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Living Gandhara at Lok Virsa Museum | by Batool Nasir
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Living Gandhara at Lok Virsa Museum

Gandhāra (Sanskrit: पुरुषपुर or गंधार, Pashto: ګندارا‎, Urdu: گندھارا‎, Avestan: Vaēkərəta, Old Persian: Para-upari-sena, Bactrian: Paropamisadae [Hellenization: Paropamisus], Greek: Caspatyrus) is the ancient term for the city and old kingdom of Peshawar, which encompassed the Swat valley and the Potohar Plateau regions of Pakistan, as well as the Jalalabad district of modern-day Afghanistan. During the Hellenistic period, its capital city was Charsadda, but later the capital city was moved to Peshawar by the Kushan emperor Kanishka the Great in about 127. It is mentioned in the Zend Avesta as Vaēkərəta, the sixth most beautiful place on earth, created by Ahura Mazda. It was known in Sanskrit as Puruṣapura, literally meaning "city of men". It was known as the "crown jewel" of Bactria and also held sway over Takṣaśilā (modern Taxila).


The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted during the Vedic period (c. 1500–500 BC). As a center of Greco-Buddhism, Bactrian Zoroastrianism and animism, Gandhara attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under the Kushan kings. The Persian term Shahi is used by history writer Al-Biruni to refer to the ruling dynasty that took over from the Kabul Shahi and ruled the region during the period prior to Muslim conquests of the 10th and 11th centuries. After it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1001 AD, the name Gandhara disappeared. During the Muslim period, the area was administered from Lahore or from Kabul. During Mughal times, it was an independent district which included the Kabul province.


National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage, Islamabad, Pakistan


PAKISTAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ETHNOLOGY (HERITAGE MUSEUM) earlier known as Folk Art Museum was established in 1982 with a covered area of around twenty thousand (20,000) square feet. However, in 2004 after the up-gradation and renovation, the Museum was re-named as Pakistan National Museum of Ethnology popularly known as Heritage Museum. The fascinating thing about the Heritage Museum is that it presents history and living traditions of the people of Pakistan both from the main stream and the remotest regions of the country.

The primary purpose of the museum is to educate and edify present and future generations of Pakistan and to create a treasure house for the nation more valuable than the vault of any bank in the world.


Most museum in Pakistan are archaeological which are a throwback from colonial times. The Heritage Museum is the first state museum of ethnology in Pakistan which presents the history and living traditions of the people of Pakistan both from the mainstream and the remotest regions of the country. The location of this landmark achievement at Islamabad enriches the federal capital and adds to its attractions.

The museum has a covered area of 60,000 sq. ft. featuring exhibit halls, making it the largest museum in Pakistan. This is a museum for the people of Pakistan, who are the real bearers of our cultural traditions, which make Pakistan truly great.


Timings (Ramazan): 10AM - 4PM (Tuesday - Sunday)

10AM - 4PM (Firday Break 1PM - 2PM)


Nestled within the woods of Shakarparian, the Heritage Museum presents the living cultural traditions and lifestyles of the people of Pakistan, from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea.


This museum was set up on Garden Avenue by Lok Virsa. It was originally created as the Folk Art Museum in 1981, and then renovated and expanded into an ethnological museum in 2004. It now covers an area of 60,000 square feet.


From the civilisation of Mohenjodaro and Harappa to present day Pakistan, the cultural history of what was once known as the crossroads of Asia is on display at the museum.


Heer and Ranjha, the characters from a folk tale from Jhang, Punjab by Waris Shah

The changes in lifestyle in the region are clear in various exhibits that range from Alexander the Great, Ashoka the Great, the Aryans, Buddha, Mohammad bin Qasim, Babar, Nadir Shah and the East India Company.


The galleries also present the life of average citizens in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kalash Valley. From war equipment to musical instruments, jewellery to utensils, fabric-making to embroidery, shoe making and rock carving, the galleries depict the various aspects of Pakistan’s cultural heritage.


Folk tales, like KP’s Adam Khan-Durkhane, Dhola-Maru from Sindh, Hani-Shah Murad from Balochistan and Heer Ranjha from Punjab are also represented, with replicas of the characters.


The main displays include the Hall of Antiquity and Continuity, the Hall of Textiles, the Hall of Sufis and Shrines, the Hall of Ballads and Romans, the Hall of Architecture, the Hall of Musical Heritage, and Future Vision. The culture of each province and region is exhibited.


Other galleries feature crafts such as truck art, pottery, weaving, block printing, stone carving, the Mughal art of carving marble, and Gandhara technique of sculpting rough stone into statues of Buddha.


In addition to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Pakistan, the museum also displays the cultures of various other countries that share affinities and influences with Pakistani culture.


“[The museum is] is very lively and attracts visitors to its displays. It is the first museum of ethnology established by the government to promote and project the country’s cultural heritage,” Dr Fouzia Saeed, the Lok Virsa executive director, told Dawn.


She said the current focus of the museum is the mobilisation of youth. “For this purpose, Friday is ‘Students Day’, and students are encouraged to visit the museum and ask questions about the various aspects of Pakistan’s traditional culture,” she said.


Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2016

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Taken on October 1, 2015