Gandhara literally meaning "perfumed"; (also known as Waihind in Persian) is the name of an ancient kingdom (Mahajanapada), in northern Pakistan and what is now eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau (see Taxila) and on the northern side of the Kabul River. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar) and Takshashila (modern Taxila).
The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the 6th century BC to the 11th century. It attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under Buddhist Kushan Kings. After it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021, the name Gandhara disappeared. During the Muslim period the area was administered from Lahore or from Kabul. During Mughal time the area was part of Kabul province.
The Gandharas were settled since the Vedic times on the banks of Kabul River (river Kubha or Kabol) up to its mouth into Indus. The region is known as Peshawar Valley. Later the Gandharas crossed the Indus and included parts of north-west Punjab of Pakistan. Gandhara was located on the grand northern high road (Uttarapatha) and was a centre of international commercial activities. It was an important channel of communication with ancient Iran and Central Asia.
The boundaries of Gandhara varied throughout history. Sometimes the Peshawar valley and Taxila were collectively referred to as Gandhara. The Swat valley was also sometimes included. However, the heart of Gandhara was always the Peshawar valley. The kingdom was ruled from capitals at Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Taxila, Purushapura (Peshawar) and in its final days from Udabhandapura (Hund) on the Indus.
Evidence of Stone Age human inhabitants of Gandhara, including stone tools and burnt bones, was discovered at Sanghao near Mardan in area caves. The artifacts are approximately 15,000 years old.
The region shows an influx of southern Central Asian culture in the Bronze Age with the Gandhara grave culture showing a continuum between the early neolithic culture of the region with close ties and relations with the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. This culture survived till 600 BC. Its evidence has been discovered in the Hilly regions of Swat and Dir, and even at Taxila.
The name of the Gandharis is attested from the Rigveda (RV 1.120.1). The Gandharis, along with the Mujavantas, Angas and the Magadhas, are also mentioned in the Atharvaveda (AV 5.22.14), but apparently as a despised people. Gandharas are included in the *Uttarapatha division of Puranic and Buddhistic traditions. Aitareya Brahmana refers to king Naganajit of Gandhara who was contemporary of *Janaka, king of Videha.
Gandharas and their king figure prominently as strong allies of the Kurus against the Pandavas in Mahabharata war. The Gandharas were a furious people, well trained in the art of war. 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 Rigvedic period. The river Indus watered the lands of Gandhara. According to Vayu Purana (II.36.107), the Gandharas were destroyed by Pramiti aka Kalika, at the end of Kalyuga.