(Last Updated on : 09/04/2009)
The Pala period constituted one of the significant eons in the history of ancient India. Under the majestic Palas Bengal had witnessed a protracted period of social peace and material prosperity. Though there is dearth of ample information regarding the economical structure during the Pala period, yet sources available till date state that the Pala period was marked by economic and material prosperity. The main source of economy during the Pala period was agriculture. The Pala kings usually granted land to the farmers. The chief source of income of the common people was derived from agricultural products of the land granted to them. Rice, sugarcane, mango, bamboo, coconut etc. were the important agricultural products produced during the Pala period. During the Palas, paddy production had become the chief source of economy in Bengal. The "Monghyr inscription" of Devapala refers to mango and fish as the products of land granted by him. "Bhagalpur inscription" of Narayanapala also refers to the production of rice and mango, betel nut etc. as the important agricultural products produced in lands allowed by them.
Salt production also shared a significant position in the agricultural economy during the Pala period. The "Irda inscription" of Nayapala refers to the production of salt. South Midnapore or Danton was famous for the production of salt in seawater. North Bengal was famous for the production of Pundri Sugarcane, from which good quality sugar was produced. Various fruits, like jackfruit, date palm, betelnut, coconut, mango and useful articles like bamboo were also grown. The "Paharpur terracotta plate" also refers to banana. Betel leaf was cultivated in a wide scale. Cocoa leaf, long pepper, cardamom, clove were grown and exported to west Asia. High quality cotton was also grown in Bengal. The Chinese traveller of 13th century and the Venetian traveller Marco Polo also referred to the production of fine quality cotton in Bengal. The "Charya Padas" refer to cotton production as the important part of Bengal's economy during the Pala period. Silkworm cultivation was also very popular in Bengal. As a whole, agriculture shared a significant part of the economy during the Pala period.
Apart from agriculture, mineral resources also played an important part in the economy during the Pala period. Mineral resources were abundant during the Palas. Iron ores existed in plenty, in Radha's Jangalkhand and in Bankura and Birbhum districts. Though the use of iron ore was not very extensive, yet the process of smelting ore was well known to the people. Bengal, heart of the Pala Empire, was famous for producing the double-edged sword from the ore. These swords were highly in demand during the Pala period. Copper deposits were found in the Suvarnarekha valley. Diamond ores were available in the Pundravardhana and Tippera Valleys. Kautilya had mentioned about this in his accounts. Pearl was also found in the confluence of the Ganges according to Periplus, though not in plenty.
Historians have opined that Bengal was prosperous and economically affluent during the Pala period. Bengal became a flourishing country, abounding in agriculture and mineral resources. Land grants of the Pala kings referred to the various products grown on the granted land and bamboo groves that grew on that soil as well as tanks full of fishes.
Not only agriculture and mineral resources, Bengal during the Pala period also had witnessed thriving prosperity in the field of industry. Since agricultural products were grown in plenty, industries therefore were mainly agro-based. Textile industry was in high requirement during the Pala period. Cotton was the principal industry in Bengal. Bengal became the harbour of fine quality cotton fabrics, which made brisk trade of cotton goods with distant countries, like Arab and China. Apart from the production of fine cotton, creation of coarse cotton goods for daily use was also manufactured on a daily basis. Many people had adopted weaving as a profession during the Pala era. Literary evidences during the Pala period recorded the profession of weaving that had become a source of economy for the commons. Silk industry was very popular in Bengal, because it not only owned a domestic market, but foreign market as well. Economy during the Pala period had flourished both in inland and foreign countries. Bengal was also famous for the Sugar industry, next only to the textile industry. Gur (molasses) and sugar was produced in plenty from the sugarcane industry. Gur, being one of the important foods in Bengal, had a huge inland market. According to some scholars, the name 'Gauda' is derived from "Gur". Gur produced in Bengal, during the Pala period was exported to foreign countries like Ceylon, Arabia and Persia. The 13th century Portuguese traveller Barbossa had stated that Bengal during the Pala kings was in huge competition with Southern India in the export of sugar to foreign countries.
Apart from these two major industries, other industries like gold smithy also produced silver and gold ornaments and plates. Black smithy, carpentry, and the brass metal industry also had played an important part in the industrial economy of the Pala period.
Though trade had flourished during the Pala phase, yet it could not attain the thriving popularity like Gupta period. The decline of standard of trade is evident from the debased coins of the Pala period. The scarcity of gold and the silver coins led to the dependence on copper coins. Hence foreign trade had received a great blow during the Palas. Moreover the brisk trade from port of Tamralipta had declined from the time when the course of river Saraswati was altered. During 8th century A.D., trade of the Palas had declined considerably, with the descent of the Tamralipta port. As a result the economic system became entirely dependent on agriculture. Since Bengal had an agrarian climate, therefore agriculture flourished on a huge scale. The flowering agrarian economy gave rise to feudalism in society. Agricultural economy and feudalism had developed simultaneously by crushing the peasants ruthlessly. Hence the Pala epoch though had witnessed material and economic prosperity and affluence, yet it was concentrated within a limited group of the upper class or aristocratic society. Common men were cut-off from financial prosperity during the Palas.