The Pala dynasty ruled from 8th century to 12th century CE in the regions comprising Bihar and Bengal. The development of art had been in a full fledged manner during the Mauryas and Guptas which was further carried by the Pala rulers.

Distinctive achievements of Palas are seen in the arts of architecture, sculpture, terracotta, painting and wall painting.

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.


  • Various Mahaviharas, Stupas, Chaityas, Temples and forts were constructed. Most of these buildings have vanished leaving no extant architecture from this period and making it very difficult to reconstruct a systematic overview of the architectural development.
  • Most of the architectures were religious. The first two hundred years of Pala period art were dominated by Buddhist art and Hindu art dominates last two hundred years.
  • Among the various Mahaviharas, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Somapura, Traikutaka, Devikota, Pandita, Fullabadi and Jagaddala Vihara are notable.  Planned residential buildings for monks was made.
  • Dharmapala built the Vikramasila mahavihara (at Patharghata in Bhagalpur district of Bihar) and Odantpuri Vihara in Bihar. Somapura Vihara and Vikramasila Vihara were acknowledged in the Buddhist world as two important centres of Buddhist learning in the period between 9th and 12th centuries AD. At Vikramshila, remains of one temple and stupa have also been found.
  • Odantpuri Mahavihara (750-770) was so magnificent that it served as a model for first monastery built in Tibet.
  • The remains of Bodh Gaya and Nalanda provide a magnificent vista of monasteries, stupas and temples. Nalanda was the best place for the study of the Buddhist architecture of those days.
  • The Somapura mahavihara at Paharpur, a creation of Dharmapala, proudly announces the excellence of the architectural art achieved in the Pala period. It is one of the largest Buddhist Vihara in the Indian subcontinent and the plan of its central shrine was evolved in Bengal. In the Nalanda inscription of Vipulasrimitra it has been described as jagatam netraikavishrama bhu (pleasing to the eyes of the world). Its architectural plan, especially the gradually receding crucified plan of its central shrine, had influenced the architecture of the neighboring countries like Myanmar and Indonesia. A few Buddhist buildings in these countries, built in the 13th and 14 centuries, seem to have followed the Paharpur example.
  • It may rightly be said that the fame of Bengal spread in the then Buddhist world for the cultivation of Buddhist religion and culture and of other knowledge in the various centres that grew under the patronage of the Pala rulers. Many scholars came to these centres from far and wide. Devapala granted five villages at the request of the Sailendra king of Java for the upkeep of the matha established at Nalanda for the scholars of that country. The Buddhist Viharas in the Pala empire played a significant role in the propagation of Buddhism in the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka.
  • The rock-cave temple at Kahalgaon, the Ardhamandapa of Vishnupad Temple at Gaya, Surajgarha. Indipai, Jaimangalgarh etc. are examples of Pala art.
  • The rock-cave temple at Kahalgaon (Bhagalpur district) dating from ninth century, which shows the gabled vaulted roof characteristic of the South Indian architecture.
  • The brick built medieval Siva temple at Konch in the Gaya district is architecturally important on account of its curvilinear Shikhara and corbelled lancet window.
  • Ramapala founded a city named Ramvati where a number of buildings and temples were constructed.

More about Pala Temples

While the Palas are celebrated as patrons of many Buddhist monastic sites, the temples from that region are known to express the local Vanga style. The ninth century Siddheshvara Mahadeva temple in Barakar in Burdwan District, for example, shows a tall curving shikhara crowned by a large amalaka and is an example of the early Pala style. It is similar to contemporaneous temples of Odisha. This basic form grows loftier with the passing of centuries.

Many of the temples from the ninth to the twelfth century were located at Telkupi in Purulia District. They were submerged when dams were built in the region. These were amongst the important examples of architectural styles prevalent in the region which showed an awareness of all the known Nagara sub-types that were prevalent in the rest of North India. However, several temples still survive in Purulia District which can be dated to this period. The black to grey basalt and chlorite stone pillars and arched niches of these temples heavily influenced the earliest Bengal sultanate buildings at Gaur and Pandua.

Many local vernacular building traditions of Bengal also influenced the style of temples in that region. Most prominent of these was the shape of the curving or sloping side of the bamboo roof of a Bengali hut.


  • Artistic and beautiful forms of terracotta were developed during the Pala period. This art was developed for the purpose of decoration. Under this form of art, such statues are made on walls which depict scenes from from religious and general life styles.
  • We find beautiful and artistic clay images from the Buddha period. Some important specimens have been found drom the ruins of Vikramshila Mahavihara.
  • An exquisite example of artistic beauty is seen in the drawing on a wooden plate in which a lady is seen sitting in posture with a mirror in her hands and she is beholding herself in the mirror. Her beauty gets more attracted by cladding her with ornaments.
  • The terracotta plaques recovered from Paharpur amply demonstrate the excellence of the art in the Pala period. These plaques, used mainly in surface decoration of the walls, have been recognised as unique creation of the Bengal artists. Side by side with the depiction of religious subjects, the artists have chosen subjects from the everyday life of the people. There is no doubt that the terracotta art reached a high water mark in the Pala period.


  • The Gupta tradition of sculptural art attained a new height under the patronage of the Pala rulers and it came to be designated as ‘Pala School of Sculptural Art’. It is Eastern Style of medieval sculpture. The art incorporated lot of local characteristics in Bengal under the Palas and it continued right up to the end of the 12th century.
  • The sculptures of stones and bronze were constructed in large numbers mostly in  monastic sites of Nalanda, Bihar Sharif, Rajgir, Bodh Gaya, Ghosranwan etc.
  • Most of the sculptures of this period drew their inspiration from Buddhism. Apart from Buddha, sculptures of God and Goddess of Hindu Dharma like Vishnu, Balram,  Uma, Maheshwar, Surya and Ganesha were also constructed. The finest sculptures of this School include a female bust, two standing Avalokiteshwara images from Nalanda; Buddha seated in ‘Bhumisparsasamudra’ and images of Avalokiteshwara seated in ‘Ardha Paryanka’ etc.
  • Buddhist sculptures is characterised by a prominent and elaborately carved black-slab and lotus-seat, frequently supported by lions.
  • Of the various forms of Shaiva icons, Maheshwara (inspired by Tantricism) was even more popular than Ganesha. Vaishnava images were also  produced during the 11th and 12th century.
  • Generally only frontal parts of body have been shown in the sculptures. The front was highly detailed and decorated. The sculpture in spite of the beauty engraved with them lack genuineness because  of over use of decorative. Due to influence of  Tantricism, the sculptures of god were given different touches like that of female, animal etc.
  • Bronze sculptures are casted in dies.Bronze casting was an important feature of Pala sculptures. Such sculptures have been found from Nalanda and Kukrihar (near Gaya). The art of metal casting attained a high degree proficiency at the Buddhist cantre of Kukrihar, as well as at the University of Nalanda where it appears to have formed a part of the curriculum.
  • Largest of bronze idols was found at Sultanganj (Bhagalpur) which is being showcased at Birmingham musium.
  • The bronze figures were usually cast by the ‘cire perdue’ process and were subsequently carefully finished sometimes in guilt.
  • Taranatha names two artists, father and son, Dhiman and Bitpalo, as being the founder of schools of cast metal images, sculptures and painting. They were the residents of Nalanda and worked under Pala kings Dharmapala and Devapala.
  • The Pala sculptures also present examples of artistic beauty carved out of stone sculptures. These are made of “black basalt stones” which are obtained from Santhal Paragana and Munger. They had stylish elegance, technical precision and a harsh outline skin to metal work.
  • The Pala Style is marked by slim and graceful figures, elaborate jewellery and conventional decoration. Their sculptures from Bihar are somewhat thick set and heavier in their general proportions of limbs than those from Bengal. The Pala rulers had intimate relations with Java which are evident in Hindu-Javanese sculpture. Some amount of stylisation is noticed in the later phase of Pala art, but the tradition is continued under the Sena rulers in the 12th century until the Islamic rulers overran the country.
  • The main features of Pala sculptures is their free flowing movement. Almost all the figures are of similar sizes.
  • In the museums in Bangladedesh and West Bengal the most notable exhibits are the innumerable beautiful sculptures on Rajmahal black basalt stone. The deities seemed to have assumed life through the masterly carving of the sculptors. The artistic genius of the Bengal sculptors blossomed to perfection in the period. Similarly Bronze sculptures of Bengal came to be recognised as specimens of a matured art, and specialists think that the Bengal bronzes influenced the art in south-east Asian countries.


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 and the Jain texts executed in western India during the 11th-12th centuries A.D.

There are two forms of paintings: Manuscripts and Wall Painting (Mural).

  • Manuscripts was written on palm leaves. In these paintings, scenes of life of Buddha and several god and goddess of Mahayana sects are depicted. Many Paintings illustrated manuscripts belong to the Vajrayana School of Buddhism.
  • The impact of Tanricism on these paintings are easily visible. Sometimes it also resembles some of the qualities of Nepalese and Burmese Art.
  • Though limited to manuscript paintings, the art shows a very developed stage and scholars have held that the paintings of the Pala period definitely influenced the Eastern Indian, Tibetan and Nepali paintings of the 14th century.
  • Taranatha (1608) mentions the names of Dhiman and his son Vitpala, the master sculptors and painters of the period of Dharmapala and Devapala.
  • A large number of manuscripts on palm-leaf relating to Buddhist themes were written and illustrated with the images of Buddhist deities at Buddhist centres like Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramshila and Somapura. Students and pilgrims at these centres took back to their countries examples of Pala Art in the form of manuscripts which helped to carry the Pala style to Nepal, Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka, Java etc.
  • Decorative paintings could be seen on manuscripts depending on the subject matter. The painted manuscripts are at present lodged in Cambridge University.
  • The art of painting is manifest in 400 odd paintings that appear in the so far discovered 24 painted manuscripts of Pancharaksa, Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita, Panchavingshatisahasrika Prajnaparamita and other texts.
  • A fine example of the typical Buddhist palm-lead manuscripts illustrated in the Pala style exists in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, England. It is a manuscrpt of the Ashta-Sahsarika Prajnaparamita, or the perfection of Wisdom written in eight thousand lines. It was executed in the monastery of Nalanda in the 15th year of the reign of the Pala King, Ramapala, in the last quarter of 11th century. The manuscript has illustrations of six pages and also on the insides of both wooden covers.
  • Red, blue, black and white colors are used as primary colors whereas green, purple, light pink and grey are used as secondary/auxiliary color on a fine variety of  palm leaf, as well as on the lacquered wooden covers of manuscripts.
  • The Pala painting is characterised by sinuous line, delicate and nervous lines, sensuous elegance, linear and decorative accent and subdued tones of color. It is naturalistic style which resembles the ideal forms of contemporary bronze and stone sculpture, and reflects some feeling of the 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 a platform made of granite stone we can find flowers of geometric shapes, images of animals and humans. The images have faded now, yet certain images like elephant, horses, dancers, Bodhisattvas etc. can be noticed. Impact of Ajanta and Bagh painting can be noticed, as the way of making images and painting are very much similar.


पालों का साम्राज्य बिहार और बंगाल में फैला हुआ था । धार्मिक रूप से वैदिक (हिन्दू) धर्म के अतिरिक्त बौद्ध धर्म का बोलबाला था । कई पाल शासक बौद्ध मतावलंबी थे और नालंदा विश्वविद्यालय, विक्रमशीला विश्वविद्यालय की गरिमा बरकरार थी। इसी वातावरण में मूर्तिकला,चित्रकला व भित्तिचित्र और स्थापत्य के क्षेत्र में कला की जो शैली उभरी और विकसित हुई उसे पालकला कहते हैं।


पत्थरों और कांसे की मूर्तियों का निर्माण हुआ है। कांसें की मूर्तियों को सांचे में ढालकर बनाया जाता था । कांस्य प्रतिमाओं को उन्नत शैली में पहुंचाने का श्रेय कलाकार धीमन और विठपाल को जाता है । नमूने नालंदा ,कुक्रिहार (गया) से प्राप्त हुए हैं । अधिकांश मूर्तियों की विषय-वस्तु बौद्ध धर्म –बुद्ध, अवलोकितेश्वर, तारा ,बोधिसत्व का है लेकिन हिन्दू देवी-देवताओं–सूर्य, उमा महेश्वर,गणेश,सूर्य,विष्णु की भी प्रतिभाएं बनायी गयी हैं। सर्वोत्तम कांस्य प्रतिमा
सुल्तानगंज(भागलपुर)से प्राप्त बुद्ध की है जो अभी ब्रिटेन के बर्मिघंम म्यूजियम में है।

पत्थर की मर्तियों का निर्माण प्राय: हाथ से हुआ है। इन पाषाण मूर्तियों में गुप्तकालीन सौन्दर्य का अभाव है । मोटे तौर पर पाषाण मूर्तियों में निम्न विशेषताएं देखी जा सकती हैं —

  1. पाल पाषाण मूर्तियां काले बेसाल्ट पत्थरों से बनी हैं ।
  2. मूर्तियों का पिछला हिस्सा सपाट हैं और केवल अग्र हिस्से को दिखाने पर ज्यादा जोर है। कुछ मूर्तियों में पिछले भाग को लयात्मकता के साथ उभारा गया है।
  3. मूर्तियों में अलंकरण की अधिकता है जो बनावटीपन को दिखाते हैं। अंग-प्रत्यंग की चपल अभिव्यक्ति शैली की विशेषता है।
  4. समकालीन तंत्र-मंत्र वाले धार्मिक विश्वास के कारण पुरुष मूर्तियों में भी नारी सुलभ कमनीयता/लचक के दर्शन होते हैं।
  5. बुद्ध और उनके जीवन की घटनाएं –जन्म, ज्ञान प्राप्ति ,धर्मचक्र परिवर्तन,निर्वाण इत्यादि की प्रधानता है । विष्णु भी खासा लोकप्रिय रहे हैं। शिव और जैनी देवताओं की प्रतिमाएं बहुत अल्प मात्रा में मिलते हैं।

मृणमूर्तियां भी काफी बङी संख्या में पायी गयी हैं । लोगों के वेशभूषा, रहन सहन , रीति-रिवाज और अन्य दैनिक क्रियाकलाप इन मूर्तियों से अभिव्यक्त होते हैं। धार्मिक मूर्तियां भी बनी हैं जैसे बुद्ध , विष्णु, सूर्य और हनुमान। लौकिक मूर्तियों में सर्वश्रेष्ठ उदाहरण आईना निहारती औरत की मूर्ति है।

स्थापत्य कला

पालों के शासन के दौरान ओदंतपुरी , विक्रमशीला विश्वविधालयों की स्थापना बिहार में हुई और पहले से चले आ रहे नालंदा विश्विधालय का विस्तार हुआ। ये विश्विधालय ज्ञान की पाठशाला तो थे ही लेकिन अपनी इमारतों के माध्यम से तत्कालीन स्थापत्य को भी सामने लाते हैं। विश्विधालय मूलतः बौद्ध मठ और विहार हैं। नालंदा में पालकालीन स्तूप और विहार देखे जा सकते हैं। खुले आंगन के चारों ओर बरामदा हैं जिनके पीछे बने कक्षों में पढने वाले आवासीय छात्र भिक्षु रहते थे। इसी तरह मंदिर और स्तूप विक्रमशीला में भी मिले हैं जिनमें बुद्ध की बङी-बङी प्रतिमाएं पत्थरों व मिट्टी से बनायी गयी हैं। दीवारों पर मिट्टी की तख्तियां सजावट के लिए बनी हैं । आम जन-जीवन का दृश्यांकन हुआ है और बुद्ध और शिव दोनों का भी प्रभाव दिखता है ।

चित्रकला व भित्तिचित्र

नालंदा के सरायस्थल में ग्रेनाइट से बने एक चबूतरे पर फूलों और ज्यामितीय आकार के डिजायन, मनुष्य और पशु का चित्रण हुआ है यधपि समय ने इन्हें धुंधला कर दिया है। यह भित्तिचित्र अजंता की याद दिला जाती है।
भित्तिचित्र के अलावा पांडुलिपि चित्रण का चलन पाल काल में रहा था। लंदन में संरक्षित ‘ अष्टसहसरिक प्रज्ञापरमित’ और ‘पंचरक्ष:’ नामक पांडुलिपि पुस्तकों में बुद्ध खासकर महायान परंपरा के देवी-देवताओं का चित्रण देखने को मिलता है। सभी प्रमुख रंगों की सहायता से चित्र उकेरे गये हैं।


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