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Gandhara is the name of an ancient kingdom (Mahajan pada), located in modern-day
northern Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale
of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau, and the Kabul River. Its main cities were Purusha Pura
(modern Peshawar), literally meaning “The City of Man”, Varmayana (modern Bamyan),
and Takshashila (modern Taxila). The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the early 1st millennium
BC to the 11th century AD. It attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under the
Buddhist Kushan Kings.
The Hindu term Shahi is used by history writer Al-Biruni to refer to the ruling Hindu dynasty that
took over from the Turki Shahi and ruled the region during the period before Muslim conquests of
the 10th and 11th centuries. During the Muslim period, the area was administered from Lahore
or Kabul. During Mughal times the area was part of Kabul province. The Gandhari people were
settled since the Vedic times on the banks of Kabul River (river Kubha or Kabul) down to its
confluence with the Indus. Later Gandhara included parts of northwest Punjab. Gandhara was
located on the northern trunk road (Uttara Patha) and was a center of international commercial
activities. It was an important channel of communication with ancient Iran, India, and Central
Asia. The boundaries of Gandhara varied throughout history. Sometimes the Peshawar valley and
Taxila were collectively referred to as Gandhara and sometimes the Swat valley was also included.
Evidence of Stone Age human inhabitants of Gandhara, including stone tools and burnt
bones, was discovered at Sanghao near Mardan in area caves. The artifacts are approximately
15,000 years old. More recent excavations point to 30,000 years before the present. The region
shows an influx of southern Central Asian culture in the Bronze Age with the Gandhara grave
culture, likely corresponding to the immigration of Indo-Aryan speakers and the nucleus of Vedic
civilization. This culture survived till 1000 BC. Its evidence has been discovered in the hilly
regions of Swat and Dir, and even at Taxila. the name of the Gandhari’s is attested in
the Rigveda and ancient inscriptions dating back to Achaemenid Persia. The Behistun inscription
listing the 23 territories of King Darius I (519 BC) includes Gandara along with Bactria and
Thatagush. In the book “Histories” by Herodotus, Gandhara is named as a source of tax collections
for King Darius.
Gandhara had played an important role in the epic of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ambhi Kumar
was a direct descendant of Bharata (of Ramayana) and Shakuni (of Mahabharata). It is said that
Lord Rama consolidated the rule of the Kosala Kingdom over the whole of the Indian peninsula.
His brothers and sons ruled most of the Janapadas (16 states) at that time.
The Gandharan Buddhist texts are both the earliest Buddhist and South Asian manuscripts
discovered so far. Most are written on birch bark and were found in labeled clay pots. Panini has
mentioned both the Vedic form of Sanskrit as well as what seems to be Gandhari, a later form
(bhasa) of Sanskrit, in his Ashtadhyayi. Gandhara’s language was a Prakrit or “Middle IndoAryan” dialect, usually called Gandhari. Texts are written right-to-left in the Kharosthi script,
which had been adapted for Indo-Aryan languages from a Semitic alphabet, the Aramaic alphabet.
Gandhara was then controlled by the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire, which used the
Aramaic script to write the Iranian languages of the Empire. Semitic scripts were not used to write
South Asian languages again until the arrival of Islam and subsequent adoption of the Persianstyle Arabic alphabet for New Indo-Aryan languages like Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Kashmiri.
Kharosthi script died out about the 4th century. However, the Hindko and the archaic Dardic
and Kohistani dialects, derived from the local Indo-Aryan Prakrits, are still spoken, though the
Afghan Pashto language is the most dominant language of the region today.
Gandhara is noted for the distinctive Gandhara style of Buddhist art, which developed out of a
merger of Greek, Syrian, Persian, and Indian artistic influence. This development began during the
Parthian Period (50 BC- 75 AD). The Gandharan style flourished and achieved its peak during
the Kushan period, from the 1st to the 5th century. It declined and suffered destruction after the
invasion of the White Huns in the 5th century. Stucco, as well as stone, was widely used by
sculptors in Gandhara for the decoration of monastic and cult buildings. Stucco provided the artist
with a medium of great plasticity, enabling a high degree of expressiveness to be given to the
sculpture. Sculpting in stucco was popular wherever Buddhism spread from Gandhara – India,
Afghanistan, Central Asia, and China.
Though the marks and ruins of Gandhara civilization can be found throughout Northern Pakistan,
its heritage has been saved more in true form in Taxila, Peshawar, and Swat valley. According to
Wikipedia, evidence of Stone Age human inhabitants of Gandhara, including stone tools and burnt
bones, was discovered at Sanghao near Mardan in area caves. The artifacts are approximately
15,000 years old. This Civilization is primarily a symbol of human development in the area of
human knowledge, religion, art, and history for the world to come to a great extent.