Heliodorus pillar

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The Heliodorus pillar.
The dedication of the Heliodorus pillar was made by Heliodorus, ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas (here depicted on one of his coins).

The Heliodorus pillar is a stone column that was erected around 113 BCE in central India[citation needed] in Vidisha near modern Besnagar, by Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas[1] to the court of the Shunga king Bhagabhadra. Historically, it is the first known inscription related to the Bhagavata cult in India,[2] the site is located 5 miles from the Buddhist stupa of Sanchi.

The pillar was surmounted by a sculpture of Garuda and was apparently dedicated by Heliodorus to the god Vāsudeva in front of the temple of Vāsudeva.[1]

The Heliodorus pillar in Madhya Pradesh, India


There are two inscriptions on the pillar.[specify]

Inscription on the board by ASI on the base of the pillar

The first inscription describes in Brahmi script the situation of Heliodorus and his relationship to the Shunga Empire and the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

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


The first inscription of the Heliodorus pillar that was made by Heliodorus 110 BCE.

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.

Although not perfectly clear, the inscription seems to be referring to Heliodoros as a Bhagavata, "One devoted to Bhagavan", meaning "a devotee".

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

Richard Salomon gives a similar but slightly different translation:[1]

"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.[3]


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.

Structure and decorative elements of the Heliodorus pillar. The pillar originally supported a statue of Garuda. Established circa 100 BCE.

Zeus' Eagle messenger and companion Aetos Dios,[4] 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)

Professor Kunja Govinda Goswami of Calcutta University concludes that Heliodorus "was well acquainted with the texts dealing with the Bhagavata religion."[5]

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[6] 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."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Greek Culture in Afghanistan and India: Old Evidence and New Discoveries Shane Wallace, 2016, p.222-223
  2. ^ Osmund Bopearachchi, 2016, Emergence of Viṣṇu and Śiva Images in India: Numismatic and Sculptural Evidence
  3. ^ R. Salomon, Indian Epigraphy. A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages (Oxford, 1998), 265–7.
  4. ^ Aetos Dios
  5. ^ K. G. Goswami, A Study of Vaisnavism (Calcutta: Oriental Book Agency, 1956), p. 6
  6. ^ A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1967), p. 60.
  7. ^ Steven J. Gelberg, ed.. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1983), p. 117

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 23°32′59″N 77°48′00″E / 23.5496°N 77.7999°E / 23.5496; 77.7999