Pala Dynasty – Rulers, Administration, Art & Architecture

The Pala Dynasty

  • A number of powerful empires arose in northern India and the Deccan between AD 750 and 1000. These were the Pala Dynasty, the Pratihara Empire, and the Rashtrakuta Empire. Each of these empires fought among themselves to extend their dominance.
  • The Pala Dynasty, which originated in the region of Bengal as an imperial power during the Late Classical period on the Indian subcontinent.
  • The dynasty was named after its ruling dynasty, whose rulers bore names ending with the suffix of Palau, which meant “protector”. They were followers of the Mahayana and Buddhism.
  • Gopala founded the dynasty in 750 AD. He was a chieftain or military general who was elected as king by notable men of the area to prevent anarchy.
  • The Pala period is also known as a ‘Golden Era’ in Bengali history.

Origin of Pala Dynasty

    • The Pala Empire was founded by Gopala probably in 750 AD. He was not a hereditary king; rather he was elected by the notable men of the area to avoid a state of anarchy, After the fall of Shashanka’s kingdom in the Bengal region. Gopala’s empire was greatly expanded by his son Dharmapala and his grandson Devapala.
    • In 770, he was succeeded by his son Dharmapala who ruled till 810.

Rulers of Pala Dynasty

List of Pala rulers
Gopala I 750–770
Dharmapala 770–810
Devapala 810 – 850
Shurapala I 850 – 853
Narayanapala 854–908
Rajyapala 908–940
Gopala II 940–957
Vigrahapala II 960–986
Mahipala I 960–986
Nayapala 1038–1053
Vigrahapala III 1054–1072
Mahipala II 1072–1075
Shurapala 1075–1077
Ramapala 1077–1130
Kumarapala 1130–1125
Gopala III 1140–1144
Madanapala 1144–1162
Govindapala 1155–1159


Gopala (Reign: 750 – 770 AD)

    • First Pala king and founder of the dynasty.
    • Son of Vapyata, a warrior.
    • At the time of his death, Pala kingdom included Bengal and most of Bihar.
    • He built the monastery at Odantapuri, Bihar.
    • Considered the first Buddhist king of Bengal.
    • Ramacharita was written in his reign in which Pala rulers was as the descended of Solar Dynasty.

Dharmapala (Reign: 770 – 810 AD)

    • Son and successor of Gopala.
    • Expanded the kingdom. He was real founder of Pala Dynasty because he greatly expanded the boundaries of the empire, and made the Palas a dominant power in the northern and eastern India.
    • He was a great patron of Buddhism.
    • He revived the Nalanda University and Founded the Vikramshila University at Bhagalpur, Bihar.
    • He built the great Vihara at Somapuri in Verendri and the Vihara in Paharpur.
    • He had frequent wars with the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas.
    • The Palas became the most powerful kingdom in northern and eastern India during his rule.

Devapala (Reign: 810 – 850 AD)

    • Son of Dharmapala and Rannadevi, a Rashtrakuta princess.
    • Extended the kingdom to Assam, Odisha and Kamarupa.
    • Defeated the Rashtrakuta ruler Amoghavarsha.
    • He was staunch Buddhist and constructed many temples and monasteries in Magadha.
    • He patronized the Vikramashila University and the Nalanda University.
    • Famous poet Vajradatta who was author of Lokesvarashataka, was one of the gems of his court.

Mahipala I (Reign: 988–c. 1036 AD)

    • Ascended the throne in 988 AD.
    • He was one of the mighty rulers of Pala dynasty who expanded his boundaries as far as Varanasi.
    • Recovered northern and eastern Bengal. Also took Bihar.

Ramapala (Reign: 1077–1130 AD)

    • The last strong Pala king.
    • He ruled from a new capital at Ramavati, which remained the Pala capital until the dynasty’s end.
    • He brought Kamarupa and Rar under his control, and forced the Varman king of east Bengal to accept his suzerainty.
    • He reduced taxation, promoted cultivation and constructed public utilities.
    • The kingdom disintegrated during his son Kumarapala’s reign.

Madanapala (Reign: 1144 – 1162 AD)

    • The last Pala king.
    • was defeated by Vijayasena, who gained control of southern and eastern Bengal.
    • After him, the Sena dynasty replaced the Palas.

Administration under Pala’s

    • The Pala rule was monarchial. The king was the centre of all power.
    • Pala Empire was divided into separate Bhuktis (Provinces).
    • Bhuktis were divided into Vishayas (Divisions) and Mandalas (Districts).
    • Smaller units were KhandalaBhagaAvrittiChaturaka, and Pattaka. Administration covered widespread area from the grass root level to the imperial court.


    • The highest military officer in the Pala Empire was the Mahasenapati (commander-in-chief).
    • Palas Army was fourfold and the army consisted of: infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots.
    • Palas divided the army into following posts: Senapati or Mahasenapati (General) controlling foot soldiers, cavalry, soldiers riding elephants and camels, navy, and the various army posts like Kottapala (Fort guards) and Prantapala (Border guards).
    • Palas had a huge army and the legend of “Nava Lakkha Shainya” (Nine lac soldiers) were popular during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala.
    • The Palas recruited mercenary soldiers from a number of kingdoms. 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.


    • The Palas patronised several Sanskrit scholars, some of whom were their officials. The Gauda riti style of composition was developed during the Pala rule.
    • 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.


    • The Palas were patrons of Mahayana Buddhism. 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. The Buddhist scholars from the Pala Empire travelled from Bengal to other regions to propagate Buddhism.
    • The Palas also supported the Saiva ascetics. Besides the images of the Buddhist deities, the images of Vishnu, Siva and Sarasvati were also constructed during the Pala dynasty rule.

Art & Architecture under Pala Dynasty


    • Various mahaviharas, Stupas, chaityas, temples and forts were constructed. Most of the architecture was religious with the first two hundred years dominated by Buddhist art and the last two hundred years by Hindu art.
    • Among the various mahaviharas, Nalanda, vikramashila, somapura, Traikutaka, Devikota, Pandita, Jagaddala vihara are notable. Planned residential buildings for monks were made. At Vikramshila, remains of one temple and stupa have also been found.
    • Odantpuri Mahavihara (750-770) was so magnificent that it served as a model for first monastery built in Tibet.
    • The remains of Bodh Gaya and Nalanda provide a magnificent vista of monasteries, stupas and temples. Nalanda was the best place for the study of the Buddhist architecture of those days.
    • A large number of manuscripts on palm-leaf relating to the Buddhist themes were written and illustrated with the images of Buddhist deities at these centres which also had workshops for the casting of bronze images.
    • The rock-cave temple at Kahalgaon (Bhagalpur district) dating from ninth century, which shows the gabled vaulted roof characteristic of the South Indian architecture.
    • The brick built medieval Siva temple at Konch in the Gaya district is architecturally important on account of its curvilinear Shikhara and corbelled lancet window.
    • Somapura mahavihara at Paharpur, a creation of Dharmapala is one of the largest Buddhist vihara in Indian sub-continent, its architectural plan had influenced the architecture of countries like Myanmar and Indonesia.


    • The temples are known to express the local vanga style. The ninth century Siddheshvara Mahadeva temple in Baraker shows a tall curving shikara crowned by a large amalaka and is an example of the early pala style.
    • The rock cave temple at Kahalgaon (9th century) shows the gabled vault roof characteristic of the South Indian architecture.


    • Artistic and beautiful forms of terracotta were developed during the Pala period. This art was developed for the purpose of decoration. Under this form of art such statues are made on walls which depict scenes from the religious and general life styles.
    • The terracotta plaques recovered from paharpur amply demonstrate the excellence of the art in the pala period. There is no doubt that the terracotta art reached a high water mark in the Pala period.


    • The earliest examples of miniature painting in India exist in the form of illustrations to the religious texts on Buddhism executed under the Palas of the eastern India.
    • There are two forms of painting manuscripts and wall painting.
    • Manuscripts were written on palm leaves .In these paintings scenes of life of Buddha and several god and goddess of Mahayana sects are depicted.
    • The impact of tantricism on these paintings are easily visible. Sometimes it also resembles some of the qualities of Nepalese and Burmese Art.
    • Red, blue, black and white colours are used a primary colours whereas green, purple, light pink and grey are used as secondary/auxiliary color on a fine variety of  palm leaf, as well as on the lacquered wooden covers of manuscripts.
    • Pala painting is characterized by sinuous line, delicate and nervous lines, sensuous elegance, linear and decorative accent and subdued tones of colour.
    • It is naturalistic style which resembles the ideal forms of contemporary bronze and stone sculpture and reflects some feeling of classical art of Ajanta with sensuous bias of art of Eastern India.
    • Wall painting has been found in Saradh and Sarai sthal in Nalanda district. At the bottom of the platform made of granite stone flowers of geometric shapes, images of animals and humans are found. Impact of Ajanta and Bagh painting can be noticed, as the way of making images and painting are very much similar.

Pala sculpture

    • The Gupta tradition of sculptural art attained a new height under the patronage of Pala rulers .The art incorporated lot of local characteristics in Bengal under the Palas and it continued right up to the end of 12th century.
    • The sculptures of stones and bronze were constructed in large numbers mostly in monastic sites of Nalanda, Bodh Gaya etc.
    • Most of the sculptures drew their inspiration from Buddhism. Apart from Buddha sculptures of gods and goddess of Hindu Dharma like surya, Vishnu, Ganesh etc. were constructed.
    • The finest sculptures include a female bust ,two standing Avalokiteshwara images from Nalanda
    • Buddhist sculptures is characterized by a prominent and elaborately carved black slab and lotus seat frequently supported by lions.
    • Generally only frontal parts of the body have been shown in the sculptures. The front as highly detailed and decorated.
    • Due to influence of tantrism the sculptures of god were given different touches like that of female, animal etc.
    • Bronze casting was an important feature of Pala sculptures. Such sculptures have been found from Nalanda and Kukrihar (near Gaya).
    • Also present examples of artistic beauty carved out of stone sculptures. These are made of black basalt stones which are obtained from Santhal Paragana and Munger.
    • The Pala style is marked by slim and graceful figures, elaborate jewellery and conventional decoration
    • The main features of Pala sculptures is their free flowing movement. Almost all figures are of similar sizes and were carved out of grayish or white spotted sandstone.

Reasons for sudden ending  

  • The Pala art came to a sudden end after the destruction of the Buddhist monasteries at the hands of Muslim invaders in the first half of the 13th century.
  • Some of the monks and artists escaped and fled to Nepal, which helped in reinforcing the existing art traditions there.
  • Ramapala was the last strong Pala ruler. After his death, a rebellion broke out in Kamarupa during his son Kumarapala’s reign. So due to rebellions art was not focussed much.

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