All About Pala Dynasty


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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Indian Culture - Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

How did the Pala dynasty emerge?

After the death of Harsha, the Pratiharas (Jalore-Rajasthan), the Palas (Bengal) and the Rashtrakutas (Deccan) engaged in a tripartite struggle for the control of the Ganga–Yamuna doab and the lands adjoining it. 

  • Territories in Pala control: The Palas controlled vast areas of the eastern Gangetic Plain. Apart from earning revenue from agriculture, Palas also derived income from their wide commercial contacts in Southeast Asia. 
  • Accession to power by  Gopala: There was no centralized government in place after the Gauda kingdom fell, which resulted in ongoing conflicts between minor chieftains. So, in the year 750 CE, a group of chiefs chose Gopala, a "Kshatriya chief," to be their leader. 
    • Political authority: Though Gopala did not have royal antecedents, he succeeded in acquiring a kingdom. Gopala’s political authority was soon recognised by several independent chiefs.
      •  His original kingdom was in Vanga. It was located in southern Bengal, with the core region including present-day southern West Bengal (India) and southwestern Bangladesh.



                    Map - Pala kingdom


What is the political history of the Palas?


Pala Dynasty - Kings - Significance

Period: 750-1150 AD

Capital: Muddagiri/Munger (Bihar)



Gopala (750-770 CE)

  • Founder of the Pala dynasty
  • Contribution to the architecture

Odantapuri Monastery, Odantapura

  • Gopala founded the famous monastery at Odantapuri (Bihar).
    • It is a prominent Buddhist Mahavihara.
    • It is considered the second oldest of India's Mahaviharas after Nalanda and was situated in Magadha.

Dharmapala (770-810 CE)

  • Expansion of the empire: Dharmapala transformed the Pala kingdom into a powerful adversary.
    • Bengal and Bihar were directly ruled by him. 
    • The rulers of the Punjab, Rajaputana, Malwa and Berar accepted his suzerainty.

Titles: He assumed titles like Paramesvara, Parambhattaraka and Maharajadhiraja.

  • Faith: He is a great patron of Buddhism

Contribution to Architecture

Vikramashila Monastery, Bhagalpur

  • He founded the Vikaramasila monastery in the Bhagalpur district in Bihar. 
    • It developed into a great centre of Buddhist learning and culture. 


Somapra Vihara, Paharapura

  • He built a grand vihara at Somapura in modern Paharapura (present-day Bangladesh).
    • Somapura Mahavihara is among the best-known Buddhist viharas or monasteries in the Indian Subcontinent.
    • It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
    • It is one of the most famous examples of architecture in pre-Islamic Bangladesh. 

Devapala (810-850 CE)

  • Expansion of the empire: Devapala extended Pala control eastwards up to Kamarupa (Assam). 
    • He defeated Amoghavarsha.
  • Faith: Devapala was also a great patron of Buddhism. 
    • He granted five villages to Balaputradeva, the king of the Sailendra dynasty of Suvarnadipa (Sumatra), to maintain a monastery built by him at Nalanda. 
      • Nalanda continued to flourish as the chief seat of Buddhist learning even during the Pala reign.

Mahipala I (988-1038 CE)

  • Political achievements: The falling fortunes of the dynasty were revived by Mahipala I. 
    • The most important event of his period was the invasion of northern India by Rajendra Chola between 1020 and 1025 CE. 
    • The advance of the Cholas beyond the Ganges was checked by Mahipala I.
  • Contribution to the architecture: He constructed and repaired several sacred structures at Sarnath, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya.



Contribution of Palas to Art and Architecture

  • The Pala school of sculptural art was influenced by the Gupta art
  • Painting: Two artists of this period were Dhiman, and his son Vitapala were two artists of this period
    • They were great painters, sculptors and bronze statue makers. 

Sculpture of Vishu

Vishnu with His Consorts, Lakshmi and Sarasvati, 11-12th century, Bihar or Bengal

Crowned Buddha

  • The sculpture is cast in bronze.
  • It was found in Bihar and belongs to 10th-11th century

Nalanda University

  • Nalanda is considered one of the first great universities in recorded history. 





Contribution of Palas to Literature

  • Buddhist literature: The prominent Buddhist scholars of Vikramashila and Nalanda universities were Atisha, Saraha, Tilopa, Dansheel, Dansree, Jinamitra, Muktimitra, Padmanava, Virachan and Silabhadra. 
    • Many Buddhist tantric works were authored and translated into Sanskrit. 
    • The original tantric works comprise a varied group of Indian and Tibetan texts. 
  • The Palas also patronised Sanskrit scholars. 
  • The “Mahipalageet” (songs on Mahipala), a set of folk songs, are still popular in the rural areas of Bengal.



Sandhyakar Nandi: 

  • Wrote the epic, Ramacharitam.
    • It is a biography of a later Pala ruler Ramapala and describes how forest chiefs were brought into their alliance through lavish gifts.


  • Dayabhaga, Vyavohara Matrika and Kalaviveka

Bhatta Bhavadeva

  • Karmanushthan Paddhati, a work on philosophy

Sridhar Bhatta

  • Nyaya Kundali, a work on philosophy


  • Agama Shastra, a work on philosophy

Chakrapani Datta

  • Chikitsa Samgraha, Ayurveda Dipika, Bhanumati, Shabda Chandrika and Dravya Gunasangraha; works on medicine.


  • Shabda-Pradipa, Vrikkhayurveda and Lohpaddhati; works on medicine


  • Chikitsa Sarsamgraha, a work on medicine

Gadadhara Vaidya

  • Sushrata, a work on medicine



What were the administrative aspects of the Pala dynasty?

  • Monarchical rule: The Pala rule was monarchical. The king was the centre of all imperial titles like Parameshwara, Paramvattaraka, and Maharajadhiraja. Pala kings appointed Prime Ministers.
  • Lineage: The Line of Garga served as the Prime Ministers of the Palas for 100 years. They are Garga, Darvapani (or Darbhapani), Someshwar, Kedarmisra and  Bhatta Guravmisra.
  • Provincial administration: Pala Empire was divided into separate Bhuktis (Provinces). Bhuktis were divided into Vishayas (Divisions) and Mandalas (Districts). 
    • Smaller units were Khandala, Bhaga, Avritti, Chaturaka, and Pattaka. Administration covered a wide area from the grass root level to the imperial court.


What were the religious conditions during the Palas?

Buddhism was the dominant religion during the Pala dynasty, but Shaivism also flourished and was followed alongside it.


  • Mahayana Buddhism: The Palas were patrons of Mahayana Buddhism. A few sources written much after Gopala's death mention him as a Buddhist, but it is not known if this is true. The subsequent Pala kings were Buddhists. 
  • Dharmapala: Dharmapala made the Buddhist philosopher Haribhadra his spiritual preceptor. Taranatha credits him with establishing 50 religious institutions and patronising the Buddhist author Haribhadra. 
  • Devapala’s contribution: He restored and enlarged the structures at Somapura Mahavihara, which also features several themes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • Mahipala I: He also ordered the construction and repairs of several sacred structures at Saranath, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya.
  • Buddhist centres: The Palas developed the Buddhist centres of learning, such as the Vikramashila and the Nalanda universities. Nalanda, considered one of the first great universities in recorded history, reached its height under the patronage of the Palas. 
  • Reputation: As the rulers of Gautama Buddha's land, the Palas acquired a great reputation in the Buddhist world as the kings of other regions approached them for permission to do any activity at Bodhgaya.
  • Ambassadors: Balaputradeva, the Sailendra king of Java, sent an ambassador to him, asking for a grant of five villages for the construction of a monastery at Nalanda. 
    • The request was granted by Devapala. He appointed the Brahmin Viradeva as the head of the Nalanda monastery. 
  • Bengal as the centre of Buddhism: Bengal remained one of the few places where Buddhist monasteries continued to exist. The kingdom, as well as Buddhism, soon suffered a decline because of the large-scale conversion of merchants and artisans to Islam.



  • Patronage: The Palas continued to patronise Shaivism, and epigraphic evidence suggests that Mahipala I and Nayapala were initiated as Shaivites by their royal preceptors. 
  • Vigrahapala III: Vigrahapala III's Amagachi inscription describes him as "devoted to Siva worship", and this tradition continued under his successor Ramapala. Poet Sandhyakar Nandi describes Ramapala's son Madanapala as a devotee of Shiva
  • Shaiva ascetics: The Palas supported the Saiva ascetics, typically the ones associated with the Golagi-Math. Besides the images of the Buddhist deities, the images of Vishnu, Siva and Sarasvati were also constructed during the Pala dynasty rule.
  • Shaivite temples: Narayanapala's Bhagalpur inscription suggests that he built several Shiva temples and records his grant of a village to Pashupatas.  Narayanapala also attended a sacrifice by his Brahmin minister. 
  • Land grants: Madanapala's queen Chitramatika, gifted land to a Brahmana named Vateshvara-Swamy Sharma as his remuneration for reciting the Mahabharata.


How did the Pala dynasty end?

After 15 years of Mahipala’s rule, four insignificant rulers followed, and it proved fatal to the continuation of the dynasty.

  • Last efforts: Ramapala was the last ruler who tried to recover the lost glory of the dynasty. He ruled for about 53 years, and after his death, the presence of the Pala dynasty was confined to only a portion of Magadha (Bihar) and continued to exist only for a short period. 
  • Rise of powerful rivals: Vijayasena of the Sena dynasty, who had become powerful by then in northern Bengal, expelled the last ruler Madanapala from Bengal and established his dynastic rule.


Previous Year Questions (PYQs)



Q) Pala period is the most significant phase in the history of Buddhism in India. Enumerate. (2020)




Q) Consider the following events in the history of India:

  1. Rise of Pratiharas under King Bhoja
  2. Establishment of Pallava power under Mahendravarman-I
  3. Establishment of Chola power by Parantaka-I
  4. Pala dynasty founded by Gopala

What is the correct chronological order of the above events, starting from the earliest time?

(a) 2 – 1 – 4 - 3

(b) 3 – 1 – 4 - 2

(c) 2 – 4 – 1 - 3

(d) 3 – 4 – 1 – 2


 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) What is Pashupata sector Shaivism?

The Pashupata sect of Shaivism is a major branch of Hinduism focused on the worship of Lord Shiva. It emphasizes asceticism, ritual practices, and adherence to a set of strict philosophical principles known as the Pashupata doctrine.


Q) What are the features of the Pala school of Architecture?

The Pala School of architecture featured distinct characteristics, such as the use of terracotta in temple decorations, intricate stone carvings, and unique roof structures. It often incorporated elements like ornate doorways, multiple shikharas, and intricate motifs reflecting a blend of Indian and Southeast Asian influences.