Pala Rule Gopala established the Pala dynasty in the middle of the 8th century AD. The dynasty ruled Bengal through various vicissitudes for about four hundred years. Though the long rule of the Palas passed through various ups and downs, however, it cannot be denied that their rule was a glorious chapter in the history of ancient Bengal. Their rule can conveniently be divided into several phases:
Dharmapala (c781-821 AD) and Devapala (c 821-861 AD) can be termed as the period of ascendancy; (2) this was followed by a period of stagnancy (c 861-995 AD). Mahipala I (c 995-1042 AD) succeeded in reviving the vigour of the Palas, for which he is often designated as the second founder of the dynasty; (3) then came the period of decline and disintegration, which was, however, halted for a short time by the vigorous rule of Ramapala (c 1182-1124 AD). But after his death the Pala Empire did not last long. The rise of the Senas in the second half of the 12th century AD brought the rule of the Palas to an end in Bengal.
The vigorous rule of Dharmapala and Devapala marked the period of ascendancy of the dynasty. During their rule they had gathered enough strength to engage themselves in the struggle for power in northern India. In order to establish their supremacy in northern India they were engaged in a tripartite struggle with the Western Indian Gurjara-Pratiharas and the South Indian Rastrakutas. At the same time when the Palas rose to power in Bengal, the Rastrakutas wrested power from the Chalukyas in the Deccan and the Gurjara-Pratiharas consolidated their power in Malwa and Rajasthana. A vacuum was created in northern India after it was ravaged successively by Yasovarman and Lalitaditya. For the next two generations a tripartite struggle continued among these three powers for filling up the vacuum and acquiring supremacy in northern India with Kanauj at the centre of its power politics.
Two phases of this tripartite struggle were fought during the reign of Dharmapala. Though he did not fare very well during the first phase, but in between the first and the second phase he had some success. He was able to spread his sphere of influence up to Kanauj culminating in his success in placing his protE9gE9 Chakrayudha on the throne of Kanauj. It is likely that, though for a short time, the Pala Empire extended beyond Bengal and Bihar to the region of Kanauj. He may have had extended his empire in other directions as well. But we are not in a position to measure the amount of his success. Dharmapala faced reverses in the second phase of the tripartite struggle. But there is no doubt that he succeeded in keeping his hold over Bengal and Bihar. In the history of the Pala dynasty Dharmapala is considered a great conqueror and under his leadership Bengal's influence was long felt in the power politics of northern India.
Dharmapala was a devout Buddhist and a great patron of Buddhism. He founded the Vikramasila Mahavihra (situated at Patharghata, 24 miles east of Bhagalpur of Bihar and 6 miles north of Colgong), which was one of the most important Buddhist seats of learning in the whole of India from the 9th to the 12th century AD. The Somapura Mahavihara at Paharpur (in Naogaon district of Bangladesh) is one of his magnificent Buddhist architectural activities.
Dharmapala's son and successor, Devapala, maintained the same aggressive policy of his father. The struggle for the supremacy over northern India continued during his reign also. Initially he may have had some success, but ultimately it was the Gurjara-Pratiharas who succeeded in establishing their supremacy in and around Kanauj. But during Devapala's time, he extended Pala Empire towards Orissa in the south-west and also towards Kamarupa in the north-east.'
The reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala was the period of ascendancy of the Pala dynasty. These two rulers consolidated the Pala rule in western and southern Bengal, and Bihar. During their rule Bengal came to be considered for the first time in her history as an important power in northern Indian politics. Bengal could hold its head high against two contemporary big powers. But with the death of Devapala, started a period of stagnation, which gradually led the Pala Empire towards its decline. The stagnation continued for five generation of kings and for about a hundred years. During this period the empire lacked the vigour and strength of the earlier period. The empire did not have the power neither to resist the invasions from outside nor suppress the internal rebellions. In the middle of the 10th century AD the Kambojas curved out independent domains in parts of western and northern Bengal. Epigraphic evidence testifies to the independent rule of the kamboja gaudapatis. For some time the Pala empire was limited to parts of Bihar only.
Mahapala I (c 995-1043 AD) succeeded in retrieving the lost vigour of the Pala Empire and in generating new enthusiasm. He is credited with the success of retrieving the lost empire in northern and western Bengal and consolidating it. But the glories of the Pala Empire again reached the lowest levelduring he rule of the kings between Mahipala I and Ramapala. The repeated invasions of the northern Indian powers, the Kalachuris and the Chandellas, clearly speak of the weakness of the Palas. The weakness was apparent during the rule of Mahipala II (c 1075-1080 AD), when the Kaivarta chief Divya succeeded in establishing his independent rule in Varendra through a rebellion of the Samantas. This type of rebellion of the Samantas is a clear sign of the weakness of the central power. Divya's success in northern Bengal is a clear indication of the weakness of the central authority.
Ramapala (c 1082-1124 AD) show of prowess was the last glimmer of power of the Pala Empire. He reestablished Pala authority over northern Bengal and also attempted to extend the boundaries of the empire. But his success was short-lived, his successors were too weak to arrest the process of decline and disintegration. During this period one of the Samantas of the Palas, Vijayasena, could master power and by the middle of the 12th century he succeeded in ousting the Palas from Bengal. Thus emerged the Senas, a dynasty of south Indian origin who claimed themselves to be Brahma-ksatriyas. Four hundred years of Pala rule in Bengal gave them an opportunity to establish a stable administrative system in the country. Their empire was basically agrarian in character. Trade and commerce seem not to occupy an important position in Pala economy. Trading activities were possibly limited with in the empire or at best in the neighbouring territories. The decline of the once flourishing port of Tamralipti after the 8th century AD possibly deprived the Palas of the opportunity of taking part in sea-borne trade.
Long Buddhist rule of about four hundred years created an atmosphere of religious toleration and liberalism. Mutual co-existence of the Hindus and Buddhists is clearly manifest. The rulers followed a very liberal religious policy. Hindus appointed in high administrative posts as well as the temples of Hindu gods and goddesses received liberal patronage from the Buddhist Pala kings, which was definitely a very wise policy of the Pala kings.
As a result, the difference between the two religions narrowed down and due their closeness in the society new rites and rituals evolved, which gradually led to the evolution Tantricism among the Buddhists. The Pala period was a period of religious toleration and liberalism and this created a feeling of mutual coexistence among the people of Bengal, though they were practicing different religions. This had a far-reaching effect in the history of the region. The Pala period is also notable for various achievements in the field of arts. The Buddhist Vihara Architecture reached its climax in the Somapura Mahavihara, and this form greatly influenced the Architecture of South-east Asian countries a few centuries later. The Terracotta Plaques of the period bear clear testimony of the excellence of this time old art of Bengal. The Pala Sculptural art came to be recognised as a distinct phase of Eastern Indian Sculptural Art. Only a few literary works of the period have survived. Among them the Ramacharitam of Sandhyakara Nandi, the poet of northern Bengal, stands out as an outstanding literary work. Each of the slokas of this kavy bears dual meaning; many of the poems of the poets of the period have been found in the anthologies collected in the Sena period. A few of the palm-leaf manuscripts of the period bear clear testimony of the excellence of manuscript paintings. Considering all these achievements it is quite appropriate to designate the Pala period as the most glorious age in the history of ancient Bengal. [AM Chowdhury]
Bibliograpy RC Majumdar (ed), History of Bengal, Vol. I, Dhaka, 1948; AM Chowdhury, Dynastic History of Bengal, Dhaka, 1967;' RC Majumdar, History of Ancient Bengal, Kolkata, 1974; NR Roy, Bangalir Itihas, Adi Parva, Kolkata, 1400 BS.