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Heliodorus Pillar In Vidisha

Vidisha in Central India is known to be rich in historically important structures like Udayagiri caves and many others very significant for archeologists, historians and scholars. The Heliodorus Pillar also called Garuda Stamb though a small structure, but very significant due to its historical linkages is found here.Erected in the late 2nd century B.C. by Heliodorus, the Heliodorus pillar is a stone column. Heliodorus was an emissary of the Bactrian Greek King Antialcidas to the court of King Bhagbhadra of the Shunga Dynasty. The site only 5 miles from the Buddhist stupa of Sanchi is surmounted by a sculpture of Garuda and dedicated to the God Vasudeva. This column was first noticed in 1877, during an archaeological survey by General Cunningham. With two prominent inscriptions, a thick coating of red lead paste prevented the inscriptions from being noticed. The coating was the result of a custom of pilgrims to smear the column with vermillion paste during their worship.

Significance of the Pillar

Monumenta in VidishaThe inscriptions, after being studied carefully led to a very surprising find that Heliodorus had converted into Hinduism.The first inscription pointed towards Heliodorus’ sympathies towards the orthodox cult of Vasudeva worship, one of the earliest cults in Vaishnavism. If this finding was correct, then historically, Heliodorus would have been one of the earliest converts to Hinduism and the first instance of conversion of a non-Indian to Hinduism.

The first inscription is as follows:-
"Devadevasa Va [sude]vasa Garudadhvajo ayam
karito i[a] Heliodorena bhaga-
vatena Diyasa putrena Takhasilakena
Yonadatena agatena maharajasa
Amtalikitasa upa[m]ta samkasam-rano
Kasiput[r]asa [Bh]agabhadrasa tratarasa
vasena [chatu]dasena rajena vadhamanasa"

— Original inscription

The second inscription indicates the Heliodorus belief in his religion. It reads as follows:-
"Trini amutapadani‹[su] anuthitani
nayamti svaga damo chago apramado"

— Original inscription

3 Parts of the Pillar

Garuda Stambha
The pillar consists of three parts and appears to be a shade of pinkish brown color:
  • a faceted shaft
  • a bell-capital
  • a damaged abacus, over which stood the figure of Garuda, the Eagle steed of Vishnu, which is now absent
The octagonal part of the shaft carries two sets of inscriptions in Brahmi on it.

Today Heliodorus Pillar occupies a special place in the history of India in general and Madhya Pradesh and Vidisha in particular. It not only reflects the architectural excellence of the artists but also the foresight of Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador of the Indo-Greek King Antialcidas . Today the pillar stands forthright without much damage surprisingly even after centuries reminding us of the glorious era of the ancient Indian history.

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