The Pala Empire was an Indian Imperial Power ruled by Hindu-Buddhist dynasty from Bengal and held its capital at Gaur. The word Pala means ‘the protector’ and according to their opponents “Lords of Gauda” (a territory located in Bengal in ancient and medieval times.). The Buddhist dynasty lasted for four decades, 750 – 1174 CE and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity for Bengal, reaching its peak under Dharmapala and Devapala. The sculptures, constructions, administration and trade were some of the most successful practices during this regime.
Dharmapala (770 AD – 810 AD) – The Greatest King of Bengal
Dharmapala, the son and successor of Gopala rule: 750 AD – 770 AD, was the greatest king Bengal had ever witnessed. He not only expanded the boundaries of the Pala Empire but also made the Pala dynasty’s rule – the most significant one as far as the Bengal developments are concerned. Apart from being a mighty conqueror, Dharmapala, was a great patron of education, art, architecture and literature. Simultaneously, he was a great patron of Buddhism and worked to encourage it as a state religion. Dharmapala established the great Vikramshila Vihara in Magadha, revived the Nalanda University, and constructed the Somapura Vihara and a splendid monastery at Odantapuri in Bihar. Haribhadra was one of the scholars during Dharmapala’s times who gained importance. Dharmapala was a shrewd diplomat and good statesman and his efficiency helped Bengal attain supremacy and prosperity.
Battles and Conquests of Dharmapala
Dharmapala’s reign was marked by the struggle between Palas of Bengal, Rashtrakutas of Deccan and Pratiharas of Rajputana and Malwa over the supremacy of Northern and Western India, which gave birth to the creation of a tripartite struggle between the major ruling dynasties. The first phase of the battle opened between Dharmapala and Vatsaraja in Daob, where, Dharmapala was defeated but Rashtrakuta King, Dhruva intervened and defeated Vatsaraja with an intention to end Dharmapala in line. However, he later retired to Deccan and Dharmapala regained his forces and attained the mastery over North India. The Khalimpur Copper Plate of Dharmapala and the Bhagalpur Copper Plate of Narayana Pala provide facts about the Northern conquests of Dharmapala. It is known that Dharmapala gave the throne of Kanauj to Chakrayudha after defeating King Indraraja of Kanauj. Similarly, although, Dharmapala had extended his control through conquests, he did not rule the entire territory individually instead, appointed vassals to rule on his behalf with a degree of autonomy. Dharmapala, due to his huge conquests in the north, he was titled ‘Uttarapatha Swamin’.
The Reign of Dharmapala – A Glorious Epoch in the History of Medieval India
By his prowess and diplomacy he expanded a small kingdom concentrated in Bengal to a vast Empire, covering large portions of North India. Although, Dharmapala could not accomplish any violent conquests against the Pratiharas or the Rashtrakutas, yet his chief achievement lies in his diplomatic steps he adopted in the task of extending the Pala Kingdom. Dharmapala’s reign had a special significance in Bengal, because after the death of Sasanka, when forces of disintegration had set within the heart of Bengal, giving rise to socio-political anarchy. It was Dharmapala who had restored the province from being completely shattered and disintegrated.
Written By: Paulomi Deshpande