The Kingdom of Gandhara or “the land of fragrance” was composed of the area starting from the west of Indus in Pakistan and north of Kabul in Afghanistan. Taxila was the capital and main cultural Hub. It included cities of Mankiala, Peshawar, Swat valley, Buner, Dir and Bajaur in present day Pakistan and the sites of Hadda and Bamyan in Afghanistan. According to a few archaeologists, the geographical presentation of this Kingdom should not be considered as final and they are convinced that more Gandhara cities are yet to be discovered.
Despite the exponential growth of the internet and electronic media, Gandhara remains unknown to the majority of modern day travellers. Here is a modest effort on our part to expose and project this lost glorious Kingdom to the world.
We all know that Lumbini in Nepal is the birth place of Lord Buddha but not many are aware of the fact that it was King Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty and the King Kanishka of Kushan dynasty who played an important role in propagating Buddhism in the region. Archaeologists have established that the Kingdom of Gandhara existed almost 3000 years ago when Aryan populations from central Asia came and established their settlements here. The hymns mentioned in the sacred book of Hinduism were first sung by the Aryans.
In 558 B.C, the founder of the Persian dynasty Achaemenids Cyrus the Great expanded the frontiers of his Kingdom as far as Peshawar. Later in 520 B.C., Gandhara was annexed to the Persian Kingdom by Darius. Achaemenids were defeated by Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 326 and he took the control of Gandhara. Soon, he decided to leave Gandhara as part of his army felt homesick and threatened to disobey if he kept on advancing. He had no choice but to redirect his journey homeward. The era of Maurian dynasty starts from 321 B.C. when the King Chandra Gupta Maurya took control of the area and declared Taxila as the new capital of his Kingdom. Gandhara saw the first period of its glory when Ashoka, the grandson of Chandra Gupta Maurya came into power. Highly influenced by the teachings of the Lord Buddha, he converted himself into Buddhism and implanted it throughout his Kingdom and this new school of thought flourished in the region at a quick pace. It was the time when students as well as pilgrims from the neighbouring countries used to come and study Buddhism at the famous university of Taxila and that’s how Gandhara gained importance and became the Holy land. King Ashoka, in-order to propagate Buddhism in the region, went on conquering the neighbouring states. After each of his conquests and to leave his footprint, he erected a pillar in the memory of Lord Buddha. It is commonly related in the history books as “Ashoka Pillar”. Slowly but surely, the Buddhism expanded its roots to other countries of present day Asia. The contribution of King Ashoka shall always be remembered whenever Buddhism is discussed.
The downfall of Gandhara started almost 50 years after the demise of King Ashoka when this Kingdom was conquered successively by the foreign invaders. This political turmoil started in 180 B.C. and lasted for over 300 years. Dynasties like Bactrian Greeks, Indo Greeks, Scythians and Parthians ruled this land. In 64 A.D., the Kushans from Afghanistan came and conquered the region. The famous Kushan King Kanishka declared Gandhara as political centre of his Empire that started from the Aral Sea and extended as far as Ganges River. This powerful Empire helped Gandhara gain its lost respect and glory. The fervent Buddhist King Kanishka made every effort to bring peace to this region and promote Buddhism as did his early predecessor King Ashoka. History reveals that Kanishka succeeded in a big way. Buddhist monasteries and the university of Taxila gained life again and were full of students and pilgrims.
All these invasions and socio cultural changes over the centuries from Achaemenids of Persia, to the Mauryans, from Greeks to Kushans of Afghanistan, impacted and influenced in a big way on local artists and it gave birth to a new art called Gandhara Art, a jolly melange of East and West. Some of the master pieces of this art can be seen in the museums of Peshawar, Lahore, Taxila and Sarnath close to Varanasi. The downfall of Gandhara started after the Kushans period. Earthquakes, floods and social unrest resulted in diminishing trade and economy, and the number of Monks gradually decreased in monasteries.
Hinduism rose in the region in the middle of the 9th century and lasted until 11th century when Afghan conqueror Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni attacked and defeated Hindu King Jayapal of Peshawar. The hub of Gandhara civilization remains the city of Taxila. Quite a few Buddhist sites, Stupas and monasteries are scattered over an area of less than 20 km. Taxila being a genuine destination itself, we will develop more about it in a separate chapter especially dedicated to it.
Now you must have understood why we selected the name “Gandhara” while creating Gandhara Trails. It was not an hazard but a deliberate attempt to expose to the world this lost Kingdom that flourished once upon a time in Pakistan but that was too soon forgotten.
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