All About The 2,000 Year Old Heliodorus Pillar In Madhya Pradesh

The stone pillar was named after the Greek ambassador in Taxila's court, Heliodorus and is known locally as "Khamba Baba"
Carvings on the Heliodorus Pillar In Madhya Pradesh. Photo Credits Hari Mahidhar /
Carvings on the Heliodorus Pillar In Madhya Pradesh. Photo Credits Hari Mahidhar /

Madhya Pradesh is a state in central India recognised for its rich history, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. There are countless hidden gems in Madhya Pradesh just waiting to be discovered. The Heliodorus Pillar, for instance. Located near Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, on the banks of the Bes River, the stone pillar was named after the Greek ambassador in Taxila&rsquos court, Heliodorus. It is believed to have been built in 113 BCE near the confluence of two rivers, Betwa and Halali, in Vidisha (about 59 kilometres from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh). The pillar is locally known as Khambh Baba, meaning The Pillar Saint, or Father, and is occasionally worshipped. It is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India. As the pillar is near a Vishnu shrine dating back to the late 3rd century BCE in a place originally known as Besnagar, the inscription on the pillar became known as the Besnagar Inscription.  

Vidisha was a commercial centre at the junction of two major rivers, the Bes and the Betwa. The location was linked to Pataliputra in the east, Mathura in the north, and the thriving trade on the west coast. It was also the capital of the Shunga dynasty&rsquos western dominions. 

The Inscriptions

The pillar, which stands around 6.5 metres tall, is made up of three parts a faceted shaft, a bell capital, and an abacus. Festoon designs, a border depicting pairs of geese, and Hellenistic themes like bead moulding and honeysuckle are among the carvings on the pillar. A carved ring of low-relief floral half-medallions decorates the border between the lower and middle segments of the shaft. The lime mortar foundation of the pillar is one of the earliest examples of cement binding in India.

Two inscriptions have been found on the pillar. They are mostly in Prakrit and written in the Brahmi script. According to scholars, the translated text of the first set of inscriptions identifies Heliodorus as a Bhagavata and as an ambassador sent by the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas to the court of the Shunga king Bhagabhadra. The second set, inscribed on the other face of the pillar, offers advice on the path to immortality, recommending self-control, self-denial, and watchfulness. 

Things To Do 

Around Vidisha

Located at the fork of the Betwa and the Bes rivers, the town of Vidisha is just 9 km away from Sanchi. Ruled by various Indian dynasties, Vidisha, or Besnagar, was the capital and a successful trading centre way back in the 6th century BC. It was an important part of the kingdom of Emperor Ashoka and was named Vidisha after his wife, Devi, who was also called Vedisa-Mahadevi. The District Museum holds a large collection of sculptures and stone relief panels excavated from the river, some dating back to the 2nd century BC. 


Drive down to Sanchi from Vidisha it is around half an hour away. The Sanchi Archaeological Museum houses a repository of sculptures and excavated finds from the Mauryan and Gupta periods. Head to the top of the hill, where a cluster of ancient Buddhist monuments make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sanchi. In the 3rd century BC, Emperor Ashoka chose the hill as the location for a Buddhist enclave. The Great Stupa here is the main attraction, an architectural masterpiece flanked by four ornate gateways with carvings depicting the life of Gautama Buddha. Smaller stupas, the remains of a 7th-century temple, shrines, and a monastery dot the complex. Sir John Marshall Memorial House, the Gothic-style bungalow of Sir John Marshall, director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), is located around 900 metres before the Sanchi complex and just adjacent to the ASI Sanchi Museum. Between 1912 and 1919, Marshall stayed in this house while heading the excavation and restoration operations at Sanchi. On the journey to Sanchi, there is a place where the Earth&rsquos northernmost latitude passes, known as the Tropic of Cancer. It is a must-see.

Udaygiri Caves

The rock-cut caves, dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries, display the architectural finesse that existed during the Gupta period. Cave number 1 with its pillars in the &lsquovase and foliage pattern, cave number 5 with its carving of Varaha avatar holding up Prithvi, cave number 9 with its large cella, 8-feet high pillars, and portico, the sculpture of a reclining Vishnu, the designed entrances to various caves, etc. are some of the popular attractions. It is 4km from Vidisha. MP Tourism runs a small tourist lodge here.

Getting There

By Air Bhopal (65 km) is the nearest airport, which is connected to major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Udaipur. It takes about 2 hours to reach Vidisha from Bhopal, depending on traffic.

By Rail Vidisha Railway Station is situated on the main railway track on the Delhi to Mumbai and Delhi to Hyderabad routes.

Cover Photo Carvings on the Heliodorus Pillar In Madhya Pradesh. Credits Hari Mahidhar /

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