Gandhara, one of the 42 satrapies or provinces of the Achaemenian Empire of Persia (6th – 4th century B.C.), comprised the present Peshawar Valley, Buner, Swat, Bajaur and parts of western Punjab and eastern Afghanistan. In this region, the Mahayana Buddhist religious sculptures, known as Gandhara art, originated and flourished during the first five centuries of the Christian era, popularly believed to have been later destroyed by the White Huns in the 5th century A.D. In the main, it is an art developed during the rule of Kushan emperors and under the impact of contemporary western art tradition. The Philhellenic dynasties of Greeks, Scythians and Parthians, preceding Kushans in this region, also contributed though indirectly, to the shaping of this art. Gandhara art is important for introducing the image of Buddha and the iconography thus developed has influenced Buddhist religious art in Central Asia, China, Korea and Japan.
Starting from the left, as one enters the gallery, the showcases present a number of friezes, panels and statues depicting the life story of the Buddha, from his previous incarnations, birth, youth, enlightenment, preaching of the law (Dharma) and death (Mahaparinirvana). Beyond these, along the other walls of the gallery, are the statues of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas, panels and pieces showing foreign influence, architectural fragments, stucco and terracotta sculptures. Among the masterpieces are: the famous Fasting Buddha;the Miracle of Saravasti now usually identified as Sukhavati Heaven; a small Buddha head with traces of original gilding; and the standing figure of Athena.
The friezes and other pieces of a reconstructed Stupa, in the centre of the gallery are from Sikri near Jamal Garhi, District Mardan. In two showcases are displayed toilette trays, metal and stone objects, pottery and terra-cotta figurines, reliquaries etc., belonging to the Greek, Parthian, Scythian and Kushan periods. The showcases next to them display a number of beautiful stucco heads from Rokhri in district Mianwali and terra-cotta heads from Akhnur in Jammu.