Raja Bhoja: The Scholar-King




Atleast 84 works covering subjects that range from architecture to poetry are attributed to Raja Bhoja

Raja Bhoja, after whom the city of Bhopal is named, is considered to be the greatest scholar-king of medieval India.  Unlike other great rulers like Rajendra Chola, Lalitaditya of Kashmir and Dharmapala of the Pala Dynesty, who were known for their military conquests, Raja Bhoja who ruled from 1010 to 1055 CE was known more as a great scholar and builder. Atleast 84 works covering subjects that range from architecture to poetry are attributed to him. Noted Sanskrit professor, Dr Sheldon Pollock describes Raja Bhoja as

The most celebrated poet-king and philosopher-king of his time, and perhaps of any Indian time’.

The earliest known reference to Raja Bhoja of Dhar comes from the copper plates found at Modasa in North Gujarat dated to 1010 CE. This is followed by numerous other copper plates found all over the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, which speak of this great ruler. He is said to have been the son of Raja Sindhuraja of Dhar who ruled between 995 to 1010 CE. Raja Bhoja’s kingdom to have covered the heart of India from from Vidisha in the East to Sabarmati river in the west and from Konkan in the South to Chittorgarh in the North

Bhojeshwar Temple
Bhojeshwar Temple|Wikimedia Commons 

Little is known of the personal life of Raja Bhoja, but what does survive are his works. According to folklore, Raja Bhoja is said to have founded the city of Bhopal. He is also said to have built the Upper Lake in Bhopal by constructing an earthen dam across the Kolans River. The lake was renamed Bhojtaal in 2011.


The largest Shivling in India is located at Bhojpur

But his greatest work is the Bhojeshwar temple, a massive Shiva temple which boasts to be the largest Shivling in India. It is located at a place called Bhojpur, around 28 kms from Bhopal, on the banks of the Betwa river. Raja Bhoja is also said to have built a massive reservoir which was 7.5 miles wide.

Apart from being a great builder Raja Bhoja was a great polymath and many works on architecture, poetry, medicine, science and yoga are attributed to him. Prof Kirit Mankodi, in his research on Bhojeshwar temple writes

Other kings may have built temples and palaces, but Bhoja actually compiled an authoritative architectural treatise called Samarangasutradhara. This remarkable work on science, architecture and sculpture (Vastushastra and Shilpashastra) …… Twenty chapters are devoted to temples and their classification, fourteen to images and iconography, six to canons of painting, while town planning and domestic architecture form important part of this treatise.

Bhojashala  
Bhojashala  |British Library

Some of the other very interesting texts attributed to Raja Bhoja are Sarasvatīkaṇṭhabharaṇa, a treatise on Sanskrit grammar for poetic compositions; Vyavaharamanjari  a text on Dharmashastras or Hindu law and Charucharya a text on personal hygiene. There are about 84 works attributed to him. It is not known whether he co-wrote these works or commissioned members of his courts.

In his capital city of Dhar or Dharanagari, he is said to have created a great Sanskrit center of learning called Sarasvatisadana or Bharatibhavana, over which he personally presided. Today, this center of learning is popularly called Bhojshala and remains of it can be seen in Dhar even today. Almost a thousand years after his reign, Raja Bhoja lives on in legends and folklore even today, as the righteous scholar king.

Cover image courtesy - Wikimedia Commons

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