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 silently, may be, you may find remnants, but if it became a theatre for ravaging wars and where everything is destroyed?

Palola Shahis of Gilgit are one such. If not for the famous Gilgit Manuscripts and the 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. In fact, a considerable number of inscriptions themselves are from the markings on the bronze idols which surface every now and then.

The Patola Shahis of Gilgit

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 Tibetan Empire collapsed and the whole 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.

In his Hatun Inscription, the Palola Shahi Navasurendraditya says himself to be as Bhagadatta-Vamsa-Sambhuta and an inscription on a bronze mentions Nandivikramadityanandi to be as Bhagadatta-anvaya-vyoma-ravi. Based on these inscriptions, the rulers are assumed to be of the same dynasty, though there can be a confusion in the earlier days. These rulers called themselves Palola Shahis and rarely Patola Shahis and had their regnal name endings as -adityanandi.

A Kshatra-Shahi Vajranandi is known, possibly Vajradityanandi himself 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. As we would see, the titles of the rulers became sophisticated with time –

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 in 737 and the Chinese relief force reached Gilgit only in 747. It 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 erupting in 755 and throwing the Chinese Empire into confusion, China was diverted from the theatre for decades, thus ending any scope of relief to Gilgit.

The list of kings goes thus.

  1. Somana: He carried the simple title of Palola Sahi and is known from a few inscriptions dated to 6th Century AD between Thalpan-Ziarat and Hodar. He doesn’t carry the epithet -adityanandi indicating that he is either an earlier progenitor or there is a dynastic change after him. This is further hinted from the fact that a Sampurnadityanandi is noted, but without regnal titles.
  2. Vajradityanandi(585-605): He is noted only from a single damaged manuscript colophon and his title Sri Patola Deva Sahi identifies him as the ruler.
  3. Vikramadityanandi(605-625): There is no information available to link him with Vajradityanandi.
  4. Surendravikramadityanandi(625-644/655): He is titled Mahastaddhopa-Sakra and is called Sri Deva Shahi. There is an inscription Surendradityanandi, with the title Sri Palola Shahi, which is assumed to be his based on the palaeography. This inscription at Hodar is the westernmost proof of the extent of Palola Shahi domains.
  5. Navasurendradityanandi(644/655-685): He is the first ruler of the dynasty about whom there is some information available. His inscriptions span from 644 AD-687 AD giving him a very long reign. His 671 AD inscription gives his title as “Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja Paramesvara Pato1a Deva Shahi Sri Navasurendradityanandi Deva”. This title is subsequently used by all the rulers.
  6. Jayamangalavikramadityanandi(685-710): He styled himself “Maharajadhiraja Paramesvara Shahanu Shahi Palo1a Shahi Sri…Deva”, possibly hinting at the elevation of the kingdom to imperial levels. There is a Surapatijayanandi who may have been the successor of Jayamangalavikramadityanandi but he didn’t ascend the throne – his brother-in-law Nandivikramadityanandi took the throne after marrying his sister Namovuddhaya. It is possible that Surapatijayanandi actually ascended the throne and ruled for a short time. Also, another important thing to note is, when the deceased kings are referred, they are not referred with regnal titles – for instance, Navasurendradityanandi is mentioned as Maharajadhiraja Parameswara only.
  7. Nandivikramadityanandi(710-715): Further confirming that he is not a son of Jayamangalavikramadityanandi, his mother Ujui is not seen in the inscriptions of his predecessor.
  8. The name of the next king is not known from Indian sources but is known only from Chinese sources. Known in the Chinese annals as Su-Fu-She-Li-Chih-Li-Ni(715-720), he was confirmed as the ruler in 720. Again, there is no way to tell if this is Nandivikramadityanandi himself.
  9. Soulint’o-i-tche or Surendraditya(720-737): Even his name is known only from Chinese annals. He seems to be caught in the power struggle between Tibet and China leading to the Tibetan invasion and collapse of the kingdom by 737.


  1. Die Palola Sahis – Oskar von Hinuber

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