Pala Dynasty: Founder, Capital, Rulers, Pala Dynasty UPSC Notes

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Pala Dynasty, which had its roots in Bengal, ruled the Indian subcontinent as an imperial force during the post-classical era. Gopala established the Pala Dynasty in 750 CE, and from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, they ruled Bengal and Bihar for about 400 years. One of Bengali history’s most illustrious periods is the Pala period. After centuries of civil violence between rival groups, the Palas brought stability and prosperity to Bengal.

Pala Dynasty, ruling from the 8th to the 12th centuries CE, was a significant dynasty in the Indian subcontinent known for their patronage of Buddhism, art, and education. It is an important topic for the UPSC exam as it sheds light on the socio-cultural and political history of ancient India. The Pala Dynasty is covered under the section of “Ancient History” in the UPSC syllabus. Exploring this dynasty provides valuable insights into the development of Buddhism and the rich cultural heritage of India.

Pala Dynasty

Pala Dynasty, which reigned from the 8th to the 12th centuries CE, emerged in the wake of political turmoil in Northern and Eastern India. Following the demise of the Gauda Kingdom under King Shashanka, lawlessness spread throughout the region, creating an opportunity for the Palas to rise to power. Gopala, the first Pala monarch, ascended the throne amidst the chaos and lack of centralized authority in Bengal. The Pala Dynasty went on to rule over Bihar, Bengal, and parts of Orissa and Assam for approximately four centuries, experiencing both periods of prosperity and conflicts with neighboring powers such as the Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas. The Palas are particularly significant in Bengali history, often referred to as the Golden Age.

The lineage of the Pala Dynasty can be traced back to Vapyata, a warrior, as mentioned in the Khalimpur copper plate inscription. The Ramacharitam identifies Varendra, located in North Bengal, as the ancestral homeland of the Palas. The Palas emerged as a dominant force in the 7th century following the decline of Harshavardhana’s empire. Gopala’s accession to the throne was a result of the power vacuum created by the fall of the Shashanka empire. Although the Pala rulers faced opposition from neighboring kingdoms, their empire witnessed remarkable cultural and intellectual achievements, earning the Pala Dynasty the reputation of being a Golden Age in Bengali history.

Pala Dynasty

Pala Dynasty Founder

The founder of the Pala Dynasty was Gopala. He was the first monarch of the Pala Dynasty and played a crucial role in establishing its rule in East India. Gopala, who was originally named Vapaata, rose to power through a coup to overthrow the Matsyanyaya rule. His leadership and strategic moves helped the Pala Dynasty gain strength and expand its territories, particularly in Bihar and Bengal. Gopala’s reign laid the foundation for the Pala Dynasty’s prominence and influence in the region for the centuries that followed. All of the Pala monarchs’ names ended with the last morpheme, “Pala,” which signifies ‘protector.’

Pala Empire Rulers

Pala Dynasty, known for its patronage of Mahayana Buddhism, ruled over East India for approximately 400 years, from the 9th to the 12th centuries. The dynasty witnessed both periods of expansion and decline, engaging in conflicts with neighboring powers such as the Rashtrakutas and Pratiharas. Here are the notable rulers of the Pala Dynasty:

  • Gopala (750–770 AD): Founder of the Pala Dynasty, chosen by the people to overthrow the Matsyanyaya rule, and expanded the kingdom’s territories in Bihar and Bengal.
  • Dharmapala (770–810 AD): Successor of Gopala, engaged in battles for control of Kanauj and held a grand darbar. His reign came to an end when he was defeated by Dhruva, a Rashtrakuta monarch.
  • Devapala (810–850 AD): Son of Dharmapala and the strongest ruler of the Pala Dynasty. Expanded the empire to include Assam and Utkala, and defeated the Rashtrakuta emperor, Amoghavarsha.
  • Mahipala I: Ascended to power in 988 CE and briefly restored the strength of the Pala Dynasty, reclaiming territories in Bihar and Bengal. However, the dynasty began to decline again under his rule.
  • Rampala: The sixteenth and final mighty king of the Pala Dynasty. Under his son Kumarapala’s rule, the kingdom disintegrated. The court poet Sandhyakar Nandi composed the dual-meaning Ramacharitam in Sanskrit.
  • Madanapala: The last known emperor of the Pala Dynasty, succeeded by the Sena dynasty. There is some debate about his ancestry, and Govindapala is mentioned as the 18th emperor, although the details are uncertain.

Administration During Pala Empire

The Gupta dynasty‘s administrative methods served as the foundation for the administration model developed by the Pala empire. The Pala Dynasty’s government was monarchical, and the families passed down the throne. The monarch, known as the king, held absolute power.

  • The Pala kings received titles of Parameshwar, Paramvattaraka, or Maharajadhiraja.
  • The King personally appointed a group of hereditary ministers from illustrious families as his assistants.
  • In the Pala Dynasty, some regions were directly ruled by the King while vassal chiefs governed others.
  • The Vassal chiefs received autonomy over the areas they controlled. They sent troops and fixed tributes to the King.
  • The areas of the Pala Dynasty that were directly handled were divided into numerous provinces known as Bhukti and were overseen by administrators known as Uparika. They collected the levy and maintained law and order in the province.
  • In addition, it is believed that Pala rulers were skilled diplomats who forged connections with several cultures to promote new trade routes.
  • They kept close cultural and commercial links with Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Religion During the Pala Dynasty

The Palas greatly supported Mahayana Buddhism. Dharmapala’s spiritual mentor was the Buddhist philosopher Haribhadra. In the Pala Dynasty, Buddhism and Hinduism were the two main religions.

  • After King Harsha Vardhana’s rule, Buddhism was almost completely lost. The Palas’ arrival rekindled interest in Buddhism throughout the Indian subcontinent.
  • They also patronised Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Priests and Brahmanas received land concessions from the King.
  • The Palas erected great monasteries during their rule. Somapura Mahavihara is one of the important viharas constructed by the Pala monarchs (now in Bangladesh).
  • During the Palas, Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to countries like Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, and Indonesia.
  • Numerous temples were constructed in Bengal, Bihar, and Assam during the Pala era.
  • As a result, a blend of Hindu and Buddhist culture developed over the lengthy Pala period and as the Pala Dynasty’s official religion.

Pala Empire Architecture

Palas Dynasty Rulers constructed several maha viharas, stupas, chaityas, temples, and forts. Most buildings were religious structures, with Buddhist and Hindu art dominating the first two centuries and the next two hundred.

  • Nalanda, Devikota, Pandita, Jagaddala, Vikram Shila, Somapura, and Traikutaka Vihara stand out among the many mahaviharas. Monks’ residences were created according to a plan.
  • At these centres, which also featured bronze image casting facilities, numerous palm-leaf texts relating to Buddhist themes were authored and embellished with pictures of Buddhist deities.
  • One of the largest Buddhist temples in the Indian subcontinent is Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, a creation of Dharmapala. Its architectural design has inspired the design of nations like Myanmar and Indonesia.

Paintings during Pala Dynasty

The religious writings on Buddhism illustrated by the Palas of eastern India contain the first instances of miniature painting in the country.

  • One of India’s first instances of miniature painting comes from the Pala School of Painting, which is also regarded as the country’s originator of the style.
  • The Buddhist monasteries (maha viharas) at Nalanda, Vikramsila, Odantapuri, and Somarupa were important hubs of the Palas painting style.
  • The artworks take the form of several palm-leaf manuscripts with Buddhist-themed illustrations.
  • White, black, blue, and red are the primary colours. The characteristics of Pala paintings are of sinuous lines, delicate and nervous lines, sensuous elegance, linear and ornamental emphasis, and muted colour tones.
  • In the Nalanda district, wall paintings have been discovered in Saradh and Sarai sthal. Images of animals and people may be seen at the bottom of the platform constructed of granite stone flowers in geometric forms.
  • The naturalistic Pala style has elements of Ajanta‘s classical art and perfect modern metal and stone sculpture shapes.
  • The best illustration is the Astasahasrika-Prajnaparamita (The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand) manuscript.

Pala Sculpture Art

The Bengali sculptors reached new heights and are renowned for their brilliance during the Pala school of sculpture, a distinctive period of Indian art. A new style of stone and metal sculpture emerged during the Pala Dynasty, and they became well-known for their bronze casting.

  • The Palas style was characterised by elegant jewellery and slim and beautiful features.
  • Numerous statues made of stone and copper were built, mostly in monastic settings like Bodh Gaya and Nalanda.
  • Buddhism served as the main source of inspiration for the sculptures. Hindu gods and goddesses, including Surya, Vishnu, Ganesh, and others, were sculpted in addition to Buddha.
  • The sculptures often solely show the frontal portions of the body.

Pala Dynasty UPSC

The Pala Dynasty, which flourished from the 8th to the 12th centuries CE, is an important topic in ancient history covered under the UPSC Syllabus. To gain a comprehensive understanding of this topic, candidates should refer to the NCERT Books for UPSC for exam preparation.

It is crucial for candidates to study the founders, rulers, administration, religion, and architecture of the Pala Dynasty, as highlighted in the provided information. Additionally, solving UPSC Previous Year Question Papers can provide valuable insights into the types of questions that may be asked in the exam, aiding in effective exam preparation.

Pala Dynasty UPSC Questions

Regularly practicing exam-specific questions will familiarize candidates with the topics and content of the exam. Experts have curated a set of questions designed to assist candidates in their practice and provide them with a better understanding of the types of questions typically asked in the exam. By engaging in such practice, candidates can enhance their preparation and boost their confidence for the actual exam.

Question: Who was the founder of the Pala Dynasty? (A) Gopala I (B) Dhrampala (C) Devpala (D) All of the above

Answer: (A) Gopala I

Question: Which of the following Pala ruler’s name is mentioned as the son of Devapala and younger brother of Shurapala I on Jagjivanpur copper plate? (A) Mahendrapala (B)Devapala (C) Narayanpala (D) Vigrahapala I

Answer: (A) Mahendrapala

Question for UPSC Mains: Analyze the significance of the Pala Dynasty in the history of medieval India. Discuss its contributions to art, culture, and education during its reign.

Question for UPSC Mains: Critically examine the political and administrative structure of the Pala Dynasty. Discuss the factors that contributed to the rise and decline of the dynasty, highlighting the role of regional alliances and external invasions.

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