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- Gandhara is also an ancient name for Peshawar, Pakistan.
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Gandhāra (Sanskrit: पुरुषपुर or गंधार, Pashto: ګندارا, Urdu: گندھارا, Avestan: Vaēkərəta, Old Persian Para-upari-sena, Bactrian Paropamisadae [Hellenization: Paropamisus], Greek Caspatyrus) is the ancient term for the city and old kingdom of Peshawar, which encompassed the Swat valley and the Potohar Plateau regions of Pakistan, as well as the Jalalabad district of modern-day Afghanistan. During the Hellenistic period, its capital city was Charsadda, but later the capital city was shifted to Peshawar by the Kushan emperor Kanishka the Great in about 127. It is mentioned in the Zend Avesta as Vaēkərəta, the sixth most beautiful place on earth created by Ahura Mazda. It was known in Sanskrit as Puruṣapura, literally meaning "city of men".[note 1] It was known as the "crown jewel" of Bactria and also held sway over Takṣaśilā (modern Taxila).
The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the Vedic period (c. 1500-500 BC). As a center of Greco-Buddhism, Bactrian Zoroastrianism and Animism, Gandhara attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under the Kushan Kings. The Persian term Shahi is used by history writer Al-Biruni to refer to the ruling dynasty that took over from the Kabul Shahi and 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 1001 AD, the name Gandhara disappeared. During the Muslim period, the area was administered from Lahore or from Kabul. During Mughal times, it was an independent district which included the Kabul province.
- 1 Name
- 2 Geography
- 3 History
- 4 Jewish King Afghana of Gandhara
- 5 Part of Greater Iran
- 6 Mauryas
- 7 Graeco-Bactrians, Sakas, and Indo-Parthians
- 8 Kushan rule
- 9 Invasion by the Huns
- 10 Kabulshahi
- 11 Rediscovery
- 12 Taliban destruction of Buddhist relics
- 13 Language
- 14 Buddhism
- 15 Art
- 16 Timeline
- 17 See also
- 18 Notes
- 19 References
- 20 Sources
- 21 Further reading
- 22 External links
The name Gāndhāra, though recorded in Avestan as Vaēkərəta, is not recorded in Vedic Sanskrit. It occurs later in the Classical Sanskrit of the epics. However, the Gandhari people are a tribe mentioned in the Rigveda, the Atharvaveda, and later texts. One proposed origin of the name is from the Sanskrit word gandha, meaning perfume and "referring to the spices and aromatic herbs which they [the inhabitants] traded and with which they anointed themselves." Some authors have connected the modern name Kandahar to Gandhara.
A Persian form of the name, Gandara, is mentioned by Herodotus in the context of the story of the Greek explorer Scylax of Caryanda, who sailed down the Indus River beginning at the city of Caspatyrus in Gandara (Κασπάτυρος, πόλις Γανδαρική). Herodotus records that those Iranic tribes who were adjacent to the city of Caspatyrus and the district of Pactyïce had customs similar to the Bactrians, and are the most warlike amongst them. These also are the people who obtain gold from the ant-hills of the adjoining desert. On the identity of Caspatyrus, there have been two opinions, one equating it with Kabul, the other with the name of Kashmir (Kasyapa pur, condensed to Kaspapur as found in Hecataeus).
The Gandhāri people were settled since the Vedic times on the banks of Kabul River (river Kubhā or Kabol) down to its confluence with the Indus. Later Gandhāra included parts of northwest Punjab. Gandhara was located on the northern trunk road (Uttarapatha) and was a centre of international commercial activities.
The boundaries of Gandhara varied throughout history. Sometimes the Peshawar valley and Taxila were collectively referred to as Gandhara and sometimes the Swat valley (Sanskrit: Suvāstu) was also included. The heart of Gandhara, however, was always the Peshawar valley. The kingdom was ruled from capitals at Kapisa (Bagram), Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Taxila, Puruṣapura (Peshawar) and in its final days from Udabhandapura (Hund) on the River Indus.
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, and the nucleus of Vedic civilisation. This culture flourished from 1500 to 500 BC. Its evidence has been discovered in the hilly regions of Swat and Dir, and even at Taxila.
The name of the Gandhāris is attested in the Rigveda (RV 1.126.7) 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 Sattagydia (Θataguš). In the book "Histories" by Herodotus, Gandhara is named as a source of tax collections for King Darius. The Gandhāris, along with the Balhika (Bactrians), Mūjavants, Angas, and the Magadhas, are also mentioned in the Atharvaveda (AV 5.22.14), as distant people. Gandharas are included in the Uttarapatha division of Puranic and Buddhistic traditions. The Aitareya Brahmana refers to king Naganajit of Gandhara who was a contemporary of Janaka, king of Videha.
Epic and Puranic traditions
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.
In Mahabharata, the princess named Gandhari was married to Hastinapur's blind king Dhritrashtra and was mother of Duryodhana and other Kauravas. The prince of Gandhara Shakuni was against this wedding but accepted it, fearing an invasion from Hastinapur. In the aftermath, Shakuni influences the Kaurava prince Duryodhana and plays a central role in the great war of Kurukshetra that eliminated the entire Kuru family, including Bhishma and a hundred Kaurava brothers. According to Puranic traditions, this country (Janapada) was founded by Gandhāra, son of Aruddha, a descendant of Yayāti. The princes of this country are said to have come from the line of Druhyu, who was a king of the Druhyu tribe of the Rigvedic period. According to Vayu Purana (II.36.107), the Gandharas were destroyed by Pramiti, aka Kalika, at the end of Kaliyuga.
Gandhāra is also thought to be the location of the mythical Lake Dhanakosha, the birthplace of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The bKa' brgyud (Kagyu) sect of Tibetan Buddhism identifies the lake with the Andan Dheri stupa, located near the tiny village of Uchh near Chakdara in the lower Swat Valley. A spring was said to flow from the base of the stupa to form the lake. Archaeologists have found the stupa but no spring or lake can be identified.
Pushkalavati and Prayag
The primary cities of Gandhara were Puruṣapura (now Peshawar), Takṣaśilā (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 Prayāga) 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 the Ganges and Yamuna, where the sacred city of Prayag is situated, west of Benares. There are some legends in which the two rivers are said to be joined here by the underground Sarasvati River, forming a triveṇī, a confluence of three rivers. However, rigvedic texts and modern research suggest that the path of the sarasvati river was very different. Sarasvati ended in the ocean at Kachchh in modern Gujrat and not at at prayag.
The Gandharan city of Taxila was an important Buddhist and Hindu centre of learning from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century.
Jewish King Afghana of Gandhara
Afghana or Avagana (born ~ 1000 BC) according to old Asian common folklore, is considered a tribal chief or prince of Bani Israel (Israelite) origin, and a Jewish King of Gandhara. He was either buried or his ashes were burned in Gandhara or Ghor.
According to the Tanakh, King Saul (Talut) was the son of Kish, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the twelve Tribes of Israel (1 Samuel 9:1-2). Saul married Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz and had four sons and two daughters. The sons were Jonathan, Abinadab, Malchishua and Ish-bosheth. Saul's daughters were named Merab and Michal.
The legend describes Malak Afghana as the son of Irmia (Jeremiah) and grandson of King Saul (Talut). This name is mentioned in the form of Abgan in the 3rd century AD by the Sassanians and as Avagana in the 6th century AD by Indian astronomer Varahamihira.
It is mentioned that Afghana was orphaned at a young age, and brought up by King David. When Solomon became the king, Afghana was made commander-in-chief of the army. Malak Afghana is also credited with the building of the first temple, The Temple Mount, in Arabic as the Haram al-Sharif (Arabic: الحرم القدسي الشريف, al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf):
Part of Greater Iran
Cyrus the Great (558–530 BC) united the Iranian people into a single state that stretched from the Bosphorus to the western banks of the Indus River. Both Gandhara and Kamboja soon came to be included under this state which was governed by the Achaemenian Dynasty during the reign of Cyrus the Great or in the first year of Darius I. The Gandhara and Kamboja had constituted the seventh satrapies (upper Indus) of the Achaemenid Empire; its far easternmost satrapies.
When the Achamenids took control of this kingdom, Pushkarasakti, a contemporary of king Bimbisara of Magadha, was the king of Gandhara. He was engaged in a power struggle against the kingdoms of Avanti and Pandavas.
The inscription on Darius' (521–486 BC) tomb at Naqsh-i-Rustam near Persepolis records GADĀRA (Gandāra) along with HINDUSH (Hənduš, Sindh) in the list of satrapies.
Under the Persian rule, a system of centralised administration with a bureaucratic system was introduced in the region. Great scholars such as Panini and Kautilya lived in this cosmopolitan environment. The Kharosthi alphabet, derived from the one used for Aramaic (the official language of Achaemenids), developed here and remained the national script of Gandhara until the 3rd century AD.
By about 380 BC the Persian hold on the region weakened. Many small kingdoms sprang up in Gandhara. In 327 BC 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 AD 175) in his Anabasis Alexandri and by other chroniclers many centuries after the event.
The companions of Alexander the Great did not record the names of Kamboja and Gandhara, rather they located a dozen small political units within their territories. Alexander conquered most of these political units of the former Gandhara, Sindhu and Kamboja Mahajanapadas.
According to Greek chroniclers, at the time of Alexander's invasion, hyparchs Kubhesha, Hastin (Astes), and Ambhi (Omphes) were ruling the lower Kabul valley, Puskalavati (modern Charasadda), and Taxila, respectively, while Ashvajit (chief of Aspasoi/Aspasii or Ashvayanas) and Assakenos (chief of Assakenoi or Ashvakayanas, both being parts of the Kambojas) ruled the upper Kabul valley and Mazaga/Massaga (Mashkavati), respectively.
Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty is said to have lived in Taxila when Alexander captured this city. According to tradition, he trained under Kautilya, who remained his chief adviser throughout his career. Supposedly using Gandhara and Vahika as his base, Chandragupta led a rebellion against the Magadha Empire and ascended the throne at Pataliputra in 321 BC. However, there are no contemporary Indian records of Chandragupta Maurya and almost all that is known is based on the diaries of Megasthenes, the ambassador of Seleucus at Pataliputra, as recorded by Arrian in his Indika. Ambhi hastened to relieve Alexander of his apprehension and met him with valuable presents, placing himself and all his forces at his disposal. Alexander not only returned Ambhi his title and the gifts but he also presented him with a wardrobe of "Persian robes, gold and silver ornaments, 30 horses and 1000 talents in gold". Alexander was emboldened to divide his forces, and Ambhi assisted Hephaestion and Perdiccas in constructing a bridge over the Indus where it bends at Hund (Fox 1973), supplied their troops with provisions, and received Alexander himself, and his whole army, in his capital city of Taxila, with every demonstration of friendship and the most liberal hospitality.
On the subsequent advance of the Macedonian king, Taxiles accompanied him with a force of 5000 men and took part in the battle of the Hydaspes River. After that victory he was sent by Alexander in pursuit of Porus, to whom he was charged to offer favourable terms, but narrowly escaped losing his life at the hands of his old enemy. Subsequently, however, the two rivals were reconciled by the personal mediation of Alexander; and Taxiles, after having contributed zealously to the equipment of the fleet on the Hydaspes, was entrusted by the king with the government of the whole territory between that river and the Indus. A considerable accession of power was granted him after the death of Philip, son of Machatas; and he was allowed to retain his authority at the death of Alexander himself (323 BC), as well as in the subsequent partition of the provinces at Triparadisus, 321 BC. Later Ambhi was deposed and killed by Chandragupta Maurya, the emperor of the Mauryan Empire. Gandhara was acquired from the Greeks by Chandragupta Maurya.
After a battle with Seleucus Nicator (Alexander's successor in Asia) in 305 BC, the Mauryan Emperor extended his domains up to and including present Southern Afghanistan. With the completion of the Empire's Grand Trunk Road, the region prospered as a center 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 from Gandhara as a governor. Later he supposedly became a Buddhist and promoted this religion in his empire. He built 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. It is also contended that the Kurus, Kambojas, Gandharas and Bahlikas were cognate people and all had Iranian affinities, or that the Gandhara and Kamboja were nothing but two provinces of one empire and hence influencing each other's language. However, the local language of Gandhara is represented by Panini's conservative bhāṣā, 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 2]
Graeco-Bactrians, Sakas, and Indo-Parthians
The decline of the Empire left the sub-continent open to Greco-Bactrian invasions. Present-day southern Afghanistan was absorbed by Demetrius I of Bactria in 180 BC. Around about 185 BC, Demetrius invaded and conquered Gandhara and the Punjab. Later, wars between different groups of Bactrian Greeks resulted in the independence of Gandhara from Bactria and the formation of the Indo-Greek kingdom. Menander was its most famous king. He ruled from Taxila and later from Sagala (Sialkot). He rebuilt Taxila (Sirkap) and Pushkalavati. He became a Buddhist and is remembered in Buddhists records due to his discussions with a great Buddhist philosopher, Nāgasena, in the book Milinda Panha.
Around the time of Menander's death in 140 BC, the Central Asian Kushans overran Bactria and ended Greek rule there. Around 80 BC, the Sakas, diverted by their Parthian cousins from Iran, moved into Gandhara and other parts of Pakistan and Western India. The most famous king of the Sakas, Maues, established himself in Gandhara.
By 90 BC the Parthians had taken control of eastern Iran and in around 50 BC they put an end to the last remnants of Greek rule in today's Afghanistan. Eventually an Indo-Parthian dynasty succeeded in taking control of Gandhara. The Parthians continued to support Greek artistic traditions. The start of the Gandharan Greco-Buddhist art is dated to about 75–50 BC. Links between Rome and the Indo-Parthian kingdoms existed. There is archaeological evidence that building techniques were transmitted between the two realms. Christian records claim that around AD 40 Thomas the Apostle visited India and encountered the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares.
The Parthian dynasty fell about 75 to another group from Central Asia. The Kushans, known as Yuezhi in China (although ethnically Asii) moved from Central Asia to Bactria, where they stayed for a century. Around 75, one of their tribes, the Kushan (Kuṣāṇa), under the leadership of Kujula Kadphises gained control of Gandhara and other parts of what is now Pakistan.
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 Indian sculpture. Many monuments were created to commemorate the Jatakas.
Gandhara's culture peaked during the reign of the great Kushan king Kanishka the Great (128–151). The cities of Taxila (Takṣaśilā) at Sirsukh and Peshawar were built. Peshawar became the capital of a great empire stretching from Gandhara to Central Asia. Kanishka was a great patron of the Buddhist faith; Buddhism spread 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. Under Kanishka, Gandhara became a holy land of Buddhism and attracted Chinese pilgrims eager to view the monuments associated with many Jatakas.
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 a great tower to a height of 400 feet at Peshawar. This tower was reported by Chinese monks Faxian, Song Yun and Xuanzang who visited the country. This structure was destroyed and rebuilt many times until it was finally destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in the 11th century.
After Kanishka, the empire started losing territories in the east. In the west, Gandhara came under the Sassanid, the successor state of the Parthians, and became their vassal from 241 until 450.
Invasion by the Huns
The Hephthalite Huns captured Gandhara around 451, and did not adopt Buddhism, but in fact "perpetrated frightful massacres". Mihirakula became a "terrible persecutor" of the religion. During their rule, Hinduism revived itself and the Buddhist Gandharan civilization declined. The Sassanids, aided by Turks from Central Asia, destroyed the Huns' power base in Central Asia, and Gandhara once again came under Persian suzerainty in 568.
The travel records of many Chinese Buddhists pilgrims record that Gandhara was going through a transformation during these centuries. Buddhism was declining and Hinduism was rising. Fa-Xian travelled around 400, when Prakrit was the language of the people and Buddhism was flourishing. 100 years later, when Song-Yun visited in 520, a different picture was described: the area had been destroyed by the White Huns and was ruled by Lae-Lih, who did not practice the laws of the Buddha. Xuan-Zang visited India around 644 and found Buddhism on the wane in Gandhara and Hinduism in the ascendant. Gandhara was ruled by a king from Kabul, who respected Buddha's law, but Taxila was in ruins and Buddhist monasteries were deserted. Instead, Hindu temples were numerous and Hinduism was popular.
After the fall of the Sassanid Empire to the Arabs in 644, today's Afghanistan region and Gandhara came under pressure from Muslims. But they failed to extend their empire to Gandhara. Gandhara was first ruled from Kabul and then from Udabhandapura (Hind).
Gandhara was ruled from Kabul by Kabulshahi for next 200 years. Sometime in the 9th century the Kabulshahi replaced the shahi. Based on various Muslim records the estimated date for this is 870. According to Al-Biruni (973–1048), Kallar, a Brahmin minister of the Kabulshahi, founded the Shahi dynasty in 843. The dynasty ruled from Kabul, later moved their capital to Udabhandapura. They built great temples all over their kingdoms. Some of these buildings are still in good condition in the Salt Range of the Punjab.
Jayapala was the last great king of this dynasty. His empire extended from west of Kabul to the river Sutlej. However, this expansion of Gandhara kingdom coincided with the rise of the powerful Ghaznavid Empire under Sabuktigin. Defeated twice by Sabuktigin and then by Mahmud of Ghazni in the Kabul valley, Jayapala gave his life on the funeral pyre. Anandapala, a son of Jayapala, moved his capital near Nandana in the Salt Range. In 1021 the last king of this dynasty, Trilochanapala, was assassinated by his own troops which spelled the end of Gandhara. Subsequently, some Shahi princes moved to Kashmir and became active in local politics.
The city of Kandahar in Afghanistan is said to have been named after Gandhara. According to H.W. Bellow, an emigrant from Gandhara in the 5th century brought this name to modern Kandahar. Faxian reported that the Buddha's alms-bowl existed in Peshawar Valley when he visited around 400 (chapter XII). In 1872 Bellow saw this huge begging bowl (seven feet in diameter) preserved in the shrine of Sultan Wais outside Kandahar. When Olaf Caroe wrote his book in 1958 (Caroe, pp. 170–171), this relic was reported to be at Kabul Museum. The present status of this bowl is unknown.
Al Biruni writing c. 1030 AD, reported on the devastation caused during the conquest of Gandhara and much of northwest India by Mahmud of Ghazni following his defeat of Jayapala in the Battle of Peshawar at Peshawar in 1001:
"Now in the following times no Muslim conqueror passed beyond the frontier of Kâbul and the river Sindh until the days of the Turks, when they seized the power in Ghazna under the Sâmânî dynasty, and the supreme power fell to the lot of Nâṣir-addaula Sabuktagin. This prince chose the holy war as his calling, and therefore called himself al-Ghâzî ("the warrior/invader"). In the interest of his successors he constructed, in order to weaken the Indian frontier, those roads on which afterwards his son Yamin-addaula Maḥmûd marched into India during a period of thirty years and more. God be merciful to both father and son ! Maḥmûd utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims. This is the reason, too, why Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which our hand cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benares, and other places. And there the antagonism between them and all foreigners receives more and more nourishment both from political and religious sources."
During the closing years of the tenth and the early years of the succeeding century of our era, Mahmud the first Sultan and Musalman of the Turk dynasty of kings who ruled at Ghazni, made a succession of inroads twelve or fourteen in number, into Gandhar – the present Peshwar valley – in the course of his proselytizing invasions of Hindustan.<
Fire and sword, havoc and destruction, marked his course everywhere. Gandhar which was styled the Garden of the North was left at his death a weird and desolate waste. Its rich fields and fruitful gardens, together with the canal which watered them (the course of which is still partially traceable in the western part of the plain), had all disappeared. Its numerous stone built cities, monasteries, and topes with their valuable and revered monuments and sculptures, were sacked, fired, razed to the ground, and utterly destroyed as habitations.
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 gave details about its last royal dynasty and capital Udabhandapura.
In the 19th century, British soldiers and administrators started taking 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 of Buddhists shrines. Along with the discovery of coins, these records provided necessary clues 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 have been discovered in the Peshawar valley.
John Marshall performed an excavation of Taxila from 1912 to 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 University of Peshawar made a number of discoveries in the Peshawar and Swat Valley. Excavation on many sites of the Gandhara Civilization are being done by researchers from Peshawar and several universities around the world.
Taliban destruction of Buddhist relics
Swat Valley in Pakistan has many Buddhist carvings, stupas and Jehanabad contains a Seated Buddha status. Kushan era Buddhist stupas and status in Swat valley were demolished by the Taliban and after two attempts by the Taliban, the Jehanabad Buddha's face was dynamited. Only the Bamiyan Buddhas were larger than the carved giant Buddha status in Swat near Mangalore which the Taliban attacked. The government did nothing to safeguard the statue after the initial attempt at destroying the Buddha, which did not cause permanent harm, and when the second attack took place on the statue the feet, shoulders, and face were demolished. Islamists such as the Taliban and looters destroyed much of Pakistan's Buddhist artifacts left over from the Buddhist Gandhara civilization especially in Swat Valley. The Taliban deliberately targeted Gandhara Buddhist relics for destruction. The Christian Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence John Saldanha wrote a letter to Pakistan's government denouncing the Taliban activities in Swat Valley including their destruction of Buddha statues and their attacks on Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus. Gandhara Buddhist artifacts were illegally looted by smugglers.
The Gandharan Buddhist texts are both the earliest Buddhist as well as Asian manuscripts discovered so far. Most are written on birch bark and were found in labelled clay pots. Panini has mentioned both the Vedic form of Sanskrit as well as what seems to be Gandhari, a later form of Sanskrit, in his Ashtadhyayi.
Gandhara's language was a Prakrit or "Middle Indo-Aryan" dialect, usually called Gāndhārī. Texts are written right-to-left in the Kharoṣṭhī script, which had been adapted for Indo-Aryan languages from a Semitic alphabet, the Aramaic alphabet. Gandhāra 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, Kohistani dialects and Pothohari dialect, derived from the local Indo-Aryan Prakrits, are minority languages, and the Eastern Iranian language Pashto language is the prevailing language of Gandhara (Peshawar).
Mahāyāna Pure Land sūtras were brought from the Gandhāra region to China as early as 147 AD, when the Kushan monk Lokakṣema began translating some of the first Buddhist sūtras into Chinese. The earliest of these translations show evidence of having been translated from the Gāndhārī language. 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. These translations from Lokakṣema continue to give insight into the early period of Mahāyāna Buddhism. This corpus of texts often includes emphasizes ascetic practices and forest dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative concentration:
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 AD, by an order of Mahīśāsaka bhikṣus which flourished in the Gandhāra region. However, it is likely that the longer Sukhāvatīvyūha owes greatly to the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravāda sect as well for its compilation, and in this sūtra there are many elements in common with the Lokottaravādin Mahāvastu. There are also images of Amitābha Buddha with the bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta which were made in Gandhāra during the Kushan era.
The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa records that Kaniṣka of the Kushan Empire presided over the establishment of the Mahāyāna Prajñāpāramitā teachings in the northwest. 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 northwest during this period. Edward Conze goes further to say that Prajñāpāramitā had great success in the northwest 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.
Gandharan Buddhist missionaries were active, with other monks from Central Asia, from the 2nd century AD in Han-dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) China's capital of Luoyang, and particularly distinguished themselves by their translation work. They promoted scriptures from Early Buddhist schools as well as those from the Mahāyāna.
- Lokakṣema, a Kushan and the first to translate Mahāyāna scriptures into Chinese (167–186)
- Zhi Yao (c. 185), a Kushan monk, second generation of translators after Lokakṣema
- Zhi Qian (220–252), a Kushan monk whose grandfather had settled in China during 168–190
- Zhi Yue (c. 230), a Kushan monk who worked at Nanjing
- Dharmarakṣa (265–313), a Kushan whose family had lived for generations at Dunhuang
- Jñānagupta (561–592), a monk and translator from Gandhāra
- Śikṣānanda (652–710), a monk and translator from Oḍḍiyāna, Gandhāra
- Prajñā (c. 810), a monk and translator from Kabul, who educated the Japanese Kūkai in Sanskrit texts
The Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang visited a Lokottaravāda monastery in the 7th century AD, at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and this monastery site has since been rediscovered by archaeologists. Birchbark and palm leaf manuscripts of texts in this monastery's collection, including Mahāyāna sūtras, have been discovered at the site, and these are now located in the Schøyen Collection. Some manuscripts are in the Gāndhārī language and Kharoṣṭhī script, while others are in Sanskrit and written in forms of the Gupta script. Manuscripts and fragments that have survived from this monastery's collection include the following source texts:
- Pratimokṣa Vibhaṅga of the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravāda (MS 2382/269)
- Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, a sūtra from the Āgamas (MS 2179/44)
- Caṃgī Sūtra, a sūtra from the Āgamas (MS 2376)
- Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, a Mahāyāna sūtra (MS 2385)
- Bhaiṣajyaguru Sūtra, a Mahāyāna sūtra (MS 2385)
- Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra, a Mahāyāna sūtra (MS 2378)
- Pravāraṇa Sūtra, a Mahāyāna sūtra (MS 2378)
- Sarvadharmapravṛttinirdeśa Sūtra, a Mahāyāna sūtra (MS 2378)
- Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana Sūtra, a Mahāyāna sūtra (MS 2378)
- Śāriputra Abhidharma Śāstra (MS 2375/08)
A Sanskrit manuscript of the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra was among the textual finds at Gilgit, Pakistan, attesting to the popularity of the Medicine Buddha in Gandhāra. The manuscripts in this find are dated before the 7th century, and are written in the upright Gupta script.
Gandhāra is noted for the distinctive Gandhāra 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). Gandhāran style flourished and achieved its peak during the Kushan period, from the 1st to the 5th centuries. 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 – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Central Asia and China.
Buddha in acanthus capital
The Greek god Atlas, supporting a Buddhist monument, Hadda
The Buddha preaching at the Deer Park in Sarnath (2nd–3rd century)
The death of the Buddha, or parinirvana (2nd–3rd century)
The Bodhisattva and Chandeka, Hadda (5th century)
Hellenistic decorative scrolls from Hadda, Afghanistan
Bodhisattva seated in meditation
- Legend: Bharat, the brother of Lord Rama of Kosala, ruled from Gandhara, his sons were Taksh and Pushkala, who inhabited new cities called Taksha-shila (Taxila), and Pushkarvati (Peshawar). Tentative timeline for this event is 5000 BC or before that .
- Legend: Gandhari, the princess of Gandhara is married to Dhritrashtra, the king of Hastinapur. The Ancient Indian scripture Mahabharata dates this event to be around 3000 BC .
- c. 2300 – c. 1900 BC Indus Valley civilization
- c. 1900 – c. 520 BC No written records. Indo-Aryan migrations. Ramayana legend says Lord Rama's brother Bharat ruled from Gandhara.
- c. 1500 – c. 500 BC Gandhara grave culture
- c. 1200 – c. 800 BC Gandhari people mentioned in Rigveda and Atharvaveda.
- c. 520 – c. 326 BC Persian Empire. Under direct Persian control and/or local control under Achaemenid suzerainty.
- c. 326 – c. 305 BC Occupied by Alexander the Great and Macedonian generals
- c. 305 – c. 180 BC Controlled by the Maurya dynasty, founded by Chandragupta. Converted to Buddhism under King Ashoka (273–232 BC)
- c. 185 – c. 97 BC Under control of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, with some incursions of the Indo-Scythians from around 100 BC
- c. 97 BC – c. AD 7 Saka (Indo-Scythian) Rule
- c. 7 – c. 75 Parthian invasion and Indo-Parthian Kingdom, Rule of Commander Aspavarman?. Ambhi Kumar, king of Gandhara was a descendant of Lord Raghu and prince Bharat of Kosala Kingdom.
- c. 75 – c. 230 Kushan Empire
- c. 230 – c. 440 Kushanshas under Persian Sassanid suzerainty
- c. 450 – c. 565 White Huns (Hephthalites)
- c. 565 – c. 644 Nezak kingdom, ruled from Kapisa and Udabhandapura
- c. 650 – c. 870 Turkshahi, ruled from Kabul
- c. 870 – 1021 Hindushahi, ruled from Udabhandapura
- c. 1032 – 1350 Conquered and controlled by the empire of Mahmud of Ghazni.
- From Sanskrit puruṣa, "(primordial) man" and pura, "city".
- IMPORTANT NOTE: See long discussion under Mahajanapada from the Ancient Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya's list of Mahajanapadas.
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Gandhara
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- Kabul Shahi
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