History of Peshawar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Peshawar City, Edwardes Gate, c. 1870

The history of Peshawar, a region of modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, covers thousands of years. The region was known as Puruṣapura in Sanskrit, literally meaning "city of men".[a] It also found mention in the Zend Avesta as Vaēkərəta, the seventh most beautiful place on earth created by Ahura Mazda. It was known as the "crown jewel" of Bactria and also held sway over Takshashila (modern Taxila).[1] Being among the most ancient cities of the region between Central and South Asia, Peshawar has for centuries been a center of trade between Bactria, South Asia, and Central Asia.


Peshawar was known in Sanskrit as Puruṣapura (पुरुषपुर), literally meaning "city of men".[a] It also found mention in the Zend Avesta as Vaēkərəta, the seventh most beautiful place on earth created by Ahura Mazda It was known as the "crown jewel" of Bactria and also held sway over Takshashila (modern Taxila).[1] Being among the most ancient cities of the region between Central and South Asia, Peshawar has for centuries been a center of trade between Bactria, South Asia and Central Asia. As an ancient center of learning, the 2nd century BC. Bakhshali Manuscript used in the Bakhshali approximation was found nearby.[2]

Vedic mythology refers to an ancient settlement called Pushkalavati in the area, after Pushkal, presently known as Charsadda.[3] In recorded history, the earliest major city established in the general area of Peshawar was called Puruṣapura (Sanskrit for City of Men), from which the current name "Peshawar" is likely derived and was western capital of Ghandhara civilization after Pushkalavati.[4][5]

The city that would become Peshawar, called Puruṣapura, was actually founded by the Kushans, a Central Asian tribe, over 2,000 years ago. Prior to this period the region was affiliated with Gandhara and was annexed first by the Persian Achaemenid Empire and then the Hellenic empire of Alexander the Great. The city passed into the rule of Alexander's successor, Seleucus I Nicator who ceded it to Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Indian Maurya Empire. The inhabitants of Peshewar were mostly Hindu and Buddhist before the arrival of Islam and Christianity. The area that Peshawar occupies was then seized by the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides I (c. 170 - c. 159 BCE), and was controlled by a series of Greco-Bactrian kings. It was later held for some time by several Indo-Parthian kings, the most famous of whom, Gondophares, was still ruling c. 46 CE, and was briefly followed by two or three of his descendants before they were displaced by the first of the "Great Kushans", Kujula Kadphises, around the middle of the 1st century.

Peshawar formed the eastern capital of the empire of Gandhara under the Kushan emperor Kanishka I who reigned from at least 127 CE and, perhaps, for a few years prior to this. Peshawar also became a great centre of Buddhist learning.

Kanishka built what was probably the tallest building in the world at the time, the giant Kanishka stupa, to house the Buddha's relics, just outside the Ganj Gate of the old city of Peshawar.[citation needed][dubious ]

The Kanishka stupa was said to be an imposing structure as one travelled down from the mountains of Afghanistan onto the Gandharan plains. The earliest account of the famous building is by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk, Faxian, who visited it in 400 and described it as being over 40 chang in height (probably about 120 m. or 394 ft.) and adorned "with all precious substances". "Of all the stûpas and temples seen by the travellers, none can compare with this for beauty of form and strength." It was destroyed by lightning and repaired several times. It was still in existence at the time of Xuanzang's visit in 634.[citation needed]

From the ruined base of this giant stupa there existed a jewelled casket containing relics of the Buddha, and an inscription identifying Kanishka as the donor, and was excavated from a chamber under the very centre of the stupa's base, by a team under Dr. D. B. Spooner in 1909. The stupa was roughly cruciform in shape with a diameter of 286 ft (87 m.) and heavily decorated around the sides with stucco scenes. The relics contained in the famous Kanishka casket, said to be those of the Buddha, were removed to Mandalay, Burma for safekeeping.

Sometime in the 1st millennium BCE (or perhaps much earlier), the group that now dominates Peshawar began to arrive from the Suleiman mountains to the south and southwest, the Pakhtuns. It is debatable as to whether or not the Pakhtuns existed in the region even earlier as evidence is difficult to attain. Some writers such as Sir Olaf Caroe write that a group that may have been the Pakhtuns existed in the area and were called the Paktye by Herodotus and the Greeks, which would place the Pakhtuns in the area of Peshawar much earlier along with other Indo-Iranian tribes.

Hellenistic period (c. 250 BC – 10 AD)[edit]

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was – along with the Indo-Greek Kingdom – the easternmost part of the Hellenistic world, covering Bactria and Sogdiana in Central Asia from 250 to 125 BC. It was centered around the north of present-day Afghanistan and North Pakistan. The expansion of the Greco-Bactrians into northern India from 180 BC established the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which was to last until around AD 10.

Peshawar was part of the Graeco-Indian Kingdom, it was a Hellenistic kingdom covering various parts of the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent (modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Western India) during the last two centuries BC, and was ruled by more than 30 kings,[6] often in conflict with each other.

The kingdom was founded when the Graeco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded the subcontinent early in the 2nd century BC. The Greeks in South Asia were eventually divided from the Graeco-Bactrians centered in Bactria (now the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan). But, the Greeks failed to establish a united rule in north-western India. The most famous Indo-Greek ruler was Menander (Milinda). He had his capital at Sakala in Punjab, modern Pakistan, and he successfully invaded the Ganges-Yamuna doab.

The expression "Indo-Greek Kingdom" loosely describes a number of various dynastic polities, traditionally associated with a number of regional capitals like ancient Taxila,[7] (modern Punjab (Pakistan)), Pushkalavati and Sagala.[8] Other potential centers are only hinted at; for instance, Ptolemy's Geographia and the nomenclature of later kings suggest that a certain Theophila in the south of the Indo-Greek sphere of influence may also have been a satrapal or royal seat at one time.

During the two centuries of their rule, the Indo-Greek kings combined the Greek and Indian languages and symbols, as seen on their coins, and blended ancient Greek, Hindu and Buddhist religious practices, as seen in the archaeological remains of their cities and in the indications of their support of Buddhism, pointing to a rich fusion of Indian and Hellenistic influences.[9] The diffusion of Indo-Greek culture had consequences which are still felt today, particularly through the influence of Greco-Buddhist art.[10]

The Indo-Greeks ultimately disappeared at Peshawar as a political entity around 10 AD following the invasions of the Indo-Scythians, although pockets of Greek populations probably remained for several centuries longer under the subsequent rule of the Indo-Parthians and Kushans.[11]

Saka kingdoms[edit]

Gandharan Peshawar (c. 127–1001)[edit]

The city was then conquered by the Kushans, a Central Asian tribe identified with the Yuezhi of Chinese histories. The Kushan King Kanishka, who ruled from 127 AD, moved the capital from Pushkalavati (present-day Charsadda district, in the Peshawar Valley) to Gandhara (Peshawar city) in the 2nd century AD.[12] Buddhist missionaries arrived at Vedic, and animist Peshawar, seeking counsel with the Kushan rulers. Their teachings were embraced by the Kushans, who converted to Buddhism, assigning the religion with great status in the city. Following this move by the Kushans, Peshawar became a center of Buddhist learning.[citation needed]

The giant Kanishka stupa at Peshawar, which may have been the tallest building in the world at the time, was built by King Kanishka to house Buddhist relics just outside the present-day Ganj Gate of the old city of Peshawar. The Kanishka stupa was said to be an imposing structure, as one traveled down from the Hindu Kush mountains onto the Gandharan plains. The earliest account of the famous building was documented by Faxian, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, who was also a monk, who visited the structure in 400 AD and described it as being over 40 chang in height (approximately 120 metres (390 ft)) and adorned "with all precious substances". Faxian continued: "Of all the stûpas and temples seen by the travelers, none can compare with this for beauty of form and strength."[citation needed] The stupa was eventually destroyed by lightning, but was repaired several times; it was still in existence at the time of Xuanzang's visit in 634 AD. A jeweled casket containing relics of the Gautama Buddha, and an inscription identifying Kanishka as the donor, existed at the ruined base of this giant stupa — the casket was excavated, by a team supervised by Dr D.B. Spooner in 1909, from a chamber under the very centre of the stupa's base.[13]

Arab conquest[edit]

The Buddhist and Zoroastrian Pashtuns began converting to Islam following the early annexation by the Arab Empire from Khurasan (in what is Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and northeastern Iran).[14] In 1001, Peshawar was made part of the Muslim world with the conquest of Peshawar by the Ghaznavid ruler Mahmud of Ghazni. The Ghaznavids further expanded their empire from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa into the Punjab region.

During the early reign of this celebrated invader, major battles again occurred on the plains of Peshawar, and Mahmud was opposed by the Hindu Shahi King Jayapala; it was a constant endeavour of King Jayapala to recover the country that had been wrested from him by Sebuktagin. The King was aided by some Pashtuns (also historically known as Afghans), whose allegiance to the [Muslim governor of Peshawar did not continue in the long-term.[citation needed]

The Jayapala-initiated battle occurred during the month of November[citation needed] and the king, himself, was taken prisoner — upon his release, Jayapala resigned the crown to his son, Anandpal. On this occasion, Mahmud punished the Pathans, who had sided with the enemy, and, as they had converted entirely to Islam, the Pathans remained loyal to their new allegiance.[15]

Pashtun and Mughal rule (1451–1758)[edit]

Peshawar was a northwestern regional center of the Pashtun Lodi Empire which was founded by Bahlul Lodi in 1451 and centered at Delhi. Peshawar was also incorporated into the Mughal domains by the mid of 16th century. The founder of the Mughul dynasty that would conquer South Asia, Babur, who hailed from the area that is currently Uzbekistan, arrived in Peshawar and founded a city called Bagram, where he rebuilt a fort in 1530 AD.

The Pashtun emperor Sher Shah Suri, who founded the Sur Empire centered at Delhi, turned Peshawar's renaissance into a boom when he ran his Delhi-to-Kabul Shahi Road as a northwestern extension of the Grand Trunk Road through the Khyber Pass and Peshawar in the 16th century. Later Babur's grandson, Akbar the Great, recorded the name of the city as Peshawa, meaning "The Place at the Frontier" or "Near Water"[citation needed] and expanded the bazaars and fortifications. The Muslim technocrats, bureaucrats, soldiers, traders, scientists, architects, teachers, theologians and Sufis flocked from the rest of the Muslim world to the Islamic Sultanate in South Asia, with many settling in the Peshawar region.[3]

Khushal Khattak, the Pashtun warrior poet, was born near Peshawar, and his life was intimately tied to the city. As an advocate for Afghan independence, he was an implacable foe of the Mughal rulers, especially Aurangzeb.[citation needed]

Maratha Peshawar (1758-1759)[edit]

The Marathas defeated the Durranis in the Battle of Peshwar in 1758 as a part of their Northwest expansion campaign.[16] When Raghunathrao and Malhar Rao Holkar had left Punjab they appointed Tukoji Sindhia as their representative in this north-western province of our country. He along with Khandoji Kadam defeated the Afghan garrison.[17]

Durrani Peshawar (1759–1818)[edit]

As Mughal power declined in 1747, following a loya jirga, Peshawar would join the Pashtun Durrani Empire of Ahmad Shah Durrani.[18] Peshawar was attacked and captured by the Maratha Empire of western India, which conquered Peshawar on 8 May 1758. A large force of Pashtuns under Ahmad Shah Durrani then re-conquered Peshawar in early 1759.[19] Peshawar remained under Afghan(Durrani) rule till the conquest by the Sikhs in 1818.

In 1776, Ahmad Shah's son, Timur Shah Durrani, chose Peshawar as his winter capital[20] and the Bala Hissar Fort in Peshawar was used as the residence of Durrani kings. Pashtuns from Peshawar participated in the incursions of South Asia during the Durrani Empire. Peshawar remained the winter capital until the Sikhs of the Punjab region rose to power in the early nineteenth century.[3]

Sikh conquest (1818–1849)[edit]

Until 1818, Peshawar was controlled by Afghanistan, but was invaded by the Sikh Empire of Punjab. The arrival of a party led by British explorer and former agent of the East India Company, William Moorcroft was seen as an advantage, both in dealings with Kabul and for protection against the Sikhs of Lahore. Moorcroft continued to Kabul in the company of Peshawari horses and thence to the Hindu Kush.[21] In 1818, Peshawar was captured by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and paid a nominal tribute until it was finally annexed in 1834 by the Sikhs, after which the city fell into steep decline. Many of Peshawar's famous Mosques and gardens were destroyed by the Sikhs at this time. An Italian was appointed by the Sikhs as administrator. Acting on behalf of the Sikhs, Paolo Avitabile, unleashed a reign of fear – his time in Peshawar is known as a time of "gallows and gibbets." The city's famous Mahabat Khan, built in 1630 in the Jeweler's Bazaar, was badly damaged and desecrated by the Sikh conquerors.[14]

The Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh and Gurdwara Bhai Beeba Singh were constructed in the city by Hari Singh Nalwa to accommodate the influx of Sikh immigrants from the Punjab.[22] While the city's Sikh population drastically declined after the partition of India, Peshawar's Sikh community has re-established itself, bolstered by Sikh refugees and by approximately 4,000 refugees from the Tribal Areas;[23] in 2008, the largest Sikh population in Pakistan was located in Peshawar.[24] Sikhs in Peshawar self-identify as Pashtuns and speak Hindko and Pashto as their mother tongues.[25]

Afghan attempts to reconquer Peshawar[edit]

An 1835 attempt to re-occupy the city by the Afghan Emir Dost Mohammad Barakzai failed when his army declined to engage in combat with the Dal Khalsa. However Barakzai's son, Wazir Akbar Khan, succeeded in regaining control of the city in the Battle of Jamrud of 1837. Following this, Peshawar was annexed by the British East India Company after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1849.[citation needed]

British Empire (1849–1947)[edit]

Following the defeat of the Sikh's in the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, territories in the Punjab were also captured by British East India company. During the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the 4,000 members of the native garrison were disarmed without bloodshed;[26] the absence of brutality meant that Peshawar was not affected by the widespread devastation that was experienced throughout the rest of British India and local chieftains sided with the British after the incident.[27] British control remained confined within the city walls as vast regions of the Frontier province outside the city were claimed by the Kingdom of Afghanistan. The vast mountainous areas outside of the city were mapped out only in 1893 by Sir Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of the British Indian government, who collaboratively demarcated the boundary of British-controlled areas with the Afghan ruler at the time, Abdur Rahman Khan.

The British laid out the vast Peshawar Cantonment to the west of the city in 1868, and made the city its frontier headquarters.[19] Additionally, several projects were initiated in Peshawar, including linkage of the city by railway to the rest of British India and renovation of the Mohabbat Khan mosque that had been desecrated by the Sikhs.[14] The British also constructed Cunningham clock tower, in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, and, in 1906, constructed Victoria Hall (now home of the Peshawar Museum) in memory of Queen Victoria.[14] The British greatly contributed to the establishment of Western-style education in Peshawar with the establishment of Edwardes College and Islamia College in 1901 and 1913, respectively—these were established in addition to numerous other schools, many of which are run by the Anglican Church.[14] For better administration of the region, Peshawar and the adjoining districts were separated from the Punjab Province in 1901.[28]

Peshawar emerged as a centre for both Hindko and Pashtun intellectuals. Hindko speakers, also referred to as Khaarian ("city dwellers" in Pashto), were responsible for the dominant culture for most of the time that Peshawar was under British rule.[29] Where as before it was the Pashtuns and Mughals who beautified and brought culture to the region, until the Sikhs brought the city to shambles and deterioration.

Peshawar was the scene of a non-violent resistance movement that was led by Ghaffar Khan, a disciple of Mohandas Gandhi. In April 1930, Khan led a large group of locals, in a peaceful protest in Qissa Khawani Bazaar, against discriminatory laws that had been enacted by the British rulers — hundreds were killed when British horses opened fire on the demonstrators.[30]

Post-independence history[edit]

After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 Peshawar served as a political centre for anti-Soviet Mujahideen, and was surrounded by huge camps of Afghan refugees. Many of the refugees remained there through the civil war which broke out after the Soviets were defeated in 1989, the rule of the Taliban, and the invasion by allied forces in late 2001. Peshawar would replace Kabul and Qandahar as the centre of Pakhtun cultural development during this tumultuous period. Additionally, Peshawar managed to assimilate many of the Pakhtun Afghan refugees with relative ease, while many other Afghan refugees remained in camps awaiting a possible return to Afghanistan.

Peshawar continues to be a city that links Pakistan to Afghanistan and has emerged as an important regional city in Pakistan and remains a focal point for Pakhtun culture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b From Sanskrit puruṣa, "(primordial) man", and pura, "city".


  1. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica: Gandhara[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Pearce, Ian (May 2002). "The Bakhshali manuscript". The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. Retrieved 24 July 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c The Pathans – 550 BC – AD 1957 by Sir Olaf Caroe, 1958, Macmillan Company, Reprinted Oxford University Press, 2003 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "The_Pathans" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ "NWFP in search of a name". pakhtunkhwa.com. Retrieved 24 January 2016. 
  5. ^ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. 1834. pp. 114–. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  6. ^ occurred, as exemplified by Alexander III of Macedon (who married Roxana of Bactria) or Seleucus (who married Apama).
  7. ^ Mortimer Wheeler Flames over Persepolis (London, 1968). Pp. 112 ff. It is unclear whether the Hellenistic street plan found by Sir John Marshall's excavations dates from the Indo-Greeks or from the Kushans, who would have encountered it in Bactria; Tarn (1951, pp. 137, 179) ascribes the initial move of Taxila to the hill of Sirkap to Demetrius I, but sees this as "not a Greek city but an Indian one"; not a polis or with a Hippodamian plan.
  8. ^ "Menander had his capital in Sagala" Bopearachchi, "Monnaies", p.83. McEvilley supports Tarn on both points, citing Woodcock: "Menander was a Bactrian Greek king of the Euthydemid dynasty. His capital (was) at Sagala (Sialkot) in the Punjab, "in the country of the Yonakas (Greeks)"." McEvilley, p.377. However, "Even if Sagala proves to be Sialkot, it does not seem to be Menander's capital for the Milindapanha states that Menander came down to Sagala to meet Nagasena, just as the Ganges flows to the sea."
  9. ^ "A vast hoard of coins, with a mixture of Greek profiles and Indian symbols, along with interesting sculptures and some monumental remains from Taxila, Sirkap and Sirsukh, point to a rich fusion of Indian and Hellenistic influences", India, the Ancient Past, Burjor Avari, p.130
  10. ^ Ghose, Sanujit (2011). "Cultural links between India and the Greco-Roman world" Archived August 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.. Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ "When the Greeks of Bactria and India lost their kingdom they were not all killed, nor did they return to Greece. They merged with the people of the area and worked for the new masters; contributing considerably to the culture and civilization in southern and central Asia." Narain, "The Indo-Greeks" 2003, p.278
  12. ^ "Pushpapura to Peshawar". The Khyber Watch. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  13. ^ Rai Govind Chandra (1 January 1979). Indo-Greek Jewellery. Abhinav Publications. pp. 82–. ISBN 978-81-7017-088-4. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Asghar Javed (1999–2004). "History of Peshawar". National Fund for Cultural Heritage. National Fund for Cultural Heritage. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Gazetteer of the Peshawar District 1897–98
  16. ^ Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, p. 43, at Google Books
  17. ^ Third Battle of Panipat by Abhas Verma ISBN 9788180903397 Bharatiya Kala Prakashan
  18. ^ "A Concise History of Afghanistan in 25 Volumes, Volume 14". Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  19. ^ a b Schofield, Victoria, "Afghan Frontier: Feuding and Fighting in Central Asia", London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks (2003), page 47
  20. ^ Shah Hanifi (11 February 2011). Connecting Histories in Afghanistan: Market Relations and State Formation on a Colonial Frontier. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-7777-3. Retrieved 13 December 2012. Timur Shah transferred the Durrani capital from Qandahar during the period of 1775 and 1776. Kabul and Peshawar then shared time as the dual capital cities of Durrani, the former during the summer and the later during the winter season. 
  21. ^ Keay, John (1996). Explorers of the Western Himalayas: 1820–1895. London: John Murray. p. 41. ISBN 0-7195-5576-0. 
  22. ^ Iqbal Qaiser (2012). "Gurudwara Bhai Joga Singh at Peshawar". All About Sikhs – your Gateway to Sikhism. Gateway to Sikhism. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  23. ^ M Zulqernain (10 February 2012). "Historic Gurdwara in Peshawar to Reopen for Worship". Outlook India.com. The Outlook Group. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  24. ^ Rania Abouzeid (22 November 2010). "Pakistan: The Embattled Sikhs in Taliban Territory". Time World. Time Inc. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  25. ^ http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2008/10/the-frontier-singhs/[dead link][dead link]
  26. ^ John Pike (2000–2012). "Peshawar Cantonment". GlobalSecurity.org. GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  27. ^ Charles Allen, Soldier Sahibs, p.276
  28. ^ Changes in the Socio-economic Structures in Rural North-West Pakistan By Mohammad Asif Khan "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2015-01-30.  Peshawar was separated from Punjab Province in 1901
  29. ^ The Frontier Town of Peshawar. A Brief History by Sayed Amjad Hussain.
  30. ^ APP (24 April 2008). "PESHAWAR: Qissa Khwani martyrs remembered". DAWN The Internet Edition. DAWN Media Group. Retrieved 13 December 2012.