On a visit to Vidisha I went to visit Khamm Baba.
Now Khamm Baba isn’t a saint but a pillar ( Khamba – pillar) that is venerated by local communities.
Very akin to Ashoka’s pillar in Firoz Shah Kotla which has become Laat wale Baba.
The Khamm Baba is a pillar erected in 113 BCE by Heliodorus the Greek Ambassador of the Indo- Greek king Antialkidas of Taxila at the court of the Shunga king of Besnagar.
Heliodorus was one of the original Vaishnavas, in fact the first recorded Vaishnava in history. The Vasudeva cult is first attested among the multilingual, plurireligious Indo-Greeks, his people. He erected this pillar to Vasudeva ( Vishnu) with a Garuda capital.
Ranjit Hoskote tells me and I quote” Most people will still believe that Heliodorus became a Vaishnava, because (a) we have fixed ideas of who is ‘Hindu’, and (b) we imagine Hinduism as timelessly static. These beliefs prevent us from celebrating the reality of Hinduism – that Hinduism has evolved from, through, and towards constant diversity; it is a confluence, a sangam, and has had many different contributors bringing their lives, ideas, images, and beliefs to its flow.”
Sir Alexander Cunningham was the first to discover it.
At that time it was covered in red sindoor paste. The priest was living in a house with a compound wall built on top of a mound near the pillar.
There were couple of excavations but finally in
There are inscriptions in Brahmi found on the octagonal surface just below the lower ornamental band of half-rosettes.
The longer inscription related to a Greek ambassador named Heliodorus of 2nd-century BCE and the deity Vāsudeva.
“This Garuda standard was made by the order of Bhagavata…..Heliodorus, the son of Dion, a man of Taxila, a Greek Ambassador from King Antialkidas to King Bhagabhadra the son of the princess from Banares, the savior while prospering in the 14th year of his reign.”
An additional smaller inscription on the pillar listed human virtues, later identified to be from a verse of the Mahabharata.
“There are three steps to immortality, which followed lead to heaven, namely :self control, self denial and watchfulNess.”
Translation from ASI annual report 1908-9
The most successful excavation and survey of the area was conducted in 1963-65 by Mr Khare.
This revealed that there was an elliptical shrine – possibly 4th to 3rd-century BCE – with a brick foundation and likely a wooden superstructure.
Regarding how local communities adopt and adapt symbols to suit their own sensibilities, Ranjit Hoskote says, “we have constantly recycled the sacred in South Asia – the Didarganj Yakshi was for a long time a local Devi, until recognised and appropriated into museum culture; Heliodorus’ Garuda-stambha is Khamm Baba; a Mauryan pillar in Varanasi was worshipped as Lat Bhairav…”