Dharmapala of Bengal

Dharamapala ( _bn. ধর্মপাল "Dhôrmopal") (rule: 770 AD - 810 AD) was the second ruler of the Pala Empire of Bengal. He was the son and succeessor of Gopala (rule: 750 AD - 770 AD), the founder of the Pala Dynasty. He greatly expanded the boundaries of the Pala Empire founded by his father and made the Palas the most dominant power in the northern and eastern Indian subcontinent. He was succeeded by his son Devapala who further expanded the empire.

Military career

When Dharmapala ascended the throne of Bengal, the political horizon was very gloomy [The Age of Imperail Kanauja, History and Culture of Indian People, 1964, p 45, Dr R. C. Majumdar, Dr A. D. Pusalkar.] . At the very outset, Dharmapala was locked in severe power struggle with the Pratiharas of Malwa and Rajputana and the Rashtrakutas of the Deccan who were both desirous of establishing their own hegemony over northern India. So, shortly he was involved in cut-throat power struggle with them. Dharmapal defeated the Pratihara king Indraraja or Indrayudha of Kanauj and deposed him, and placed Chakrayudha on the throne of Kanauj. It is pointed out that Dharmapala had held a court in Kanauj after this victory which was attended by rulers from Bhoja ("Berar"), Matsya ("Jaipur"), Madra ("Central Punjab"), Kuru ("Thaneswar"), Yadu ("Mathura & Dwaraka"), Avanti ("Malava"), Yavana, Gandhara ("Kabol valley = Kamboja") and Kira ("Kangra"). These chiefs not only approved of his military action but also paid respectful obeisance to him [ Ancient India, 2003, p 648, Dr V. D. Mahajan.] . It is curious to note that in the above long list of nations, the Gandharas and Yavanas are mentioned but no reference is made to the Kambojas. This makes one believe that either the Pala dynasty itself had originated from the Kambojas so as to not refer to this people of their own stock in their references or else the Kambojas were taken to mean the same as the Gandharas. Scholars state that Dharmapala may not have annexed all the states listed above. It may only mean that they had accepted Dharmapala‘s suzerainty over them and agreed to pay taxes and tributes to the latter but otherwise they were left independent to manage their own internal affairs. Thus, it seems that Dharmapala had made himself the supreme leader in of Northern India since he calls himself as "Uttarapathasvamin" or "Lord of Northern India" [Ancient India, 2003, p 648-49, Dr V. D. Mahajan.] .

Later, however, Dharmapala was defeated by Vatsaraja of the Pratihara dynasty who deprived him of the Gauda. But Vatsaraja himself was soon defeated by King Dhruva of the Rashtrakutas who later also clashed with Dharmapala and defeated him but Dhruva soon left for Deccan and thus Dharmapal did not lose much in this quick chain of events, but these events had left the Pratiharas badly mauled which indirectly helped Dharmapala. He fully availed this golden opportunity and truly made himself the Lord of Northern India (Uttarapathasvamin).

Later, Nagabhatta II of Pratihara had deposed Chakrayudha of Kanauj, a protégé of Dharmapala, which event brought Dhrampala into military conflict with Nagabhata at Monghyr. Dharmapala suffered a defeat but curiously enough, history repeated itself and Pratihara invader Nagabhata was himself soon knocked out by Govinda III of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.

The invasion by Nagabhata was of transitory nature and did not leave any permanent mark so Dharamapala practically retained the supreme power in North till the end of his life.

phere of Influence

Dharamapala had full control of Bengal and Bihar. Kingdom of Kanauj was his feudatory. The kingdoms of Madra, Kamboja/Gandhara, Rajputana, Malava and Berar were vassal states which paid him tributes and acknowdged his mastery over them. Even Nepal is said to have been his vassal state [Syayambhu Purana; Ancient India, 2003, p 649, Dr V. D. Mahajan.] . The fact that he ruled over the Yavanas may imply that his sphere of influence was even larger. Usually the Yavana country is taken as Baluchistan but it is possible that western Baluchistan and even part of the Fars area was ruled by Dharmapala. He was clearly the ruler of Gaur in Bengal but was he also linked to Gour [http://www.chnpress.com/news/?section=2&id=6183] in Fars where Ajanta-like murals have been unearthed by archaeologists? These murals been attributed to Sasanid princes but there may be more to it. The Palas have been linked to Kamboja but was Shashanka related to the Sasanids? The strong influence of Indian art(Buddhist) in eastern Iran has been noted by R.N. Frye ["The Golden Age of Persia", p.41] and this could be due to a background of Indian Political influence. There was another Kanauj here (Kohnouj). Incidentally little is known about the rulers of Fars in this period. Dr. Ranajit Pal locates ancient Magadha in the Magan area [See Ranajit Pal, "Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander", New Delhi, 2002] and as Vanga was often grouped together with Magadha (Vanga-Magadhah in the Aitareya Brahmana) this implies that there may have been another wing of Bengal in the Baluchistan area. Sandhyakar Nandi, a court poet of later Palas, states that the Pala dynasty belonged to Samudrakula or Ocean lineage. The Kamauli Grant of king Vaidyadeva of Assam also connects the Palas to "Mihirasya vamsa" or 'Surya lineage' (Sun/Fire worshipping Iranians). This may be related to the links of the Palas with the Fars area which was linked through the sea.

Religious leanings

Dharmapala was a great patron of Buddhism and had founded the Vikramshila university which later evolved into a great learning center of Buddhism. He bulit the great Vihara at Somapuri in Verendri, Vihara in Paharpur and a splendid monastery at Odantapuri in Bihar. He is said to have founded fifty religious schools for the teachings of Buddhism [Ancient India, 2003, p650, Dr V. D. Mahajan.] .

uccessor of Dharmapala

Dharmapala had ruled for about 40 years and was succeeded by his son Devapala (rule: 810 AD - 850 AD) who further expanded the frontiers of Pala empire.


Book references

*History and Culture of Indian People, The Age of Imperial Kanauj, p 44, Dr Majumdar, Dr Pusalkar
*Ancient India, 2003, Dr V. D. Mahajan

ee also

*Pala Empire
*Kamboja Dynasty of Bengal

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