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Matsyanyayam


Matsyanyayam the condition of Bengal in the century following the death of sHasanka and before the rise of the Palas (c 750-850 AD) has been described as matsyanyayam (matsyanyayam). In a near contemporary inscription, the Khalimpur copperplate of the 32nd year of the second Pala ruler dharmapala, and the 12th century ramacharitam kavya of Sandhyakaranandi the anarchical condition of Bengal preceding the rise of the Pala dynasty is found mentioned as matsyanyayam.

The Sanskrit term matsyanyayam, used in ancient texts, bears special significance. The Kautilya Arthaxastra (1.4.13-14) defines the term as follows: When the law of punishment is kept in abeyance, it gives rise to such disorder as is implied in the proverb of fishes, ie, the larger fish swallows a smaller one, for in the absence of a magistrate, the strong will swallow the weak.

lama taranatha, the 17th century Tibetan historian of Buddhism in India, also mentions that all of Bengal was pervaded by an unprecedented anarchy in the century before the rise of the Palas. Government was fragmented, with no king having real control over gauda, vanga or samatata. Ksatriyas, Brahmanas, merchants and townsmen all were kings in their own homes. The sufferings and strife of the common people were intolerable.

The writer of the Manjusrimulakalpa declared that after Shashanka the state of Gauda was paralysed, and whoever was king thereafter would not be able to rule for even a year. According to the same source there was a disastrous famine in the period in the eastern region of India.

From the above it appears clear that in the century following the reign of Shashanka Bengal saw very little of stable government. The country was torn into many small kingdoms and internecine warfare among them caused the instability. In the absence of a strong force capable of enforcing law and order, a situation prevailed that has been termed as matsyanyayam. Physical strength was the only strength, and throughout the land ran the frenzy of unbridled, unruly might. In order to put an end to this state of affair, gopala emerged as the king of Bengal and founded the rule of the pala dynasty.

We have no direct evidence from which to discern the social ramifications of this anarchy. But indirect deductions from the available evidence makes it clear that in the absence of peace and order there was a decline in trade and commerce. The loss of prominence of the port of Tamralipti after the 8th century AD is suggestive of this decay. Among the ruins of Mahasthana it can be seen that the temples and monasteries of the Pala period were built on the ruins of the earlier Gupta and post-Gupta eras. It would seem that the destruction belongs to the age of anarchy. The devastating famine mentioned earlier may have had a connection with the prevailing anarchy.

In the absence of a strong king, the feudal vassals, each one independent and autonomous, must have been instrumental in creating anarchy. And the sagacity of a few of them must have brought an end to the state of lawlessness; some of them coming together brought Gopala to power. [AM Chowdhury]