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 (Vedic culture) 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."]Below are two views of the Heliodurus Column as found in Vidisha, India from the author's collection who personally visited the place in August of 1991. The left view is the complete column, while on the right we see a close up of the inscription.
More Ancient Discoveries Proving the Antiquity of Krishnafrom http://gosai.com/writings/vedic-archeology
Presently, Heliodorus is the earliest Westerner on record who actually converted to Vaisnavism. Moreover, many reputable scholars, like Dr. A. L Basham and Dr. Thomas Hopkins, declare that Heliodorus was not the only Greek to convert. Dr. Hopkins, Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall college, says, "Heliodorus was presumably not the only foreigner who was converted to Vaisnava devotional practices (although he might have been the only one to erect a column, at least one that is still extant). Certainly there must have been many other." The Vedic religion saw itself as universal and welcomed all peoples into its embrace. As Raychaudhari writes:
"The Beshnagar record testifies to the proselytizing zeal of the Bhagavatas in the pre-Christian centuries, and shows that their religion was excellent enough to capture the hearts of cultured Greeks, and catholic enough to admit them into its fold."
The Mora Well and Ghosundi Inscriptions, additional archeological discoveries, tell us that the rich and complex Vaisnava conception of the Godhead and full expansions of the Godhead into the material universes were already well established in the first two centuries before Christ. The Srimad Bhagavatam says, that when the original Godhead, or Krishna, appears on the earthly plane, the Godhead always is accompanied by various complete expansions of the Godhead, who both possess the full potency of the Godhead and are worshipable. The Srimad Bhagavatam states, "Lord Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, along with Balarama, played like a human being, and so masked, he performed many superhuman acts." His divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains the system of divine expansion:
… Balarama and Krsna are original forms of the Lord… Krsna… is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Balarama is the first plenary manifestation of the Lord. From Balarama the first phalanx of the plenary expansions, Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Aniruddha and Pradyumna, expands. Lord Sri Krsna is Vasudeva, and Balarama is Sankarsana.
Seven miles west of Mathura in the small and unimposing village of Mora, General Cunningham made another vital find regarding the historicity of Vaisnavism. In 1882, on the terrace of an ancient well, he discovered a large stone slab filled with inscriptions. Although more than half of the writing had already peeled away on the right side, the remainder was legible. It was transcribed, and a facsimile of the inscription was published in the Archaeological Survey of India’s Annual Report. The message was clear. Not only was Krishna worshiped in the centuries before Christ, but also His expansions or associates, especially "the five heroes of the Vrishni Clan." Scholarly research makes evident that these five are Krishna (Vasudeva), Balarama (Sankarshana), Pradyumna, Samba, and Aniruddha.
In 1908, a Dr. Vogel had the Mora Well slab removed to the Mathura Museum and tried to tamper with the translations of the inscriptions in order to throw the Vedic religion into a bad light. However, because the contents of the inscriptions had already been published authoritatively and were well known in academic circles, Dr. Vogel’s efforts at creating disinformation failed. The complex theology, metaphysics, and cosmology of Sanatana Dharma and Vaisnavism definitely existed in an advanced state centuries before Christ. The Mora Well inscription is an important archeological proof of this historical fact.
In the village of Ghosundi in the Chitor district of Rajasthan is found the Ghosundi Inscription, which largely duplicates the message of the Mora Well Inscription. Kaviraja Shyamala Dasa first brought this evidence to light in The Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society. Today, the inscription can be inspected in the Victoria Hall Museum in Udaipur.
The surviving part of this inscription relevant to this chapter reads as follows:
[this] railing of stone for the purposes of worship is [caused to be made] in the Narayana-compound, [dedicated] to the Blessed Ones [bhagavabhyam] Samkarshana and Vasudeva, the gods…
The inscription is in a form of Sanskrit script called Northern Brahmi script, which dates the inscription as being from the second century BC in either the late Maurya or early Sunga periods. An almost identical inscription also was uncovered nearby and is called the Hathi-vada Inscription. These inscriptions also dispel the myth that Krishna was only revered by the ksatriya, or administrative-warrior, class of India, the class Krishna had appeared in. According to K. P. Jayaswal of the Archaeological Survey of India, these inscriptions demonstrate that brahmins, the priestly and intellectual class, also worshiped Krishna as the "Lord of all," and thus Vaisnavism was entrenched in the entire Indian society.
The same point is made in the famous Nanaghat Cave Inscription in the moder state of Maharashtra, where Vasudeva and Sankarshana (or Krishna and Balarama) are included in an invocation of a brahmin. Additionally, Raychaudhuri reports:
The Nanaghat Inscription shows further that the Bhagavata [Vaisnava] religion was no longer confined to Northern India, but had spread to the south and had captured the hearts of the sturdy people of Maharashtra. From Maharashtra it was destined to spread to the Tamil country and then flow back with renewed vigour to the remotest corners of the Hindu world.
On epigraphical grounds, this inscription is dated conclusively as coming from the second half of the first century BC.
Krsna, Agathocles coin,
Ai Khanoum, Afghanistan, 2nd century B.C.
A lot of numismatic evidence also corroborates the antiquity of Krishna. For instance, excavations at Ai-Khanum, along the border of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, conducted by P. Bernard and a French archeological expedition, unearthed six rectangular bronze coins issued by the Indo-Greek ruler Agathocles (180?-?165 BC). The coins had script written in both Greek and Brahmi and, most interestingly, show an image of Vishnu, or Vasudeva, carrying a Chakra and a pear-shaped vase, or conchshell, which are two of the four main sacred symbols of God in Vaisnavism. Many other finds of ancient coins also prove the antiquity of Krishna worship in India.
Balarama, Agathocles coin,
Ai Khanoum, Afghanistan, 2nd century B.C.
To summarize, today the weight of empirical evidence proves that Krishna and Vaisnavisam predate Christianity. Numerous literary, archeological, and numismatic sources build an unassailable case. Nevertheless, Vaisnavism and Christianity still show amazing similarities. In the chauvinistic and sectarian atmosphere of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these similarities led most Western scholars to adopt the now discredited "borrowing theory." But these attitudes did more that distort the truth. In the twentieth century they directly led to two world wars of unprecedented ferocity and destruction. Therefore, sensitive and caring people perceive these attitudes as being obsolete, and, instead of clinging to them, more intelligent people now seek the path of unity. Even in religion, one of the key contemporary attitudes is the ecumenical spirit, the desire to emphasize more our similarities with other peoples, nations, and religions rather than our differences.
If Westerners can drop their defenses and look at Vaisnavism with ecumenical eyes, they will see a religion and a philosophy which undoubtedly through the Greeks helped to shape the soul of Western civilization itself and its largest religion, Christianity. Rather than being shocked by the similarities, we ought to rejoice in them. From at least our vantage point and in light of all the material presented in this book and from other sources, it is obvious to us that Christians and Vaisnavas are worshiping the same original Godhead and are seeking salvation and solace from that Godhead through the same transcendental, personal loving relationship.
[This article and more information at www.stephen-knapp.com]
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