Pala Empire: Wikis


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Pala Empire

Pala Empire at its height under Devapala.[1]
Capital Pataliputra
Language(s) Pali, Sanskrit, Prakrit
Religion Buddhism
Government Monarchy
 - 750 - 770 Gopala
 - 1162 - 1174 Govindapala
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Gopala is elected king in a democratic election 750
 - Disestablished 1174
 - 850 est. 4,600,000 km2 (1,776,070 sq mi)
History of South Asia
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The Pāla Empire was a Buddhist dynasty as well as one of the major middle kingdoms of India that ruled from Bengal in the eastern region of the Indian subcontinent. The Palas were often described by opponents as the Lords of Gauda. The name Pala (Modern Bengali: পাল pal) means protector and was used as an ending to the names of all Pala monarchs. The Palas were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism. Gopala was the first ruler from the dynasty. He came to power in 750 in Gaur by a democratic election. This event is recognized as one of the first democratic elections in South Asia since the time of the Mahā Janapadas. He reigned from 750-770 and consolidated his position by extending his control over all of Bengal. The Buddhist dynasty lasted for four centuries (750-1120 AD) and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity in Bengal. They created many temples and works of art as well as supported the Universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. Somapura Mahavihara built by Dharmapala is the greatest Buddhist Vihara in the Indian Subcontinent.

The empire reached its peak under Dharmapala and Devapala. Dharmapala extended the empire into the northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent. This triggered once again the power struggle for the control of the subcontinent. Devapala, successor of Dharmapala, expanded the empire to cover much of South Asia and beyond. His empire stretched from Assam and Utkala in the east, Kamboja (modern day Afghanistan) in the north-west and Deccan in the south. According to Pala copperplate inscription Devapala exterminated the Utkalas, conquered the Pragjyotisha (Assam), shattered the pride of the Huna, and humbled the lords of Pratiharas, Gurjara and the Dravidas.

The death of Devapala ended the period of ascendancy of the Pala Empire and several independent dynasties and kingdoms emerged during this time. However, Mahipala I rejuvenated the reign of the Palas. He recovered control over all of Bengal and expanded the empire. He survived the invasions of Rajendra Chola and the Chalukyas. After Mahipala I the Pala dynasty again saw its decline until Ramapala, the last great ruler of the dynasty, managed to retrieve the position of the dynasty to some extent. He crushed the Varendra rebellion and extended his empire farther to Kamarupa, Orissa and Northern India.

The Pala Empire can be considered as the golden era of Bengal. Never had the Bengali people reached such height of power and glory to that extent. Palas were responsible for the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar. The Palas had extensive trade as well as influence in south-east Asia. This can be seen in the sculptures and architectural style of the Sailendra Empire (present-day Malaya, Java, Sumatra). The Pala Empire eventually disintegrated in the 12th century under the attack of the Sena dynasty.


Origin of the Palas

Buddha and Bodhisattvas, 11th century, Pala Empire.

The Ramacharitam of Sandhyakar Nandi attests that Varendra (or North Bengal) was the fatherland (Janakabhu) of the Palas. In the Bangarh Copperplate of Mahipala I, it has been stated that Mahipala recovered his ancestral homeland (Rajyam Pitram) from the usurpers (which was until that time occupied by the Kamboja-Pala Kingdom).



The caste origin of the Palas is not clearly stated in any of the numerous Pala records. The Khalimpur Plate of Dharmapala, the second Pala emperor, states that Gopala I was a son of a warrior (Khanditarat) named Vapyata, grandson of a highly educated man (Saryavidyavadat) named Dayitavishnu, and he himself was elected to the throne of Bengal, therefore he was not initially of a distinguished royal blood from the Hindu point of view.

The Kamauli Copper Plate inscription of king Vaidyadeva of Kamarupa (Assam) connects the Palas to the Kshatriyas of "Mihirasya vamsa" (Surya lineage).[2][3][4][5][6][7]

Balla-Carita says that the "The Palas were low-born Kshatriya", a claim reiterated by the historian Taranatha in his "History of Buddhism in India" as well as Ghanarama in "Dharma Mangala" (both written in the 16th century CE). The Ramacharitam also attests the fifteenth Pala emperor, Ramapala, as a Kshatriya. As Gopala I was a Buddhist, he was also branded as a Śudra king in some sources[8][9][10][11][12]. According to Manjuśree Mūlakalpa, Gopala I was a Śudra.

Arabic accounts tell us that Palas were not kings of noble origin. According to Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak (in Ain-i-Akbari), the Palas were Kayasthas. There are even accounts that claim Gopala may have been from a Brahmin lineage.[13]

Matsyanyaya and the ascendancy of the Palas

After Shashanka's reign, Bengal was shrouded in obscurity and was shattered by repeated invasions. During the reign of Manava, Bengal was invaded and divided between Harshavardhana and Bhaskaravarman. In 730 CE Jayavardhana of the Shaila Dynasty from Central India invaded Bengal and killed the king of Pundra Kingdom. Yasovarman (725-752) of Kannauj killed the king of Magadha and Gauda. Later Lalitaditya Muktapida (724-760) of Kashmir who defeated Yasovarmana invaded Bengal. Sri Harsha of Kamarupa conquered Anga, Vanga, Kalinga and Odra. The social and political structure of Bengal was devastated. According to Tāranātha: Every single Brahman, every Kshatriya, every Elite became all powerful in their areas and surrounding regions. This condition has been described by him as Matsyanyam (Eating of small fish by the big fish) or the Dark Age of Bengal. Disgusted at the situation the desperate people of Bengal made a bold move which marked a glorious period in the history of the sub-continent. They elected Gopala, a popular military leader, as their king by a democratic election which was probably the only democratic election in medieval India.


Nalanda University is considered one of the first great university in recorded history, reached its height under the Palas.

After the Buddhist king Harsha Vardhana, Buddhism faced the possibility of extinction. The Palas emerged as the champion of Buddhism, and they patronized Mahayana Buddhism. The Palas supported the Universities of Vikramashila and Nalanda which became the premier seats of learning in Asia. The Nalanda University which is considered one of the first great universities in recorded history, reached its height under the patronage of the Palas.[14].

The Palas were responsible for the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and the Malay archipelago. Bengal became famous in the Buddhist world for the cultivation of Buddhist religion, culture and other knowledge in the various centres that grew under the patronage of the Pala rulers[15]. Buddhist scholars from the Pala empire travelled from Bengal to the Far-East and propagated Buddhism. A few outstanding individuals among them are Shantarakshit, Padmanava, Dansree, Bimalamitra, Jinamitra, Muktimitra, Sugatasree, Dansheel, Sambhogabajra, Virachan, Manjughosh and many others. But the most prominent was Atish Dipankar Srigyan who reformed Buddhism in Tibet after it had been destroyed by king Langdharma. Although the Palas were Vaishnavas, they had also given support to Saiva ascetics, typically the ones associated with the Golagi-Math.[16] Many of the Pala Dynasty's coins also bear the image of Shiva and his bull.[17] Besides sculptures of Vaishnava deities, they had also constructed statues of Siva and Saraswati.[18]

Main Pala rulers

Pala Empire under Dharmapala
Pala Empire under Devapala

Peace and Expansion

Gopala united all of Bengal and brought peace and prosperity in the region. The period of anarchy ended with his election. The Pala kings devoted themselves in public welfare and social reform. The Palas adopted the policy of religious toleration and co-existence of the Buddhists and the Hindus. Pala kings won the heart of the people by welfare activities like digging tanks establishing towns and took place in many folklores in the rural areas of Bengal. The Mahipala Geet (Songs of Mahipala) is still popular in the rural areas.

Palas adopted aggressive policy and began the period of expansion under Dharmapala and Devapala. At its height Dharmapala's empire covered most of northern and central region of the Indian Subcontinent. His successor Devapala extended the boundaries of the empire further to Assam in the east, Kamboja in the north-wast and the Deccan in the south. Devapala united much of South Asia under his rule, a feat only achieved before by Ashoka the Great. The successors of Devapala had to contend with the Gurjara-Pratihara and the Rashtrakutas for the supremacy of the Kannauj Triangle. After Narayanpala the Pala empire declined but was revived once more under the vigorous reigns of Mahipala and Ramapala.

Pala administration

Pala rule was Monarchial. King or Monarch was the centre of all power. Pala kings would adopt Imperial titles like Parameshwar, Paramvattaraka, Maharajadhiraja. Pala kings appointed Prime Ministers. The Line of Garga served as the Prime Ministers of the Palas for 100 years. Garga | Darvapani | Someshwar | Kedarmisra| Vatt Guravmisra Pala Empire was divided into separate Vuktis (Provinces), Vuktis into Vishaya (Divisions) and Mandala Districts. Smaller units were Khandala, Bhaga, Avritti, Chaturaka, and Pattaka. Administration covered widespread area from the grass root level to the imperial court. The Pala copperplates mention following administrative Posts:Raja, Rajanyaka, Rajanaka, Ranaka, Samanta and Mahasamanta (Vassal kings), Mahasandhi-vigrahika (Foreign minister), Duta (Head Ambassador), Rajasthaniya (Deputy), Aggaraksa (Chief guard), Sasthadhikrta (Tax collector), Chauroddharanika (Police tax), Shaulkaka (Trade tax), Dashaparadhika (Collector of penalties), and Tarika (Toll collector for river crossings), Mahaksapatalika (Accountant), Jyesthakayastha (Dealing documents), the Ksetrapa (Head of land use division) and Pramatr (Head of land measurements), the Mahadandanayaka or Dharmadhikara (Chief justice), the Mahapratihara, Dandika, Dandapashika, and Dandashakti (Police forces), Khola (Secret service). Agricultural posts like Gavadhakshya (Head of dairy farms), Chhagadhyakshya (Head of goat farms), Meshadyakshya (Head of sheep farms), Mahishadyakshya (Head of Buffalo farms) and many other like Vogpati, Vishayapati, Shashtadhikruta, Dauhshashadhanika, Nakadhyakshya.

Pala Literature

The proto-Bangla language was born during the reign of the Palas. The Buddhist texts of the Charyapada were the earliest form of Bangla language. This Proto-Bangla language was used as the official language in Tibet, Myanmar, Java and Sumatra. Books on every aspect of knowledge were compiled during the Pala Rule. On philosophy: Agaman Shastra by Gaudapada, Nyay Kundali by Sridhar Bhatta, Karmanushthan Paddhati by Bhatta Bhavadeva; On Medicine: Chikitsa Sangraha, Ayurvedidwipika, Bhanumati, Shabdachandrika, Dravya Gunasangraha by Chakrapani Dutt; Shabda-Pradip, Vrikkhayurveda, Lohpaddhati by Sureshwar; Chikitsa Sarsangraha by Vangasena; Sushrata by Gadadha Vaidya; Daybhaga, Byabohar-Matrika, Kalvivek by Jimutvahan etc. Atisha compiled more than 200 books. The great epic Ramacharitam written by Sandhyakar Nandi the court poet of Madanpala was another masterpiece of the Pala literature. The Pala copperplate inscriptions were of excellent literary value. This distinctive inscriptions were called Gaudiya Style.

Pala art and architecture

Somapura Mahavihara is the greatest Buddhist Vihara in the Indian Subcontinent built by Dharmapala of Bengal; it became a World Heritage Site in 1985.

The most brilliant side of the Pala Empire was the excellence of its art and sculptures. Palas created a distinctive form of Buddhist art known as the "Pala School of Sculptural Art." The gigantic structures of Vikramshila Vihar, Odantpuri Vihar, and Jagaddal Vihar were masterpieces of the Palas. These mammoth structures were mistaken by the forces of Bakhtiar Khilji as fortified castles and were demolished. The Somapura Mahaviharaa, a creation of Dharmapala, at Paharpur, Bangladesh, is the largest Buddhist Vihara in the Indian subcontinent, and has been described as a "pleasure to the eyes of the world." UNESCO made it World Heritage Site in 1985. Sompur Bihara, also built by Dharmapala, is a monastery with 21 acre (85,000 m²) complex has 177 cells, numerous stupas, temples and a number of other ancillary buildings. In 1985, the UN included the Sompur Bihara site in the world Cultural Heritage list. The Pala architectural style was followed throughout south-eastern Asia, China, Japan and Tibet. Bengal rightfully earned the name "Mistress of the East". Dr. Stella Kramrisch says: "The art of Bihar and Bengal exercised a lasting influence on that of Nepal, Burma, Ceylon and Java". Dhiman and Vittpala were two celebrated Pala sculptors. About Sompura Mahavihara, Mr. J.C. French says with grief: "For the research of the Pyramids of Egypt we spend millions of dollars every year. But had we spent only one percent of that money for the excavation of Sompura Mahavihara, who knows what extraordinary discoveries could have been made."---"The Art of the Pala Empire of Bengal," p. 4.

Pala foreign relations

Palas came in contact with distant lands through their conquests and trades. The Sailendra Empire of Java, Sumatra and Malaya was a colony of the Palas. Devapala granted five villages at the request of the Sailendra king Balputradeva of Java for the upkeeping of the matha established at Nalanda for the scholars of that country. The Prime minister of the Balputradeva Kumar Ghosha was from Gauda. Dharmapala who extended his empire to the boundary of the Abbasid Empire and had diplomatic relations with the caliph Harun Al-Rashid[19]. Coins of Harun-al-Rashid have been found in Mahasthangarh. Palas maintained diplomatic and religious relation with Tibet. During the military expeditions of the Pala kings the Pala generals would establish kingdoms of their own in Punjab and Afghanistan. Recent discoveries in the Punjab hills showed the influence of the Pala Dynasty. There is a strong and continuous tradition that the ruling families in certain states are descended from the "Rajas of Gaur in Bengal". These states are Suket, Keonthal, Kashtwar and Mandi. In the ancient Rajput states tradition has immense force and accuracy. Of Kashtwar it is related that Kahan Pal — the founder of the state — with a small band of followers arrived in the hills in order to conquer a kingdom for himself. He is said to have come from Gaur, the ancient capital of Bengal and to have been a cadet of the ruling family of the place. The demise of the Turkshahi rule in Gandhar and the rise of the Hindushahi dynasty in that region might have connection to the invasion of the Palas in that region.

Pala armed forces

The Palas of Bengal in comparison with other contemporary empires such as the Rashtrakutas of Deccan and the Pratiharas of Malwa in the focal point of "Kanauj Triangle."

Palas had fourfold army consisting of: infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots. In the copperplates of Vatsaraja Dharmapala had been mentioned as the owner of unlimited number of horses, elephants and chariots. It is amazing that when the use of chariots had been backdated in India and other parts of the world the kings of Bengal still depended on four-horsed heavy chariots. Being a riverine land and swarthy climate Bengal was not good enough for breeding quality war-horses. So the Palas had to depend upon their vassal kings for war horses. Pala copperplate inscriptions reveal that mercenary forces were recruited from the Kamboja, Khasa, Huna, Malwa, Gujarat, and Karnata. The Kamboja cavalry were the cream of the Pala army who would later become as powerful as the Janissary army of the Ottoman Empire. The Kamboja forces maintained smaller confederates (Sanghas) among themselves and were staunch follower of their commander. Palas had the army divided into following posts: Senapati or Mahasenapati (General) controlling foot soldiers, cavalry, soldiers riding elephants and camels, and the navy, and the various army posts like Kottapala (Fort guards) and Prantapala (Border guards). Palas had a huge army and the legend of "Nava Lakkha Shainya" (Nine lac soldiers) were popular during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala. According to Hudud al-Alam a Persian text written in 982-983 Dharmapala possessed an army of 300,000 soldiers. According to Sulaiman the Arab traveller Devapala set out for his every military expedition with an army of 50,000 elephants and his army had 10,000-15,000 slaves for the maintenance and caretaking of his armies.


Palas legacy gets remembered not much in Bengal but elsewhere in Asia. Tibet's modern culture and religion is heavily influenced by Palas.[20] Palas are credited with spreading Buddhism to Tibet and around the world through missionaries. Atisa, a Palan, is a celebrated figure in the Tibetan Buddhism in tradition and in establishment. Atisa also invented bodhichitta or known as "mind training" that is practiced around the world today. Another important Palan figure in Tibetan Buddhism is Tilopa who founded the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and developed the Mahamudra method, a set of spiritual practices that greatly accelerated the process of attaining bodhi (enlightenment). Palas literature is widely studied by Buddhist around the world. Pala architectural style was copied throughout south-eastern Asia, China, Japan, and Tibet. Nalanda University and Vikramshila University are two of the greatest Buddhist universities ever recorded in history.

Preceded by
Gupta dynasty
Bengal dynasty Succeeded by
Sena dynasty

See also

Middle kingdoms of India
Timeline: Northern Empires Southern Dynasties Northwestern Kingdoms

 6th century BCE
 5th century BCE
 4th century BCE

 3rd century BCE
 2nd century BCE

 1st century BCE
 1st century CE

 2nd century
 3rd century
 4th century
 5th century
 6th century
 7th century
 8th century
 9th century
10th century
11th century

(Persian rule)
(Greek conquests)

(Islamic conquests)

(Islamic Empire)


  • Mahajan, V.D. (1960, Reprint 2007), Ancient India, S. Chand & Company, New Delhi, ISBN 81-219-0887-6.
  1. ^ "The Pala Dynasty". lotuss culpture. Retrieved 2009-06-11.  
  2. ^ Epigraphia Indica, XXIV, p 43, Dr N. G. Majumdar
  3. ^ The History and Culture of the Pālas of Bengal and Bihar, cir. 750 A.D.-Cir 1200AD, 1993, p 37, Jhunu Bagchi
  4. ^ The Dacca University Studies, 1935, p 131, University of Dacca
  5. ^ Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 316, Dr J. L. Kamboj
  6. ^ Late Classical India, 1988, p 25, Mainak Kumar Bose - India
  7. ^ History of Ancient Bengal, 1971, p 427, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar - Calcutta
  8. ^ Op cit., p 37, Jhunu Bagchi; Indian Antiquary, Vol IV, 1875, pp 365-66; Corpus of Bengal Inscriptions, Mukerjee and Maity, p 11
  9. ^ Caste and Chronology of the Pala kings of Bengal, J. C. Ghosh, The IHQ, IX, 1983, pp 487-90
  10. ^ The Caste of the Palas, The Indian Culture, Vol IV, 1939, pp 113-14, B Chatterji
  11. ^ Social Change in Modern India, 1995, p 9, M N Srinivas
  12. ^ Modern India: An Interpretive Antholog, 1971, p 115, Thomas R. Metcalf - History
  13. ^ Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World, 1990, p 265, André Wink; History of Medieval India, 1940, p 20, fn, Ishwari Prasad - India.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ P. 19 The history and culture of the Pālas of Bengal and Bihar, cir. 750 A.D.-cir. 1200 A.D. by Jhunu Bagchi
  17. ^ Bīrūni & Sachau, P. xlvii Alberuni's India.
  18. ^ P. 38 Arts of India By Krishna Chaitanya
  19. ^
  20. ^ Chattopadhyaya, Alaka (1967). Atisa and Tibet. Calcutta: Motilal Banarsidas Publishers Pvt. Ltd.. ISBN 81-208-0928-9.  

External links

Simple English

The Pala Empire was a dynasty in control of the northern and eastern Indian subcontinent, mainly the Bihar and Bengal regions, from the 8th to the 12th century. The name Pala (Modern পাল pal) means "protector" and was used as an ending to the names of all Pala monarchs.


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