Ancient Gandhara Kingdom was located in parts of modern-day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Gandhāra was located mainly in the Peshawar Valley, Pothohar Plateau and the Kabul River Valley. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern day Peshawar), meaning “city of men”, and Takshashila (modern day Taxila).
City of Kandahar in Afghanistan is distracted version of Gandhara name.
History behind name of Gandhara
The word Gandhāra was first mentioned in Rig Veda. It was also in uttara-Ramayana and Mahabharata.
This word can have multiple meanings like Gandha (meaning fragrance), i.e the land of fragrances.
Lord Siva has one of his names as ‘Gandhāra‘ (# 719 : Om Gandharaya nama), in Siva Sahasranamam (part of Mahabharata’s anuSaasanika parva, where Krishna recollects 1008 names of Siva told to him by sage Upamanyu and narrates them to Yudhistir).
Here Siva is Gandhara, which means he himself is Gandhāra Swara.
His devotees could have first inhibited the present land of Kandahar.
Both Hindustani and Carnatic music have Gandhara Swaras with variations such as Komal Gandhar, Suddh Gandhar (Hindustani) and Sadharana Gandhara, Antara Gandhara (Carnatic).
Shadj (Sa), Rishabh (Re), Gandhar (Ga), Madhyam (Ma), Pancham (Pa), Dhaivat (Dha) and Nishad (Ni).
Gandhāri people settled since the Vedic times on the banks of Kabul River (river Kabol or Kubhā) down to its confluence with the Indus.
Later Gandhāra included parts of northwest Punjab. Ancient Gandhara Kingdom 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.
The kingdom was ruled from capitals at Gandhar(Kandahar,) Kapisa (Bagram), Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Taxila, Purushapura (Peshawar) and in its final days from Udabhandapura(Hund) on the Indus.
According to the Uttara Ramayana and Raghu Vamsam (written by Kalidasa), they were named after Taksha and Pushkara, the two sons of Bharata, who was brother of Lord Rama.
In Ramayana era, 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 era (about 3200 BCE), Gandhari, princess of this kingdom was married to Hastinapur’s blind king Dhritrashtra and was mother of Duryodhana and other Kauravas.
Her brother Sakuni was against it.
His father, King Subala and entire clan was ill-treated by Kuru warriors like Bheeshma.
They were imprisoned and food sufficient to only one person was sent in.
Entire clan decided to let Sakuni survive on that food, so that he can take revenge later.
Sakuni made dice from his father’s bones which were controlled by his soul after his death.
They would roll the number he intended and were used to send Pandavas to forest exile and create differences with Duryodhana.
However, this story is not mentioned in Mahabharata. Only through folklore, it gained popularity.
Around 75 AD, Ambhi Kumar, who ruled as king of Gandhara was a descendant of Lord Raama and prince Bharat of Kosala Kingdom.
According to puranas, this Gandhara janapada was founded by Gandhāra, son of Aruddha, a descendant of Yayati.
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 (Goddess Kaali), at the end of Kaliyuga (It will be repeated at end of present Kali Yuga).
Druhyus were driven out of the land of the seven rivers by Mandhatr and that their next king Gandhara settled in a north-western region which became known as Ghandara.
The sons of the later Druhyu king Pracetas lived in the adjacent region of north Afghanistan.
This is recorded in the following Puranas: Bhagavata 9.23.15–16; Vishnu 4.17.5; Vayu 99.11–12; Brahmanda 3.74.11–12 and Matsya 48.9
The Aitareya Brahmana refers to king Naganajit of Gandhara who was contemporary of King Janaka of Videha. The Gandharis are also mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad and the Srauta Sutras.
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.
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). Gandhara was often linked politically with the neighboring regions of Kashmir and Kamboja.
Ancient Gandhara Kingdom under Mauryan rule
After many mauryan kings like Chandragupta, Asoka, Jayapala who was the last king of this dynasty to rule from here, extended kingdom from west of Kabul to the river Sutlej. 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 committed suicide.
Anandapala, a son of Jayapala, moved his capital near Nandana in the Salt Range.
In 1021 AD 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.
In early 11th century AD, it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni.