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Pala Dynasty ( 8th to 11th Century ) | Buddhist Monarchs | Notes History UPSC

Table of Contents:

  • About Pala Dynasty
  • Ruler of the Pala Dynasty
  • The decline of the Pala dynasty
  • Administration of the Pala Dynasty
  • Art and Culture of the Pala Dynasty
  • Description Questions
    • Who were the parties involved in the "Tripartite struggle"?
    • The Pala period is the most significant phase in the history of Buddhism in India. Enumerate.

About the Pala dynasty:

The Pala dynasty was a prominent ruling dynasty in ancient and medieval Bengal ( Bangladesh and West Bengal) and Bihar regions of eastern India. They played a significant role in shaping the cultural, political, and religious landscape of the region during their reign, which spanned from the 8th to the 12th centuries. The Pala period is also considered as a " Golden Era" in Bengali history.

The founder of the Pala dynasty was Gopala, who rose to power in the early 8th century. Gopala's capital was initially at Karnasubarna in present-day West Bengal. Later, his son Dharmapala, who further expanded the kingdom and shifted the capital to Pataliputra (modern-day Patna). Under Dharmapala's rule, the Pala dynasty began to flourish, and their influence extended over a large part of Bengal and Bihar. The Khalimpur Copper plate of Dharmapala provides us much information about the Pala dynasty.

One of the most notable rulers of the Pala dynasty was Dharmapala's grandson, Devapala. Devapala greatly expanded the Pala empire through military conquests. He conquered various regions, including Kamarupa (present-day Assam) and parts of present-day Odisha and Bihar. Devapala's reign marked the zenith of Pala's power and influence.

The Pala dynasty was known for its patronage of Buddhism. The rulers of the dynasty were staunch supporters of Mahayana Buddhism and made significant contributions to the growth and development of Buddhist institutions, monasteries, and universities. They were great patrons of Buddhist scholars and intellectuals, and many renowned scholars emerged during their reign.

The Pala rulers also played a crucial role in the spread of Buddhism beyond their empire's borders. They sent missions to various countries, including Tibet and Southeast Asia, to promote Buddhism and establish diplomatic ties. The Pala dynasty's influence on the spread of Buddhism was particularly significant in Tibet, where their teachings and practices had a lasting impact. Pala rulers were followers of Mahayana and tantric schools of Buddhism (a branch of the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism).

However, in the 11th century, the Pala dynasty started to decline due to internal conflicts, regional uprisings, and invasions from external forces. The rise of the Sena dynasty ( Hindu Dynasty of Bengal) in Bengal and the attacks of the Chola dynasty from the south weakened Pala's authority. By the 12th century, the Pala dynasty had lost its prominence, and its empire fragmented into smaller regional kingdoms.

Ruler of the Pala dynasty:

The Pala dynasty was ruled by many kings.

The following are some of the notable rulers of the Pala dynasty:

Gopala (750-770 CE): 

Gopala was the founder of the Pala dynasty in 750 CE. He was also known as the emperor of Gauda. He rose to power in the early 8th century and established his capital at Karnasubarna in present-day West Bengal.

Dharmapala (770-810CE): 

Dharmapala was the son of Gopala and succeeded him as the ruler of the Pala dynasty. He further expanded the kingdom and shifted the capital to Pataliputra (modern-day Patna).

Dharmapala initially got defeated at the hands of Rashtrakutas and Pratiharas, but finally conquered a large part of Northern India.

The Tibetan tradition records tell us that Dharamapala was a patron of Buddhism. He established the Buddhist monastery at Vikramshila. 

Devapala (810 to 850 CE): 

Devapala was the grandson of Dharmapala and is considered one of the most powerful and influential rulers of the Pala dynasty. 

Devapala was also patron of Buddism. 

Devapala greatly expanded the empire through military conquests, bringing regions like Kamboka ( West), Vindhyas ( South), and Praygjyotish ( Assam) under Pala's control.

Mahipala I (10th century CE): 

Mahipala I succeeded Devapala and continued the expansionist policies of his predecessors. He further extended the Pala empire's reach and consolidated its power.

Ramapala (11th century CE): 

Ramapala was one of the last powerful rulers of the Pala dynasty. He faced challenges from the rising Sena dynasty in Bengal and dealt with invasions from the south by the Chola dynasty. Despite these difficulties, he managed to maintain some degree of Pala authority.

Madanapala (11th century CE): 

Madanapala was the last known ruler of the Pala dynasty. His reign marked the decline of Pala's power, as regional uprisings and external invasions weakened the empire.

The decline of the Pala dynasty:

The decline of the Pala dynasty can be attributed to a combination of internal conflicts, external invasions, and regional uprisings. 

The following are some key factors that contributed to the decline of the Pala dynasty:

Succession Disputes: 

Succession disputes among the Pala rulers weakened the dynasty. Competing claimants to the throne often engaged in power struggles, leading to internal conflicts and divisions within the ruling family.

Regional Uprisings: 

Various regional uprisings and revolts challenged Pala's authority in different parts of the empire. Local chieftains and regional rulers sought to assert their autonomy and independence, leading to a fragmentation of the Pala empire. The rise of regional powers such as the Sena dynasty ( Hindu Dynasty) in Bengal weakened Pala's control over the region.

External Invasion: 

The Chola dynasty from the south, under the leadership of Rajendra Chola I, launched military campaigns into the Pala territories. The Chola forces invaded Bengal and Bihar, inflicting significant damage on the Pala empire and weakening their grip on those regions.

Rashtrakula ruler Inda III defeated Mahipala. 

Smaller kingdoms like Harjarvarman ( Assam) and Ganga dynasty ( Odisha) also reduced the Pala control in the region.

Cultural and Economic Shifts: 

Changes in cultural and economic dynamics may have contributed to the decline of the Pala dynasty. Shifts in trade routes and economic centers, as well as changes in social and cultural practices, could have impacted the empire's stability and resources.

The dynasty of the Hindu Sena removed the Pala Empire from power in the 12th century, with which the rule of the last prominent Buddhist royal power in the Indian subcontinent ended.

Administration of the Pala dynasty:

The Pala dynasty was monarchial. The King was the center of all power. Pala King would adopt imperial titles like Parameshwara, Paramvattaraka, and Maharajadiraj.

The administration of the Pala dynasty followed a well-defined structure that facilitated the governance of their vast empire. They had stronghold control in Bengal and Bihar. The major cities of the Pala kingdom include Vikrampura, Patliputra, Gauda, Monghyr, Somapura, Ramavati, Tameralipta, and Jaggadala.

The Palas brought stability and prosperity to Bengal after centuries of civil war between many smaller regional kingdoms.

The following are some key aspects of the administration during the Pala dynasty:

Central Administration: 

The Pala rulers had a centralized administration with the king at the helm. The king held supreme authority and made decisions regarding governance, taxation, justice, and defense. The royal court was the center of power, where important decisions were made and advisors provided counsel to the king.

Provincial Administration: 

The Pala Empire was divided into several provinces or administrative units known as Bhuktis. Each Bhukti was headed by a governor or provincial ruler appointed by the king. The governors had administrative, judicial, and military responsibilities within their respective regions.

Local Administration: 

The local administration was responsible for day-to-day governance and maintaining law and order at the grassroots level. The Provinces ( Bhukti) were further divided into districts known as "Vishayas" and Mandalas, which were governed by Vishayapatis or local administrators. Smaller units of governing units were also known as Khandala, Bhaga, Avriti, Chaturaka, and Pattaka.

Revenue Administration: 

Taxation played a crucial role in the administration of the Pala dynasty. The kingdom's revenue was primarily derived from land revenue and tolls. Land revenue was collected based on the assessment of the land's productivity and was collected by local officials. The revenue administration ensured the efficient collection and management of taxes.

Judicial Administration: 

The Pala dynasty had a well-organized judicial system. The king was the ultimate authority in matters of justice. Local disputes were usually settled by local judges appointed by the king. More complex legal matters were handled by royal courts, where the king or his appointed judges served as the final arbiters.

Military Administration: 

The Pala dynasty maintained a strong military force to defend the empire and expand its territories. Their Army was noted for its vast war elephants. The had also a strong navy, which performed both Mercantile and defensive roles in the Bay of Bengal.

Educational and Cultural Institutions: 

The Pala rulers were great patrons of learning and supported the development of educational and cultural institutions. Prominent centers of learning, such as the Nalanda and Vikramshila universities, received royal patronage. The administration provided support and resources to scholars, monks, and intellectuals, contributing to the growth of knowledge and the arts.

Art and culture of the Pala dynasty: 

The Pala dynasty had a rich and vibrant artistic and cultural tradition. They were great patrons of art, literature, and Buddhism, which flourished under their patronage. 

The following are some key aspects of the art and culture of the Pala dynasty:

Buddhist Art: 

The Pala dynasty played a significant role in the development and promotion of Buddhist art. They sponsored the construction of numerous monasteries, temples, and stupas. Buddhist themes and iconography were prominently featured in their artistic endeavors. 

The World Heritage site of Somapura Mahavihara in present-day Bangladesh was built by the Pala ruler.

The gigantic structure of Viharas like in Vikramashila, Odantpuri, and Jagaddala are masterpieces of the Palas.

Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities: 

The Pala dynasty's patronage extended to education and learning. The renowned Nalanda and Vikramshila universities were established and supported by the Palas. These universities attracted scholars and students from across the world, making them renowned centers of Buddhist studies, philosophy, and various other disciplines.

Literature and Language: 

Pala ruler laid the basis of the Bengali language, and the first Bengali literary work "Charyapada" was composed during the Pala period.

The Pala period saw a flourishing of literary works in Sanskrit and other languages. Scholars and poets composed a wide range of texts, including Buddhist scriptures, commentaries, epics, dramas, and treatises on various subjects. The literary works of this period provided insights into the society, culture, and religious beliefs of the time.

Metal-work and Manuscript: 

The Palas were also known for their skilled metalworkers who created beautiful bronze and copper statues, as well as intricately designed ritual objects. Manuscript illumination was another artistic pursuit during this period, with elaborately decorated manuscripts featuring fine illustrations and calligraphy.

Influence on Southeast Asia: 

The Pala dynasty's cultural influence extended beyond its borders. The Palas maintained diplomatic relations with various Southeast Asian kingdoms, and their art and religious ideas spread to regions such as modern-day Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The architectural styles, sculptural techniques, and religious practices influenced the artistic traditions of these regions.

Descriptive Question on Pala Dynasty:


Who were the parties involved in the "Tripartite struggle"? ( NCERT


The Tripartite Struggle, also known as the Tripartite Struggle for control over Kannauj, was a historical conflict that took place between the 8th and 10th centuries ( fought almost for 200 years). 

It primarily involved three major powers of that time:

Pratihara Dynasty: 

The Pratiharas were a powerful dynasty that ruled over a large part of northern and central India. They were centered in present-day Rajasthan and their capital was Kannauj. 

The Pratiharas were initially the dominant force in the region and played a significant role in the Tripartite struggle.

Rashtrakuta Dynasty: 

The Rashtrakutas were a dynasty that originated in the Deccan region of southern India. They expanded their influence and established their rule over a vast territory, including parts of present-day Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. The Rashtrakutas wanted to expand their kingdom further north, and their conflict with the Pratiharas was a significant aspect of the Tripartite struggle.

Pala Dynasty: 

The Palas were a dynasty that ruled over the Bengal and Bihar regions of eastern India. They had their capital in present-day Bengal and were known for their patronage of Buddhism and intellectual pursuits. The Palas also participated in the Tripartite struggle, mainly in their efforts to gain control over Kannauj and expand their influence.

These three powers, the Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, and Palas, were the primary parties involved in the Tripartite struggle. They fought for control over the fertile and strategically important region of Kannauj, which was considered a significant power center during that time.   

According to contemporary accounts, the Rashtrakutas had the best infantry, the Gurjara-Pratihara had the finest cavalry, and the Pala had the largest elephant force. In this tripartite struggle, the Pratihara defeated the Pala and Rashtrakuta.

In 1018, Ruler of Kannauj, Rajayapal Pratihara was sacked by Mahmood Ghazni. The empire broke into many independent Rajput states.



The Pala period is the most significant phase in the history of Buddhism in India. Enumerate. ( UPSC General Studies -I, 2020)


The Pala period indeed holds great significance in the history of Buddhism in India. Here are several reasons why the Pala period is considered the most significant phase of Buddhism:

Patronage of Buddhism: 

The Pala rulers were ardent patrons of Buddhism. They provided extensive support and patronage to Buddhist monasteries, universities, and scholars. This patronage resulted in the flourishing of Buddhist institutions and the advancement of Buddhist learning.

Establishment of Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities: 

The Pala dynasty renovated Nalanda University and founded Vikramshila University. These institutions attracted scholars and students from across the world, making them prestigious seats in Buddhist studies, philosophy, and various other disciplines. The universities played a crucial role in preserving and disseminating Buddhist knowledge.

Scholarly Advancements: 

The Pala period witnessed significant advancements in Buddhist scholarship. Many eminent scholars emerged during this era, producing profound works on Buddhist philosophy, logic, epistemology, and other subjects. Scholars such as Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava, Dharmakirti, and Atisha were associated with the Pala dynasty and contributed to the intellectual growth of Buddhism.

Preservation of Buddhist Texts: 

The Pala rulers played a vital role in preserving and safeguarding Buddhist scriptures and texts. They commissioned the copying and translation of important Buddhist texts into Sanskrit and other languages. The preservation efforts helped in the survival of important Buddhist scriptures and contributed to their dissemination.

Spread of Buddhism in Southeast Asia: 

The influence of the Pala dynasty extended beyond the Indian subcontinent. Their cultural and religious exchanges with Southeast Asian kingdoms resulted in the spread of Buddhism to regions such as Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Indonesia. The Pala dynasty's artistic styles, religious practices, and teachings influenced the development of Buddhism in these areas.

Synthesis of Buddhist Traditions: 

The Pala period witnessed the synthesis of different Buddhist traditions. Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism flourished during this era, and the Pala rulers embraced and supported both traditions. This synthesis helped in the integration of various Buddhist practices and teachings, contributing to the diversity and richness of Buddhism in India.

The Pala period stands out as a time of great revival and advancement for Buddhism in India. Through their patronage, the Pala rulers facilitated the growth of Buddhism, preserved Buddhist scriptures, and created an environment conducive to intellectual exploration and spiritual development.

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