Gandhara is the name of an ancient kingdom (Mahajanapada), located in modern day northern Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar), literally meaning “City of Man”, Varmayana (modern Bamyan) and Takshashila (modernTaxila). 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 Shahiand ruled the region during the period prior to Muslim conquests of the 10th and 11th centuries. After it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021 CE, the name Gandhara disappeared. During the Muslim period the area was administered from Lahore or from Kabul. During Mughal times the area was part of Kabul province. The Gandhāri people were settled since the Vedic times on the banks of Kabul River (river Kubha or Kabol) down to its confluence with the Indus. Later Gandhara included parts of northwest Punjab. Gandhara was located on the northern trunk road (Uttarapatha) and was a centre of international commercial activities. It was an important channel of communication with ancient Iran, India and Central Asia. he 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. The heart of Gandhara, however, was always the Peshawar valley. The kingdom was ruled from capitals at Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Taxila, Purushapura (Peshawar) and in its final days from Udabhandapura (Hund) on the Indus. According to the Puranas, they were named after Taksha and Pushkara, the two sons of Bharata, a prince of Ayodhya.
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 present. The region shows an influx of southern Central Asian culture in the Bronze Age with the Gandhara grave culture, likely corresponding to 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. he name of the Gandhāris is attested in the Rigveda and in ancient inscriptions dating back to Achaemenid Persia. The Behistun inscription listing the 23 territories of King Darius I (519 BC) includes Gandāra 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 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 primary cities of Gandhara were Purushapura (now Peshawar), Takshashila (or Taxila) and Pushkalavati. The latter remained the capital of Gandhara down to the 2nd century AD, when the capital was moved to Peshawar. An important Buddhist shrine helped to make the city a centre of pilgrimage until the 7th century. Pushkalavati in the Peshawar Valley is situated at the confluence of the Swat and Kabul rivers, where three different branches of the River Kabul meet. That specific place is still called Prang (from Prayaga) and considered sacred and where local people still bring their dead for burial. Similar geographical characteristics are found at site of Prang in Kashmir and at the confluence of theGanges and Yamuna, where the sacred city of Prayag is situated west of Benares. Prayaga (Allahabad) one of the ancient pilgrim centres of India as the two rivers are said to be joined here by the underground Sarasvati River, forming a triveni, a confluence of three rivers.
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 Indo-Aryan” 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 Persian-style 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 – AD 75). Gandharan style flourished and achieved its peak during the Kushan period, from the 1st to the 5th century. It declined and suffered destruction after 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 in 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 Ghandhara, 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 great extent.