Close interaction of the Greeks with the Indian subcontinent, other than the ancient trade links that flourished between the two, began with the invasion of Alexander the Great in 327 B.C. His untimely death in 323 B.C. forced his Greeks followers to establish themselves in the city of Taxila, now in Pakistan. A Greek kingdom was also established in Bactria and few of the Greeks settled in the major towns of the area. One of Alexander’s former generals Seleucus Nikator, founder of the Seleucid dynasty, invaded what is now Punjab and had a conflict with Chandragupta Maurya. He eventually concluded an alliance with him and gave him his daughter in marriage and also sent an ambassador named Megasthenes to his court who wrote detailed descriptions of India and Chandragupta’s reign. However long after Alexander’s invasion and the fall of the Mauryan Empire, Indo Greek rulers continued to invade northwest and northern parts of India and ruled in the Punjab region.

Khamba Baba or Heliodorus pillar (Image source: Wikipedia)

The physical remains of a pillar erected in the ancient city of Vidisha or Besnagar, speaks of the relations between Indo Greeks and Indian rulers. The monolithic free-standing column, in honour of Vasudeva, was eredcted by Heliodorous, a resident of Taxila, who was sent to the court of the Shunga king Bhagabhadra as a Greek ambassador by Antialcidas, an Indo-Greek king of Punjab. Known as Heliodorus Pillar, the column has a faceted shaft festooned with ornament towards the top and bears two inscriptions one in Brahmi and the other in Prakrit language. One inscription states that it was a Garuda Pillar in front of the temple of Vasudeva. The temple of Vasudeva however no longer exists. According to the Archaeologiocal Survey of India, the pillar is locally known as Khamba Baba and is worshipped by locals. From the inscriptions on the pillar it seems that Heliodorus was greatly influenced by Vedic principles and therefore can be considered to be a Vaishnava, a follower or worshipper of Vishnu.

The inscriptions on the Heliodorus Pillar approximately dated to 150 B.C are an invaluable historical record, revealing both the relations that existed between the region and the Greek kingdoms of the Punjab, and the fact that the Greek ambassador Heliodorus had become a follower of Hindu god Vishnu, the earliest known reference of a Greek worshipper of Vishnu.


Disclaimer: The article expresses individual views of the author. The rights to the content of the article rests with the author.


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