Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

3
The Pāla Establishments

NĀLANDĀ was an old establishment--functioning over two centuries as a Mahāvihāra--when Gopāla, round the middle of the eighth century, founded the Pāla royal dynasty and built Odantapura.1

The Pālas, as the inscriptions on their coins show, were Buddhists, but the Buddhism professed by them was not what had prevailed in the Gupta age. The religion had entered on a phase in which the Mahāyāna philosophy, of which Nālandā had hitherto been the intellectual stronghold, had slanted off to an esoteric cult known as Vajrayāna (Tāntric Buddhism).

The earliest exposition of this cult is in two works, Guhyasamāja Tantra and Mañjuśrī-múlakalpa, the latter assignable to the eighth century.2Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna were different in orientation; the one being a system of transcendental philosophy, while the other an empirical system. Vajrayāna stemmed undoubtedly out of some of the doctrines of Mahāyānist philosophy. Its sponsors and exponents were known as Siddhas or Tantra-gurus, corresponding to the ācāryas of Mahāyāna Buddhism. But in its development in their hands it took a shape in which spells and magical rites and practices supposed capable of producing supernatural effects predominated. It enlarged the Mahāyānist pantheon with deities unknown to the older faith.3 The discovery in the ruins of Nālandā of several Tāntric images, all of which belong to the 'Pāla period' of its history,4

Nālandā of the Pāla period is scarcely represented in Chinese records which assemble so fascinating a picture of it in its earlier, more glorious epoch. In fact there are few instances after the turn of the eighth century of Chinese monks coming to India for study and learning. Perhaps the movement which had started the exodus of Chinese monk-scholars to India was then at its ebb. But from Nālandā and other centres Indian monks did not cease to migrate to

____________________
1
'His (Gopāla's) accession to the throne may be placed with a tolerable degree of certainty within a decade of AD 750, and he probably ceased to rule about AD 770.'-- R. C. MajumdarHistory of Bengal ( Dacca University, 1943), Vol. I, p. 103.
2
The first of these two works has been published in Gaekwad's Oriental Series; the second (partly) in Trivandrum Sanskrit Series. They are believed to be the earliest available texts on Tāntric Buddhism. See N. Dutt on 'Schools and Sects of Buddhism' in the Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. I (published by the Ramakrishna Missions Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 2nd Ed., 1958), p. 487.
3
See, in Ibid., Benoytosh Bhattachayya's Mahāyānic Pantheon, pp. 526 ff.
4
See Ghosh's Guide to Nalanda ( Pala Art at Nalanda), pp. 22 ff. betrays the emergence at Nālandā of this new development of the faith.

-349-

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