Pala Dynasty – The Golden Days of Medieval Bengal – 756 AD – 1174 AD

After the death of King Sasanka in 628 AD, the state of Bengal went through a lot of political turmoil. Immediately after Sasanka, the monarch of Kannauj, Harshavardhana, extended his rule over Bengal. Although his reign ended in 647 AD, there was a lot of political and social instability prevailing in the society. Meanwhile, by the mid of 8th century a wide-spread democratic election took place in a place called Gaur in Bengal. As a result of the election, Gopala, the first elected Pala king came into power.

Pala Dynasty - Ruled India from 756 AD - 1174 AD

Important Pala Rulers and Administration

Pala Dynasty was found by Gopala I in 756 AD. He was able to unite whole of Bengal and Bihar under his rule with his capital at Gaur, Bengal. Pala rulers were clever and they adopted a policy of tolerance and coexistence. Widespread community welfare programs were taken up by the king. Digging up of tanks, improving the drainage facilities were few of the many activities that were taken up. Gopala was succeeded by Dharmapala (781 AD – 821 AD). Dharmapala took up aggressive campaign to expand his empire. During his reign of 40 years Pala dynasty ruled all over Northern India, till Vidarbha in South, Kamboja in North West and Bengal in the East. Dharmapala was succeeded by Devapala (821 AD – 861 AD). Devapala expanded the Pala empire to the South of India (till Andra) and Assam and Utkala in the East. Devapala eventually lost the Kamboj Valley to Gurjara and Pratihara by 855 AD.

Dharmpala - Pala sculptures

Society under Pala Dynasty

The Golden period of Bengal was marked with the emergence of Pala Dynasty. Pala were considered as the Guardian of State and Religion. Pala were the followers of Mahayana Buddhist Sect who believed in tantra-mantra. Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in particular during their rule. Pala Dynasty funded the activities at Universities of Vikramashila and Nalanda (Unfortunately, these universities are nothing but ruins now). The Somapura Mahavihara built by Dharmapala is the greatest Buddhist Vihara in Indian Subcontinent.

Somapura Mahavihara, Bangladesh

Pala Dynasty was responsible for the spread of Buddhism outside the Indian subcontinent. Under their reign Mahayana Buddhism was spread to the Far-East covering Myanmar, Java, Sumatra and Bhutan. One of the most prominent individuals, also a reformist of Mahayana Buddhism in Nepal and Tibet was Atish Dipankar Srigyan. He was able to revive and reconstruct Buddhism in Tibet after it was destroyed by king Langdharma. The Charyapada was the earliest form of Bangla language, which was also written at the same time.

Buddhist Sculpture of Pala Dynasty

Decline of Pala Dynasty

The last Pala ruler Govindapala ruled for twelve years (1162 AD – 1174 AD). Due to continuous foreign attacks and weak infrastructure the Sena were able to overthrow the Palas. This ended the reign of Pala Dynasty which lasted for more than 400 years.

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