Abdur Rehman, "A Note on the Etymology of Gandhāra"


The name Gandhāra had long been forgotten till European scholars, taking clues from the accounts of some notable Chinese pilgrims and from scattered references in Classical writers, rediscovered it in the nineteenth century and at once recognized that Gandhāra was the ancient name of the present valley of Peshāwar. There is no doubt that the name Gandhāra is synonymous with Kandahar—the name of an important city in Afghānistān. The latter appears to be the original form, for, its first part (Kand) is found in many other names such as Samarkand, Tāshkand, Yārkand etc. Kand is a Sanskrit word and consists of two parts—kan/Kam (meaning water) and da/dhā (lake, sea, pool etc.) (see Monier-Williams 1899: 250). Taken together these two parts would mean “Lake of Water.” When the word hāra/hār is added to it, it would obviously mean “Lake-land.”

The valley of Peshāwar, in remote ages, was undoubtedly a vast inland sweet water lake fed by the rivers Kābul, Bāra, Swāt and the Indus. The force of water, accumulated over the centuries, at last succeeded in cutting a passage through the weakest part of the hills at Attock. Gradually the passage deepened so that the entire volume of water drained into the Arabian sea leaving marshy lands behind, which once formed the bottom of the lake. When the Sanskrit-speaking Aryans reached this valley between 1500 to 1200 B.C., they found it replete with marshy land and therefore styled it Gandhāra in their own language. There could have been no better name for such a land.