The Many Lives of Bhoja

Book in progress by Daud Ali

Chapter 1: Introducing Bhoja: The Historical Problem

The first chapter introduces the king Bhoja and the problem of the book. Having set out the basic contours of the ‘Bhoja myth’ in medieval India, it will turn to what is known of his life from contemporary sources, and thus set up the problem which the book takes up— how the historical figure of Bhoja was transformed to a figure larger than life. The wider significance of this transformation will be set out—how ideas of kingship, literary culture and historical imagination change in the second millennium CE.

Chapter 2: Bhoja and his World

The second chapter looks at the literary culture of the Paramāra dynastyof Malwa from its rise in the tenth century down to and including the life of king Bhoja himself (1013-1055). It places the career of Bhoja and his literary circle against the backdrop of the changing composition of intellectuals and elites at the Paramāra court on the one hand, and the evolving concepts of kingship and history, and literary culture on the other. Inscriptions and literary works are used to develop a collective prosopography of the Paramāra court in the tenth and eleventh centuries. On the discursive side, particular attention is given to the Jain presence at court and a the growing influence of a new historical imagination, as evidenced in Padmagupta’s Navasāhasāṅkacarita, which cast Bhoja’s father Sindhurāja as a latter day ‘Vikramāditya’.

Chapter 3: Remembering Bhoja and the later Paramāras

The third chapter examines further changes in the Paramāra court in the latter half of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when Bhoja’s reputation was consolidated. The chapter examines epigraphic and literary evidence in the context of the growing narrative traditions about Bhoja as embodied in the problematically dated Vikramacarita. The political fortunes of the Paramāra dynasty during this period wane with the rise of the Caulukyas of Gujarat.

Chapter 4: The Caulukya Bhoja

This chapter takes up one of the more important mythologizations of Bhoja. Under Caulukyas of Gujarat and their Vaghela successors, where Śvetāmbara Jain influence was considerable, there seems to have been a desire to appropriate the royal reputation of Bhoja (and other Paramāra kings) as moral exemplars within the hierarchical scale of Jaina royal ethics. This provides one of the most enduring legacies of Bhojaraja in latter times. Texts which will be examined here are the Prabhāvakacarita (c. 1278 CE), the Prabandhacintāmaṇi (C. 1305 CE) and the Bhojacarita (c. 1440). These narratives, like those after them, assume a new sort of historicity, one which drew heavily on didactic and story literature rather than the Sanskrit mahākāvya and its variants.

Chapter 5: Bhoja and the Transformation of Literary Culture

The image of Bhoja as poet and patron existed quite apart from traditions of Jain didactic literature. This is clear from the widespread presence of verses attributed to Bhoja in literary anthologies from the fourteenth century, but more importantly, narratives of Bhoja which became narrativized anthologies in themselves. This represents a major transformation, both in production but also in circulation and use, within Sanskrit literary culture. It is this legacy of Bhoja that has been most influential and entered vernacular literatures in the ‘early modern’ period. Here the focus will be both on literary anthologies but also the famous Bhojaprabandha composed by Ballāla in the sixteenth century.

Chapter 6: Conclusion: Bhoja, a king for New Times

The history of Bhoja’s career presents an important example of historical ‘mythologization’, where it is possible to document the transformation of a real historical king into an iconic literary and artistic patron and virtuous king whose court was visited by all the luminaries of Sanskrit cosmopolitan culture. This transformation was made possible on the one hand by a new form of historical imagination and on the other, a new emphasis in literary production and circulation. The conclusion will suggest that these changes may be seen as a new formulation of Hindu kingship in a world where discourses of universal sovereignty were strongly circumscribed by the rise of Islamicate ones in Northern India.