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Mahipala I

Mahipala I (c 995-1043 AD) is considered the second founder of the pala dynasty. gopala i established the dynastic rule of the Palas in the middle of the 8th century AD. In the first two centuries of Pala rule Bengal witnessed a period of ascendancy under the first three rulers (about 100 years) of the dynasty, followed by a period of stagnation covering the reigns of five generations of kings. The successors of devapala (c 821-861) lacked vigour and prowess. The dynastic trouble that followed the death of Devapala seemed to have sapped the vitality of the Palas and the rulers were not powerful enough to check incursions from outside or uprisings from inside their borders. During the reigns of Gopala II and Vigrahapala II, the two immediate predecessors of Mahipala, Bengal had to face repeated invasions of the Chandellas and the Kalachuris, the new powers that arose out of the ruins of the Pratihara empire in northern India. These expeditions facilitated the rise of the Kamboja rulers, who took the Gaudapati title, to an almost independent position in northern and western Bengal. Pala rule, for some time before Mahipala, was confined to Anga and Magadha.

The verses in his Belwa and Bangarh copperplates claim that Mahipala, by slaying all his enemies, obtained his paternal kingdom (rajyam-pitryam) which had been snatched away through pride of prowess (bahu-darpad) by people who had no claim to it. Here is an allusion to the fact that his rajyam-pitryam (Varendra, which Sandhyakaranandi mentions as the janakabhu of the Palas) was lost some time before him. Mahipala's success in recovering the paternal kingdom was his most important achievement, since it gave a new lease of life to the Pala empire.

Scholars have argued, on the basis of the evidence of the Baghaura and Narayanapur image inscriptions, that Mahipala succeeded in establishing his suzerainty over south-eastern Bengal. But it is now difficult to accept the arguments. The two images discovered in the Comilla area of south-eastern Bengal, bearing the name of Mahipala, may have been brought to this area at a later time and therefore could not be taken as proof of Mahipala's rule in the area. Moreover, the existence of the continuous rule of the chandra dynasty in this area from the early 10th century AD onwards is now established beyond any doubt. Govindachandra was a contemporary of Mahipala and Rajendra Chola's army found both of them, the former in Vangaladesha and the latter in Uttara Radha.

Mahipala held authority over southern Bihar (Magadha) and towards the close of his reign over northern Bihar. Scholars also ascribe to him conquests beyond Bihar on the basis of his Sarnath inscription. The inscription, dated in Vikrama Sangvat 1083 or 1026 AD, is of a purely religious nature and records the construction and rebuilding of religious edifices at the famous Buddhist site near Benares. Mahipala cannot be taken to have possessed Benares solely on the basis of this inscription.

The Chola inscription (Tirumulai inscription), which records Rajendra Chola's invasion of Bengal some time in between 1021 and 1024 AD, throws further light on the condition of Bengal. The inscription records that after conquering Orissa the Chola general seized Dandabhukti after having destroyed Dharmapala (possibly belonging to the Kamboja line) and reached southern Radha where he met Ranashura. Then the army reached Vangaladesha, where the rainwater never stopped, and Govindachandra fled having descended from his elephant and subsequently they met Mahipala in northern Radha. The narration of the Chola inscription clearly places Govindachandra in south-eastern Bengal and Mahipala is northern and western Bengal.

Mahipala seems to have a long reign as his two Imadpur inscriptions are dated in his 48th year. Mahipala, on his accession, found the Pala empire confined to southern Bihar and in his early years he fought successfully to recover northern and western Bengal from the Kambojas. Towards the close of his reign he succeeded in spreading Pala authority in northern Bihar. So he must be given the credit for re-establishing Pala authority over their original kingdom, except a portion of southern west Bengal, where Ranasura and Dharmapala ruled.

Mahipala was better known for his peaceful pursuits. A number of towns and large tanks still bear his name. Mahiganj in Rangpur district, Mahipur in Bogra district, Mahisantosa in Dinajpur district and Mahipala in Murshidabad district; Mahipaladighi (tank) in Dinajpur and Mahipala's Sagardighi in Murshidabad - all these still bear testimony to his deeds and the high esteem in which the people held him. It is further reflected in the numerous ballads believed to exist in Bengal commemorating his name. Brndaban Das wrote in his chaitanya bhagavatA (1572 AD) that the people of Bengal in the early part of the 16th century were very fond of these songs of Mahipala. The popularity of these songs and the name of Mahipala are reflected in the common saying, Dhan bhante Mahipaler geet (songs of Mahipala while husking rice), which is still prevalent in rural Bengal. Possibly after early years of war Mahipala devoted himself to peaceful pursuits and religious activities. His public works endeared him to the hearts of the people of Bengal. The excavations at paharpur have revealed the revival of Pala power under Mahipala as manifest in the wholesale renovation of the main temple and in the monastic cells and in the numerous votive stupas at the shrine of Tara in the Satyapir Bhita.

Mahipala succeeded in recovering the lost fortune of the dynasty and in checking the forces of disintegration for the time being, but could not totally remove them. But his success gave the dynastic rule of the Palas a second lease of life. [AM Chowdhury]