The Mahajanapadas of Jambudvipa, Part 16

BY: SUN STAFF - 19.6 2017

Ramayana scene 
Paithan School, Maharashtra, 19th c.

A serial exploration of the island of Jambudvipa and the sixteen Great States residing there.

The Gandhara Kingdom

The Gandhara Kingdom is included in the list of sixteen great states of ancient India known as the mahajanapadas. Gandhara's territory comprised the modern districts of Peshwar and Rawalpindi in northern Punjab. The Gandhara dynasty, located on the grand northern high road (Uttarapatha), had their capital at Takkasila (Takshasila, or Prakrit Taxila). Their domain was the centre of international commerce and served as an important channel of communication with ancient Iran and Central Asia.

Taksashila and Pushkalavati, the two largest cities of the kingdom, are said to have been named after Taksa and Pushkara, the two sons of Bharata, a prince of Ayodhya.

The Taxila (Taksashila) University was a renowned center of learning in ancient times, and scholars from all over the world went there to pursue higher education. Pāṇini and Kautiliya, two of India's foremost scholars, were both educated at Taxila University.

The Gandharas and their king figure prominently as strong allies of the Kurus against the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war. The Gandharas were known as a furious people, well-trained in the art of war.

Ramayana scene 
Paithan School, Maharashtra, 19th c.

According to Puranic traditions, this Janapada was founded by Gandhara, 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 famous king of the Rigvedic period. The river Indus watered the lands of Gandhara, and the wool produced by the Gandharis is mentioned in Rigveda.

King Pukkusati or Pushkarasarin of Gandhara in the middle of the sixth century BC was the contemporary of king Bimbisara of Magadha. According to Vayu Purana (II.36.107), the Gandharas were destroyed by Pramiti (aka Kalika). Pāṇini mentioned both the Vedic form Gandhari as well as the later form Gandhara in his Ashtadhyayi.

In some references, the Gandhara Kingdom also included Kashmira Hecataeus of Miletus (549-468 B.C.) refers to Kaspapyros (Kasyapura, i.e. Kashmira) as a Gandharic city. According to the Gandhara Jataka, at one time Gandhara formed a part of the kingdom of Kashmir. The Jataka also gives the name Chandahara for Gandhara.

Babhruvahana and the Mongoose Fight the Serpents 
Mahabharata - Paithan School, Maharashtra, c. 1850

In Buddhist literature, Gandhara is described as including the territories of east Afghanistan and the region northwest of the Punjab (the modern districts of Peshawar (Purushapura) and Rawalpindi).

Moggaliputta Tissa sent the thera (Buddhist elder) Majjhantika to Kasmira-Gandhara for propagating Buddhism. A trade relationship existed between Kasmira-Gandhara and the Bideha Kingdom. He is said to have sent an embassy and a letter to his Magadhan contemporary as a mark of friendship. He also waged war against King Pradyota of the Avanti kingdom, and defeated him.

The Behistun inscription of Darius (c. 516 B.C.) refers to Gadara or Gandhara, which was one of the kingdoms subject to the Persian Empire. In the latter half of the 6th Century B.C. the Gandhara Kingdom was conquered by the Achaemenid kings. In Asoka's time, Gandhara formed a part of his empire, and the Gandharas are mentioned in Asoka's Rock Edict V.


Sources: Mahabharata, Georgraphy of Ancient India