The Palas

PALAS (750-1162 AD)

Political History


The Pala dynasty ruled from 8th century to 12th century CE in the regions comprising Bihar and Bengal.

  • Sashanka, the Gauda ruler, believed to have ruled between 590 and 625 CE, is considered the frst prominent king of ancient Bengal. After the fall of the Gauda kingdom, there was no central authority, which led to recurring wars between petty chieftains.
    So, in 750 CE, a group of chiefs met and decided on a “Kshatriya chief ” named  Gopala to be their ruler.
  • Gopala I was succeeded by his son

Dharmapala (770–815 CE  ),  he was the first to control Kanyakubja.

  • His title was uttarapatha swamin(master of northern India)
  • Dharmapala established vikramashila, Jagaddella,
  • He patronised Harisbhadra, a Buddhist writer.
  • Dharmapala’s son Devapala extended Pala control eastwards up to Kamarupa (Assam). He defeated Amoghavarsha, the Rashtrakuta ruler.
  • Devapala was succeeded by Vigramapala, Rajyapala, Gopala III, Vigramapala II.
  • The fortunes of the dynasty, however, were revived by Mahipala I, son of Vigramapala II. He checked the advancement of Cholas beyond the Ganges.
  • Abdul suleman visited Pala kingdom during his tenure.
  • Vijayasena of the Sena dynasty who had become powerful by then in northern Bengal expelled the last ruler Madanapala (1130–1150 CE) from Bengal and established his dynastic rule.

Important Rulers 


Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali


  • The Palas were great patrons of Mahayana Buddhism. The Buddhist philosopher Haribhadra was the spiritual preceptor of Dharmapala.


  • Various mahaviharas,Stupas ,chaityas,temples and forts were constructed. Most of the architecture was religious with the first two hundred years dominated by Buddhist art and the last two hundred years by Hindu art.
  • Among the various mahaviharas ,Nalanda,vikramashila,somapura,Traikutaka,Devikota ,Pandita ,Jagaddala vihara are notable. Planned residential buildings for monks were made.
  • A large number of manuscripts on palm-leaf relating to the Buddhist themes were written and illustrated with the images of Buddhist deities at these centres which also had workshops for the casting of bronze images.
  • Somapura mahavihara at Paharpur ,a creation of Dharmapala is one of the largest Buddhist vihara in Indian sub continent ,its architectural plan had influenced the architecture of countries like Myanmar and Indonesia.


  • The earliest examples of miniature painting in India exist in the form of illustrations to the religious texts on Buddhism executed under the Palas of the eastern India .
  • There are two forms of painting manuscripts and wall painting.
  • Manuscripts were written on palm leaves.In these paintings scenes of life of Buddha and several god and goddess of Mahayana sects are depicted.            The impact of tantricism on these paintings are easily visible.
  • Red,blue,black and white colours are used a primary colours
  • Pala painting is characterized by sinuous line, delicate and nervous lines ,sensuous elegance, linear and decorative accent and subdued tones of colour.
  • It is naturalistic style which resembles the ideal forms of contemporary bronze and stone sculpture and reflects some feeling of classical art of Ajanta with sensuous bias of art of Eastern India.
  • Wall painting has been found in Saradh and Sarai sthal in Nalanda district. At the bottom of the platform made of granite stone flowers of geometric shapes, images of animals and humans are found.

Pala Sculpture 

  • The Gupta tradition of sculptural art attained a new height under the patronage of Pala rulers .The art incorporated lot of local characteristics in Bengal under the Palas and it continued right up to the end of 12th
  • The sculptures of stones and bronze were constructed in large numbers mostly in monastic sites of nalanda,Bodh Gaya etc
  • Most of the sculptures drew their inspiration from Buddhism. Apart from Buddha sculptures of gods and goddess of Hindu Dharma like surya, Vishnu, Ganesh etc were constructed
  • Generally only frontal parts of the body have been shown in the sculptures. The front as highly detailed and decorated..
  • Bronze casting was an important feature of pala sculptures.
  • The pala style is marked by slim and graceful figures, elaborate jewellery and conventional decoration
  • The main features of pala sculptures is their free flowing movement. Almost all figures are of similar sizes and were carved out of grayish or white spotted sandstone.

Reasons for sudden ending 

  • The Pala art came to a sudden end after the destruction of the Buddhist monasteries at the hands of Muslim invaders in the first half of the 13th century.
  • Some of the monks and artists escaped and fled to Nepal, which helped in reinforcing the existing art traditions there.
  • Ramapala was the last strong Pala ruler. After his death, a rebellion broke out in Kamarupa during his son Kumarapala’s reign. So due to rebellions art was not focussed much.