The Palas of Bengal
The Pala rule of Bengal continued for four centuries. During this period it marked a great epoch in the history of India. It was Sasanka who first dreamt of a Bengal empire and both Dharamapala and Devapala materialized it in the subsequent years. Under them Bengal was made the greatest power of India. Even monarchs of distant lands like, Balaputradeva of Java sent embassy to their court. But not only in the realm of politics, had the Pala rule of Bengal ushered in an era where religion had and culture of India equally flowered.
Indeed in literature and other branches of knowledge the Pala period has shown remarkable progress. In this period the Sanskrit literature began with a new style of composition known as the “Gaudi Riti.” Sandhakar Nandi composed his famous work “Ramacharita” wherein each verse told us twofold meaning, on one hand it narrated the story of Ramayana, on the other is narrated the history of Ramapala of the Pala dynasty. The author of famous medical treaties, Chakrapanidatta also flourished in this age. The great scholar, politician and author Bhabadevadatta lived in this age. Possibly Jimutavahana, whose famous work Dayabhaga still remains a permanent authority of Hindu Law, belonged to this age.
Not only in the realm of Sanskrit literary activities, had we also noticed a great deal of Buddhist scholarship in this age. The Great ‘Atisa’ or Dipankar Srijnana, Pandit Dharmapala, Kamalasila, Rahul Bhadra, Kalyanarakshita and other noted Buddhist scholars all belong to this age.
This was the period when we find the evolution of the Bengalee people and their language and culture. The vernacular of Bengali developed a Proto-Bengali form during the reign of Dharmapala which in course of time became the basis of a national language of the province. This new language had a mass appeal. Even the Buddhist poets composed in this language the verses popularly known as ‘Charyyapadas’, which is regarded as the head of the Bengali literature. The Brahmanical Hindus also composed verses in old Bengali to describe the incarnation of Visnu and his love making with his Gopies.
In the Pala period we found the establishment of two Universities, one at Uddandapura and the other at Vikramasila. The Palas also patronized the great University of Nalanda. We know that the great Atish, or Dipankar Srijnana and Buddhajnanapada were the most lamented professors of this University. These temples of learning used to teach Buddhistic and Brahmanical subjects alike. The University of Vikramasila was famous for its Tibetan studies and a good number of Sanskrit texts were translated in Tibetan language here.
Not to speak of learning only, the Pala period of the history of Bengal also found a remarkable progress in art, architecture and sculpture. We no longer can see the architectural style of the monasteries of Uddandapura and Sompapura since the merciless hands of time had made them ruins. But we know that the first monastery of Tibet imitated the style of architecture of Uddandapura. Similarly the architectural style of Somapura monastery was copied in many places in the south-east Asian countries. In the realm of sculpture the Pala period gave birth to the local Bengali school of sculpture which continued till the end of the Hindu period. The most noted sculptors of this period were Vitapala and Dhiman. The most popular medium of Pala sculpture was Terracotta and black stone. Painting was not neglected either; most of the collection of paintings of this period lay with the Cambridge and Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal and most of them belong to Vajrayana and Tantra Pantheon.
It should be remembered that the Pala kings were devoted Buddhists. But they were tolerant to Hinduism and the Brahmanical sect also. Though they propagated Buddhism earnestly and made great Buddhist monasteries, yet many of their ministers were Brahmins. It was during their time that the orthodox form of Buddhism was replaced by Vajrayana and Tantric form of Buddhism. It was during their rule that the famous Buddhist professor of Vikramasila University, Atish Dipankar Srijnana visited Tibet to purify Buddhism their and breathed his last in that high altitude of Himalaya.