Gandhara comprises the area to the west of river Indus and north of river Kabul. It includes the valleys of Peshawar, Swat, Dir and Bajaur and extends eastwards to the Taxila Valley in the Punjab and westwards to Hadda and Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
Hiuen Tsang, the renowned Chinese pilgrim, who visited Gandhara in the early 7 century AD, wrote that the Kingdom of Gandhara formed the tract of the country on the west bank of Indus and north of Kabul rivers which included the Peshawar Valley and the modern Swat, Buner and Bajaur. According to Zwalf (1996), the British historian on Gandhara Art, the region of Gandhara was located below the meeting point of Hindukush and the Great Himalayas, while Dr. M. F Farooq Swati (1997) maintains that except the time of Mauryans and Kushans, the region was divided into a number of small kingdoms, such as Udhiyana (Swat), Gandhara (Peshawar Valley), Kapisa, Bactria and others.
Gandhara, the cradle of Buddhist Civilization, which gave birth to the famous Gandhara Art, is first mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the religious book of Aryans. It remained one of the provinces of the Achaemenian Empire as per Darius inscription of 6th century BC. Pushkalavati (Balahisar-Charsadda) was its first capital from 6th century BC to 1st century AD, which was invaded in 327 BC by Alexander the Great. Later, Gandhara was ruled by Mauryans, indo-Greeks, Scythians and Parthians rulers. The Kushanas established their capital at Pushapura or Peshawar in the 1 century AD and King Kanishka built a Stupa and monastery at Shah-Ji-Ki-Dheri, near Ganj Gate Peshawar. The relic casket discovered from this Stupa has Kharoshthi inscription, which mentions the name of the city as Kanishkapura, is now exhibited in the main hail of the Peshawar Museum. In 7th century AD, the Shahi Dynasties of Kabul and Gandhara established capital of Gandhara at Hund, which remained their capital till the invasions of Ghaznavids in 998 AD, thus ending the rule of Gandhara after about 1600 years.
It was during the time of the Kushan rulers that the Buddhist Art developed in the form of Mahayana Buddhism at Gandhara and travelled towards China, Korea and Japan. The Chinese pilgrims of the 5th7th century AD talked about the great glory and thousands of stupas and monasteries, which they visited in Gandhara. Taxila, though not geographically included in Gandhara, was an extension of Gandhara Art and a great teaching center of Buddhism.
The main sites of Gandhara are located in:
The valleys of Peshawar
The most famous sites are:
Hadda and Bamiyan in Afghanistan
Shah-ji-ki-Dheri in Peshawar
Bala Hisar and Sheikhan Dheri in Charsadda
Takht-i-Bahi, Jamal Garhi and Sahri Bahiol in Mardan
Aziz Dheri in Swabi
Butkara-I & II in Swat
Sirkap, Sirsukh,Julian in Taxila
The museums of Peshawar, Mardan, Chakdara, Swat, Taxila, Lahore and Karachi house some of the most remarkable collections of Gandhara Art. However, Peshawar Museum has the credit of having one of the best collections of Gandhara Art in the world. The Gandharan collection of Peshawar Museum comes from the excavations of the Archaeological Survey of India, Frontier Circle during the first half of the 20th century. These sculptures mainly comes from the sites of Sahri Bahiol (1 906-26), Takht-i-Bahi (1 907-13), Jamal Garhi (1921-24) in District Mardan, Shah-ji-ki-Dheri (1908-10) in District Peshawar and Palatu Dheri (1902-03), Ghaz Dheri (1 902-03), Mamane Dheri, Akhun Dheri, Ibrahimzai, Utmanzai, Hamid Garhi Turangzai, Bala Hisar and Sheikhan Dheri in District Charsadda. The Taxila museum collection mainly comes from the sites of Mohra Muradu, Julian and Sirkap, while the Swat museum collection is mainly from Butkara and Saidu Sharif sites and Chakdara museum exhibits the collection from the sites of Andan Dheri and Chatpat.
The cosmopolitan art of Gandhara was brought to light by antiquarians and art dealers of the 19th and 20t1t century, but currently, almost all the major museums of the civilized world, have exhibited pieces of Gandharan Art in their galleries. Recent research shows that the art of Gandhara in stone, stucco, terracotta and bronze, for the propagation of Buddhism, is the legacy of the great civilization of Gandhara, which has hardly any parallels in the contemporary world.
Gandhara Art, a contribution of the inhabitants of Gandhara, shows influences from the
main land Indians, Greeks, Romans and Persian artists. The art appeared in this region in the 1st century BC, strengthened in the 1st century AD, flourished till 5th century and lingered on till 8th century. The art died due to the invasions of Huns (5th century A.D.),Turk and Hindu Shahis (6th 10th century AD) and Muslims (10th & 11th AD).
The purpose of this art was the propagation of Buddhism through the images carved and made in stone, stucco, terracotta and bronze, mostly enshrined in the stupas and monasteries throughout Gandhara. Thousands of such stupas were mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Gandhara in the early 7th century AD, only few of which have been excavated so-far. The main focus of the art was Buddha’s life stories and individual images; his previous birth stories (Jatakas) and future Buddhas. The most important among them are the figures of historic Buddha, his miracles and all episodes from his birth to death, beautifully and liberally executed. The local devoted artists, stimulated by the personality of Buddha, took advantage of the contacts, motifs and technology from Greeks, Romans and Persians and developed such a unique art, which gave Buddha an eternal life.
The life stories of Buddha, depicted in Gandharan Art are an authentic document of the Mahayana text composed during the time of Kushana rulers. In fact, the sculptors of Gandhara translated the Buddhist Mahayana religious text into details in stones, stucco, terracotta and bron2e, thus making it more romantic and providing a base for the expansion of Buddhism towards the Far East via Silk Route through pilgrims and traders. The current Buddhist religion in China, Korea and Japan is a wonderful example of the extension of Gandharan Buddhism. The Gandharan sculptures were fixed to the bases, drums and stairs of the stupas, around which the worshipers circumambulated and individual figures filled the niches around the stupas and monasteries. Also, the harmika i.e., the solid box in square above the dome of the stupa was carved on all sides with Buddha life stories. These stories were chiselled on stone tablets and fixed to the stupas, inside which, relics of Buddha were kept in a casket for the purpose of worship.
The major poses of the Buddha and Bodhisattva (Buddha to be) in Gandhara Art are Dhayana Mudra or Meditation Pose, Abhaya Mudra or Reassurance Pose, Dharma Chakra Mudra or Turning of the Wheel of Law pose and Bhumispersa Mudra or Earth Touching Pose. The Art, mainly a product of the land of Gandhara under the Kushana rulers, is much more charismatic than the contemporary Mathuran Art of India and therefore, a great source of attraction for tourists, pilgrims and researchers. Selected museums with Gandhara collection.