The Pala Empire (r. 750-1162 CE) was an imperial power during the post-classical period in the Indian subcontinent, which originated in the region of Bengal. It is named after its ruling dynasty, whose rulers bore names ending with the suffix Pala ("protector" in Sanskrit). They were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism. The empire was founded with the election of Gopala as the emperor of Gauda in 750 CE. The Pala stronghold was located in Bengal and Bihar, which included the major cities of Gauda, Vikrampura, Pataliputra, Monghyr, Somapura, Ramvati (Varendra), Tamralipta and Jaggadala.
|750 CE–1162 CE|
|Common languages||Sanskrit, Proto-Bengali, Maithili|
|Religion||Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Hinduism|
• 12th century
The Palas were astute diplomats and military conquerors. Their army was noted for its vast war elephant corps. Their navy performed both mercantile and defensive roles in the Bay of Bengal. They built grand temples and monasteries, including the Somapura Mahavihara, and patronised the great universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. The Proto-Bengali language developed under Pala rule. The empire enjoyed relations with the Srivijaya Empire, the Tibetan Empire and the Arab Abbasid Caliphate. Abbasid coinage found in Pala archaeological sites, as well as records of Arab historians, point to flourishing mercantile and intellectual contacts. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad absorbed the mathematical and astronomical achievements of Indian civilisation during this period.
At its height in the early 9th century, the Pala Empire was the dominant power in the northern Indian subcontinent, with its territory stretching across the Gangetic plain to include parts of modern-day eastern Pakistan, northern and northeastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The empire reached its peak under Emperors Dharmapala and Devapala. The Palas also exerted a strong cultural influence under Atisa in Tibet, as well as in Southeast Asia. Pala control of North India was ultimately ephemeral, as they struggled with the Gurjara-Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for the control of Kannauj and were defeated. After a short lived decline, Emperor Mahipala I defended imperial bastions in Bengal and Bihar against South Indian Chola invasions. Emperor Ramapala was the last strong Pala ruler, who gained control of Kamarupa and Kalinga. The empire was considerably weakened by the 11th century, with many areas engulfed in rebellion.
The resurgent Hindu Sena dynasty dethroned the Pala Empire in the 12th century, ending the reign of the last major Buddhist imperial power in the Indian subcontinent. The Pala period is considered one of the golden eras of Bengali history. The Palas brought stability and prosperity to Bengal after centuries of civil war between warring divisions. They advanced the achievements of previous Bengali civilisations and created outstanding works of arts and architecture. They laid the basis for the Bengali language, including its first literary work, the Charyapada. The Pala legacy is still reflected in Tibetan Buddhism.