PALA DYNASTY (A.D. 750-1150)

The history of Bangladesh is related to that of the larger area of Bengal. The Buddhist Pala Dynasty (A.D. 750-1150) is regarded as Bengal’s first great homegrown kingdon. It provided Bengal with stable government, security, and prosperity while spreading Buddhism throughout the state and into neighboring territories. Trade and influence were extensive under Pala leadership, as emissaries were sent as far as Tibet and Sumatra. [Source: Library of Congress]

The great Harsha Empire (A.D. 606-47) — a sort of reborn Gupta Empire — drew Bengal-based Samatata into its loosely administered political structure. The disunity following the demise of this short-lived empire allowed a Buddhist chief named Gopala to seize power as the first ruler of the Pala Dynasty.

It is significant that the Palas do not trace their descent from any ancient hero. We merely learn from an inscription discovered at Khalimpur that the Pala dynasty, so called because the names of all its members had the termination — Pala, sprang from one Dayitavisnu, whose son was Vapyata. Probably this shows that the family rose from humble beginnings, and had no illustrious ancestry. Later on, however, attempts were made to connect it with the Sea or the Sun. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Medieval Bengal-Bangladesh during the Pala Period

In ancient times the fortunes of Bengal were closely linked up with Magadha. The Nandas, who are described as rulers of the Prasii and the Gangaridai nations, probably extended their authority to the Lower Ganges valley, and so also did the Mauryas. The Kushans do not seem to have held sway over it, but the Guptas were certainly masters of Bengal. After the disintegration of the Gupta empire petty principalities grew up there, and the Haraha inscription of the Maukhari mnavarman even refers to the warlike activities of the “Gaudas living on the seashore” about the middle of the sixth century A.D. In the beginning of the seventh century, Bengal was ruled by Sashanka, who killed Rajyavardhana of Thanesvar and for a time occupied the Maukhari capital, Kanauj. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Ancient Buddhist and Hindu states which ruled Bangladesh included the Vanga, Samatata and Pundra kingdoms, the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, the Varman dynasty, Sashanka's kingdom, the Khadga and Candra dynasties, the Pala Empire, the Sena dynasty, the Harikela kingdom and the Deva dynasty. These states had well-developed currencies, banking, shipping, architecture and art, and the ancient universities of Bikrampur and Mainamati hosted scholars and students from other parts of Asia. Xuanzang of China was a noted scholar who resided at the Somapura Mahavihara (the largest monastery in ancient India), and Atisa travelled from Bengal to Tibet to preach Buddhism. The earliest form of the Bengali language began to the emerge during the eighth century.Early Muslim explorers and missionaries arrived in Bengal late in the A.D. first millennium. The Islamic conquest of Bengal began with the 1204 invasion by Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji after annexing Bengal to the Delhi Sultanate. [Source: Wikipedia]

Xuanzang calls Sashanka king of Karnasuvarna, whereas according to an inscription dated G.E. 300 — 619 A. D. his suzerainty was acknowledged by the Sailodbhavas of the Ganjam region. “Maharajadhiraja” Sashanka was thus the sovereign of fairly extensive territories. Himself a Saiva, he is said to have persecuted the Buddhists. After his decline or death, Bengal comprising Paundravardhana, Samatata, Tamralipti (Tamluk), and Karnasuvarna passed into the hands of Harsavardhana. His death in 647 A.D. was followed by a period of chaos and foreign incursions. Bhaskaravarman of Assam appears to have then annexed Karnasuvarna; and some time in the second quarter of the eighth century Yasovarrnan of Kanauj defeated the king of Magadha and Gauda. It was also overrun by Lalitaditya of Kashmir, SrI-Harsa of Kamarupa and other’ invaders. When anarchy was thus rampant in the land, the people assembled together and chose Gopala as their monarch.

Early Pala Rulers

Gopala (r. A.D. 765-70) Although the details of Gopala’s career are not known, there is no doubt that he introduced peace in the kingdom, and laid the foundations of the future greatness of his family. According to the 1 ’ibetan Lama, Taranatha, Gopala built the celebrated monastery at Otantapura (modern town of Bihar), and reigned for forty-five years. We agree, however, with Mr. Allan who remarks that “this can hardly refer to the period of his full power. His dates are probably c. A.D. 765-70.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Dharmapdla, Gopala’s son and successor, was an energetic personality, and the task of internal consolidation having already been accomplished by his father, he found himself in a position to undertake foreign expeditions. His most notable achievement was the defeat of Indraraja (Indrayudha), whom he deposed, raising Cakrayudha to the throne of Kanauj. The settlement, thus made by the Gauda monarch, was “readily accepted” by the leading contemporary states of Northern India, viz., Bhoja, Matsya, Madra, Kuru, Yadu, Yavana, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kira. Dharmapala’s wars with other contemporaries, however, appear to have been disastrous to his arms. Dharmapala was a Buddhist, and he is said to have founded the famous establishment at VikramaSila (Patharghata, Bhagalpur district). Its splendid temples and monasteries bore eloquent testimony to his liberality as well as to that of the other donors.

Inscriptions record that both Vatsaraja Pratihara and Dhruva Rastrakuta (c. 779-94 A.D.), who could not tolerate the imperial pretensions of Dharmapala, routed him separately. The engagement with Dhruva perhaps took place in the Gangetic Doab, for we are told that he vanquished the Gauda ruler “as he was fleeing between the Ganges and the Jumna.” The Sanjan plates further testify that “Dharma (Dharmapala) and Cakrayudha surrendered of themselves” to Govinda III Rastrakuta (c. 794-814 A. D.). Finally, Dharmapala’s dreams of supremacy in tire North came to nought when Nagabhata II Pratihara seized Kanauj from Cakrayudha. Dharmapala was furious at the dethronement of his proteg£, but all was in vain and he suffered a reverse in a sanguinary contest with the Pratihara conqueror at Mudgagiri (Monghyr).


After a long reign, Dharmapala was succeeded by his son, Devapala (A.D. 815-855), who is rightly reckoned the most mighty Pala potentate. Epigraphic records credit him with extensive conquests. It is stated that he “made tributary the earth” between Reva’s parent (Vindhyas) and Gauri’s father (Himalayas), and “enjoyed” it even as far as Rama’s bridge in the south. These are, no doubt, vain hyperboles, but the Badal pillar inscription 3 specifically claims that, owing to the sagacious advice of the ministers, Darbhapani and Kedara MiSra, Devapala “eradicated the race of the Utkalas, humbled the pride of the Huns, and scattered the conceit of the rulers of Dravida and Gurjara.” The limits of Devapala’s reign may be fixed between c. 815 and 855 A.D. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

We learn from the Bhagalpur inscription (verse 6) 4 that Devapala’s cousin, Jayapala, was responsible for securing the submission of Utkala (Orissa) and also Pragjyotisa (Assam). The Gurjara adversary of Devapala may be identified with Mihira Bhoja (836-85 A.D.), who attempted to extend his power eastward. He met with some initial successes, but his further advance was effectively checked by the Gauda monarch.

In addition to being a great conqueror, Devapala was a patron of Buddhism, and he constructed temples and monasteries in Magadha. Thus, art and architecture received a fresh impetus, and Nalanda continued to flourish as the chief seat of Buddhist learning. It appears from a copperplate, discovered at Nalanda, that Devapala granted five villages — four in the Rajagriha-ma and the fifth in the Gaya visaya (district) — for “various comforts” of the Bhiksus as well as for writing the “Dharmaratnas” and for the upkeep of a Buddhist monastery built there by Balaputradeva, king of Suvarnadvlpa and Yava-bhumi. If the last two names are identical with Sumatra and Java, as has been suggested, we get definite evidence that the Pala kingdom was in touch with these far-eastern islands.


The next monarch of note was Narayanapala, who ruled for at least fifty-four years (c. 858-912 A.D.). He was born of Lajja, a princess of the Haihaya (Cedi) race. The Bhagalpur inscription 2 records that in (the 17th year of his reign he granted from Mudgagiri (Monghyr) a village in Tira-bhukti (Tirhut) to the shrine of Siva, and built one thousand temples in honour of the same deity. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

During the earlier part of Narayanapala’s reign Magadha remained under the Palas, but several inscriptions, dated in the regnal years of Mahcndrapala I, prove that later it passed along with Northern Bengal into the hands of the Pratiharas. The occupation of these regions must have taken place soon after the latter’s accession, for neither the alleged victories of his predecessor, Mihira Bhoja, nor the findspots of his inscriptions, support the view that he won any appreciable success in his eastern ventures.

Thus, Magadha and Northern Bengal having come under the sway of the Pratiharas, and with Eastern Bengal under the Candras, the Paia autnority was limited to Western and Southern Bengal. But towards the close of his reign Narayanapala took advantage of the fratricidal struggle between Bhoja TI and Mahlpala, and re-occupied Uddandapura (modern town of Bihar). When the Pratiharas again received a shock owing to the invasion of the Ra?trakuta Indra III in 916-17 A.D. Rajyapala (\c. 912-936 A.D.) probably further recovered his ancestral possessions up to the eastern banks of the river Sone.

Mahlpala I

Mahlpala, son of Vigrahapala II, was another powerful prince of the line. From the findspots of his inscriptions it is clear that the Pala power had once more revived, and that his dominions included places so widely apart as Dinajpur and Muzaffarpur; Patna, Gaya and Tippera. Mahlpala I reconquered Northern Bengal from a “Gauda king” of the Kamboja family (i.e., of Mongolian origin), who had “snatched it away”, presumably about the end of Gopala IPs reign. The Kamboja intruder, whose name is unknown, built a temple of Siva in Bangad (Dinajpur district). [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

An inscription of Mahlpala furnishes us the Vikrama sathvat date 1026 A.D. one of the fixed points in Pala chronology. Its discovery at Sarnath should not, however, be taken to indicate that this region was included in the Pala realm. It simply records the construction of the Gandbakuti, and the repairs Mahlpala caused to be made through the brothers, Sthirapala and Vasantapala, in the Dharmarajika Stupa and the Dharmacakra. These were purely religious acts, and no political significance could be attached to them. There are also vague references in literary works to his conflicts with the Karnatas and to the loss of Tirabhukti (Tirhut), where Gangeyadeva, identified with his Kaiacuri namesake, was ruling in the Vikrama year 1076 - 1019 A.D.

The most important event of Mahipala’s reign was the northern incursion of Rajendra I Chola some time between 1021 and 1025 A.D. Passing through Orissa, Southern Kosala, Dandabhukti (Balasore and Midnapore districts), he is said to have conquered Ranasura of Takkana-ladam (Southern Radha, Howrah and Hooghly districts) and Govindacandra of Varigala-desa (Eastern Bengal). The invader then turned northwards, and came to grips with Mahipala, whom he defeated. The Pala king was, however, successful in checking the victor’s advance beyond the Ganges. If, as the Tirumalai (North Arcot district.) Rock inscription testifies, separate principalities existed in Eastern and Western Bengal, the territories of Mahipala must have suffered diminution during the latter part of his reign.

Later Pala Rulers

Nayapala succeeded his father Mahipala. Nayapala is chiefly remembered because in his fifteenth year Visvarupa, his governor at Gaya, built the famous temple of Gadadhara and other smaller shrines. It appears from Tibetan sources that Nayapala was at war with Laksmi-Karna (c. 1041-72 A.D.) some time during his reign. They carried on the contest with varying fortunes, but when the forces of “Karnya of the West” were being mown down the celebrated monk Dlpankara Srijnana or AtiSa, then residing at Mahabodhi Vihara> intervened and unmindful of personal risks negotiated a peace treaty between the contending parties. Although latter even suffered a reverse at the hands of Nayapala’s son, Vigrahapala III, who married his adversary’s daughter, Yau'-anasri, probably after the cessation of hostilities and the restorat ion of friendly relations. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

But a disaster soon overtook the Pala prince, for Vikramaditya, son of SomeS vara I Calukya (f. 1042-68 A.D.), is said to have vanquished the kings of Gaucla and Kamarupa in the course of his northern incursions. The death of Vigrahapala III was followed by troublous times owing to the rivalry of his three sons, who aspired to the throne and in fact did rule successively. While they were fighting among themselves, the Varmans rose to power in eastern Bengal and the Pala territories, which were already reduced to portions of Bihar and Northern Bengal, diminished still further. In Varcndra, a chief of the aboriginal Kaivarta tribe, named Divya or Divvoka, revolted and Mahlpala was killed in the attempt to suppress him. The rebel leader was thus successful in establishing an independent kingdom in Northern Bengal.

Ramapala was the last Pala ruler of note. When he came to the throne after the brief reign of his second brother, Surapala II, he found himself in desperate plight. Besides the Kaivarta menace, he had to reckon with the recalcitrant feudatories, who had taken advantage of the misfortunes of the Palas. According to the Kamacarita of Sandhyakaranandi, Ramapala visited them personally and by his tact and magnanifnity won them over. With the help of these vassals and his maternal uncle, Rastrakuta Mathana, Ramapala led an army against the Kaivartas. After a preliminary reconnaissance conducted by the commander Sivaraja, the Pala forces crossed the Ganges, defeated and captured the Kaivarta chief, Bhlma, who had succeeded his father, Divvoka. Eventually the captive was put to death, and Ramapala was able to recover his paternal dominions in Northern Bengal.

This triumph spurred on his ambitions, and we learn that he then overran Kalihga and Kamarupa. His protection was even sought by the Yadava Varman ruler of eastern Bengal. The revival of Pala supremacy was, however, and with him the strength of the dynasty also departed. In the time of his son, Kumarapala, a revolt took place in Kamarupa; it was, no doubt, quelled by the minister, Vaidyadeva, but he himself virtually became independent there. The successors of Kumarapala were weak like him, and they could not arrest the decline of the family. The feudatories gradually asserted themselves, and the rise of Vijayasena even resulted in the expulsion of Madanapala from Northern Bengal. The authority of the Palas was now confined to a portion of Bihar, where they maintained a precarious existence for a short period, hemmed in on the cast by the Senas and on the west by the Gahadavalas. The last glimpse of a Pala ruler is afforded by an inscription, dated 1175 A.D. in the fourteenth year of Govindapala, about whom nothing else is known.

Achievements of the Palas

Thus, having ruled Bihar and Bengal with many vicissitudes of fortune for over four tenturies, the Palas disappeared from the stage of history. Scholars have not yet been able to locate their capital with certainty, but it may have been Mudgagiri (Monghyr), from where the Pala kings issued several grants. The most powerful members of the dynasty were Dharmapala and Devapala; their spheres of activity and influence were much wider than the limits of their direct jurisdiction. The Pala kingdom ultimately suffered decay owing to internal dissensions, revolts, and the rise of new powers. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Palas were great patrons of art and literature. Vincent Smith has mentioned the names of two ardsts, Dhiman and his son Vitapala, who “acquired the highest fame for their skill as painters, sculptors, and bronze -founders.” Unfortunately no building of that age is extant, but a large number of tanks and channels dug during their rule bear witness to the interest the Pala monarchs took in works of public utility.

They were earnest followers of Buddhism, which developed newer Tantric forms and was revivified under their patronage. Monasteries were generously endowed, being the most effective agencies for the promotion of learning and religion. One of the monks, the famous AtlSa, is known to have gone to Tibet on a Buddhist mission about the middle of the eleventh century. The Palas were, however, by no means unfavourable towards Hinduism. They freely made gifts to Hindus, and even constructed temples in honour of Hindu gods.


The Senas, orthodox and militant Hindus, replaced the Buddhist Palas as rulers of a united Bengal until the Turkish conquest in 1202. Opposed to the Brahmanic Hinduism of the Senas with its rigid caste system, vast numbers of Bengalis, especially those from the lower castes, would later convert to Islam.

The Senas, who gave the death-blow to the Pala power in Bengal, were probably of southern origin. It lias been suggested that they carved out a principality in Raclha (West Bengal) in the confusion following the north-eastern expedition of Vikramaditya Calukya, son of Somcsvara I (V. 1042-68 A.D.). The founder of the dynasty, Samantasena, is described as a descendant of Virascna, bom in “the family of the moon,” and as “the head-garland of the Karnata-Ksatriyas” or of the Brahma-Ksatriyas which term perhaps signifies that the Senas were at first Hindus, but subsequently adopted the military profession and became Ksatriyas. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Sena Rulers

Vijayasena, grandson of Samantasena, brought the family into prominence during his long reign of over sixty-two years (c. 1095-1158 A.D.). He distinguished himself in warfare, and made many territorial acquisitions. He is represented as having “impetuously assailed” the lord of Gauda, who has usually been identified with Madanapala. That Vijayasena drove out the Palas from Northern Bengal is proved by the discovery of an inscription at Deopara in the Rajshahi district 2 and by his grant of a village in Paundravardhana -bhukti, as recorded in a plate found at Barrackpur. The latter document was issued from Vikramapura in the sixty-second year, which shows that some time before the end of his reign Vijayasena had extended his authority over eastern Bengal also. We are further told that his fleet once sailed “in its playful conquest of the western regions up the whole course of the Ganges;” and he defeated a number of his contemporaries, the chief among them being Nanyadeva of Tirhut and the kings of Kamarupa and Kalinga. The last was presumably identical either with Kamarnava (c. 1147-56 A.D.) or with Raghava (c. 1156-70 A.D.), for there is some evidence to believe that their father, Anantavarman Codagahga (c. 1077-1147 A.D.), was on friendly terms with Vijayasena. The Sena sovereign was a devout Saiva and a generous patron of the Srotriyas. He excavated an artificial lake, and built a splendid temple of PradyumneSvara Siva at Deopara.

Vallalasena succeeded his father Vijayasena. Vallalasena, whose mother was VilasadevI, a princess of the Sura line of Western Bengal. He did not gain any notable victories, although he was able to maintain his dominions intact. Traditions affirm that he introduced Ku/inistti and re-organised the caste-system in Bengal. There is, however, no cpigtaphic corroboration of these social reforms. Like his father, Vallalasena too was a Saiva, and he is said to have compiled two well-known works, the Diinasdgara and the Adblmlasagara, under the guidance of his preceptor. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]


Laksmanasena or Rai Lakhamaniya was the last important member of the Sena dynasty. He is credited with extensive conquests. It is probable he may have overrun the neighbouring regions of Kamarupa and Kalinga in his earlier career, but his other martial exploits and the alleged erection of “pillars of victory” at Benares and Allahabad arc but empty vaunts and have no basis in fact. The Gahadavalas were masters of these two cities, and it would be utterly wide of the mark to suppose that Laksmanasena wrested them from such a powerful king as Jayacandra, whose territories extended in the east at least up to the Gaya district. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Besides, according to Muslim historians, Laksmanasena must have been an extremely craven-hearted man. For we arc told that he fled from the backdoor of his palace without making even a show of resistance at the approach of Muhammad ibn Bakhtyar Khilji, who, after conquering Bihar and massacring “the shavenheaded Hindus” (Buddhist monks) probably in 1197 A.D. advanced against Nadia towards the close of 1199 A.D. with a small force. Laksmanasena’s government was evidently rotten to the core, otherwise Bakhtyar would not have been allowed to press on to the capital, and take it by surprise with, a party of eighteen horsemen only. The Sena monarch then went across the Ganges to eastern Bengal, where he is known to have ruled until c. 1206 A.D. Minhaj-ud-din deposes that his reign lasted for eighty years, but this is certainly erroneous. There are strong grounds to place Laksmanasena’s accession about 1180 A.D. After his death, the Senas continued to exercise authority in eastern Bengal (“Bang”) for almost another half a century, when it also passed into the hands of the Muslims.

Like many kings of antiquity, Laksmanasena encouraged the cultivation of polite letters. Among the literary ornaments of his court, Dhoyika, who wrote the Pavana-duia, and Jayadeva, the celebrated author of the Gita-Govinda, deserve special mention. Laksmanasena himself was something of a poet, for he is said to have completed the Adbbuta-sagara begun by his father.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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