznavi fearing the powerful army of Bhoja retreated via the desert of Sindh to avoid a clash (reported by Turkic author Gardizi as Indian Padshah Parmar Dev) with the Indian king and lost many of his men. Bhoja repulsed the Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud who led an army into India to conquer the northern India which his uncle, Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi, had failed to conquer. Then Bhoja realizing the threat, organized a confederation of Indian kings including the Kalachuri Lakshmi-Karna, the Chahamana and other Indian kings to fight the Salar Masud. In the Battle of Bahraich the northern India confederacy fought a pitched battle for about a month with the Ghaznavi army and completely defeated them killing Salar Masud in the process. They then went on to conquer Hansi, Thaneshvar, Nagarkot and other cities taken by the Ghaznavids and marched against Lahore and besieged it. Just at the point Lahore was about to fall to them, the Indian kings had a disagreement over who would own the captured territories and their armies disbanded and dispersed in a huff. Bhoja started fighting other Indian kings who were his erstwhile allies in the war against the Ghaznavids.
Bhoja first defeated the Chahamanas of Shakambhari, but the Chahamanas of Naddula repulsed his attempt to take their kingdom. Bhoja next tried to seize the kingdom of the Chandellas, but they formed an alliance with the Rashtrakutas of Kannauj and Kachchapaghatas of Gwalior and repulsed him. Bhoja however, did keep the Ghaznavids in check with help from his Sisodia feudatories. Bhoja then seized the territory of the solanki Bhimdev of Gujarat. Bhimdev unfazed by this formed an alliance with the Haihaya, LakshmI-Karna to attack Bhoja in a two-front war on both east and west. Bhoja was caught in the pincer grip, and while fighting his two enemies he was shot down by an arrow on the battle field. Thus, the great Raja Bhoja having spent his career in numerous campaigns had fallen like a true Kshatriya in the defense of his capital.
Hence its said that when he was alive the poets would say:
"Adya dhara sadadhara sadalamba sarasvati |
panditah manditah sarve bhoja Raje bhuvam gate ||"
(Today Dhara(land) is ever supported, and the Goddess Sarasvati is ever propped up. All the pundits are adorned with the coming of King Bhoja on this earth.)
When he fell in defending Dhara from his rivals they said:
"Adya dhara niradhara niralamba sarasvati |
panditahH khanditah sarve bhojaraje divam gate ||"
(Today Dhara(land) is unsupported, and the Goddess Sarasvati is without a prop. All the pundits are scattered with the ascent of king Bhoja to heaven.)
Bhoja was a good general, and his military career saw several major victories over rival kings. He is, however, best remembered for his intellect and patronage to arts and culture. Bhoja constructed several spectacular temples, one of the most dramatic of which is seen in the form of the great temple of Shiva termed Bhojeshvara at Bhojpur about 30 km from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh . Another notable construction, which is a historical civil engineering masterpiece, is the Bhoja lake which was built by daming and channelizing the Betwa river. He is also supposed to have paid great attention to the education of his people, so much so that even humble weavers in kingdom are supposed to have composed metrical Sanskrit kavyas.
Raja Bhoja wrote 84 books during his life of which several survive. We shall summarize a few below to illustrate the remarkable breadth of his knowledge and originality:
- Sarasvatīkaṇṭhabharaṇa: a treatise on Sanskrit grammar for poetic and rhetorical compositions. Some of the poetic examples provided by him in this work are still appreciated as the highest cream of Sanskrit poetry.
- rAjamArtANda (pata~Njali yoga sUtra bhAshya): Major commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, wherein the Raja clearly explains various forms of meditations such as savitarka, savichAra, sAnanda and sAsmita, which are critical for understanding the nature of cognition from the view point of yoga.
- Samarangana Sutradhara A treatise on civil engineering detailing construction of buildings, forts, temples, idols of deities and mechanical devices including a so-called flying machine or glider. It is composed largely in the anuShTubh meter and in about 83 chapters.
- tattva-prakAsha: A remarkable siddhAnta tantra work providing a synthesis of the entire ancient and voluminous literature of the siddhanta tantras of shiva. It was the basis of all subsequent developments of the siddhantic pAshupata streams that followed.
- rasa-rAja-mR^igA~nka: A treatise on chemistry, especially dealing with the extraction of metals from ores, and production of various drugs.
- yuktikalpataru: A treatise on construction of ships, classification of vessels suitable for rivers and seas, ship measurements, etc.
- dharmashAstra vR^itti: A commentary on the Hindu legalistic literature.
- champU rAmAyaNa: A re-narration of the Ramayana in mixture of prose and poetry, which characterizes the champUs. The description of hanumat’s qualities are particularly poetic.
- Subodh Kapoor, ed. (2002). The Indian Encyclopaedia, Volume 3. Genesis Publishing Pvt Ltd. p. 833. ISBN 978-81-7755-257-7.
- Interest Official website of Raisen district
- Sultan Shah Jahan, Begum of Bhopal (1876). The táj-ul ikbál tárikh Bhopal, or, The history of Bhopal. Thacker, Spink. p. 222. OCLC 28302607.
- Dhanapala and his times
- Dhanapāla and His Times: A Socio-cultural Study Based Upon His Works