Pala Empire

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By: SAM
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The Pala Dynasty is an important topics for UPSC exams. Here are some important notes on Pala Empire.

Pala Empire Notes

The Pala Empire was a prominent Indian dynasty that ruled for nearly 400 years over a substantial part of the Indian subcontinent, primarily during the 8th to the 12th centuries CE. This empire played a crucial role in shaping the political, cultural, and religious landscape of ancient India. Here are some concise UPSC notes or information on the Pala Empire.

Location Pala Empire: The Pala Empire was centered in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, primarily in the region that is now present-day Bangladesh and the eastern Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal.

Founder of Pala Empire: The empire is traditionally said to have been founded by Gopala I in 750 AD. He was succeeded by his son, Dharmapala, who expanded and consolidated the empire’s territories.

Sources: Various inscriptions, coins, sculptures and architecture, Ramacarita Of Abhinanda (9th century), Ramacarit Manas by Sandhyakara Nandi (12th century), Subhasita Ratnakosha, an anthology of Sanskrit works edited by Vidyakara (composed in the late Pala period), etc.

DynastyThe Pala
FounderGopala in 750 CE
Period8th to 11th Century
ReligionMahayana Buddhism
languagesSanskrit, Pali,
RegionWest Bengal, Bihar, Bangladesh, Nepal
Notable rulers:Gopala, Dharmapala, Mahipala I
pala empire map

Pala Empire Map

Rulers of Pala Empire

The Pala Dynasty, which ruled a significant part of the Indian subcontinent from the 8th to the 12th centuries AD, had several notable kings who played important roles in the dynasty’s history. Here is a list of some of the prominent rulers of the Pala Dynasty:

Gopala (750 AD to 770 AD)

  • He founded the Pala dynasty.
  • Gopal was the first elected king of Bengal.
  • He was elected the king in 750 AD by Prakrutipunja or local Dalapati or Zamindar and some feudal chiefs of contemporary Bengal.
  • During his reign, Bengal witnessed peace.
  • The Adantapuri Mahavihara was founded by him.
  • Gopala I was a strong patron of Buddhism.
  • He supported and promoted Buddhist institutions, which became a hallmark of the Pala Dynasty

Dharmapala (810 AD to 850 AD)

  • Dharmapala was a significant ruler of the Pala Dynasty in ancient India. Dharmapala ruled during the late 8th and early 9th centuries CE, approximately from 770 to 810 CE.
  • After the death of Father Gopal, the founder of the Pala dynasty, his son Dharmapala ascended the throne in 810 AD.
  • Dharmapala expanded Pala territory by conquering the Kamarupa kingdom.
  • Within a few days of his accession to the throne, he was embroiled in a tri-power conflict (tripartite struggle) between Pala of Bengal, the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty of Malwa, the Rashtrakuta dynasty of Deccan for dominance of Kanauj.
  • He defeated Indrayudha of Kanauj and placed his chosen Chakrayudha on the throne of Kanauj.
  • Later, Vatsaraja and Dharmapala were defeated by Rashtrakuta ruler Dhruva. Dharmapala established an expansive dominion in northern India after Dhruva went back to the Deccan.
  • Dharmapala conducted a great darbar (court ceremony) after capturing Kanauj.
  • During his tenure, Bengal became the greatest power in North India.
  • Dharmapala was the patron of Buddhism. He established Vikramshila Mahavihar (Bhagalpur) and Sompuri Vihar (Paharpura) in Bihar.
  • At the same time, he reformed Nalanda University. The famous Buddhist scholar Haribhadra was Dharmapala’s guru.
  • The Gujarati poet Sodal called him ‘Uttarapathaswamin‘.
  • He assumed the title ‘Parameshwara‘ ‘Parambhattarak‘ and Maharajadhiraja‘.
  • According to Dr. Rameshchandra Majumdar, Dharmapala’s reign is called the ‘Dawn of Bengali’.

Devapala (810 AD to 850 AD)

  • Dharmapala’s son Devapala was the third Pala king and is said to be the greatest king of the Pala dynasty.
  • His mother was the Rashtrakuta princess Rannadevi,
  • Badal pillar inscription reveals that he defeated the Utkals, Huns, Gurjars, Dravidians and Kambojas.
  • He defeated King Vaj I of Gurjara–Pratihara as well as King Amoghavarsha of Rashtrakuta.
  • He extended his empire from Assam in the east to the Kashmir border and Punjab in the west and from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhya Mountains in the south.
  • The Arab traveler Suleiman praised his military prowess.
  • He built a new capital at Munger.
  • He supported Buddhist monasteries, viharas, and educational institutions, including the famous Nalanda University.
  • Through his efforts, Nalanda University became one of the best centers of Buddhism and culture.
  • This support played a crucial role in the promotion and preservation of Buddhist culture and learning.

Mahipala I (988 to 1338 AD)

  • Mahipala I was able to restore some of the lost glory of the Pala Empire by sitting on the throne during the worst times of the Pala Empire.
  • During his reign, Pala’s rule was re-established over northern, eastern and western parts of Bengal.
  • But the Chola king Rajendra Chola invaded Bengal during this time and captured the land.
  • After that, he assumed the title of ‘Gangaikonda‘.
  • Mahipala I is called the ‘second founder of the Pala Empire‘.
  • In his memory, a popular folk song was written in Bengal which is known as ‘Mahipal Geet‘.

After the death of Mahipala I, Nayapala (1038-1054 AD), Vigrahapala III (1054-1072 AD), Mahipala II (1072-1073 AD) etc. came to the throne. During the reign of Mahipala II, the feudal kings of Varendra Bhumi in North Bengal, led by Divyak, declared a rebellion demanding an independent state. This rebellion is known as the ‘Kaivarta Revolt’. Mahipala II was killed during this revolt. After Divyaka, the leadership of the Kaivarta rebellion passed to his brother Rudrak and his son Bhima.

Ramapala (1077 AD to 1130)

  • After the death of Mahipala II, his brother Rampala defeated and killed the Kaivarta hero Bhima, reclaimed Varendrabhumi and founded the new capital Ramavati at the confluence of the Ganges and Karatoa rivers.
  • The biography and reign of Rampal are known from Sandhyakar Nandi’s book ‘Ramcharit Manas‘.
  • Ramapala is called the ‘third founder of the Pala Empire‘.

Administration of Pala Empire

  1. The Pala Empire followed a feudal system of governance. The empire was divided into several provinces, each of which was ruled by provincial governors known as “Mahasamanta.”
  2. At the center of the empire was the emperor, who held supreme authority. The emperor was assisted by a council of ministers, including the prime minister (Mahapratihara) and other high officials.
  3. In the Pala empire, the King had direct authority over some provinces, while Vassal chiefs oversaw others.
  4. Land revenue was a significant source of income, and it was collected based on land assessments.
  5. Lands under the direct control of the Pala empire were divided into a number of provinces called Bhukti, which were overseen by Uparika officials. They collected the levy and maintained law and order in the province.
  6. Local disputes were resolved at the district level by judges known as “Dharmadhikarana,” while more significant legal matters were handled in the emperor’s court.

Matsyanyaya: From the death of King Shashanka to the rise of the Pala dynasty, the politics of Bengal was in a chaotic state. This period was roughly between 650 and 750 AD for nearly 100 years. In 750 AD, Gopal, the founder of the Pala Dynasty, ascended the throne and freed Bengal from this anarchy, establishing peace and order in the land. The Sanskrit term “Matsya Nyaya” (literally, “fish justice“) describes the fish’s predatory behavior toward smaller fish.

Religion of Pala Empire:

  1. Buddhism was the predominant religion of the Pala Empire, and the dynasty was known for its strong patronage of Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhism was the state religion of the Pala Empire. The Palas were devout Buddhists.
  2. The Pala Empire is especially famous for its patronage of Nalanda University, one of the most renowned centers of Buddhist learning in ancient India. The university attracted scholars and students from various parts of Asia and played a vital role in the spread of Buddhist knowledge.
  3. The Pala emperors also supported Saiva monks. Narayanapal himself established a Shiva temple. Along with Buddhist statues, statues of Hindu deities Vishnu, Shiva and Saraswati were also erected during the Pala period.
  4. Dharmapala welcomed the Buddhist philosopher Haribhadra. Dharmapala founded Vikramshila and Sompur Mahavihara.

Art and architecture of Palas:

  • The Pala period saw the construction of numerous Mahaviharas, Stupas, Chaityas, Temples, and forts, with most of these buildings vanished.
  • The first two centuries of Pala period art were dominated by Buddhist art, while Hindu art dominated the last two centuries.
  • Notable Mahaviharas include Nalanda, Vikramshila, Somapura, Traikutaka, Devikota, Pandita, Fullabadi, and Jagaddala Vihara.
  • These temples were important centers of Buddhist learning between the 9th and 12th centuries AD.
  • The architectural plan of the Somapura Mahavihara at Paharpur, a creation of Dharmapala, influenced the architecture of neighboring countries like Myanmar and Indonesia.
  • The Buddhist Viharas in the Pala Empire played a significant role in the propagation of Buddhism in Nepal, Tibet, and Sri Lanka.
  • Examples of Pala art include the rock-cave temple at Kahalgaon, the Ardhamandapa of Vishnupad Temple at Gaya, and the brick-built medieval Siva temple at Konch.
  • Sompur Mahavihar is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in present-day Bangladesh.
  • Vikramshila, Odantapuri and Jagaddal, etc. are notable examples of massive Mahavihara of Pala architecture.
  • These great Mahaviharas were destroyed by Turkish invaders Bakhtiyar Khilji as a fortress.
  • Mahipala constructed many temples and other structures in Kashi. The Vishnupada temple in Gaya has a hemispherical mandap that resembles an umbrella.
  • Terracotta panels and plaques were used to decorate temple walls, depicting various scenes from Hindu mythology and everyday life.

Paintings of Pala dynasty

  • The twelve-color illustrations of the Astasahasrika-Prajnaparamita manuscript of the palm-leaf Buddhist treatise of the sixth reign of the Pala king Mahipala I (983 AD) are among the earliest known examples of Bengali art. Currently, this rare manuscript is preserved in the Asiatic Society of Calcutta.
  • The best example is found in the manuscript of the Astasahasrika-Prajnaparamita (The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand).
  • The Buddhist monasteries (mahaviharas) of Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramsila, and Somarupa had a key role in the development of the Palas style of painting.

Education and Learning: The Pala Empire played a significant role in the field of education. Nalanda Mahavihara, one of the most famous centers of learning in ancient India, received considerable support from the Palas. The university attracted scholars and students from across the subcontinent and beyond.

Significance of Palas:

  • Prominent Buddhist dynasty, known for its patronage of Buddhism, culture, and education.
  • Revived and promoted Buddhism during its reign.
  • Significant support for Nalanda University, a major center of Buddhist learning.
  • Flourishing of art and culture during the Pala period, with a distinct style of temple architecture and sculpture.
  • Notable rulers: Dharmapala, Mahipala I.

Decline of the Pala dynasty

The final decline of the Pala dynasty reached Gopala IV after around 400 years of rise of the Pala dynasty. It is believed that he was killed by the enemy. The Pala Empire finally fell during his subsequent reign. Madanapala, the last ruler of the Pala dynasty, was in power at the time and was sitting on the throne of the Palas. During the reign of Madanapala, the Pala Empire eventually collapsed in 1161. In addition, the Sen dynasty’s reign over Bengal started with the collapse of the Palas.

Kings of the Pala Dynasty

  • Gopala I (ruled around 750 CE): Gopala I is considered the founder of the Pala Dynasty and the first ruler of the Pala Empire.
  • Dharmapala (ruled around 770-810 CE): Dharmapala, the son of Gopala I, expanded the empire’s territories and continued to support Buddhism and Nalanda University.
  • Devapala (ruled around 810-850 CE): Devapala, Dharmapala’s son, further extended the Pala Empire’s domains, making it one of the largest empires in India during his reign.
  • Mahendrapala (ruled around 850-860 CE): Mahendrapala succeeded his father Devapala and continued the dynasty’s rule.
  • Shurapala I (ruled around 860-880 CE): Shurapala I was another ruler of the Pala Dynasty.
  • Vigrahapala I (ruled around 880-900 CE): Vigrahapala I was a notable king who maintained the empire’s territories and upheld the dynasty’s support for Buddhism.
  • Mahipala I (ruled around 900-930 CE): Mahipala I expanded the Pala Empire’s influence, particularly in Bengal, and continued to patronize Buddhism and education.
  • Shurapala II (ruled around 930-950 CE): Shurapala II succeeded Mahipala I and continued the dynasty’s rule in the region.
  • Rampala (ruled around 950-975 CE): Rampala was another king of the Pala Dynasty who ruled during the later part of its existence.
  • Rajyapala (ruled around 975-1077 CE): Rajyapala was one of the last significant rulers of the Pala Dynasty. His reign saw external invasions and internal strife, contributing to the dynasty’s decline.
  • Madanapala (ruled around 1077-1120 CE): Madanapala was one of the last rulers of the Pala Dynasty before its ultimate decline and disappearance.

FAQs on Pala Dynasty:


UPSC Model Questions on Pala Dynasty

Discuss the contributions of the Pala Dynasty to the revival of Buddhism in India during its rule. How did the Palas promote Buddhist culture and education?

Compare and contrast the Pala Dynasty with other contemporary dynasties in India, such as the Chola Dynasty in the south. How did regional and geopolitical factors shape their respective legacies?

Assess the legacy of the Pala Dynasty in the context of eastern Indian history. How did their contributions to Buddhism, education, and culture continue to influence the region after their decline?