(Last Updated on : 10/05/2012)
The Pala dynasty rose to prominence after the death of Sasanka and continued to be in power in the extended regions of Bengal and Bihar, from 8th to 12th century. The Palas appeared in the political scenario after the death of Sasanka, when there was great political upheaval in Bengal. The Palas protected the kingdom from breaking down completely and ensured consolidation of the Empire under their own supremacy. The founder of the dynasty was Gopala. Gopala reigned from 750-770, and strengthened his position by extending his control over all Bengal. His successor Dharmapala ruled from 770-781 and made the Palas a dominant power of northern India, by installing his own dominion on the once-prestigious throne in Kanauj. But the Palas were soon threatened by the Pratiharas of central India. However, they gained respite from the Pratihara attacks only because of the danger the Pratiharas faced from another foreign power, Rashtrakutas of Deccan. However the Pala rulers constituted a significant epoch in the history of ancient India.
There are no clear evidences of the origin and early history of the Palas. Epigraphic sources of the contemporary era and official Pala records are generally silent about the caste, origin and early history of the Palas. Since no clear evidence is available, historians had to depend on indirect evidences, which shed light on the reign of the Palas in Bengal. Hence there are enough controversies among historians about the origin and ancestry of the Palas. From official records of the Palas it is known that Gopala's father was Vapyata and his grandfather was Dayita Vishnu. They are mentioned in a very general tone without referring to any royal or exalted status. On the basis of facts provided by poet Baribhadra, contemporary to the second Pala king Dharmapala, some scholars have suggested that the Pala kings were connected to king Rajabhata of the Buddhist Khadga of eastern Bengal. Again some scholars have provided other views about the origin of the Palas. They have opined on the basis of evidences from Khalimpur Copper Plate that the Palas were originally descendants of the Bhadra Dynasty. Moreover controversy lies in the fact that the Palas themselves claimed to be solar descendants. Though the early Palas did not declare themselves any mythical ancestry, yet the later Palas claimed themselves as solar descendants or "Surya Kula". Sandhyakara Nandi in "Rama Charita", Ghanarama in "Dharma Mangala" and other chronicles of the Age referred to Samudra Kula, or the 'origin of the Palas from Ocean'.
Although there are no conclusive evidences about the origin and ancestry of the Palas, yet it has been opined by historians that the Palas were Kshatriya by caste. Evidences supplied by "Ramcharita" and Taranatha corroborates the above theory. This was further supported by their matrimonial relationship with the Rashtrakutas and the Kalachuriyas. Again according to another group of historians the Palas did not belong to any higher caste. In "Arya-manjusri-mula-kalpa", the Palas were described as "Dasajivina" or Sudra by occupation. A medieval Muslim writer, Abul Fazal, depending on this tradition had described the Palas as "kayasthas". But modern scholars have opined that the Palas were staunch Buddhists, depending on official records of the Palas. Their court had become the stronghold of Buddhism. Copper plates of the Pala kings bore a clear mark of their Buddhist affiliation. Though it is not known whether the founder of the Pala dynasty in Bengal was originally of Buddhist origin, yet there is evidence that the Pala kings held an important position in the international Buddhist world.
The original homeland of the Pala kings or the actual extent of the kingdom of Gopala, the founder king, cannot exactly be determined. Since most records of the early Pala kings were issued from Magadha, therefore historians presume that Magadha was the original homeland of the Palas. They subsequently conquered Bengal and became a part of it.
The century that followed the death of Sasanka was marked with political upheavals, extreme chaos and foreign invasion. Peace within the province was horribly disturbed. Moreover after the death of Sasanka, Harshavardhana and the Kamrupa king Bhaskarvarmana had annexed Bengal or Gauda. Later a strong wave of the Tibetan invasion swept away remnants of the political stability of Bengal. The ultimate result was that, the entire province of Bengal was divided into several small provincial units, who unfurled the flag of independence. Each one struggled for the mastery of land. The absence of any central authority or Government made the situation even more anarchic, which vitally affected the situation. Ultimately the state of anarchy in Bengal came to an end when Gopala ascended the throne. It is known from facts of the Khalimpur Copper Plate that Gopala was made emperor by popular support. The people in order to put an end to this lawlessness, established him as the central authority and thus Gopala appeared in the political scenario of Bengal. Gopala was an eminent chief and a competent military general. It is presumed that Gopala did not possess royal blood because he was not born in a high and distinguished family. But it was just because of his martial and exceptional leadership qualities that he was chosen the leader of the lawless country. The main achievement of Gopala was that he had established durable peace within Bengal by removing the prevailing state of anarchy. Gopala became the king of Bengal and supremacy of the Pala kings was established in 8th century, which continued uninterrupted till 12th century.