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During the period when the epic Mahabharata was written, around 800–400 BCE, Punjab was known as Trigarta and ruled by Katoch kings.The Indus Valley Civilization spanned much of the Punjab region with cities such as Harappa (modern-day Punjab, Pakistan). The Vedic Civilization spread along the length of the Sarasvati River to cover most of Northern India including Punjab. This civilization shaped subsequent cultures in the Indian subcontinent. The Punjab region was conquered by many ancient empires including the Gandhara, Nandas, Mauryas, Sungas, Kushans, Guptas, Palas, Gurjara-Pratiharas and Hindu Shahis. The furthest eastern extent of Alexander the Great’s exploration was along the Indus River. Agriculture flourished and trading cities such as Jalandhar, Sangrur and Ludhiana grew in wealth.

Due to its location, the Punjab region came under constant attack and influence from both west and east. Punjab faced invasions by the Achaemenids, Greeks, Scythians, Turks, and Afghans. This resulted in the Punjab witnessing centuries of bitter bloodshed. Its culture combines Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Afghan,[citation needed] Sikh and British influences.

The city of Taxila, founded by Takṣa, the son of Bharat, who in turn was the brother of the Hindu deity Rama, was reputed to house Takshashila University, the oldest university in the world.One of its teachers was the great Vedic thinker and politician Chanakya. Taxila was a great centre of learning and intellectual discussion during the Maurya Empire. It is today a United Nations World Heritage site.