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Gopala the founder of the pala dynasty, which ruled Bengal for about four centuries. For about a century from the middle of the 7th century AD Bengal witnessed a period of unsettled condition due to the absence of stable government and the whole country was torn by internal strife and disturbed by invasions from outside. The condition of Bengal towards the middle of the 8th century AD, before the rise of Gopala, found mention in the Pala record (Khalimpur copperplate of dharmapala) as a state of matsyanyayam. Gopala emerged as the ruler of Bengal out of this chaos and put an end to this state of affair. During his rule of about 25 years (c 756 - 781) he must have had consolidated the rule of his dynasty to such an extent that his son and successor, Dharmapala, could embark upon a career of aggrandisement and appreciable success. However, we do not have adequate sources to know about the details of his reign.

Nothing definite is known about his origin except the names of his father Vapyata, the 'destroyer of adversaries', and his grandfather Dayitavisnu, 'bright with all learning'. The problem of determining the original kingdom of the Palas from where they rose to power is as difficult as the problem of their ancestry. The ramacharitam refers to varendra (northern Bengal) as the janakabhu of the Palas, and this would lead to the supposition that northern Bengal was the original kingdom of the Palas. The Arya-Manjuxrimulakalpa refers to the rise of Gopala in the region of gauda and north-west Bengal where the later Guptas held sway. So it is likely that Gopala succeeded in establishing his empire in the northern and north-western part of Bengal. taranatha credits Gopala with the conquest of Magadha (southern Bihar). Gauda tantra referred to in Arya-Manjusrimulakalpa may be said to have included Magadha. So it is likely that southern Bihar was also included in the empire of Gopala.

The 4th verse of Khalimpur copperplate refers to Gopala's coming to power as follows: Matsyanyayam-apohitum prakrtibhir-laksmyah karangrahitah / Sri-Gopala iti ksitisa-sirasam chudamanis-tatsutah // (His son was the crest jewel of the heads of kings, the glorious Gopala, whom the prakrtis made take the hands of Laksmi, to put an end to matsyanyayam or lawlessness). Taranatha's account has an allegorical reference to a similar process of Gopala's accession to power. Scholars have taken the verse of the Khalimpur plate and the implication of Taranatha's account to mean that the people elected Gopala to the position of king. It is not possible to understand the true significance of the term prakrti, used in the above verse. This may mean 'subjects' or 'principal officers'. So it is difficult to determine the electors of Gopala. It can also be suggested that Gopala, a military adventurer succeeded in restoring peace and order by putting an end to the forces of lawlessness and popular support came his way after his initial success. [AM Chowdhury]

Bibliography AM Chowdhury, Dynastic History of Bengal, Dhaka, 1967.