rAja bhoja: the glory and tragedy of the setting Hindu Sun

bhoja’s military and political career
The paramAra rAjpUts are supposed to have arisen from the sacrificial pit on arbuda parvata, which was the source of many kShatriyas who were generated by the devas for the destruction of the turuShkas and mlechChas who were a pestilence on Aryavarta. In historical reality paramAras were a subsidiary branch of the rAShTrakUTas, who were appointed as governors of central India in mAlava province by the main ruling branch. The paramAra rAjputs founded the notable city of dhArA in central India, which remained their capital until its ultimate conquest. It was here that their greatest king and a remarkable genius, bhoja rAja came to power by 1000 AD and ruled for more than half a century. He was the son of sindhurAja, who was a notable conqueror, who defeated the chAlukyas, hUNas 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 head aches. 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 encylopaedic scholar. bhoja long desired to reduce his arch-rivals the chAlukyas of the Deccan and initiated several successful campaigns again them. Then he tried a remarkable political game to destroy the chAlukyas: by forming an alliance with the choLa king rAjendra, bhoja induced him to attack the chAlukyas from the south. Likewise he induced the kalachuri king kumara gA~Ngeyadeva (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 mANDu and intially 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 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 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 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 Hindu padishaw parmar dev) with the hindu king and lost many of his men. bhoja repulsed the ghaznavid Masu’d who lead a huge army into India to attack the rich inner cities which his father had failed to raid. Then bhoja realizing the national threat from Islam, organized a confedration of Hindu kings including the kalachuri lakShmI-karNa, the ChahamAna and other rAjpUts to fight the Ghaznavid Maliq Salar Masud. In the great battle of Bahraich the Hindu confedracy fought a pitched battle for about a month with the Moslems and completely defeated them, killing Salar Masud in the process. They then went on to liberate 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 Hindu kings had a disagreement over who would own the liberated territories and their armies disbanded and dispersed in a huff. bhoja started fighting his erstwhile allies in the war against the Moslems.

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 shishodia feudatories. bhoja then seized the territory of the western chAlukya bhIma of Gujarat. bhIma 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 bhojarAje bhuvaM gate ||
Today dhArA 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 the defending dhArA from his rivals they said:

adya dhArA nirAdhArA nirAlambA sarasvatI |
paNDitAH khaNDitAH sarve bhojarAje divaM gate ||
Today dhArA is unsupported, and the Goddess Sarasvati is without a prop. All the pundits are scattered with the ascent of king Bhoja to heaven.

bhoja the genius

An analysis of bhoja’s military campaigns show that he was undoubtedly a good general in war and was studded with many major victories over rival rAjas and Islamic marauders. His military career was however, hardly any greater than his equally warlike and militarily successful contemporaries such as rAjendra choLa or lakShmI-karNa kalachuri or someshvara chAlukya. Yet rAja bhoja is remembered much more than any of these contemporaries of his and is often compared with the illustrious vikramAditya of the golden gupta era. His name is a household one amongst all brought up in the sanskritic culture. Why is this so?

The main reason for this is that Hindus have always remembered philosphers, poets and scholars much more than kings merely decorated with military success. A king who did good to the people was much more embedded in the collective memory of the Hindus than a king who conquered vast territories. rAja bhoja definitely stood out in this regard as one of historical India’s most remarkable intellectuals with an astonishing variety of interests and oceanic knowledge.

bhoja rAja 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 bhojapura a some distance from the modern city of Bhopal. 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. In addition to patronizing the ancient schools in ujjaini he also built a large university in bhojapura with an attached temple of sarasvatI in 1034 CE . This university was apparently attended by 1400 advanced students, and also housed a number of noted sanskrit writers and poets such as uvaTa and dhanapAla. The university was later destroyed by Dilaawar Khan Ghori and Mahmud Khalji during their invasions of Malava. The sarasvatI idol from the temple was taken by the Britons to the museum in London.

rAja bhoja also wrote 84 books during his life of which several survive and we shall summarize a few below to illustrate the remarkable breadth of his knowledge and originality:

sarasvati kaNThAbharaNa:
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 pata~Njali, 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 saiddhAntika shaiva 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.

jyotiSha-rAja-mR^igA~nka: A treatise on astronomy and construction of instruments for astronomical observations.

yuktikalpataru: A technological manual describing the construction of ships for naval warfare and the making of glass amongst other things.

shR^i~NgAra prakAsha: A treatise on Hindu erotics.

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.

The classical Hindu twilight and modern India
Perusing bhoja’s surviving works one sees that the Hindu world just prior to its eclipse by the violent Islamic whirlwind from Central Asia was not one in its decline. On the contrary, due geniuses like bhoja, it was in the peak in of achievements in terms of arts, technology and science. Yet, this India and its illustrious rulers were almost opaque to impending doom that loomed large. Some authors have attributed to this to regionalism or the lack of a national Hindu spirit. This was not entirely lacking as evidenced by the confedration that overthrew the Ghaznavids. Yet, the fact that these illustrious rulers were pulling down each other even as their common enemy Mahmud was savaging North India is rather striking. Another paradoxical point to note is that a rAja bhoja became a pan-Indian epitome of a great ruler from the Tamil country to Kashmir. This suggests that the cultural unity of greater India remained intact even in this period–there were indeed figures who capable of being pan-Indian heros even if they were only regional in the military achievements. Centuries later the great Vijayanagaran monarch took the title abhinava-bhoja (the new bhoja) rather than calling himself after any other rAja. In conclusion, there was a collective Indian mind, that appreciated the scholarly king, but failed to collectively respond to the problem possed by Islam. Likewise, the kings of bhoja’s era did not lack courage or military skills, but apparently remained in their childish coccoons of romantic military adventures, even as a greater danger threatened to extinguish them.

The lesson of the twilight of classical Hindu India is a chilling one for modern India. The modern Indians in the same way as their ancestors pride themselves of their intellectual and technological achievements. Despite the depredations of centuries they have the vestiges of cultural unity and continue to have pan-India icons, howsoever crass they may be in comparison to the legendary rAja bhoja. But sadly they remain as naive as their predecessors in the twilight era to the impending threats from Islam and Christianity.

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