Categories Selfstudyhistory.com

Palas: Polity and administration

Palas: Polity and administration

  • The period following the death of Harsha was a period of political confusion.
    • For nearly a century after Harsha‘s death in 647 C.E, Bengal had been subject to much interference and disruption by its near and farther neighbours.
    • For some time, Lalitaditya, the ruler of Kashmir brought the Punjab under his control and even controlled Kanauj which, since the days of Harsha, was considered the symbol of the sovereignty of north India. Control of Kanauj also implied control of the upper Gangetic valley and its rich resources in trade and agriculture.
    • Lalitaditya even invaded Bengal or Gaud, and killed its reigning king. But his power waned with the rise of the Palas and the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
  • Gopala:
    • The Pala empire was founded by Gopala, probably in AD 750 when he was elected king by the notable men of the area to end the anarchy prevailing there.
    • Gopala was not born in a high, much less a royal family, his father probably being a soldier. He unified Bengal under his control, and even brought Magadha (Bihar) under his control.
    • Gopala was succeeded in AD 770 by his son, Dharamapala, who ruled till AD 810.
  • The dynasty prospered under Gopala’s successors, Dharamapala and Devapala.
  • Dharamapala:
    • His reign was marked by a tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for the control of Kanauj and north India.
    • The Pratihara ruler advanced upon Gaud (Bengal), but before a decision could be taken, the Pratihara ruler was defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva, and was forced to seek refuge in the deserts of Rajasthan.
    • Dhruva then returned to the Deccan. This left the field free for Dharmapala who occupied Kanauj and held a grand darbar which was attended by vassal rulers from Punjab, eastern Rajasthan, etc.
    • The rule of Dharmapala extended upto the furthest limit of India in the northwest and, perhaps, included Malwa and Berar. Apparently, this implied that the rulers of these areas accepted the suzerainty of Dharmapala.
    • Dharmapala could not, however, consolidate his power in north India. The Pratihara power revived under Nagabhatta II. Dharmapala fell back, but was defeated near Mongyr.
    • Bihar and modern east Uttar Pradesh remained a bone of contention between the Palas and the Pratiharas. However, Bihar, in addition to Bengal, remained under the control of the Palas for most of the time.
  • Devapala:
    • Failure in the north compelled the Pala rulers to turn their energies in other directions. Devapala, the son of Dharmapala, who succeeded to the throne in AD 810 and ruled for 40 years, extended his control over Pragjyotishpur (Assam) and parts of Orissa.
    • Probably a part of modern Nepal was also brought under Pala suzerainty.
  • Thus, for about a hundred years, from the middle of the eighth to the middle of the ninth century, the Pala rulers dominated eastern India. For some time, their control extended upto Varanasi.
  • Sulaiman’s account:
    • The power of the Palas is attested to by an Arab merchant, Sulaiman, who visited India in the middle of the ninth century, and wrote an account of it.
    • He calls the Pala Kingdom Ruhma, (or Dharma, short for Dharmapala), and says that the Pala ruler was at war with his neighbours, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas, but his troops were more numerous that his adversaries.
    • He tells us that it was customary for the Pala king to be accompanied by a force of 50,000 elephants, and that 10,000-15,000 men in his army were employed ‘in fulling and washing clothes’.
      • Even if these figures may be exaggerated, Palas had a large military force at their disposal.
      • But we do not know whether they had a large standing army, or whether their forces consisted largely of feudal levies.
  • Tibetan chronicles:
    • Information about the Palas is also provided to us by Tibetan chronicles, although these were written in the seventeenth century.
    • According to these, the Pala rulers were great patrons of Buddhist learning and religion.
    • The Nalanda university which had been famous all over the eastern world was· revived by Dharmapala, and 200 villages-were set apart for meeting its expenses. He also founded the Vikramasila university. It was located on the top of a hill, on the banks of the Ganga in Magadha, amidst pleasant surroundings.
    • The Palas built many viharas in which a large number of Buddhist monks lived.
    • The Pala rulers also had close cultural relations with Tibet. The noted Buddhist scholars, Santarakshita and Dipankara (called Atisa), were invited to Tibet, and they introduced a new form of Buddhism, there. As a result, many Tibetan Buddihists flocked to the universities of Nalanda and Vikramsila for study.
  • Although the Palas were supporters of Buddhism, they also extended their patronage to Saivism and Vaishnavism.
    • They gave grants to large numbers of brahmans from north India who flocked to Bengal Their settlements helped in the extension of cultivation in the area, and the transformation of many pastoralists and food-gatherers to settle down to cultivation.
  • The growing prosperity of Bengal helped in extending trade and cultural contacts with countries of Southeast Asia-Burma, Malaya, Java, Sumatra, etc.
    • The trade with Southeast Asia was very profitable and added greatly to the prosperity of the Pala empire and led to the incursion of gold and silver from these countries into Bengal.
    • The powerful Sailendra dynasty, which was Buddhist in faith and which ruled over Malaya, Java, Sumatra and the neighbouring islands, sent many embassies to the Pala court and sought permission to build a monastery at Nalanda, and also requested the Pala ruler, Devapala, to endow five villages for its upkeep. The request was granted and bears testimony to the close relations between the two empires.
  • The Palas realised the importance of Madhyadesha in the Indian political sphere, and fought hard to gain power and influence there.
    • Their main rivals were the Gurjara-Pratihara and the Rashtrakuta, although with the latter there were useful marriage alliances.
    • The Palas and the Pratiharas clashed with each other for the control of the area extending from Banaras to south Bihar which again had rich resources and well developed imperial traditions.
    • The Pratiharas also clashed with the Rashtrakutas of the Deccan.
    • In the triangular contest over Madhyadesha and Kanauj, all three dynasties ultimately exhausted themselves.
  • Over different periods of time, the dynasty also ruled over Bihar, Odisha and Assam. The Palas during the rule of Dharamapala extended their suzerainty in Assam.
  • The Bengal kingdom‘s reputation reached beyond the boundaries of India, into Nepal and Tibet and, above all, towards Southeast Asia, in Java, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula ruled by the Shailendra dynasty.
  • Pala suzerainty in Bengal and eastern India lasted until the end of the eleventh century, when they were succeeded by the Senas, who, in turn, lost out to the Turkish Khaljis in the thirteenth century.

Administration

  • Palas inherited an administrative structure from the Guptas. Nevertheless, the administrative system of the Palas was far more efficiently practised.
  • The copper plates of the Palas indicate about the efficient administrative system.
  • The system of Administration of Pala Dynasty was monarchial. The king or monarch was the centre of all power.
  • The Pala kings were offered the title of Parameshwar, paramvattaraka or Maharajadhiraja. The structure of Pala administration followed the appointment of the Prime Ministers.
  • Pala Empire was divided into separate Vuktis (Provinces).
    • These Vuktis were segmented into Vishaya (Divisions) and then Mandala (Districts).
    • Other smaller units were Khandala, Bhaga, Avritti, Chaturaka, and Pattaka.
  • Land grant:
    • The Pala kings gave land grants to brahmans, priests and temples. These grants were permanent.
    • They also bestowed land grants on Buddhist monastries.
    • The land grants carried with them various economic and administrative perquisites. The Pala grants are specifically related to maintenance of law and order and of administration of justice.
    • A Pala grant (802 C.E.) mentions an official in North Bengal called Dasagramika who was given one kula of land as inferred from Manu.
    • Land grants were also given to Kaivartas who were peasants.
    • The pala records (land charters) refer to rajas, Rajputras, Ranakas, Rajarajanakas, Mahasamantas, Mahasamantadhipatis, etc. They were probably feudatories who were given lands in lieu of military services.
    • There is no evidence for sub-infeudation under the Palas.
  • Pala Dynasty developed the ferry ghats to the river ways, land routes, trade and commerce, towns and ports, as well as skillfully managed the law and order in the country.
  • The Pala system of government had a long record of state-officials.
    • The Pala dynasty had the assigned position such as
      • the Raja, or the Mahasamanta (Vassal kings),
      • Mahasandhi-vigrahika (Foreign minister),
      • Duta (Head ambassador),
      • Rajasthaniya (Deputy),
      • Sasthadhikrta (Tax collector).
    • Other important positions in the royal court included
      • Mahaksapatalika (Accountant),
      • Jyesthakayastha (Dealing documents),
      • the Ksetrapa (Head of land use division) and
      • Pramatr (Head of land measurements).
  • The Administration of Palas also featured:
    • Mahadandanayaka or Dharmadhikara (Chief justice),
    • the Mahapratihara (Police forces),
    • Khola (Secret service).
  • Agricultural posts were also allocated and the positions in the society:
    • Gavadhakshya (Head of dairy farms),
    • Chhagadhyakshya (Head of goat farms),
    • Meshadyakshya (Head of sheep farms),
    • Mahishadyakshya (Head of Buffalo farms),
    • Nakadhyakshya (Aviation ministry).

Leave a Reply