Gandhāra (Sanskrit: गन्धार, Persian: ویهیند, Urdu: گندھارا) is an ancient kingdom (Mahajanapada), located in parts of modern-day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the Peshawar Valley, the Pothohar Plateau and the Kabul River Valley. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar), literally meaning "city of men", and Takshashila (modern Taxila) .
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 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 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.
Evidence of Stone Age human inhabitants of Gandhara, including stone tools and burnt bones, was discovered at Sanghao near Mardan in area caves. The artefacts 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 civilisation. This culture survived till 1000 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 Thatagush (ϑataguš, Satagydia). 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 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.