On bhojaputta, a person from Bhoja

The Pali refers to certain folk called bhojaputta on two occasions.

The more famous is in the story of Rohitassa, the original “skywalker” who tried to travel to the end of the world only to fail. He identifies himself as Rohitassa bhojaputta, translated by Bodhi as “son of Bhoja”, which I have followed … up to now.

It also occurs in the Cariyapitaka (cp 20), where a gang of cruel people mercilessly attack a snake who had declared harmlessness; in fact it was a mighty naga. Horner translates bhoja here as “hunter-boys”.

There seems to be no thread to connect the mighty deity of cosmic adventure with the merciless tormentors of a harmless snake. Or is there?

Sanskrit sources tell us that Bhoja was the name of a country near the Vindhya ranges, (Pali Viñjha, not recorded in the EBTs), which were probably more-or-less the same as what the Pali texts call the “southern hills”. These stand at the border of what is traditionally regarded as the middle country or the civilized realms.

Now, we hear two things about the Vindhya ranges.

According to one legend, the Vindhya mountain once competed with the Mount Meru, growing so high that it obstructed the sun. The sage Agastya then asked Vindhya to lower itself, in order to facilitate his passage across to the south. In reverence for Agastya, the Vindhya lowered its height and promised not to grow until Agastya returned to the north. Agastya settled in the south, and the Vindhya mountain, true to its word, never grew further.

Now this isn’t the same as the story of Rohitassa, but it does share some curious similarities: the idea of a cosmic competition to outdo nature only to accept a failure.

Then we also hear this:

In the older Sanskrit texts, such as the Ramayana, they are described as the unknown territory infested with cannibals and demons.[23] The later texts describe the Vindhya range as the residence of fierce form of Shakti (goddess Kali or Durga), who has lived there since slaying the demons. She is described as Vindhyavasini (“Vindhya dweller”), and a temple dedicated to her is located in the Vindhyachal town of Uttar Pradesh.[24][25] The Mahabharata mentions the Vindhyas as the “eternal abode” of Kali.

So our violent naga-killers would have been right at home here in Vindhya, or Bhoja.

It seems then that bhojaputta in both cases means “person of the Bhoja country”.

The Cariyapitaka story of how the naga declares itself for peace, but is brutally killed nonetheless can easily be read as a conversion tale. This is a very common dimension of such narratives. In Buddhist conversions, the formerly violent nagas or yakkhas (i.e., ones in whose name human or animal sacrifice was carried out) become converted to Buddhism, and henceforth are worshipped only with harmless offerings. In this case, the conversion happened independently (the naga was of course the bodhisatta), but the people of the region—being devoted, according to the Sanskrit traditions, to the worship of violent and depraved deities—were not ready for such a peaceful worship.


Just to clarify, the similarity between the violent and depraved bhojans and the Australian bogan is purely coincidental.


Ha, I didn’t even check the related Jataka (Ja 524), which says the naga was the titular deity of lake Sankhapala, located in the Mahimsaka Kingdom, so yes, exactly in the Vindhya region.

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But yet so apt. This is indeed the triumph of language!

I wonder if this relates to the current region where Bhojpuri language is spoken, which if I am not mistaken, is in Bihar (or whatever the newer split state it is in).

Oh maybe, I don’t know. Bhoj- is a fertile root, so it could simply be a different name.

There is a Jātaka where Bhoja is a race of horses. Maybe these are coming from that region?