Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 46


BY: SUN STAFF - 9.4 2021

Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, Naogaon district, Bangladesh

A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.


The Palas

'The Pala Empire was a Buddhist dynasty that ruled from the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent. The name Pala means 'protector' and was used as an ending to the names of all Pala monarchs.

The Palas were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism. Gopala was the first ruler from the dynasty. He came to power in 750 A.D. in Gaur, by a democratic election. This event is recognized as one of the first democratic elections in South Asia since the time of the Mahā Janapadas. Gopala reigned from 750-770 A.D., and consolidated his position by extending his control over all of Bengal.

The Buddhist dynasty lasted for four centuries (750-1120 A.D.) and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity in Bengal. They created many temples and works of art as well as supported the Universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. Somapura Mahavihara, built by Dharmapala (pictured above), is felt to be the greatest Buddhist Vihara in the Indian subcontinent.

The Pala empire reached its peak under Dharmapala and Devapala. Dharmapala extended the empire into the northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent. This triggered once again a great struggle for control of the region.

Devapala, successor of Dharmapala, expanded the empire to cover much of South Asia and beyond. His empire stretched from Assam and Utkala in the east, Kamboja (modern day Afghanistan) in the northwest, and Deccan in the south. The Palas had extensive trade as well as influence in Southeast Asia. This is evidenced by the sculptures and architectural style of the Sailendra Empire (present-day Malaya, Java, Sumatra).

According to a Pala copperplate inscription, Devapala exterminated the Utkalas, conquered the Pragjyotisha (Assam), shattered the pride of the Huna, and humbled the lords of the Pratiharas, Gurjara and the Dravidas.

Buddha and Bodhisattvas
11th Century Pala

The death of Devapala ended the period of ascendancy of the Pala Empire and several independent dynasties and kingdoms emerged during this time. However, Mahipala I rejuvenated the reign of the Palas. He recovered control over all of Bengal and expanded the empire. He survived the invasions of Rajendra Chola and the Chalukyas.

After Mahipala I the Pala dynasty again saw its decline until Ramapala, the last great ruler of the dynasty, managed to retrieve the position of the dynasty to some extent. He crushed the Varendra rebellion and extended his empire farther to Kamarupa, Odisha and Northern India.'