Hinduism Predates Christianity: The Archeological Proof
By Stephen Knapp
Sometimes there are comments and even controversies amongst those who are less informed regarding whether Christianity or Hinduism came first. Some people point out that the devotional elements within the Vedic tradition, especially in regard to the Bhakti movements, must have come from Christianity first and then appeared in the Vedic Vaishnava tradition, the followers of which exhibit much love and devotion to Lord Krishna and Vishnu and His other incarnations. But this idea, that Vedic culture came from Christianity, which some Christian preachers try to use, could not be further from the truth. And if they do not look closer at the facts of history, then they will only look like envious fools. The fact is that there is an archeological proof that the Vaishnava tradition of devotion to Lord Vishnu existed many years prior to the appearance of Christianity.
Not far from the Buddhist site of Sanchi in Central India, we take a 45-minute ride on the very bumpy road to Vidisha or Besnagar where we find the Heliodorus column, locally known as the Khamb Baba pillar. This was erected by Heliodorus, the Greek ambassador to India in 113 B.C. Heliodorus was sent to the court of King Bhagabhadra by Antialkidas, the Greek king of Taxila. The kingdom of Taxila was part of the Bactrian region in northwest India, which had been conquered by Alexander the Great in 325 BC. By the time of Antialkidas, the area under Greek rule included what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Punjab.
Heliodorus writes on the stone pillar the time it was erected and the fact that he had converted to Vaishnavism, or the worship of Lord Vishnu. The inscription on the column, as published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, says:
“This Garuda column of Vasudeva (Vishnu), the god of gods, was erected here by Heliodorus, a worshiper of Vishnu, the son of Dion, and an inhabitant of Taxila, who came as Greek ambassador from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior, then reigning prosperously in the fourteenth year of his kingship. Three important precepts when practiced lead to heaven: self-restraint, charity, conscientiousness.”
This shows that Heliodorus had become a worshiper of Vishnu and was well versed in the texts and ways pertaining to this religion. It can only be guessed how many other Greeks became converted to Vaishnava Hinduism if such a notable ambassador did. This conclusively shows the Greek appreciation for India and its philosophy.
It was General Alexander Cunningham who was doing an archeological survey in 1877 who first took notice of the significance of the column. However, he did not attend to the inscription that was on it because it was covered with vermilion. This was because the pilgrims who worshiped had a custom to smear the column with vermilion.
It was only in January of 1901 when a Mr. Lake uncovered the paint from what he thought was some lettering. Once the ancient Brahmi text was translated, the historical significance of the column became ever more apparent.
The British Sanskritists, due to their superior views of themselves, had developed the idea that much of the Vedic traditions and legends of Lord Krishna had to have been incorporated from the Bible and the stories of Jesus. However, this Heliodorus column was the archeological discovery that proved to the disappointed British that knowledge of Krishna and the Vaishnava tradition predated Christianity by at least 200 years. The column indicated that the Indians did not adopt legends of Christ to put in their Puranas to be used for the stories of Krishna as the British had hypothesized since this gave proof that knowledge of Krishna predated Jesus by almost 200 years.
Another point to consider is that if a Greek official was so impressed with the philosophy of Vaishnavism that he converted to it in 200 B.C., then it means that Vaishnavism and the element of spiritual devotion to God, as found in the bhakti tradition, had to have been developed several hundred years if not several thousand years earlier in order for it to have developed to a stage wherein the Greeks were so much impressed by it. So this is a serious historical site to see. The Heliodorus column also indicates that the Vedic tradition accepted converts at that time. Only after the difficulties between Hindus and Muslims was there a hesitancy on the part of Hindus to accept converts to the Vedic tradition.
This evidence further shows that Greece was but a part of Vedic culture and repeated what it and its philosophers had learned from the Vedic sages rather than being a source of the higher levels of philosophy as some people think. Furthermore, this evidence bears witness to the fact that the Christian tradition and its main element of devotion or bhakti to God was found in Vedic culture long before it appeared within the confines of Christianity. In fact, much of the deeper spiritual philosophy in Christianity is but a repeat of what had been previously established and much more deeply developed in the older Vedic tradition. So to fathom the deeper aspects of the different levels of devotion to God, one can investigate the Vedic and Vaishnava tradition to learn the finer details.
[For more evidence and analysis of this, see my articles, “Christianity and The Vedic Teachings Within It,” “Jesus Taught Bhakti-yoga,” and “Bible Teaches Chanting God’s Names.”]