The Poetics of Ambivalence: Imagining and Unimagining the Political in Bilhaṇa's Vikramāṇkadevacarita

Yigal Bronner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


There is something quite deceptive about Bilhaṇa's Vikramāṅkadevacarita, one of the most popular and oft-quoted works of the Sanskrit canon. The poem conforms perfectly to the stipulations of the mahākāvya genre: it is replete with descriptions of bravery in battle and amorous plays with beautiful women; its language is intensified by a powerful arsenal of ornaments and images; and it portrays its main hero, King Vikramāṅka VI of the Cāḷukya dynasty (r. 1076-1126), as an equal of Rāma. At the same time, the poem subverts these very aspects of Sanskrit literary culture: the poetic language is thinned down at a series of crucial junctions; the Rāmaness of the hero is repeatedly undermined; and the poet consistently airs his ambivalence toward, if not utter resentment for his immediate cultural milieu, his own patron and subject matter, and the very task of a court poet. The article argues that Bilhaṇa's ambivalence and alienation are the hallmark of his work, and that the poet constantly and consciously struggles with and comments on what he sees as the utter incompatibility between poetry and political reality. It also demonstrates that Bilhaṇa's unique, personal voice resonates in his many afterlives and in several collections of poems attributed to him posthumously. I argue that it may well be a sign of recognition of what was truly innovative in his poetry that the tradition has credited Bilhaṇa with such additional lives and corpora.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)457-483
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Indian Philosophy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 19 Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Alienation
  • Ambivalence
  • BilhaN{dot below}a
  • Bāṅa
  • Cālukyas
  • Kashmir
  • Kāvya
  • Vikramāṅkadevacarita


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