The present main hall of the Peshawar Museum was built in 1906-07 in the memory of Queen Victoria at the cost of Rs.60000, out of which Rs.45000 were donated by the public of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Rs.15000 by the Director General of Archaeology, India. After completion of the building, the museum was set up in November 1907 to house the Gandharan Sculptures excavated from the major Gandharan sites of Shah-Ji-Ki-Dheri Peshawar, Sahri Bahlol, Takht-i-Bahi in the Mardan District and later from Jamal Garhi and other Gandharan sites excavated by British scholars. The two storey building, an amalgamation of the British and Mughal architectures, originally consisted of a main hall and two side aisles on the ground and first floor, surmounted by four elegant cupolas and small pinnacles on all the corners. On the eastern and western side of the building, two halls were added in similar fashion in 1969-70 (one on each side). In 1974-75, the second storey was added to these side halls.
Peshawar Museum Organization
After its inception in 1907 the Peshawar Museum was run by the Peshawar Municipality. The superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India, Frontier Circle was Curator of the Museum. In 1927, when the Frontier Circle office was shifted to Lahore, a full time Curator was appointed under the Provincial Govt. After independence the Museum remained under the direct control of the Director of Public Instructions, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar In 1971, an autonomous body, Board of Governors, was constituted to run the affairs of the Museum, headed first by the Governor and later by the Chief Secretary, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In 1992, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa established its own Directorate of Archaeology and Museums to ensure the better protection and preservation of the archaeological heritage of the Province and thus the Peshawar Museum became part of the Provincial Directorate.
The Museum Collection
The main collection of Peshawar Museum, 14168 items in total till date, includes Gandharan sculptures, Coins, Manuscripts and copies of the Holy Quran, Inscriptions, Weapons, Dresses, Jewelry, Kalash Effigies, Mughal era and later period miniature Paintings,Household objects, local and Persian handicrafts.
The collection is divided in four main sections:
The Peshawar Museum has the most important and largest collection of Gandhara Art in the world. Including antiquities of Buddhist stone sculptures and panels, architectural elements, stucco, sculptures terracotta figurines, relic caskets, toiletry objects. The selected collection is exhibited in the main hall, eastern and western galleries on the first floor of the museum.
The subject matter of Gandharan Art in the main hall includes Buddha's pre-birth and Life stories, miracles, worship of symbols, relic caskets and individual standing Buddha sculptures. The most represented of the pre-birth stories or Jatakas inside the Peshawar museum are Dipankara, Maitryakanyaka, Amara, Syamya and Visvantum Jataka. The Buddha life story in stone is beautifully carved with all details and the most represented scenes include Queen Maya's dream, interpretation of the dream, birth of Siddhartha, bath scene, seven steps, going to school, writing lessons, wrestling matches, palace life, marriage scene, renunciation, great departure, ascetic life, fasting, first meditation, demon attacks, attaining enlightenment, first sermon at Sarnath, conversion of Ksyapa, death scene, cremation of Buddha, distribution and guarding of relics and the construction of stupas on the relics. Different types of the relic caskes, stupa models of schist and bronze, along with life sizeBuddha statues, skillfully carved and beautifully balanced masterpieces of Gandharan Art, decorate the main hall of the museum on the ground floor.
Magnificently decorated and superbly executed images of Bodhisattvas (future Buddhas), Panchika and Hariti (god and goddess of fertility), atlantes, Ichthyocentaur, cupids, garland bearers, Corinthian, Persipoliton and indo-Persipoliton pilasters, and decorative architectural fragments to fill the eastern gallery of the museum. Bodhisattva Siddhartha, Maitreya, Avalokethesvara, Vajrapani, Padapani and Monjusri are the most represented Bodhisattvas in the Peshawar museum collection. Also the influence of Greek, Roman and Persian Art on Gandhara attracts the attention of the visitors.
Images of Buddha in stone, and stucco heads are exhibited in the western gallery while terracotta figurines, grotesque figures, inscriptions, relic caskets, toiletry objects, Buddhist Bronze tools and inscriptions mainly in Kharoshthi and Sarada scripts, are on display in the corridor of the western gallery.
Main Sources of the PeshawarMuseum Gandharan Collection
The main Gandharan collection of the Peshawar Museum recovered from the excavations of the Archaeological Survey of India, Frontier Circle during 1902 to 1941 and donations from the public as well as purchases. These sculptures mainly come from the sites of Sahri Bahlol, Takht-i-Bahi, Jamal Garhi in District Mardan, Shah-ji-ki-Dheri in District Peshawar and Palatu Dheri, Ghaz Dheri, Mamane Dheri, Akhun Dheri, Ibrahimzai, Utmanzai, Hamid Garhi Turangzai, Bala Hisar and Sheikhan Dheri in District Charsadda.
The coins collection of Peshawar Museum includes Punch marked coins, and coins from the Indus Greeks, Scytho-Parthians, Kushans, White Huns, and Hindu Shahis. Also included are Islamic coins of the Ghaznavids, Ghaurids, Slave Dynasties, Tughlaqs, Lodhis, Mughals, Durranis, Sikh and British periods. The coins are in Gold, Silver, Copper and Billon. These coins are found in round, square and rectangular shapes. Specimens of all the major dynasties are displayed.
The 1slamic collection of the Peshawar Museum is one of the richest in Pakistan and has been displayed in the Islamic and Quran manuscripts Gallery on the first floor. The gallery exhibits wooden facades of mosques, Arabic and Persian inscriptions, Multani tiles and ceramics, and the dress and weapons of Sayed Ahmad Shaheed Brailvi, a freedom fighter, who fought against Sikh rule. There are paintings of the Mughal and later periods, Islamic metal work in bronze, silver and calligraphic specimens. The most important of the displayed objects are ten scrolls, dated to 1224 AD, with Holy Quran calligraphed in Khatt-e-Ghubar. Each scroll contains three Paras of the Holy Quran.
In 2003, a new section, the Quranic and Manuscripts Gallery was established to house the extensive and priceless collection of Holy Qurans and manuscripts. This collection includes 29 hand-written copies of the Quran 65 manuscripts and books. The most splendid of the manuscripts is the 11th century illustrated Shah Nama of firdusi Tausi, containing 46 illustrations, depicting various episodes after rulers of Persia.
The Ethnological collection exhibited in the Eastern Gallery of the museum on the first floor represents the culture and mode of life of the major tribes of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Kalashas of Chitral. The exhibits, 348 in all, include twelve commemorative effigies of world famous Kalasha male and female figures, The Kalashas, a pagan tribe of Chitral, immediately after a fellow tribesmen death, carved a wooden, commemorative effigy, to celebrate the departing person as perhaps a great warrior or hunter. The effigy is then placed in the cemetery near the exposed body of the dead.
The other objects on display include jewelry, agricultural tools, and household objects of Bronze wood and leather. There are wooden stools, baskets, models dressed in traditional and tribal costumes of the frontier province. Weapons exhibited include swords, daggers, spears, bows, arrows, shields, muzzle loaded guns, revolvers, pistols and gun powder boxes. Each object in the gallery sheds light on the culture and traditions of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.