Gandhara ［ガンダーラ・健駄羅国］ (, Pali Gandhāra; Gandāra or Kendara-koku): A historic region that includes the present Peshawar Division in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Gandhara had long been a crossroads of Indian, Iranian, Greek, and Roman cultural influences and also a center of Buddhist culture. Around the sixth century b.c.e., it was one of the sixteen great states of the Indian subcontinent. In the late sixth century b.c.e., it was annexed by the Persian Achaemenian Empire and remained under its rule for about two centuries. Gandhara fell under Greek rule after being conquered by Alexander the Great in the late fourth century b.c.e., and then was ruled by the Maurya dynasty of India. During the reign of King Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty in the third century b.c.e., Madhyāntika, a Buddhist monk, was sent by the king to Gandhara to disseminate the teachings of Buddhism. Later Gandhara was ruled by Indo-Greek kings, then by the Shakas, Parthians, and the Kushans. Kushan rule began in the first century; King Kanishka of that dynasty, who is generally believed to have reigned in the second century, made Purushapura, the present-day Peshawar, the capital of his empire. With his support Buddhism flourished in the new capital and reached its height during his reign. Both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism were studied and practiced. Among the various schools, the Sarvāstivāda school of Hinayana particularly prospered. In the fourth century (the fifth century according to another account), Asanga and Vasubandhu lived in Gandhara where they contributed greatly to the propagation of Mahayana Buddhism. During the period of Kushan rule, many monasteries and stupas were built, but were destroyed by the Hephthalites, also known as the White Huns, who invaded the area in the fifth century. Hsüan-tsang, a Chinese priest who visited Gandhara in the seventh century, wrote in The Record of the Western Regions that it was a dependency of the Kapisha kingdom, and that more than one thousand monasteries had been devastated and a number of stupas reduced to ruins. In the twentieth century, archaeological expeditions into the Gandhara region were undertaken by John Marshall (1876–1958) and Alfred Foucher (1865–1952).
Gandhara is also known as the birthplace of Gandhara art, a predominantly Buddhist style of art that flourished from the first through the fifth century. Artworks of this style have been found in what was ancient Gandhara and its surrounding regions extending to Taxila and Swat to the east and north, respectively, and to eastern Afghanistan to the west. Gandhara art, influenced by Greek and Roman artistic style, produced the earliest images of Shakyamuni Buddha. Before the rise of Gandhara art in the first century, relief sculptures depicting the events of the Buddha’s life existed but did not portray the Buddha himself. A wheel, an empty throne, a bodhi tree, an umbrella, or a pair of footprints were used as symbols to represent the Buddha. Gandhara art, however, depicted the Buddha for the first time in human form. Gandhara art had an important effect on Buddhist art as a whole in India, Central Asia, and China.