There are many kingdoms which are hidden from history and about which we know nothing about. Now think of a dynasty ruling in an area known for landslides and avalanches – which ruled for almost 200-250 years and which has cast no more than 15 inscriptions.
What will you know about it? If it disappeared into history, may be, you may find something, but if it became a theatre for ravaging wars? Palola Shahis of Gilgit are one such.
If not for the famous Gilgit Manuscripts and Gilgit Bronzes which surface in various museums all over every now and then, it would have been a just another kingdom lost to history.
In spite of all this, even today, we don’t know anything about this kingdom – not even it’s extent of rule. But the name stuck to the area even today. Palola/Patola became Pat-lo-la and Polu in Chinese and Polu became Balur and Bolor in Muslim chronicles ultimately settling
as Balawarstan. Alberuni called the king Bolar Shah as a ruling king, clearly indicating that Gilgit had a king after the Tibet collapsed and the area became a confusion of small states. But, the new kings seem to have drawn their legitimacy through the title of Palola Shahi.
The word Palola is not that commonly known in Sanskrit literature, with Patoladesa in Bhattotpala’s commentary of Brhatsamhita being one of the rare ones. In fact, the Palola Shahi Sanskrit is not known to be of great quality with grammatical mistakes commonly noticed.
This kingdom used the Kashmiri Laukika Era which recycles the years every century, adding to the confusion. Where the Palola Shahis originated from is not known. However, going by the fact that the area overlaps with the Darada kingdom which preceded the Shahis in the same area,
one can assume either conquest or occupation of an abandoned kingdom which is clearly a different kingdom because the rulers didn’t use the title Shahi but titles like Daranmaharaja and Daratsumaharaja.
Even the names of these kings are not known – one is known simply as Daradaraya and another, Vaisravanasena who held the title Satrudamana. This coincides with a period from when Vaisravana started taking a military role in Buddhist lore.
This is further substantiated from the fact that Kalhana refers to wars between Daradas and Kashmira. There is another ruler Shahi Vajrasura who is either identified as a part of this Darada line or Vajradityanandi.
The Palola Shahis call them to be of Bhagadatta Vamsa, a completely odd name for the geography. These rulers called themselves Palola Shahis and rarely Patola Shahis and had their regnal name endings as -adityanandi.
A Kshatra-Shahi Vajranandi is known but every king held the Buddhist title of Mahasraddhopasika. Clearly, it looks as if Kshatra isn’t just a Hindu concept. The queens used the title Paramadevi. Though the titles are clearly Hindu, there is a level of Persian influence seen –
we know of a Spalapati Dholaka and the title Shahi itself, though the Shahi could have come from the Hunnic Khingala Dynasty or a legacy of the Kushanas.
Not much details are known regarding the dynasty. The earliest known ruler is Somana and the earliest with the title -adityanandi is Vajradityanandi. It is possible that there is a dynastic shift between Navasurendradityanandi and Jayamangalavikramadityanandi as we know
there is no information of Surapatijayanandi, Navasurendradityanand’s son, ascending the throne. It is possible that he ascended the throne, though but died childless or was deposed by his brother-in-law Jayamangalavikramadityanandi.
It is possible that Palola Shahis held close relations with Khotan, the nearest major Buddhist centre and it is further possible that Buddhism was introduced into the area through Khotan, either as a Kushana vassalage or as an independent kingdom.
This could have happened much before Palola Shahis rose to prominence. The first serious trouble to the kingdom was when Tarim Basin became a theatre of conflict between the Chinese and Tibetans in late 600s.
By 692, Chinese ejected Tibet from Tarim Basin and we see the Palola Shahis sending an embassy to China in 696 AD. A total of three embassies of known, with the last one in 720. By then, it’s possible that Tibet was seriously encroaching into the kingdom
and there is a complete confusion in the area simply going by the fact that the names of the last two kings are known only from Chinese chronicles. Gilgit fell by 737, a decade after Tibet became active in that area and the Chinese relief force reched Gilgit only in 747.
The Chinese succor provided was of not much effect because the Chinese faced a major defeat in the hands of a combined Arab-Tibet army at Talas in 751. With An Lushan erutpting in 755 and throwing the Chinese Empire into confusion, China was diverted from the theatre for decades,