Varendra Rebellion

Varendra Rebellion occurred during the reign of the Pala emperor Mahipala II (c 1075-1080 AD) and resulted in his death and the loss of Varendra (north Bengal) to the Kaivarta chief Divya. The loss of Varendra and its recovery by ramapala is the central theme of Sandhyakaranandi’s famous kavya ramacharitam, the only source of information about the incident.

Mahipala II is said to have imprisoned his two brothers, Xurapala and Ramapala, out of suspicion that Ramapala would capture royal power. The possibility of a dynastic trouble arising out of the ambition of a capable younger brother cannot be altogether ruled out. So, if there is any truth in Sandhyakaranandi’s story of the imprisonment of Ramapala, it may well have been the outcome of a fraternal dispute between Ramapala and Mahipala II and the rebellion that broke out during the reign of the latter may have been the consequence of this. The rebellion has been mentioned, besides the Ramacharaitam, in three epigraphic records.

It is difficult to determine the causes and nature of the revolt. There are scholars who believe that it was a rebellion of Divya and the Kaivartas against the oppressive rule of Mahipala II. It has also been suggested that the Kaivartas were smarting under the Buddhist rulers who were against their fishing profession. There are suggestions that the rebels were supporters of Ramapala, but this cannot be accepted on the ground that the success of the rebellion led to the loss of Varendra and did not benefit Ramapala.

The Ramacharitam describes the rebellion as anikam dharmmaviplavam. The commentator explains anikam as alaksmikam (unholy or unfortunate) but does not offer any meaning of dharmmaviplavam. It has been translated as ‘civil revolution’, as also ‘transgression from duty or from the right path’. The commentary of verse I/31 explains how Mahipala lost his life. He is said to have sunk, having undertaken a difficult war, disregarding the advice of his minister, who was endowed with all the six qualities of polity. His army felt frightened at the accumulation of the huge army of the united innumerable feudatory chiefs (militanantasamantachakra) and in the battle Mahipala lost his life. From this passage it is clear that the opponents of Mahaipala were a chakra (confederacy) of samantas (feudal chiefs).

It is gathered from verse I/38 of the Ramacharitam that subsequently his enemy Divya, ‘who was an officer sharing royal fortune and who rose to high position’, occupied Varendra. In the same verse Divya is mentioned as upadhivratin, and the commentator explains it as avashyakarttavyataya arabdham karmmavratam chhadmani vrati. May be Divya had taken possession of Varendra, as if he was doing the right thing as a royal officer, but it appeared to be a fraudulent gesture when he ultimately declared independence in Varendra. It is quite likely that Divya was secretly associated with the samantachakra, and may have been instrumental in hatching up the rebellion. He remained on the royal side right up to the end of Mahipala and after his death took possession of Varendra. This intricate play of power politics naturally appeared to Sandhyakaranandi as dereliction of duty on the part of the royal officer and the episode was termed a dharmmaviplava.

It is quite clear that the battle in which Mahipala II lost his life was against the combined forces of samantas. As the rebellion terminated in the loss of Varendra it is likely that the samantas belonged to that area, north Bengal. A revolt of the samantas was nothing unusual in that period of history. The nature of the relation between the samanta and the sovereign ruler depended largely on the comparative strength of the two. A samanta paid allegiance only so long as the suzerain was powerful. On the least sign of weakness of the empire the samantas would try to shake off the subordination. Viewed from this point of view the rebellion was definitely not a revolt of the Kaivartas, but an attempt to overthrow the weak royal power of the Palas by a few important feudal chiefs of northern Bengal. The dispute among the brothers and the imprisonment of two brothers by Mahipala may have signalled the weakness of the Palas and the rebellious samantas formed a confederacy against Mahipala II. Divya, the chief of the Kaivartas and a royal officer may have played a role in building up the confederacy and his connection with the rebels became apparent when he assumed independent power in Varendra.

Varendra was ruled successively by Divya, his younger brother Rudoka and the latter’s son Bhima before Ramapala (c 1082-1124 AD) re-established Pala authority in the area.

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