Not far from the Buddhist site of Sanchi in Central India, we take a 45-minute ride on the very bumpy road to Vidisha or Besnagar where we find the Heliodorus column, locally known as the Khamb Baba pillar. This was erected by Heliodorus, the Greek ambassador to India in 113 BCE. Heliodorus was sent to the court of King Bhagabhadra by Antialkidas, the Greek king of Taxila. The kingdom of Taxila was part of the Bactrian region in northwest India, which had been conquered by Alexander the Great in 325 BCE. By the time of Antialkidas, the area under Greek rule included what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Punjab.
Heliodorus writes on the stone pillar the time it was erected and the fact that he had converted to Vaishnavism, or the worship of Lord Vishnu. The inscription on the column, as published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, says:
“This Garuda column of Vasudeva (Vishnu), the god of gods, was erected here by Heliodorus, a worshiper of Vishnu, the son of Dion, and an inhabitant of Taxila, who came as Greek ambassador from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior, then reigning prosperously in the fourteenth year of his kingship. Three important precepts when practiced lead to heaven: self-restraint, charity, conscientiousness.”
This shows that Heliodorus had become a worshiper of Vishnu and was well versed in the texts and ways pertaining to this religion. It can only be guessed how many other Greeks became converted to Vaishnavism if such a notable ambassador did. This conclusively shows the Greek appreciation for India and its philosophy.
It was General Alexander Cunningham who was doing an archeological survey in 1877 who first took notice of the significance of the column. However, he did not attend to the inscription that was on it because it was covered with vermilion. This was because the pilgrims who worshiped had a custom to smear the column with vermilion.
It was only in January of 1901 when a Mr. Lake uncovered the paint from what he thought was some lettering. Once the ancient Brahmi text was translated, the historical significance of the column became ever more apparent.
The British Sanskritists, due to their superior views of themselves, had developed the idea that much of the Vedic traditions and legends of Lord Krishna had to have been incorporated from the Bible and the stories of Jesus. However, this Heliodorus column was the archeological discovery that proved to the disappointed British that knowledge of Krishna and the Vaishnava tradition predated Christianity by at least 200 years. The column indicated that the Indians did not adopt legends of Christ to put in their Puranas to be used for the stories of Krishna as the British had hypothesized since this gave proof that knowledge of Krishna predated Jesus by almost 200 years.
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