In the early centuries preceding and succeeding the Christian era, the entry of foreign tribes into India produced a favourable impact on the cults of Vaisnvaite and Saivite divinities, which, on the whole, enjoyed the support of the foreigners. The Greeks identified Krsna with Herakles and Sankarsana with Dionysos, and it is no wonder that they were favourably inclined to their worship. The Besnagar inscription describes the Greek ambassador Heliodorus as a Bhagavata who dedicated a Garuda banner to Lord Vasudeva.
The earliest epigraphic evidence for the existence of the Bhagavata cult is found in Madhya Pradesh. The discovery of the Garuda pillar inscription of Besnagar is a landmark in the history of Bhagavatism. The inscription records the erection of a Garuda standard in honour of Vasudeva, the god of gods, by a Greek ambassador Heliodorus
who describes himself as a Bhagavata (see Heliodorus Column
), and a resident of Taksasila. The ambassador came from the Greek king Antialcidis to Kautsiputra Bhagabhadra identified with the fifth Sunga king, and the record is dated in the fourteenth year of his reign, approximating to c. 113 B.C."
Suvira Jaisval, The Origin and Deveopment of Vaisnavism (Munshiram Manoharlal, 1967)
The Times of India reports a major archeological find of structures dating back to the Mahabharata period:
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