From the Jacket
With the revival of Brahmanical Hinduism sometime around the fifth century AD, Buddhism had been dying out in India. But paradoxically perhaps, in Bengal and Orissa, it saw not only its resurgence, but also a spell of its climatic glory- for the rulers of these Eastern Indian regions, during 8th-12th centuries, were the devout adherents of Buddhist faith. At the secular layers, the eastern India society of the times, as elsewhere in the subcontinent, was going through a period or transition: from the ancient to medieval.
This book look at the status of Buddhism in Bengal, Orissa, and their peripheral regions in Eastern India during 8th 12th centuries AD. Yet more significantly, it is the first ever effort to gauge the impact of Buddhism on contemporary socio-economic life, ruled by the dynastic families of zealous Buddhists, namely, the palas in Bengal and the Bhaumakaras of Orissa. Contextually, Dr. Mohapatra evolves indepth, analytical perspectives on pre-medieval religion, society and economy in eastern India drawing on wide-ranging sources: both primary and secondary.
Supported by relevant visual material, extensive bibliographic references, and a glossary of non-English words, the book is invaluable to the students/specialists of Buddhist studies and Indian history.
About the Author
Bimal Chandra Mohapatra, who holds Delhi University PhD is a one-time Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Indian Council of Social Science Research.
An untiring researcher, Dr. Mohapatra is currently working in the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, on a post-doctoral project relevant to Comparative religion. Which also involves him with the Taisho University and the Eastern Institute in Tokyo, Japan.
THIS book aims at presenting a comprehensive discussion about the
condition of Buddhism and its impact on the social and economic conditions
of Bengal and Orissa from the eighth to twelfth century AD. The study has
been restricted to two dominating dynasties of Bengal and Orissa who
were great patrons of Buddhism namely the Pal as of Bengal (present
Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh) who ruled from eighth to twelfth century
AD and the Bhaumakaras of Orissa who ruled from eighth to tenth century
It is significant to note that when Buddhism was declining and
Brahmanism was in a very affluent condition throughout India, the
eastern part of India, particularly Bengal (present Bengal, Bihar and
Bangladesh) and Orissa, rendered a great impetus to Buddhism in the
period from eighth to twelfth century AD. This book discusses in details the
condition of Buddhism and its impact on the socio-economic condition of
Bengal and Orissa during that period.
Although much work has been done on the religion, society and
economic conditions of this period in Bengal and Orissa, but the relation-
ship between the religion and socio-economic life of the people in this area
has not been done so far. An effort has been made to fill this gap. We know
that Buddhism had a meaningful relation to society and economy, helping
the evolution of new patterns of social and economic behaviour and
attitude. I have tried to look into this aspect of religion through this book.
The methodology adopted in this study is analytical as well as
comparative. It has been tried to make the analysis as objective as
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who have
helped me to complete this task through their generous cooperation.
No amount of word can adequately convey my sense of gratitude to Dr.
(Miss) Sudha Sengupta, retired associate professor, Department of Bud-
dhist Studies, University of Delhi as without her invaluable guidance,
motherly affection and constant inspiration the present work would not
have been possible.
I am highly indebted to Prof. Mahesh Tiwari, Prof. K.K. Mittal, Prof.
Sanghasen Singh, and Dr. K. T.S. Sarao of the Deptt. of Buddhist Studies,
University of Delhi and Prof. K.S. Behera, Deptt. of History, Utkal
University and Prof. P.K. Mishra, Deptt. of History, Sambalpur Univer-
sity for their kind cooperation and encouragement.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to my parents
and other family members, but for whose care, affection and cooperation,
it would have been difficult for me to complete this work. No word of
appreciation would suffice to record my debt to my wife for her perennial
love, support and understanding. I am immensely thankful to all my
friends for their constant inspiration.
My thanks are due to the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi
and National Museum, New Delhi for generously providing me the
necessary photographs for this book.
Last but not the least, I sincerely appreciate the highly strenuous and
valuable task undertaken by Mr. Susheel K. Mittal ofD.K. Printworld for
publication of the book.
THE period from the eighth to twelfth century AD was significant from
many points as far as Buddhism is concerned in eastern part of India. This
period saw the last glory of the Buddhists in Indiaand there was a total
transformation in the social and economic relations. It was the period
when feudalism was raising its head in Bengal and Orissa and there was
great transformation in the Buddhist faith also. Thus this period was a
transitional one from ancient to medieval period which witnessed many
changes in the society, economic conditions and religious faiths in Bengal
This work is based mainly on original sources though several secondary
sources have also been consulted. We now discuss in detail about the
sources which are given in two separate sections, one dealing with the
sources for the history of Bengal during the rule of the Palas, another for
the history of Orissa during the rule of the Bhaumakaras.
Bengal under the Palas
The sources of the history of ancient Bengal are of two broad categories,
archaeological and literary. Epigraphical, numismatic and monumental
records constitute the epigraphic source. The inscriptions found on stones
or metals have been found in various places and they provide us a lot of
informations about the period under study. The Pala monarchs were
famous for issuing many land grants with inscriptions which describe
them as devout Buddhists. These land grants also indicate the extent and
the nature of patronage given to Buddhism by the Pala monarchs. At the
same time these inscriptions proved the catholicity of the Pala monarchs
towards other religious sects. The role played by Bengal in the international
sphere of Buddhism is obtained from these records. These epigraphic
records provide us concrete informations about the social conditions and
economic activities of the people of the contemporary period.
Numismatic source, i.e., coins and seals does not constitute a major
source so far as Bengal of our period is concerned, since the Pal as are not
known to have issued any coin. The informations provided by some seals
have ascertained the sites of the Buddhist Universities of Nalanda and
The ruins of different Buddhist Monasteries like Nalanda and
Somapura, stand silent witness to the flourishing condition of Buddhism
under the Palas. The metal and stone images belonging to various sects
of Buddhism discovered from various places in Bengal and Bihar (ancient
Bengal) speak of the popularity of Buddhism. The affinity between
Bengal and several south-east Asian sculptures has been established
because of these monuments.
Literary source, though sometimes corroborative in nature is of
immense value to us. This source is divided into two categories, indigenous
and foreign. Indigenous primary texts which are mostly written in
Sanskrit give us valuable information about the history of Bengal. The
foreign texts, particularly Chinese, N apalese and Tibetan provide us
informations about the evolution of Buddhism in Bengal. The discovery
of a large number of manuscripts from Nepal have enriched our know ledge
about the offshoots of Mahayana Buddhism like Sahajayana and
Kalacakrayana. Tibetan texts have informed us about many Buddhist
centres in Bengal like Nalanda, Vikramasila, Somapura, -Iagaddala,
Devikota and many others. The condition of Buddhism in the pre-Pala
period has been known to us because of the Chinese travelogues of Fahien,
Hiuen Tsang and T-tsang.
Lama Taranath's History of Buddhism in India gives not only detailed
account of the condition of Buddhism in Bengal but also the history of the
Pala rulers in Bengal. In spite of some discrepancies, we must admit that
Taranath had access to some historical texts, now lost to us and did not
draw purely on his imagination. Taranath gathered his informations
from certain old texts and either these were wrong in many details or he
Another important literary source is the Subhasitaratnakosa, an
anthology of Sanskrit poems compiled by a Buddhist scholar named
Vidyakara in AD 1100. This book gives us a view of the village life in the
early medieval Bengal. It begins with verses in praise of the Buddha
followed by verses on the other Buddhist deities as well as brahmanical
gods and goddesses which is an evidence of the catholic spirit towards
religions. The verses are on seasons, periods of human life, love, goodmen,
villains, poverty and praise of kings. Thus it served as an important
source for getting a good knowledge about the village life in the early
In the course of preparation of this work all possible sources including
epigraphic records, archaeological monuments, and literary texts belonging
to our period of investigation have been consulted.
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