The Palas: The Warrior Protectors of Sanatana Dharma

After Maharaja Shashanka, for a long period of around one hundred years, Bengal was without a ruler. With a view to remedy the situation, the local chieftains—large and small—seem to have come together and elected one among them as their supreme leader, solely keeping in mind the welfare of the people. The fruit that resulted from these actions is the great lineage of the Palas. This is indeed one of the great traits of the noble values of kṣātra seen in the Indian tradition. The Pala lineage pinnacles are represented by Dharmapala and his son Devapala. This father-son duo ruled for about eighty years (770–810 CE and 810–850 CE).

Dharmapala immensely benefitted from the war between the Rashtrakutas and the Pratiharas. Dharmapala escaped from the attack by King Vatsaraja of the Pratiharas and in course of time he captured Kānyakubja (Kannauj). We can see his political acumen from how he achieved this feat. While the Palas were centred in modern-day Bengal and Bihar, they also ruled over large parts of Punjab, Rajasthan, Malwa, and Uttar Pradesh; for at least some time, the Pala king was hailed as an uttarāpatheśvara – the lord of the northern lands. Dharmapala gained fame as a king who had won a hundred wars. The strength and dexterity of his navy were limitless. The infantry (with elephants) and the cavalry (with horses) in his army were large and powerful. He is also the visionary responsible for establishing the Vikramaśīla and Odantapuri universities.

Just like his father, Devapala too was a great warrior, full of valour. He further expanded the kingdom that his father had established and ruled over those lands. The boundaries of his vast kingdom were Kambhoja in the west [in modern-day Pakistan], the Vindhya mountain range in the south, the Himalayas in the north, and the sea in the east [modern-day Bay of Bengal]. Although he waged wars and won against three generations of the Pratihara kings, he could not defeat the Rashtrakutas, who were a powerful royal dynasty of that period. However, it is also true that by Devapala’s time, the Rashtrakutas had lost all hopes of winning territories in the North Indian region. Devapala, who was skilled in managing a large army, emerged victorious merely by his brilliant war strategy. The Arab trader Suleiman says that the strength and discipline of Devapala’s vast army were admirable; there were apparently fifteen thousand washermen dedicated to cleaning the army uniforms of the soldiers! Devapala had an infantry unit that comprised fifty-thousand elephants.

Although the Pala kings where adherents of Buddhism, in the early years of their dynasty, they had internalized the fundamental values of Sanātana Dharma. They had realized the importance of kṣātra. They generously donated to Nalanda and other universities, which were centres of Buddhist learning. They encouraged and befriended the numerous Buddhist kings and scholars coming from within and outside the country. Yet they ruled over a large population of citizens who adhered to Sanātana Dharma. They never tried to convert the citizens to Buddhism nor did they force Buddhist precepts on them. Not only that, it appears that the Pala kings established various centres of worship for multiple Hindu deities.

Ruins of Vikramashila. Image Courtesy: Google Image Search

Today we don’t find any large temples or centres of worship constructed by the Palas. The definitive reason for this is the blood-stained and abhorrent journey undertaken by Bhaktiyar Khilji and other countless Muslim invaders who destroyed thousands of Hindu temples with a vengeance. What we see of the Palas today are just ruins – a few remains of sculptures and some images and pictures that are that have been preserved and protected in various museums in India and abroad. For instance, the sculpture of Viṣṇu sitting on Garuḍa, Ardhanārīśvara, Kalyāṇasundara, Gaṅgā-Yamunā, and many others. These are all clearly symbols of Sanātana Dharma.

Further, we learn that several Sanskrit poets and Sanātana Dharmis like Abhinanda (composer of Rāmacarita, a long and beautiful poem that closely follows the Vedic tradition), Yogeśvara, Vasukalpa, and Keṣaṭa obtained nourishment from the Palas for their art. The wonderful poems composed by these great poets stands testimony to the generosity and magnanimity of the Palas. As we have mentioned earlier, it becomes evident that the early Pala kings were admirers of Sanātana Dharma. Therefore, the all-round prosperity of the kingdom of Dharmapala and Devapala was firmly established with a solid foundation.

However, the Pala kings who followed, like Vigrahapala, Narayanapala, and others became weak, powerless, and dull. They began adhering to self-contradictory, distorted, and corrupted Buddhist sects such as Sahajayāna, Vajrayāna, and Mahācīna. These sects totally lacked the enthusiasm of Sanātana Dharma and propagated nirāśāvāda (doctrine of despair) and misplaced ahiṃsā, bringing disgust to people and causing a great deal of trouble to the world at large. As a result, the kingdom had to face a lot of difficulty, having strayed from the path of kṣātra – this naturally led to a depletion of prosperity of the kingdom and robbed the joy of its citizens.

This morbid tale serves as a warning to all generations.

After ruling for three or four years, Maharaja Vigrahapala became a Buddhist bhikku (monk). And as for Narayanapala, he was immersed in contemplation about Buddhist philosophy throughout his fifty-year reign of inaction and aloofness. Through his, he ensured that the Pala dynasty would have no future. He became a menace to his own people, coming in the way of their pursuits of the trivarga – dharmaartha, and kāma.  It was during his reign that the Pratiharas defeated them and annexed large parts of the Pala kingdom. This went to such an extent that North Bengal, which was the centre of the Palas and the land of their origin, came within the reach of the Pratihara king Mahendrapala. Along with this, the vassals of the Pala Empire, which included the rulers of Kamarupa (Assam), Kalinga (Odisha), and Manipura threw off the Pala yoke and declared themselves independent.

All this was the heinous fruit of the Palas abandoning kṣātra. Finally with the help from the Rashtrakutas, Narayanapala was able to regain some stability but that became a sort of submission and slavery. The Pala dynasty saw further decline with the advent of Narayanapala’s successors – Rajyapala and Gopala II. They were vanquished in battle by the Chandellas and Kalachuryas. We learn that later on, Mahipala, the son of Vigrahapala II, reinvigorated kṣātra and took Bengal back into his grip, establishing stability there, firmly settling down in his homeland.

After that the Senas from Karnataka became a strong force in eastern India. Therefore, just as we have seen earlier, treading the path of the great kings Ashoka, Kanishka, and Harshavardhana, the Palas too abandoned kṣātra and paid a heavy price for it.

It would not be incorrect if we claim that the history of the Palas serves as an invaluable political lesson not just to India but to any nation of the world.

To be continued Translated from Kannada by Hari Ravikumar and Sandeep Balakrishna



Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.


Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written more than fifteen books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He works in an advisory capacity with Abhinava Dance Company, Lakshminarayana Global Centre for Excellence, Pramiti, and Samvit Research Foundation.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...