c. 1500 BCEc. 1000 CE
Gandhara is located in Pakistan

Location of Gandhara in South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan)

Approximate geographical region of Gandhara centered on the Peshawar Basin, in present-day northwest Pakistan.
CapitalKapisi (Bagram)
Puṣkalavati (Charsadda)
Puruṣapura (Peshawer)
Takshashila (Taxila)
Udabhandapura (Hund)
• c. 550 BCE
Pushkarasarin (first)
• c. 330 BCEc. 316 BCE
• c. 964 CEc. 1001 CE
Jayapala (last)
Historical eraAntiquity
• Established
c. 1500 BCE
• Disestablished
c. 1000 CE
Today part ofAfghanistan

Gandhāra was an ancient Indo-Aryan[1] civilization centered in the present-day north-west Pakistan and including parts of north-east Afghanistan, roughly in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent.[2][3][4] The core of the region of Gandhara was the Peshawar valley and Swat valley, though the cultural influence of "Greater Gandhara" extended across the Indus river to the Taxila region in Potohar Plateau and westwards into the Kabul valley in Afghanistan, and northwards up to the Karakoram range.[5][6][7]

The Gandhara tribe, after which it is named, is attested in the Rigveda (c. 1500 – c. 1200 BCE),[8][9] while the region is mentioned in the Zoroastrian Avesta as Vaēkərəta, the sixth most beautiful place on earth created by Ahura Mazda. It was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of the second urbanisation.[2][3][4] Gandhara is frequently mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.[10]

The Iron Age Gandhara kingdom emerged as a major imperial power during the reign of King Pushkarasarin in c.550 BCE.[11] Gandhara was conquered by the Achaemenids in the 6th century BCE, Alexander the Great in 327 BCE, and later became part of the Maurya Empire before being a centre of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. The region was a major centre for Greco-Buddhism under the Indo-Greeks and Gandharan Buddhism under later dynasties, including Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kushans. Gandhara was also a central location for the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and East Asia.[12]

Gāndhārī, an Indo-Aryan language written in Kharosthi script, acted as lingua franca of the region.[13] Famed for its unique Gandharan style of art which is influenced by the classical Hellenistic styles, Gandhara attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century CE under the Kushan Empire, who had their capital at Peshawar (Puruṣapura) and ushered a period of relative peace known as Pax Kushana. Gandhara "flourished at the crossroads of India, Central Asia, and the Middle East," connecting trade routes and absorbing cultural influences from diverse civilizations; Buddhism thrived until the 8th or 9th centuries, when Islam first began to gain sway in the region.[14]

The region steadily declined after the violent invasion by Alchon Huns in 6th century, and the name Gandhara disappeared after Mahmud Ghaznavi's conquest in 1001 CE.[15]


Gandhara was known in Sanskrit as Gandhāra (गन्धार), in Avestan as Vaēkərəta, in Old Persian as Gadāra (Old Persian cuneiform: 𐎥𐎭𐎠𐎼, Gadāra, also transliterated as Gandāra since the nasal "n" before consonants was omitted in the Old Persian script, and simplified as Gandara),[16] in Akkadian and Elamite as Paruparaesanna (Para-upari-sena),[17] in Chinese as T: 犍陀羅/S: 犍陀罗 (Pinyin: Jiāntuóluó; Middle Chinese (Zhengzhang Shangfang): /kɨɐn dɑ lɑ/) or T: 罽賓/S: 罽宾 (Pinyin: Jìbīn; Middle Chinese (Zhengzhang Shangfang): /kˠiᴇiᴴ piɪn/), and in Greek as Γανδάρα (Gandhara).[18]

One proposed origin of the name is from the Sanskrit word गन्ध gandha, meaning "perfume" and "referring to the spices and aromatic herbs which they (the inhabitants) traded and with which they anointed themselves.".[19][20] The Gandhari people are a tribe mentioned in the Rigveda, the Atharvaveda, and later Vedic texts.[21]

A Persian form of the name, Gandara, mentioned in the Behistun inscription of Emperor Darius I,[22][23] was translated as Paruparaesanna (Para-upari-sena, meaning "beyond the Hindu Kush") in Babylonian and Elamite in the same inscription.[17]


A modern satellite view of Gandhara (October 2020).

The boundaries of Gandhara varied throughout history. Sometimes the Peshawar Valley and Taxila were collectively referred to as Gandhara; sometimes the Kabul Valley and Swat (Sanskrit: Suvāstu) were included.[24] The kingdom was ruled from capitals at Kapisi (Bagram),[25] Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Taxila, Puruṣapura (Peshawar) and in its final days from Udabhandapura (Hund) on the River Indus. Historically, it bordered ancient regions of Bactria and Ariana to the north and Arachosia and Sattagydia to the south.[citation needed]


Stone age

Mother Goddess (fertility divinity), possibly derived from the Indus Valley civilization, terracotta, Sar Dheri, Gandhara, 1st century BC, Victoria and Albert Museum

Evidence of human activity in the Middle Palaeolithic has been reported from Sanghao Cave in the Mardan district of Pakistan.[26] The cave was excavated by Ahmad Hasan Dani in 1963. Chipped stone, bones, were found during the excavation.[27] Other items included scrapers, quartz tools, blades, flakes, etc.[28][29][30]

Gandhara grave culture

Main articles: Gandhara grave culture and Indo-Aryan migration

Cremation urn, Gandhara grave culture, Swat Valley, c. 1200 BC.

Gandhara's first recorded culture was the Grave Culture that emerged c. 1400 BCE and lasted until 800 BCE,[31] and named for their distinct funerary practices. It was found along the Middle Swat River course, even though earlier research considered it to be expanded to the Valleys of Dir, Kunar, Chitral, and Peshawar.[32] It has been regarded as a token of the Indo-Aryan migrations, but has also been explained by local cultural continuity. Backwards projections, based on ancient DNA analyses, suggest ancestors of Swat culture people mixed with a population coming from Inner Asia Mountain Corridor, which carried Steppe ancestry, sometime between 1900 and 1500 BCE.[33]

Vedic era

Main articles: Gandhāra (kingdom) and Gandhara Kingdom

Kingdoms and cities of ancient Buddhism, with Gandhara located in the northwest of this region, during the time of the Buddha (c. 500 BC).

The first mention of the Gandhārīs is attested once in the Ṛgveda as a tribe that has sheep with good wool. In the Atharvaveda, the Gandhārīs are mentioned alongside the Mūjavants, the Āṅgeyas. and the Māgadhīs in a hymn asking fever to leave the body of the sick man and instead go those aforementioned tribes. The tribes listed were the furthermost border tribes known to those in Madhyadeśa, the Āṅgeyas and Māgadhīs in the east, and the Mūjavants and Gandhārīs in the north.[34][35]

The Gāndhārī king Nagnajit and his son Svarajit are mentioned in the Brāhmaṇas, according to which they received Brahmanic consecration, but their family's attitude towards ritual is mentioned negatively,[36] with the royal family of Gandhāra during this period following non-Brahmanical religious traditions. According to the Jain Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, Nagnajit, or Naggaji, was a prominent king who had adopted Jainism and was comparable to Dvimukha of Pāñcāla, Nimi of Videha, Karakaṇḍu of Kaliṅga, and Bhīma of Vidarbha; Buddhist sources instead claim that he had achieved paccekabuddhayāna.[37][11][38]

By the later Vedic period, the situation had changed, and the Gāndhārī capital of Takṣaśila had become an important centre of knowledge where the men of Madhya-desa went to learn the three Vedas and the eighteen branches of knowledge, with the Kauśītaki Brāhmaṇa recording that brāhmaṇas went north to study. According to the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and the Uddālaka Jātaka, the famous Vedic philosopher Uddālaka Āruṇi was among the famous students of Takṣaśila, and the Setaketu Jātaka claims that his son Śvetaketu also studied there. In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, Uddālaka Āruṇi himself favourably referred to Gāndhārī education to the Vaideha king Janaka.[36]

During the 6th century BCE, Gandhāra was an important imperial power in north-west Iron Age South Asia, with the valley of Kaśmīra being part of the kingdom,[37] while the other states of the Punjab region, such as the Kekayas, Madrakas, Uśīnaras, and Shivis being under Gāndhārī suzerainty. The Gāndhārī king Pukkusāti, who reigned around 550 BCE, engaged in expansionist ventures which brought him into conflict with the king Pradyota of the rising power of Avanti. Pukkusāti was successful in this struggle with Pradyota, but war broke out between him and the Pāṇḍava tribe located in the Punjab region, and who were threatened by his expansionist policy.[11][39] Pukkusāti also engaged in friendly relations with the king Bimbisāra of Magadha.[11]

Due to this important position, Buddhist texts listed the Gandhāra kingdom as one of the sixteen Mahājanapadas ("great realms") of Iron Age South Asia. It was the home of Gandhari, the princess of Gandhara kingdom.[40][41]

Achaemenid Gandhara

Main article: Gandāra

See also: Achaemenid invasion of the Indus Valley

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Xerxes I tomb, Gandāra soldier, c. 470 BC.

By the later 6th century BCE, the founder of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus, soon after his conquests of Media, Lydia, and Babylonia, marched into Gandhara and annexed it into his empire.[42] The scholar Kaikhosru Danjibuoy Sethna advanced that Cyrus had conquered only the trans-Indus borderlands around Peshawar which had belonged to Gandhāra while Pukkusāti remained a powerful king who maintained his rule over the rest of Gandhāra and the western Punjab.[43]

However, according to the scholar Buddha Prakash, Pukkusāti might have acted as a bulwark against the expansion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire into north-west South Asia. This hypothesis posits that the army which Nearchus claimed Cyrus had lost in Gedrosia had in fact been defeated by Pukkusāti's Gāndhārī kingdom. Therefore, following Prakash's position, the Achaemenids would have been able to conquer Gandhāra only after a period of decline of Gandhāra after the reign of Pukkusāti combined the growth of Achaemenid power under the kings Cambyses II and Darius I.[11] However, the presence of Gandhāra, referred to as Gandāra in Old Persian, among the list of Achaemenid provinces in Darius's Behistun Inscription confirms that his empire had inherited this region from conquests carried out earlier by Cyrus.[42]

It is unknown whether Pukkusāti remained in power after the Achaemenid conquest as a Persian vassal or if he was replaced by a Persian satrap (governor),[44] although Buddhist sources claim that he renounced his throne and became a monk after becoming a disciple of the Buddha.[45] The annexation under Cyrus was limited to Gandhāra proper, after which the peoples of the Punjab region previously under Gāndhārī authority took advantage of the new power vacuum to form their own states.[11]

Athens coin (c. 500/490–485 BCE) discovered in Pushkalavati. This coin is the earliest known example of its type to be found so far east.[46] Such coins were circulating in the area as currency, at least as far as the Indus, during the reign of the Achaemenids.[47][48][49][50]

Under Persian rule, a system of centralized administration, with a bureaucratic system, was introduced into the Indus Valley for the first time. Provinces or "satrapy" were established with provincial capitals.

Gandhara satrapy, established 518 BCE with its capital at Pushkalavati (Charsadda).[51]

The inscription on Darius' (521–486 BCE) tomb at Naqsh-i-Rustam near Persepolis records Gadāra (Gandāra) along with Hindush (Hənduš, Sindh) in the list of satrapies. By about 380 BC the Persian hold on the region had weakened. Many small kingdoms sprang up in Gandhara.

Macedonian Gandhara

Main article: Paropamisadae

See also: Indian campaign of Alexander the Great and Macedonian Empire

In 327 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Gandhara as well as the Indian satrapies of the Persian Empire. The expeditions of Alexander were recorded by his court historians and by Arrian (around 175 CE) in his Anabasis Alexandri and by other chroniclers many centuries after the event.

In the winter of 327 BCE, Alexander invited all the chieftains in the remaining five Achaemenid satraps to submit to his authority. Ambhi, then ruler of Taxila in the former Hindush satrapy complied, but the remaining tribes and clans in the former satraps of Gandhara, Arachosia, Sattagydia and Gedrosia rejected Alexander's offer.[citation needed]

The first tribe they encountered were the Aspasioi tribe of the Kunar Valley, who under the leadership of their queen Cleophis initiated a fierce battle against Alexander, in which he himself was wounded in the shoulder by a dart. However, the Aspasioi eventually lost and 40,000 people were enslaved. Alexander then continued in a southwestern direction where he encountered the Assakenoi tribe of the Swat & Buner valleys in April 326 BCE. The Assakenoi fought bravely and offered stubborn resistance to Alexander and his army in the cities of Ora, Bazira (Barikot) and Massaga. So enraged was Alexander about the resistance put up by the Assakenoi that he killed the entire population of Massaga and reduced its buildings to rubble. A similar slaughter then followed at Ora,[52] another stronghold of the Assakenoi. The stories of these slaughters reached numerous Assakenians, who began fleeing to Aornos, a hill-fort located between Shangla and Kohistan. Alexander followed close behind their heels and besieged the strategic hill-fort, eventually capturing and destroying the fort and killing everyone inside. The remaining smaller tribes either surrendered or like the Astanenoi tribe of Pushkalavati(Charsadda) were quickly neutralized where 38,000 soldiers and 230,000 oxen were captured by Alexander.[53] Eventually Alexander's smaller force would meet with the larger force which had come through the Khyber Pass met at Attock. With the conquest of Gandhara complete, Alexander switched to strengthening his military supply line, which by now stretched dangerously vulnerable over the Hindu Kush back to Balkh in Bactria.[citation needed]

After conquering Gandhara and solidifying his supply line back to Bactria, Alexander combined his forces with the King Ambhi of Taxila and crossed the River Indus in July 326 BCE to begin the Archosia (Punjab) campaign. Alexander nominated officers as Satraps of the new provinces, and in Gandhara, Oxyartes was nominated to the position of Satrap in 326 BCE.[citation needed]

Mauryan Gandhara

Major Rock Edict of Ashoka in Mansehra.

After a battle with Seleucus Nicator (Alexander's successor in Asia) in 305 BCE, the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta extended his domain up to and including Gandhara and Arachosia. With the completion of the Empire's Grand Trunk Road, the region prospered as a centre of trade. Gandhara remained a part of the Mauryan Empire for about a century and a half.

Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, was one of the greatest Indian rulers. Like his grandfather, Ashoka also started his career in Gandhara as a governor. Later he became a Buddhist and promoted Buddhism, building many stupas in Gandhara. Mauryan control over the northwestern frontier, including the Yonas, Kambojas, and the Gandharas, is attested from the Rock Edicts left by Ashoka.

According to one school of scholars, the Gandharas and Kambojas were cognate people.[54][55][56] It is also contended[by whom?Discuss] that the Kurus, Kambojas, Gandharas and Bahlikas were cognate people and all had Iranian affinities,[57] or that the Gandhara and Kamboja were nothing but two provinces of one empire and hence influencing each other's language.[58] However, the local language of Gandhara is represented by Panini's conservative bhāṣā ("language"), which is entirely different from the Iranian (Late Avestan) language of the Kamboja that is indicated by Patanjali's quote of Kambojan śavati 'to go' (= Late Avestan šava(i)ti).[note 1]

Indo-Greek Kingdom

The founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom Demetrius I (205–171 BC), wearing the scalp of an elephant, symbol of his conquest of the Indus valley.

The Indo-Greek king Menander I (reigned 155–130 BCE) drove the Greco-Bactrians out of Gandhara and beyond the Hindu Kush, becoming king shortly after his victory.

His empire survived him in a fragmented manner until the last independent Greek king, Strato II, disappeared around 10 CE. Around 125 BCE, the Greco-Bactrian king Heliocles, son of Eucratides, fled from the Yuezhi invasion of Bactria and relocated to Gandhara, pushing the Indo-Greeks east of the Jhelum River. The last known Indo-Greek ruler was Theodamas, from the Bajaur area of Gandhara, mentioned on a 1st-century CE signet ring, bearing the Kharoṣṭhī inscription "Su Theodamasa" ("Su" was the Greek transliteration of the Kushan royal title "Shau" ("Shah" or "King")).

It is during this period that the fusion of Hellenistic and South Asian mythological, artistic and religious elements becomes most apparent, especially in the region of Gandhara.[59]

Local Greek rulers still exercised a feeble and precarious power along the borderland, but the last vestige of the Greco-Indian rulers were finished by a people known to the old Chinese as the Yeuh-Chi.[60]

Indo-Scythian Kingdom

One of the Buner reliefs showing Scythian soldiers dancing. Cleveland Museum of Art.

The Indo-Scythians were descended from the Sakas (Scythians) who migrated from Central Asia into South Asia from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century BCE. They displaced the Indo-Greeks and ruled a kingdom that stretched from Gandhara to Mathura. The first Indo-Scythian king Maues established Saka hegemony by conquering Indo-Greek territories.[61] The power of the Saka rulers declined after the defeat to Chandragupta II of the Gupta Empire in the 4th century.[62]

Indo-Parthian Kingdom

Ancient Buddhist monastery Takht-i-Bahi (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) constructed by the Indo-Parthians.

The Indo-Parthian Kingdom was ruled by the Gondopharid dynasty, named after its first ruler Gondophares. For most of their history, the leading Gondopharid kings held Taxila (in the present Punjab province of Pakistan) as their residence, but during their last few years of existence the capital shifted between Kabul and Peshawar. These kings have traditionally been referred to as Indo-Parthians, as their coinage was often inspired by the Arsacid dynasty, but they probably belonged to a wider groups of Iranic tribes who lived east of Parthia proper, and there is no evidence that all the kings who assumed the title Gondophares, which means "Holder of Glory", were even related.

Kushan Gandhara

Greco-Buddhist standing Buddha from Gandhara (1st–2nd century), Tokyo National Museum
Casket of Kanishka the Great, with Buddhist motifs

The Parthian dynasty fell in about 75 to another group from Central Asia. The Kushans, known as Yuezhi in the Chinese source Hou Han Shu (argued by some[who?] to be ethnically Asii) moved from Central Asia to Bactria, where they stayed for a century. Around 75 CE, one of their tribes, the Kushan (Kuṣāṇa), under the leadership of Kujula Kadphises gained control of Gandhara. The Kushan empire began as a Central Asian kingdom, and expanded into South Asia in the early centuries CE.[63]

The Kushan period is considered the Golden Period of Gandhara. Peshawar Valley and Taxila are littered with ruins of stupas and monasteries of this period. Gandharan art flourished and produced some of the best pieces of sculpture from the Indian subcontinent.

Gandhara's culture peaked during the reign of the great Kushan king Kanishka the Great (127 CE – 150 CE). The cities of Taxila (Takṣaśilā) at Sirsukh and Purushapura (modern day Peshawar) reached new heights. Purushapura along with Mathura became the capital of the great empire stretching from Central Asia to Northern India with Gandhara being in the midst of it. Emperor Kanishka was a great patron of the Buddhist faith; Buddhism spread from India to Central Asia and the Far East across Bactria and Sogdia, where his empire met the Han Empire of China. Buddhist art spread from Gandhara to other parts of Asia.

In Gandhara, Mahayana Buddhism flourished and Buddha was represented in human form. Under the Kushans new Buddhists stupas were built and old ones were enlarged. Huge statues of the Buddha were erected in monasteries and carved into the hillsides. Kanishka also built the 400-foot Kanishka stupa at Peshawar. This tower was reported by Chinese monks Faxian, Song Yun, and Xuanzang who visited the country. The stupa was built during the Kushan era to house Buddhist relics, and was among the tallest buildings in the ancient world.[64][65][66]


The Kidarites conquered Peshawar and parts of northwest Indian subcontinent including Gandhara probably sometime between 390 and 410 from Kushan empire,[67] around the end of the rule of Gupta Emperor Chandragupta II or beginning of the rule of Kumaragupta I.[68] It is probably the rise of the Hephthalites and the defeats against the Sasanians which pushed the Kidarites into northern India. Their last ruler in Gandhara was Kandik, around 500 CE.

Alchon Huns

Around 430 King Khingila, the most notable Alchon ruler, emerged and took control of the routes across the Hindu Kush from the Kidarites.[69][70][71][72] Coins of the Alchons rulers Khingila and Mehama were found at the Buddhist monastery of Mes Aynak, southeast of Kabul, confirming the Alchon presence in this area around 450–500 CE.[73]

The silver bowl in the British Museum
Alchon horseman.[74]
The so-called "Hephthalite bowl" from Gandhara, features two Kidarite hunters wearing characteristic crowns, and as well as two Alchon hunters (one of them shown here, with skull deformation), suggesting a period of peaceful coexistence between the two entities.[74] Swat District, Pakistan, 460–479 CE. British Museum.[75][76]

The numismatic evidence as well as the so-called "Hephthalite bowl" from Gandhara, now in the British Museum, suggests a period of peaceful coexistence between the Kidarites and the Alchons, as it features two Kidarite noble hunters, together with two Alchon hunters and one of the Alchons inside a medallion.[74] At one point, the Kidarites withdrew from Gandhara, and the Alchons took over their mints from the time of Khingila.[74]

The Alchons apparently undertook the mass destruction of Buddhist monasteries and stupas at Taxila, a high center of learning, which never recovered from the destruction.[77][78] Virtually all of the Alchon coins found in the area of Taxila were found in the ruins of burned down monasteries, where apparently some of the invaders died alongside local defenders during the wave of destructions.[77] It is thought that the Kanishka stupa, one of the most famous and tallest buildings in antiquity, was destroyed by them during their invasion of the area in the 460s CE. The Mankiala stupa was also vandalized during their invasions.[79]

Mihirakula in particular is remembered by Buddhist sources to have been a "terrible persecutor of their religion" in Gandhara.[80] During the reign of Mihirakula, over one thousand Buddhist monasteries throughout Gandhara are said to have been destroyed.[81] In particular, the writings of Chinese monk Xuanzang from 630 CE explained that Mihirakula ordered the destruction of Buddhism and the expulsion of monks.[82] Indeed, the Buddhist art of Gandhara, in particular Greco-Buddhist art, becomes essentially extinct around that period. When Xuanzang visited Gandhara in c. 630 CE, he reported that Buddhism had drastically declined in favour of Shaivism, and that most of the monasteries were deserted and left in ruins.[83]

Turk and Hindu Shahis

Horseman on a coin of Spalapati, i.e. the "War-lord" of the Hindu Shahis. The headgear has been interpreted as a turban.[84]

The Turk Shahis ruled Gandhara until 870, when they were overthrown by the Hindu Shahis. The Hindu Shahis are believed to belong to the Uḍi/Oḍi tribe, namely the people of Oddiyana in Gandhara.[85][86]

The first king Kallar had moved the capital into Udabandhapura from Kabul, in the modern village of Hund for its new capital.[87][88][89][90] At its zenith, the kingdom stretched over the Kabul Valley, Gandhara and western Punjab under Jayapala.[91] Jayapala saw a danger in the consolidation of the Ghaznavids and invaded their capital city of Ghazni both in the reign of Sebuktigin and in that of his son Mahmud, which initiated the Muslim Ghaznavid and Hindu Shahi struggles.[92] Sebuk Tigin, however, defeated him, and he was forced to pay an indemnity.[92] Jayapala defaulted on the payment and took to the battlefield once more.[92] Jayapala however, lost control of the entire region between the Kabul Valley and Indus River.[93]

However, the army was defeated in battle against the western forces, particularly against the Mahmud of Ghazni.[93] In the year 1001, soon after Sultan Mahmud came to power and was occupied with the Qarakhanids north of the Hindu Kush, Jaipal attacked Ghazni once more and upon suffering yet another defeat by the powerful Ghaznavid forces, near present-day Peshawar. After the Battle of Peshawar, he died because of regretting as his subjects brought disaster and disgrace to the Shahi dynasty.[92][93]

Jayapala was succeeded by his son Anandapala,[92] who along with other succeeding generations of the Shahiya dynasty took part in various unsuccessful campaigns against the advancing Ghaznvids but were unsuccessful. The Hindu rulers eventually exiled themselves to the Kashmir Siwalik Hills.[93]


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Many stupas, such as the Shingerdar stupa in Ghalegay, are scattered throughout the region near Peshawar.

By the time Gandhara had been absorbed into the empire of Mahmud of Ghazni, Buddhist buildings were already in ruins and Gandhara art had been forgotten. After Al-Biruni, the Kashmiri writer Kalhaṇa wrote his book Rajatarangini in 1151. He recorded some events that took place in Gandhara, and provided details about its last royal dynasty and capital Udabhandapura.

In the 19th century, British soldiers and administrators started taking an interest in the ancient history of the Indian Subcontinent. In the 1830s coins of the post-Ashoka period were discovered, and in the same period Chinese travelogues were translated. Charles Masson, James Prinsep, and Alexander Cunningham deciphered the Kharosthi script in 1838. Chinese records provided locations and site plans for Buddhist shrines. Along with the discovery of coins, these records provided clues necessary to piece together the history of Gandhara. In 1848 Cunningham found Gandhara sculptures north of Peshawar. He also identified the site of Taxila in the 1860s. From then on a large number of Buddhist statues were discovered in the Peshawar valley.

Archaeologist John Marshall excavated at Taxila between 1912 and 1934. He discovered separate Greek, Parthian, and Kushan cities and a large number of stupas and monasteries. These discoveries helped to piece together much more of the chronology of the history of Gandhara and its art.

After 1947 Ahmed Hassan Dani and the Archaeology Department at the University of Peshawar made a number of discoveries in the Peshawar and Swat Valley. Excavation of many of the sites of Gandhara Civilization are being done by researchers from Peshawar and several universities around the world.



Main article: Gandhari language

Gandhara's language was a Prakrit or "Middle Indo-Aryan" dialect, usually called Gāndhārī.[94] Hindko from Peshawar which was the capital of Gandhara, came from Shuraseni prakrit a language spoken in Gandhara.[95][96][97] Under the Kushan Empire, Gāndhārī spread into adjoining regions of South and Central Asia.[94] It used the Kharosthi script, which is derived from the Aramaic script, and it died out about in the 4th century CE.[94][98]

Linguistic evidence links some groups of the Dardic languages with Gandhari.[99][100][101] The Kohistani languages, now all being displaced from their original homelands, were once more widespread in the region and most likely descend from the ancient dialects of the region of Gandhara.[102][103] The last to disappear was Tirahi, still spoken some years ago in a few villages in the vicinity of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, by descendants of migrants expelled from Tirah by the Afridi Pashtuns in the 19th century.[104] Georg Morgenstierne claimed that Tirahi is "probably the remnant of a dialect group extending from Tirah through the Peshawar district into Swat and Dir".[105] Nowadays, it must be entirely extinct and the region is now dominated by Iranian languages brought in by later migrants, such as Pashto.[104] Among the modern day Indo-Aryan languages still spoken today, Torwali shows the closest linguistic affinity possible to Niya, a dialect of Gāndhārī.[103][106]


Further information: Silk Road transmission of Buddhism and Gandharan Buddhism

Maitreya Bodhisattva, Gautama Buddha, and Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva. 2nd–3rd century CE, Gandhāra
Bronze statue of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva. Fearlessness mudrā. 3rd century CE, Gandhāra

Mahāyāna Buddhism

Mahāyāna Pure Land sutras were brought from the Gandhāra region to China as early as 147 CE, when the Kushan monk Lokakṣema began translating some of the first Buddhist sutras into Chinese.[107] The earliest of these translations show evidence of having been translated from the Gāndhārī language.[108] Lokakṣema translated important Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, as well as rare, early Mahāyāna sūtras on topics such as samādhi, and meditation on the Buddha Akṣobhya. Lokaksema's translations continue to provide insight into the early period of Mahāyāna Buddhism. This corpus of texts often includes and emphasizes ascetic practices and forest dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative concentration:[109]

Paul Harrison has worked on some of the texts that are arguably the earliest versions we have of the Mahāyāna sūtras, those translated into Chinese in the last half of the second century AD by the Indo-Scythian translator Lokakṣema. Harrison points to the enthusiasm in the Lokakṣema sūtra corpus for the extra ascetic practices, for dwelling in the forest, and above all for states of meditative absorption (samādhi). Meditation and meditative states seem to have occupied a central place in early Mahāyāna, certainly because of their spiritual efficacy but also because they may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration.

Some scholars believe that the Mahāyāna Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra was compiled in the age of the Kushan Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, by an order of Mahīśāsaka bhikṣus which flourished in the Gandhāra region.[110][111] However, it is likely that the longer Sukhāvatīvyūha owes greatly to the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravāda sect as well for its compilation, and in this sutra there are many elements in common with the Lokottaravādin Mahāvastu.[110] There are also images of Amitābha Buddha with the bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta which were made in Gandhāra during the Kushan era.[112]

The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa records that Kaniṣka of the Kushan Empire presided over the establishment of the Mahāyāna Prajñāpāramitā teachings in the northwest.[113] Tāranātha wrote that in this region, 500 bodhisattvas attended the council at Jālandhra monastery during the time of Kaniṣka, suggesting some institutional strength for Mahāyāna in the north-west during this period.[113] Edward Conze goes further to say that Prajñāpāramitā had great success in the north-west during the Kushan period, and may have been the "fortress and hearth" of early Mahāyāna, but not its origin, which he associates with the Mahāsāṃghika branch of Buddhism.[114]


See also: Greco-Buddhist art, Kushan art, Indo-Greek art, and Indo-Scythian art

Lid with seated male figure, Gandhara. (1st–2nd century)

Gandhāra is noted for the distinctive Gandhāra style of Buddhist art, which shows influence of Hellenistic and local Indian influences from the Gangetic Valley.[115] The Gandhāran art flourished and achieved its peak during the Kushan period, from the 1st to the 5th centuries, but it declined and was destroyed after the invasion of the Alchon Huns in the 5th century.

Siddhartha shown as a bejeweled prince (before the Sidhartha renounces palace life) is a common motif.[116] Stucco, as well as stone, were widely used by sculptors in Gandhara for the decoration of monastic and cult buildings.[116][117] Buddhist imagery combined with some artistic elements from the cultures of the Hellenistic world. An example is the youthful Buddha, his hair in wavy curls, similar to statutes of Apollo.[116] Sacred artworks and architectural decorations used limestone for stucco composed by a mixture of local crushed rocks (i.e. schist and granite) which resulted compatible with the outcrops located in the mountains northwest of Islamabad.[118]

The artistic traditions of Gandhara art can be divided into following phases:

Major cities

Major cities of ancient Gandhara are as follows:

Notable people

Main article: list of people from Gandhara

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ NOTE: See long discussion under mahajanapada from the Ancient Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya's list of mahajanapadas.


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Further reading

33°45′22″N 72°49′45″E / 33.7560°N 72.8291°E / 33.7560; 72.8291