Pala Empire

The Pala Empire (Bengali: পাল সাম্রাজ্য) was an imperial power during the Late Classical period on the Indian subcontinent,[4] which originated in the region of Bengal. It is named after its ruling dynasty, whose rulers bore names ending with the suffix of Pala ("protector" in Sanskrit). They were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism. The empire was founded with the election of Gopala as the emperor of Gauda in 750 CE.[5] The Pala stronghold was located in Bengal and Bihar, which included the major cities of Vikrampura, Pataliputra, Gauda, Monghyr, Somapura, Ramvati (Varendra), Tamralipta and Jaggadala.

The Palas were astute diplomats and military conquerors. Their army was noted for its vast war elephant corps. Their navy performed both mercantile and defensive roles in the Bay of Bengal. The Palas were important promoters of classical Indian philosophy, literature, painting and sculpture. They built grand temples and monasteries, including the Somapura Mahavihara, and patronised the great universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. The Proto-Bengali language developed under Pala rule. The empire enjoyed relations with the Srivijaya Empire, the Tibetan Empire and the Arab Abbasid Caliphate. Islam first appeared in Bengal during Pala rule, as a result of increased trade between Bengal and the Middle East. Abbasid coinage found in Pala archaeological sites, as well as records of Arab historians, point to flourishing mercantile and intellectual contacts. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad absorbed the mathematical and astronomical achievements of Indian civilisation during this period.[6]

At its height in the early 9th century, the Pala Empire was the dominant power in the northern Indian subcontinent, with its territory stretching across parts of modern-day eastern Pakistan, northern and northeastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.[5][7] The empire reached its peak under Emperors Dharmapala and Devapala. The Palas also exerted a strong cultural influence under Atisa in Tibet, as well as in Southeast Asia. Pala control of North India was ultimately ephemeral, as they struggled with the Gurjara-Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for the control of Kannauj and were defeated. After a short lived decline, Emperor Mahipala I defended imperial bastions in Bengal and Bihar against South Indian Chola invasions. Emperor Ramapala was the last strong Pala ruler, who gained control of Kamarupa and Kalinga. The empire was considerably weakened by the 11th century, with many areas engulfed in rebellion.

The resurgent Hindu Sena dynasty dethroned the Pala Empire in the 12th century, ending the reign of the last major Buddhist imperial power in the Indian subcontinent. The Pala period is considered one of the golden eras of Bengali history.[8][9] The Palas brought stability and prosperity to Bengal after centuries of civil war between warring divisions. They advanced the achievements of previous Bengali civilisations and created outstanding works of art and architecture. They laid the basis for the Bengali language, including its first literary work, the Charyapada. The Pala legacy is still reflected in Tibetan Buddhism.

Pala Empire

8th century–12th century
The Pala Empire in Asia in 800 CE
The Pala Empire in Asia in 800 CE
Common languagesSanskrit, Prakrit (including proto-Bengali)
Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Shaivism[3]
• 8th century
• 12th century
Historical eraClassical India
• Established
8th century
• Disestablished
12th century
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Gauda Kingdom
Chero dynasty
Sena dynasty
Today part ofBangladesh



According to the Khalimpur copper plate inscription, the first Pala king Gopala was the son of a warrior named Vapyata. The Ramacharitam attests that Varendra (North Bengal) was the fatherland (Janakabhu) of the Palas. The ethnic origins of the dynasty are unknown, although the later records claim that Gopala was a Kshatriya belonging to the legendary Solar dynasty. The Ballala-Carita states that the Palas were Kshatriyas, a claim reiterated by Taranatha in his History of Buddhism in India as well as Ghanaram Chakrabarty in his Dharmamangala (both written in the 16th century CE). The Ramacharitam also attests the fifteenth Pala emperor, Ramapala, as a Kshatriya. Claims of belonging to the legendary Solar dynasty are unreliable and clearly appear to be an attempt to cover up the humble origins of the dynasty.[9] The Pala dynasty has also been branded as Śudra in some sources such as Manjushri-Mulakalpa; this might be because of their Buddhist leanings.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] According to Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak (in Ain-i-Akbari), the Palas were Kayasthas. There are even accounts that claim Gopala may have been from a Brahmin lineage.[17][18]


After the fall of Shashanka's kingdom, the Bengal region was in a state of anarchy. There was no central authority, and there was constant struggle between petty chieftains. The contemporary writings describe this situation as matsya nyaya ("fish justice" i.e. a situation where the big fish eat the small fish). Gopala ascended the throne as the first Pala king during these times. The Khalimpur copper plate suggests that the prakriti (people) of the region made him the king.[9] Taranatha, writing nearly 800 years later, also writes that he was democratically elected by the people of Bengal. However, his account is in form of a legend, and is considered historically unreliable. The legend mentions that after a period of anarchy, the people elected several kings in succession, all of whom were consumed by the Naga queen of an earlier king on the night following their election. Gopal, however managed to kill the queen and remained on the throne.[19] The historical evidence indicates that Gopala was not elected directly by his citizens, but by a group of feudal chieftains. Such elections were quite common in contemporary societies of the region.[9][19]

Gopala's ascension was a significant political event as the several independent chiefs recognised his political authority without any struggle.[8]

Expansion under Dharmapala and Devapala

Indian Kanauj triangle map
An illustration of the Kannauj triangle

Gopala's empire was greatly expanded by his son Dharmapala and his grandson Devapala. Dharmapala was initially defeated by the Pratihara ruler Vatsaraja. Later, the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva defeated both Dharmapala and Vatsaraja. After Dhruva left for the Deccan region, Dharmapala built a mighty empire in the northern India. He defeated Indrayudha of Kannauj, and installed his own nominee Chakrayudha on the throne of Kannauj. Several other smaller states in North India also acknowledged his suzerainty. Soon, his expansion was checked by Vatsaraja's son Nagabhata II, who conquered Kannauj and drove away Chakrayudha. Nagabhata II then advanced up to Munger and defeated Dharmapala in a pitched battle. Dharmapala was forced to surrender and to seek alliance with the Rashtrakuta emperor Govinda III, who then intervened by invading northern India and defeating Nagabhata II.[20][21] The Rashtrakuta records show that both Chakrayudha and Dharmapala recognised the Rashtrakuta suzerainty. In practice, Dharmapala gained control over North India after Govinda III left for the Deccan. He adopted the title Paramesvara Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja.[8]

Dharmapala was succeeded by his son Devapala, who is regarded as the most powerful Pala ruler.[8] His expeditions resulted in the invasion of Pragjyotisha (present-day Assam) where the king submitted without giving a fight and the Utkala (present-day Orissa) whose king fled from his capital city.[22] The inscriptions of his successors also claim several other territorial conquests by him, but these are highly exaggerated (see the Geography section below).[9][23]

First period of decline

Following the death of Devapala, the Pala empire gradually started disintegrating. Vigrahapala, who was Devapala's nephew, abdicated the throne after a brief rule, and became an ascetic. Vigrahapala's son and successor Narayanapala proved to be a weak ruler. During his reign, the Rashtrakuta king Amoghavarsha defeated the Palas. Encouraged by the Pala decline, the King Harjara of Assam assumed imperial titles and the Sailodbhavas established their power in Orissa.[8]

Naryanapala's son Rajyapala ruled for at least 12 years, and constructed several public utilities and lofty temples. His son Gopala II lost Bengal after a few years of rule, and then ruled only Bihar. The next king, Vigrahapala II, had to bear the invasions from the Chandelas and the Kalachuris. During his reign, the Pala empire disintegrated into smaller kingdoms like Gauda, Radha, Anga and Vanga. Kantideva of Harikela (eastern and southern Bengal) also assumed the title Maharajadhiraja, and established a separate kingdom, later ruled by the Chandra dynasty.[8] The Gauda state (West and North Bengal) was ruled by the Kamboja Pala dynasty. The rulers of this dynasty also bore names ending in the suffix -pala (e.g. Rajyapala, Narayanapala and Nayapala). However, their origin is uncertain, and the most plausible view is that they originated from a Pala official who usurped a major part of the Pala kingdom along with its capital.[8][9]

Revival under Mahipala I

Mahipala I recovered northern and eastern Bengal within three years of ascending the throne in 988 CE. He also recovered the northern part of the present-day Burdwan division. During his reign, Rajendra Chola I of the Chola Empire frequently invaded Bengal from 1021 to 1023 CE to get Ganges water and in the process, succeeded to humble the rulers, acquiring considerable booty. The rulers of Bengal who were defeated by Rajendra Chola were Dharmapal, Ranasur and Govindachandra, who might have been feudatories under Mahipala I of the Pala Dynasty.[24] Rajendra Chola I also defeated Mahipala, and obtained from the Pala king "elephants of rare strength, women and treasure".[25] Mahipala also gained control of north and south Bihar, probably aided by the invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni, which exhausted the strength of other rulers of North India. He may have also conquered Varanasi and surrounding area, as his brothers Sthirapala and Vasantapala undertook construction and repairs of several sacred structures at Varanasi. Later, the Kalachuri king Gangeyadeva annexed Varanasi after defeating the ruler of Anga, which could have been Mahipala I.[8]

Second period of decline

Nayapala, the son of Mahipala I, defeated the Kalachuri king Karna (son of Ganggeyadeva) after a long struggle. The two later signed a peace treaty at the mediation of the Buddhist scholar Atiśa. During the reign of Nayapala's son Vigrahapala III, Karna once again invaded Bengal but was defeated. The conflict ended with a peace treaty, and Vigrahapala III married Karna's daughter Yauvanasri. Vigrahapala III was later defeated by the invading Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI. The invasion of Vikramaditya VI saw several soldiers from South India into Bengal, which explains the southern origin of the Sena Dynasty.[26] Vigrahapala III also faced another invasion led by the Somavamsi king Mahasivagupta Yayati of Orissa. Subsequently, a series of invasions considerably reduced the power of the Palas. The Varmans occupied eastern Bengal during his reign.[8][9]

Mahipala II, the successor of Vigrahapala III, brought a short-lived reign of military glory. His reign is well-documented by Sandhyakar Nandi in Ramacharitam. Mahipala II imprisoned his brothers Ramapala and Surapala II, on the suspicion that they were conspiring against him. Soon afterwards, he faced a rebellion of vassal chiefs from the Kaibarta (fishermen). A chief named Divya (or Divvoka) killed him and occupied the Varendra region. The region remained under the control of his successors Rudak and Bhima. Surapala II escaped to Magadha and died after a short reign. He was succeeded by his brother Ramapala, who launched a major offensive against Divya's grandson Bhima. He was supported by his maternal uncle Mathana of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, as well as several feudatory chiefs of south Bihar and south-west Bengal. Ramapala conclusively defeated Bhima, and killing him and his family in a cruel manner.[8][9]

Revival under Ramapala

Avalokiteshvara and Scenes from the Buddha's Life (a), Maitreya and Scenes from the Buddha's Life (b), Two Folios from a Prajnaparamita (The Perfection of Wisdom) LACMA M.72.1.19a-b (1 of 4)
Maitreya and scenes from the Buddha's life. Folios were probably from the Pala period under Ramapala, considered the last great ruler of the Pala dynasty.

After gaining control of Varendra, Ramapala tried to revive the Pala empire with limited success. He ruled from a new capital at Ramavati, which remained the Pala capital until the dynasty's end. He reduced taxation, promoted cultivation and constructed public utilities. He brought Kamarupa and Rar under his control, and forced the Varman king of east Bengal to accept his suzerainty. He also struggled with the Ganga king for control of present-day Orissa; the Gangas managed to annexe the region only after his death. Ramapala maintained friendly relations with the Chola king Kulottunga to secure support against the common enemies: the Ganas and the Chalukyas. He kept the Senas in check, but lost Mithila to a Karnataka chief named Nanyuadeva. He also held back the aggressive design of the Gahadavala ruler Govindacharndra through a matrimonial alliance.[8][9]

Final decline

Ramapala was the last strong Pala ruler. After his death, a rebellion broke out in Kamarupa during his son Kumarapala's reign. The rebellion was crushed by Vaidyadeva, but after Kumarapala's death, Vaidyadeva practically created a separate kingdom.[8] According to Ramacharitam, Kumarapala's son Gopala III was murdered by his uncle Madanapala. During Madanapala's rule, the Varmans in east Bengal declared independence, and the Eastern Gangas renewed the conflict in Orissa. Madanapala captured Munger from the Gahadavalas, but was defeated by Vijayasena, who gained control of southern and eastern Bengal. A ruler named Govindapala ruled over the Gaya district around 1162 CE, but there is no concrete evidence about his relationship to the imperial Palas. The Pala dynasty was replaced by the Sena dynasty.[9]


The borders of the Pala Empire kept fluctuating throughout its existence. Though the Palas conquered a vast region in North India at one time, they could not retain it for long due to constant hostility from the Gurjara-Pratiharas, the Rashtrakutas and other less powerful kings.[27]

No records are available about the exact boundaries of original kingdom established by Gopala, but it might have included almost all of the Bengal region.[8] The Pala empire extended substantially under Dharmapala's rule. Apart from Bengal, he directly ruled the present-day Bihar. The kingdom of Kannauj (present-day Uttar Pradesh) was a Pala dependency at times, ruled by his nominee Chakrayudha.[8] While installing his nominee on the Kannauj throne, Dharmapala organised an imperial court. According to the Khalimpur copper plate issued by Dharmapala, this court was attended by the rulers of Bhoja (possibly Vidarbha), Matsya (Jaipur region), Madra (East Punjab), Kuru (Delhi region), Yadu (possibly Mathura, Dwarka or Simhapura in the Punjab), Yavana, Avanti, Gandhara and Kira (Kangra Valley).[9][28] These kings accepted the installation of Chakrayudha on the Kannauj throne, while "bowing down respectfully with their diadems trembling".[29] This indicates that his position as a sovereign was accepted by most rulers, although this was a loose arrangement unlike the empire of the Mauryas or the Guptas. The other rulers acknowledged the military and political supremacy of Dharmapala, but maintained their own territories.[9] The poet Soddhala of Gujarat calls Dharmapala an Uttarapathasvamin ("Lord of the North") for his suzerainty over North India.[30]

The epigraphic records credit Devapala with extensive conquests in hyperbolic language. The Badal pillar inscription of his successor Narayana Pala states that by the wise counsel and policy of his Brahmin minister Darbhapani, Devapala became the suzerain monarch or Chakravarti of the whole tract of Northern India bounded by the Vindhyas and the Himalayas. It also states that his empire extended up to the two oceans (presumably the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal). It also claims that Devpala defeated Utkala (present-day Orissa), the Hunas, the Kambojas, the Dravidas, the Kamarupa (present-day Assam), and the Gurjaras:[8]

  • The Gurjara adversary may have been Mihira Bhoja, whose eastward expansion was checked by Devapala
  • The identity of the Huna king is uncertain.
  • The identity of the Kamboja prince is also uncertain. While an ancient country with the name Kamboja was located in what is now Afghanistan, there is no evidence that Devapala's empire extended that far. Kamboja, in this inscription, could refer to the Kamboja tribe that had entered North India (see Kamboja Pala dynasty).
  • The Dravida king is usually identified with the Rashtrakuta king Amoghavarsha. Some scholars believe that the Dravida king could have been the Pandya ruler Shri Mara Shri Vallabha, since "Dravida" usually refers to the territory south of the Krishna river. According to this theory, Devapala could have been helped in his southern expedition by the Chandela king Vijaya. In any case, Devapala's gains in the south, if any, were temporary.

The claims about Devapala's victories are exaggerated, but cannot be dismissed entirely: there is no reason to doubt his conquest of Utkala and Kamarupa. Besides, the neighbouring kingdoms of Rashtrakutas and the Gurjara-Pratiharas were weak at the time, which might have helped him extend his empire.[23] Devapala is also believed to have led an army up to the Indus river in Punjab.[8]

The empire started disintegrated after the death of Devapala, and his successor Narayanapala lost control of Assam and Orissa. He also briefly lost control over Magadha and north Bengal. Gopala II lost control of Bengal, and ruled only from a part of Bihar. The Pala empire disintegrated into smaller kingdoms during the reign of Vigrahapala II. Mahipala recovered parts of Bengal and Bihar. His successors lost Bengal again. The last strong Pala ruler, Ramapala, gained control of Bengal, Bihar, Assam and parts of Orissa.[8] By the time of Madanapala's death, the Pala kingdom was confined to parts of central and east Bihar along with northern Bengal.[8]


The Pala rule was monarchial. The king was the centre of all power. Pala kings would adopt imperial titles like Parameshwara, Paramvattaraka, Maharajadhiraja. Pala kings appointed Prime Ministers. The Line of Garga served as the Prime Ministers of the Palas for 100 years.

  • Garga
  • Darvapani (or Darbhapani)
  • Someshwar
  • Kedarmisra
  • Bhatta Guravmisra

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 widespread area from the grass root level to the imperial court.[31]

The Pala copperplates mention following administrative posts:[32]

  • Raja
  • Rajanyaka
  • Ranaka (possibly subordinate chiefs)
  • Samanta and Mahasamanta (Vassal kings)
  • Mahasandhi-vigrahika (Foreign minister)
  • Duta (Head Ambassador)
  • Rajasthaniya (Deputy)
  • Aggaraksa (Chief guard)
  • Sasthadhikrta (Tax collector)
  • Chauroddharanika (Police tax)
  • Shaulkaka (Trade tax)
  • Dashaparadhika (Collector of penalties)
  • Tarika (Toll collector for river crossings)
  • Mahaksapatalika (Accountant)
  • Jyesthakayastha (Dealing documents)
  • Ksetrapa (Head of land use division) and Pramatr (Head of land measurements)
  • Mahadandanayaka or Dharmadhikara (Chief justice)
  • Mahapratihara
  • Dandika
  • Dandapashika
  • Dandashakti (Police forces)
  • Khola (Secret service). Agricultural posts like Gavadhakshya (Head of dairy farms)
  • Chhagadhyakshya (Head of goat farms)
  • Meshadyakshya (Head of sheep farms)
  • Mahishadyakshya (Head of Buffalo farms) and many other like Vogpati
  • Vishayapati
  • Shashtadhikruta
  • Dauhshashadhanika
  • Nakadhyakshya



Nalanda is considered one of the first great universities in recorded history. It reached its height under the Palas.
Atisha was a Buddhist teacher, who helped establish the Sarma lineages of Tibetan 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.[33] The subsequent Pala kings were definitely Buddhists. Taranatha states that Gopala was a staunch Buddhist, who had built the famous monastery at Odantapuri.[34] Dharmapala made the Buddhist philosopher Haribhadra his spiritual preceptor. He established the Vikramashila monastery and the Somapura Mahavihara. Taranatha also credits him with establishing 50 religious institutions and patronising the Buddhist author Hariibhadra. Devapala restored and enlarged the structures at Somapura Mahavihara, which also features several themes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Mahipala I also ordered construction and repairs of several sacred structures at Saranath, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya.[8] The Mahipala geet ("songs of Mahipala"), a set of folk songs about him, are still popular in the rural areas of Bengal.

The Palas developed the Buddhist centres of learnings, 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. Noted Buddhist scholars from the Pala period include Atisha, Santaraksita, Saraha, Tilopa, Bimalamitra, Dansheel, Dansree, Jinamitra, Jnanasrimitra, Manjughosh, Muktimitra, Padmanava, Sambhogabajra, Shantarakshit, Silabhadra, Sugatasree and Virachan.

As the rulers of Gautama Buddha's land, the Palas acquired great reputation in the Buddhist world. 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.[35] The request was granted by Devapala. He appointed the Brahmin Viradeva (of Nagarahara, present-day Jalalabad) as the head of the Nalanda monastery. The Budhdist poet Vajradatta (the author of Lokesvarashataka), was in his court.[8] The Buddhist scholars from the Pala empire travelled from Bengal to other regions to propagate Buddhism. Atisha, for example, preached in Tibet and Sumatra, and is seen as one of the major figures in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana Buddhism.

The Palas also supported the Saiva ascetics, typically the ones associated with the Golagi-Math.[36] Narayana Pala himself established a temple of Shiva, and was present at the place of sacrifice by his Brahmin minister.[37] Queen of King Madanapaladeva, namely Chitramatika, made a gift of land to a Brahmin named Bateswara Swami as his remuneration for chanting the Mahabharata at her request, according to the principle of the Bhumichhidranyaya. Besides the images of the Buddhist deities, the images of Vishnu, Siva and Sarasvati were also constructed during the Pala dynasty rule.[38]


The Palas patronised several Sanskrit scholars, some of whom were their officials. The Gauda riti style of composition was developed during the Pala rule. Many Buddhist Tantric works were authored and translated during the Pala rule. Besides the Buddhist scholars mentioned in the Religion section above, Jimutavahana, Sandhyakar Nandi, Madhava-kara, Suresvara and Chakrapani Datta are some of the other notable scholars from the Pala period.[8]

The notable Pala texts on philosophy include Agama Shastra by Gaudapada, Nyaya Kundali by Sridhar Bhatta and Karmanushthan Paddhati by Bhatta Bhavadeva. The texts on medicine include

  • Chikitsa Samgraha, Ayurveda Dipika, Bhanumati, Shabda Chandrika and Dravya Gunasangraha by Chakrapani Datta
  • Shabda-Pradipa, Vrikkhayurveda and Lohpaddhati by Sureshwara
  • Chikitsa Sarsamgraha by Vangasena
  • Sushrata by Gadadhara Vaidya
  • Dayabhaga, Vyavohara Matrika and Kalaviveka by Jimutavahana

Sandhyakar Nandi's semi-fictional epic Ramacharitam (12th century) is an important source of Pala history.

A form of the proto-Bengali language can be seen in the Charyapadas composed during the Pala rule.[8]

Art and architecture

The Pala school of sculptural art is recognised as a distinct phase of the Indian art, and is noted for the artistic genius of the Bengal sculptors.[39] It is influenced by the Gupta art.[40]

Lalita statue

A basalt statue of Lalita flanked by Gaṇeśa and Kārttikeya

Carved Conch

Carved shankhas

Khasarpana Lokesvara

Sculpture of Khasarpana Lokesvara from Nalanda

Nswag, india bengala occidentale, periodo pala (760-1142) varana che libera la dea della terra bhudevi, X sec.

Sculpture of Varaha avatar of Lord Vishnu

As noted earlier, the Palas built a number of monasteries and other sacred structures. The Somapura Mahavihara in present-day Bangladesh is a World Heritage Site. It is a monastery with 21 acre (85,000 m²) complex has 177 cells, numerous stupas, temples and a number of other ancillary buildings. The gigantic structures of other Viharas, including Vikramashila, Odantapuri, and Jagaddala are the other masterpieces of the Palas. These mammoth structures were mistaken by the forces of Bakhtiyar Khalji as fortified castles and were demolished. The art of Bihar and Bengal during the Pala and Sena dynasties influenced the art of Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Java.[41]

Naogaon Paharpur 11Oct12 IMG 3656

Somapura Mahavihara, a World Heritage Site, was built by Dharmapala

Central Sherine deccor-Paharpur

Central shrine decor at Somapura

Vikramshila 2012-08-10-17.48.39

Ruins of Vikramashila

List of Pala rulers

Most of the Pala inscriptions mention only the regnal year as the date of issue, without any well-known calendar era. Because of this, the chronology of the Pala kings is hard to determine.[42] Based on their different interpretations of the various epigraphs and historical records, different historians estimate the Pala chronology as follows:[43]

RC Majumdar (1971)[44] AM Chowdhury (1967)[45] BP Sinha (1977)[46] DC Sircar (1975–76)[47] D. K. Ganguly (1994)[42]
Gopala I 750–770 756–781 755–783 750–775 750–774
Dharmapala 770–810 781–821 783–820 775–812 774–806
Devapala 810–c. 850 821–861 820–860 812–850 806–845
Mahendrapala NA (Mahendrapala's existence was conclusively established through a copper-plate charter discovered later.) 845–860
Shurapala I 850–853 861–866 860–865 850–858 860–872
Vigrahapala I 858–60 872–873
Narayanapala 854–908 866–920 865–920 860–917 873–927
Rajyapala 908–940 920–952 920–952 917–952 927–959
Gopala II 940–957 952–969 952–967 952–972 959–976
Vigrahapala II 960–c. 986 969–995 967–980 972–977 976–977
Mahipala I 988–c. 1036 995–1043 980–1035 977–1027 977–1027
Nayapala 1038–1053 1043–1058 1035–1050 1027–1043 1027–1043
Vigrahapala III 1054–1072 1058–1075 1050–1076 1043–1070 1043–1070
Mahipala II 1072–1075 1075–1080 1076–1078/9 1070–1071 1070–1071
Shurapala 1075–1077 1080–1082 1071–1072 1071–1072
Ramapala 1077–1130 1082–1124 1078/9–1132 1072–1126 1072–1126
Kumarapala 1130–1125 1124–1129 1132–1136 1126–1128 1126–1128
Gopala III 1140–1144 1129–1143 1136–1144 1128–1143 1128–1143
Madanapala 1144–1162 1143–1162 1144–1161/62 1143–1161 1143–1161
Govindapala 1155–1159 NA 1162–1176 or 1158–1162 1161–1165 1161–1165
Palapala NA NA NA 1165–1199 1165–1200


  • Earlier historians believed that Vigrahapala I and Shurapala I were the two names of the same person. Now, it is known that these two were cousins; they either ruled simultaneously (perhaps over different territories) or in rapid succession.
  • AM Chowdhury rejects Govindapala and his successor Palapala as the members of the imperial Pala dynasty.
  • According to BP Sinha, the Gaya inscription can be read as either the "14th year of Govindapala's reign" or "14th year after Govindapala's reign". Thus, two sets of dates are possible.


The highest military officer in the Pala empire was the Mahasenapati (commander-in-chief). The Palas recruited mercenary soldiers from a number of kingdoms, including Malava, Khasa, Huna, Kulika, Kanrata, Lata, Odra and Manahali. According to the contemporary accounts, the Rashtrakutas had the best infantry, the Gurjara-Pratiharas had the finest cavalry and the Palas had the largest elephant force. The Arab merchant Sulaiman states that the Palas had an army bigger than those of the Balhara (possibly the Rashtrakutas) and the king of Jurz (possibly the Gurjara-Pratiharas). He also states that the Pala army employed 10,000–15,000 men for fuelling and washing clothes. He further claims that during the battles, the Pala king would lead 50,000 war elephants. Sulaiman's accounts seem to be based on exaggerated reports; Ibn Khaldun mentions the number of elephants as 5,000.[48]

Since Bengal did not have a good native breed of horses, the Palas imported their cavalry horses from the foreigners, including the Kambojas. They also had a navy, used for both mercantile and defence purposes.[49]

See also


The main sources of information about the Pala empire include:[50]

Pala accounts
  • Various epigraphs, coins, sculptures and architecture
  • Ramacharita, a Sanskrit work by Abhinanda (9th century)
  • Ramacharitam, a Sanskrit epic by Sandhyakar Nandi (12th century)
  • Subhasita Ratnakosa, a Sanskrit compilation by Vidyakara (towards the end of the Pala rule)
Other accounts
  • Silsiltut-Tauarikh by the Arab merchant Suleiman (951 CE), who referred to the Pala kingdom as Ruhmi or Rahma
  • Dpal dus khyi 'khor lo'i chos bskor gyi byung khungs nyer mkh (History of Buddhism in India) by Taranatha (1608), contains a few traditional legends and hearsays about the Pala rule
  • Ain-i-Akbari by Abu'l-Fazl (16th-century)


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Bhurshut (Bengali: ভুরশুট Bhurasuta)/ Bhurisrestha was a medieval Hindu kingdom spread across what is now Howrah and Hooghly districts in the Indian state of West Bengal.Bhurshut kingdom grew up in the southern parts of Rarh region. It had a high concentration of Bhurisresthis, a community of traders and as such came to be called Bhurshut. However, it was possibly the main centre of Rarhi Brahmins. It could have been ruled by a Sur king during the period when the Pala Empire was a rising force. Different feudatory kings may have ruled over the kingdom. At a later time there is mention in folklore of a Dhibar dynasty, possibly in the 14th–15th century. Subsequently, the area came to be ruled by a Brahmin family.Shanibhangar, the last Dhibar king of Burshut, was defeated by Chaturanan Neogi of Garh Bhawanipur. Chaturanan's grandson (by his daughter) Krishna Roy of the Mukhti royal family of Phulia took over the reins and established the Brahmin dynasty of Bhurshut. Krishna Roy ruled in 1583–84, at a time when Akbar was the Mughal emperor. Krishna Roy's great-grandson Pratap Narayan Roy (ruled around 1652–1684) was the greatest of Bhurshut kings. There is mention about the exemplary bravery of a lady of the family, popularly referred to as Roy Baghini, but it is difficult to identify the person. She is probably named Rani Bhavashankari Devi.

In Ain-i-Akbari it is mentioned that amongst the thirty-one mahals under Sirkar Suleimanabad, the highest revenue was earned by Basandhari pargana, followed by Bhurshut. No other pargana under Sirkar Satgaon or Sirkar Mandaran earned so much revenue. Bhurshut was conquered by Kirtichand Rai of Bardhaman in the 18th century.Bhushut kingdom had three forts at Garh Bhabanipur, Pandua (Pedo or Pedo Basantapur) and Rajbalhat. There is hardly any trace of these forts, There still is a place called Dihi Bhurshut in Howrah district, across the Damodar from Rajbalhat.Bharatchandra Ray, ‘Raygunakar’, 18th-century Bengali poet, hailed from Pedo Bhurshut and possibly belonged to the ruling family of Bhurshut kingdom.

Bikrampur Vihara

Bikrampur Vihara is an ancient Buddhist vihara at Raghurampur village, Bikrampur, Munshiganj District in Bangladesh.

Chandra dynasty

The Chandra dynasty was a Buddhist dynasty, originating from the Indian subcontinent, which ruled the Samatata region of Bengal, as well as northern Arakan. The reign of the dynasty was between the 10th and 11th centuries. It was a neighbor to the more powerful Pala Empire to the north.


The Charyapada is a collection of mystical poems, songs of realization in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism from the tantric tradition during the Pala Empire in Ancient Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa.It was written in an Abahatta that was the ancestor of Assamese, Bengali, Sylheti, Oriya, Maithilli and many other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages between the 8th and 12th centuries and it is said to be the oldest collection of verses written in those languages. A palm-leaf manuscript of the Charyapada was rediscovered in the early 20th century by Haraprasad Shastri at the Nepal Royal Court Library. The Charyapada was also preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.

As songs of realization, the Charyapada were intended to be sung. These songs of realisation were spontaneously composed verses that expressed a practitioner's experience of the enlightened state. Miranda Shaw describes how 'songs of realization were an element of the ritual gathering of practitioners in a ganachakra: The feast culminates in the performance of tantric dances and music, that must never be disclosed to outsiders. The revellers may also improvise "songs of realization" (caryagiti) to express their heightened clarity and blissful raptures in spontaneous verse.

Devapala (Pala dynasty)

Devapala (9th century) was the most powerful ruler of the Pala Empire of Bengal region in the Indian Subcontinent. He was the third king in the line, and had succeeded his father Dharamapala. Devapala expanded the frontiers of the empire by conquering the present-day Assam and Orissa. The Pala inscriptions also credit him with several other victories, but these claims are thought to be exaggerated.

Dharmapala (emperor)

Dharmapala (ruled 8th century) was the second ruler of the Pala Empire of Bengal region in the Indian Subcontinent. He was the son and successor of Gopala, the founder of the Pala Dynasty. He greatly expanded the boundaries of the empire, and made the Palas a dominant power in the northern and eastern India.

Dharmapala directly ruled over the present-day Bengal and Bihar, and installed a nominee at Kannauj. The Pala chronicles also claim that several other rulers of North India acknowledged his suzerainty, but these claims seem to be exaggerated. Dharmapala was defeated twice by the Gurjara-Pratiharas, but each time the Rashtrakutas subsequently defeated the Pratiharas, leaving Palas as the dominant power in North India. Dharmapala was succeeded by his son Devapala who further expanded the empire.

Gauḍa (city)

Gauḍa (also known as Gaur, Gour, Lakhnauti, and Jannatabad) was one of the prominent capital cities in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It is located on the border between modern-day India and Bangladesh, with most of its ruins on the Indian side and a few structures on the Bangladeshi side. The course of the Ganges River was located near the city before a change in the course of the river. Gauda rivaled other imperial cities in the Indian subcontinent in terms of wealth and population.

Gauda was the capital city of Bengal under several kingdoms. The Gauda region was also a province of several pan-Indian empires. During the 7th century, the Gauda Kingdom was founded by King Shashanka, whose reign corresponds with the beginning of the Bengali calendar. The Pala Empire was founded in Gauda during the 8th century. The empire ruled large parts of the northern Indian subcontinent. Gauda was also the seat of the Sena dynasty until its overthrow by the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th-century.

For over one hundred years between 1450 and 1565, Gauda was the capital of the Bengal Sultanate. The Portuguese left detailed accounts of the city. The Sultans built a citadel, many mosques, a royal palace, canals and bridges. Buildings featured glazed tiles. It became one of the most densely populated cities in the Indian subcontinent. The city thrived until the collapse of the Bengal Sultanate in the 16th-century when the Mughal Empire took control of the region. Most of the surviving structures in Gauda are from the period of the Bengal Sultanate.

Today, much of the ruins of Gauda are located along the Bangladesh-India border. Most of the ruins are located on the Indian side in the Malda district of West Bengal. The Chapai Nawabganj district of Bangladesh also hosts remnants of the former capital.

Halud Vihara

Halud Vihara is 14.5 kilometres (9.0 mi) west-southwest from the World Heritage Site of Somapura Mahavihara, at Pahapur in the Naogaon District of Bangladesh.The main feature of the site is "a large mound 100 feet across and 25 feet high", but there are other mounds and remains of brick structures. Some sculpture has been removed from the site, which has also suffered considerably from the local inhabitants removing bricks for reuse. It is located at Halud Vihara village, which is also locally known as Dvipganj. Excavations show that it was an early Medieval Buddhist site, from a similar time period to Somapura Mahavihara and to the Sitakot Vihara in Nawabganj Upazila of Dinajpur District.


Kannauj (formerly Cannodge), is a city, administrative headquarters and a municipal board or Nagar Palika Parishad in Kannauj district in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The city's name is a modern form of the classical name Kanyakubja. It was also known as Mahodaya during the time of Gurjara-Pratihara Emperor Mihira Bhoja, around the 9th century.

Kannauj is an ancient city. It is said that Kanyakubja Brahmins of whom Shandilya (of whom Rishi Bharadwaj was one of the disciples) is held to have constituted one of the three prominent families originally from Kannauj. During Classical India, it served as the center of imperial Indian dynasties. The earliest was under Maukhari dynasty, and later, Emperor Harsha of the Vardhana dynasty. Between the 7th and 11th century, Kannauj became the center of the Tripartite struggle, that lasted for more than two centuries between the Pala Empire, Rashtrakuta Empire, and Gurjara-Pratihara Empire. The city later came under the Gahadavala dynasty, under the rule of Govindachandra, the city reached "unprecedented glory".

However, the "glory of Imperial Kannauj" ended with conquests of the Delhi Sultanate.Kannauj famous for distilling of scents is known as India’s perfume capital and is famous for its traditional Kannauj Perfume, a government protected entity, Kannauj itself has more than 200 perfume distilleries and is a market center for tobacco, Ittar (perfume), and rose water. It has given its name to a distinct dialect of the Hindustani known as Kanauji, which has two different codes or registers.

Khadga dynasty

The Khadga dynasty was a dynasty which ruled the areas of Vanga and Samatata in Bengal from the mid 7th to early 8th Century CE. Chronologically, the dynasty emerged as a powerful kingdom between the fall of Gauda Kingdom and the rise of the Pala Empire. While they did not assume imperial titles, they retained sovereignty over the ancient kingdom of Vanga and later conquered Samatata.

List of wars involving Bangladesh

This is a list of battles and wars that involved and occurred in Bangladesh, or Bengal throughout different periods in history. Most of the battles and wars occurred when the modern area of Bengal was under different empires, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Empire, and the Bengalis served in both the Mughal and the British militaries. Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, it has its own military.


Mahipala (or Mahipala I; r. 988–1038) was a notable king of the Pala dynasty, which ruled over much of the Eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, between the 8th and 12th century. He was the son and successor of Vigrahapala II. Mahipala's reign marked a resurgence in fortunes for the Pala empire whose boundaries were expanded as far as Varanasi. His rule was however temporarily hampered by the northern expedition of the Chola king, Rajendra I.Mahipala was succeeded by his son, Nayapala.

Nalanda inscription

The Nalanda inscription is an ancient Buddhist inscription located in Nalanda, within the present day Bihar state of Northeastern India. It has been dated to 860 CE.

The inscription talks about king Devapaladeva of Bengala (Pala Empire) who had granted the request of Sri Maharaja of Suvarnadvipa, Balaputra, to build a Buddhist monastery at Nalanda. Balaputra was mentioned as the son of Samaragrawira, grandson of Śailendravamsatilaka (the jewel of the Śailendra family) with stylized name Śrīviravairimathana (the slayer of enemy hero), king of Java that married Tārā, daughter of Dharmasetu.It was found by Hirananda Shastri in 1921 in the antechamber of Monastery 1 at Nalanda.

Pandit Vihara

Pandit Vihara is a Buddhist vihara of ancient Bengal called Chaityabhumi is now known as Chittagong in Bangladesh. The site is located in Anwara Upazila near the city of Chittagong, and was a centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c. 1200 CE.


Pataliputra (Sanskrit: पाटलिपुत्र, IAST: Pāṭaliputra), adjacent to modern-day Patna, was a city in ancient India, originally built by Magadha ruler Udayin in 490 BCE as a small fort (Pāṭaligrāma) near the Ganges river.

It became the capital of major powers in ancient India, such as the Shishunaga Empire (c. 413–345 BCE), Nanda Empire (c. 345–320 BCE), the Maurya Empire (c. 320–180 BCE), the Gupta Empire (c. 320–550 CE), and the Pala Empire (c. 750–1200 CE). During the Maurya period (see below), it became one of the largest cities in the world. As per the Greek diplomat, traveler and historian Megasthenes, during the Mauryan Empire (c. 320–180 BCE) it was among the first cities in the world to have a highly efficient form of local self government.Extensive archaeological excavations have been made in the vicinity of modern Patna. Excavations early in the 20th century around Patna revealed clear evidence of large fortification walls, including reinforcing wooden trusses.


The Ramacharitam is a Sanskrit epic poem written in Arya metre by Sandhyakar Nandi during Pala Empire, between approximately 1050 and 1150 CE. This work simultaneously narrates the story of the Ramayana and the Pala king Ramapala. The work is biased in favour of Ramapala, but remains an important historical source for the Pala history.The text details the historical events in Bengal from the assassination of the Pala emperor Mahipala II by Divya, a rebel Kaivarta officer up to the reign of Madanapala in 215 verses, by using a figure of speech, the Shlesha (double-meaning words) in each verse.A palm-leaf manuscript of the Ramacharitam discovered by Haraprasad Shastri is preserved in the museum of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata.

Somapura Mahavihara

Somapura Mahavihara (Bengali: সোমপুর মহাবিহার Shompur Môhabihar) in Paharpur, Badalgachhi Upazila, Naogaon District, Bangladesh is among the best known Buddhist viharas in the Indian Subcontinent and is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It dates from a similar time period to the nearby Halud Vihara and to the Sitakot Vihara in Nawabganj Upazila of Dinajpur District.

Tripartite Struggle

The Tripartite Struggle for control of northern India took place in the ninth century. The struggle was between the Pratihara Empire, the Pala Empire and the Rashtrakuta Empire.

Towards the end of the successor of Nagabhata II (of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty), he successfully attacked Kanauj and established control there. This was short-lived as he was soon after defeated by the Rastrakuta ruler, Govinda III. However, the Rastrakutas also formed a matrimonial relationship with the Gangas and defeated the kingdom of Vengi. By the end of the 9th Century, the power of the Rastrakutas started to decline along with the Palas. This was seen as an ideal opportunity by the feudal king Taila II who defeated the Rastrakuta ruler and declared his kingdom there. This came to be known the Later Chalukya dynasty. Their kingdom included the states of Karnataka, Konkan, and the northern Godavari. By the end of the tripartite struggle, the Pratiharas emerged victorious and established themselves as the rulers of central India.

Varendra rebellion

The Varendra rebellion (also known as the Kaivarta revolt) means the revolt against King Mahipala II led by Divya. The Kaivarta were able to capture Varendra by this rebellion. Later on, in 1082 CE, King Rampala was succeed to recapture his fatherland Varendra by defeating Vim with the assistance of neighboring vassals. Thus, the first revolt of rebellious Kaibarta came to an end.

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