Rise and Downfall of Pala Dynasty of Bengal
Bengal passed through a period of chaos confusion for a century after the death of King Sasanka. To internal disorder, owing to lack of government was added the danger of external invasion. At last the patience of the people at the continuous state of anarchy was exhausted. And the leading members of the state met at an assembly and elected Gopala to be their head. This newly elected prince was destined to be the savior of his country. He was the founder of the famous Pala dynasty of Bengal.
Gopala fully justified the confidence reposed in him. He evolved order out of chaos, gave peace to the country, and left a prosperous and peaceful kingdom to his son and successor, Dharmapala. Dharmapala was the ablest among the Pala rulers. He conquered many States and was acknowledged as the most powerful prince of Northern India. His over lordship was recognized by a number of peoples, such as the Bhojas, the Matsyas, the Madras, the Kurus, and the Yavanas. He dethroned the reigning prince of Kanauj and set up his own nominee. He, however, could not retain the possession of Kanauj for long. He died after a long and glorious reign of 32 years.
His son, Devapala, was also a vigorous ruler. He fought successfully against the Huns and the Gurjaras. He also defeated Ramabhadra, the Pratihara king of Kanauj. His dominions included the vast region from Kamboj in the north to the Vindhyas in the south. His reputation even spread beyond the limits of his own kingdom. The contemporary king of Sumatra sent an ambassador to his court. He died after an eventful reign of about 40 years.
The death of Devapala marked the end of the most glorious epoch of Pala History. His successor, Mahipala I, tried to retain the prestige of his dynasty. But his successor was weak and the Pala rule entered upon a period of steady decline. In North Bengal the Kaivartas under Divya rose up in insurrection and proclaimed independence. Ramapala restored the ancestral dominions to some extent, but neither he nor those who came after him succeeded in checking the tendency towards the decline. They ruled over parts of Bengal as a local power till they were swept aside by the Senas.
The Palas were great patrons of arts and literature. Many splendid monuments and sculptures were executed during the period of their rule. The most well-known literary work of the period was ‘Rampala Charita’ written by Sandhyakaranandi. The Pala kings were also liberal patrons of the education. The monasteries of Uddandapura and Vikramasila were two famous seats of learning. Buddhism was also patronized by the Palas and missions were sent to Tibet under their auspices.
Dharmapala (770-810 A.D.) the son of Gopala, the king of the Pala Dynasty of Bengal established a strong hold at Pataliputra. He then sought to gain for Eastern India the position it had occupied under the Mauryas and the Guptas. The reign of Dharmapala was marked by the struggle between Pala-Pratihara-Rashtrakuta for mastery over northern India. Hence Dharmapala, at the outset had to face two formidable rivals. The Pratiharas who had established power in Malwa and Rajasthan were gradually advancing towards the east. At the same time the Rastrakutas of Deccan were casting covetous eyes on the rich plains on the north.
At first Dharmapla conquered Magadha and extended his Siraj probably beyond Allahabad which made his conflict with Vatsavija inevitable. In the first round of struggle between Dharmapala and Vatsaraja Dharmapala were defeated. But Vatsaraja was soon defeated by the Rashtrakuta king Dhruba. Dhruba also advanced toward, the Doab abd defeated Dharmapala. But Dhruba had no ambition to consolidate his hold in northern India. He soon returned Deccan. Dharmapala quickly recovered from defeat and resumed his struggle with the Pratiharas for mastery over the north-India. He reconquered Kanuj and placed one Chakrayudh on the throne of Kanauj as his vassal. He then held a great assembly at Kanauj to assert his own suzerainty. There the rulers of Bhoj, Matsya, Madra, Kuru, Yadu, Yavana, Avanti, Gandhara and Kira “bowed down” to him. This position was however, reversed by Nagabhata II son and successor of Vatsaraja. He defeated Chakrayudh and occupied Kanauj. He then advanced to the east and defeated Dharmapala in a battle near Monghyr. But then again Rashtrakuta Govinda III intervened in the struggle. He thumbed Nagabhatta II and after his retirement to the Deccan Dharmapala re-established his last glory and suzerainty over North India.
Dharmapala was a patron of art and culture. He founded the famous monastery vikramasila. Sompuri and Odantapuri Viharas were probably founded by him. He has a patron of Buddhism.