The Heliodorus pillar is a stone column that was erected around 113 BCE in central India in Vidisha near modern Besnagar, by Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas to the court of the Shunga king Bhagabhadra. Historically, it is the first known inscription related to the Bhagavata cult in India. The site is located 5 miles from the Buddhist stupa of Sanchi.
There are two inscriptions on the pillar.[specify]
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
This Garuda-standard of Vāsudeva, the God of Gods
was erected here by the devotee Heliodoros,
the son of Dion, a man of Taxila,
sent by the Great Yona King
Antialkidas, as ambassador to
King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior
son of the princess from Varanasi, in the fourteenth year of his reign.
The second inscription on the pillar describes in more detail the spiritual content of the faith supported by Heliodorus:
Trini amutapadani‹[su] anuthitani
nayamti svaga damo chago apramado
Three immortal precepts (footsteps)... when practiced
lead to heaven: self-restraint, charity, consciousness
"This Garuda-pillar of Vãsudeva, the god of gods, was constructed here by Heliodora, the Bhãgavata, son of Diya, of Takhkhasilã, the Greek ambassador who came from the Great King Amtalikita to King Kãsîputra Bhãgabhadra, the Savior, prospering in (his) fourteenth regnal year. (These?) three steps to immortality, when correctly followed, lead to heaven: control, generosity, and attention.
The pillar was surmounted by a sculpture of the eagle Garuda and was apparently dedicated by Heliodorus to Vāsudeva, called god of gods, in front of the temple of Vasudeva. He is the earliest recorded convert to the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. An earlier Greco-Bactrian king Agathocles also minted coins with the image of Hindu gods circa 180 BCE.
Coins minted during the time period of Antialcidas depict Zeus with a lotus-tipped sceptre, in front of an elephant with a bell (symbol of Taxila), surmouted by Nike holding a wreath, crowning the elephant. The coins carry the inscription "BASILEOS NIKEPHOROU ANTIALKIDOU". These coins were also minted at the Pushkalavati mint and carry the same inscription in Kharoṣṭhī script.
Zeus' Eagle messenger and companion Aetos Dios, was considered as Zeus himself.
"When you [Zeus] were an eagle, when you picked up the boy [Ganymede] on the slopes of Teukrian Ida with greedy gentle claw, and brought him to heaven." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 10. 308 ff
Aetos Dios was also considered a "messenger of God (Zeus)" and adopted by the Greek and Roman military:
"he put a golden eagle on his war standards and dedicated it as a protection for his valour" - Anacreon, Fragment 505d (from Fulgentius, Mythologies) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (Greek lyric 6th century BC)
Based on this evidence it has been suggested that Heliodorus is one of the earliest Westerners on record to convert to Vaishnavism whose evidence has survived. But some scholars, most notably A. L. Basham and Thomas Hopkins, are of the opinion that Heliodorus was not the earliest Greek to convert to Bhagavata Krishnaism. Hopkins, chairman of the department of religious studies at Franklin and Marshall College, has said, "Heliodorus was presumably not the earliest Greek who was converted to Vaishnava devotional practices although he might have been the one to erect a column that is still extant. Certainly there were numerous others including the king who sent him as an ambassador."
- Greek Culture in Afghanistan and India: Old Evidence and New Discoveries Shane Wallace, 2016, p.222-223
- Osmund Bopearachchi, 2016, Emergence of Viṣṇu and Śiva Images in India: Numismatic and Sculptural Evidence
- R. Salomon, Indian Epigraphy. A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages (Oxford, 1998), 265–7.
- Aetos Dios
- K. G. Goswami, A Study of Vaisnavism (Calcutta: Oriental Book Agency, 1956), p. 6
- A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1967), p. 60.
- Steven J. Gelberg, ed.. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1983), p. 117
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heliodorus Pillar, Vidishā, Madhya Pradesh, India.|
- Photo of the pillar with Brahmi inscription
- Text of the inscriptions on Heliodorus pillar
- Vedic archeology