The ruins of ancient Besnagar, known locally as Khambaba, are in a tiny village down the main road from Vidisha. During the Mauryan and Shunga empires, between the third and first centuries BC, a thriving provincial capital overlooked the confluence of the Beas and Betwa rivers. The emperor Ashoka himself was once governor here and even married a local banker’s daughter. Now, a few mounds and some scattered pieces of masonry are all that remain. Yet one small monument makes the short detour worthwhile. The sixteen-sided stone pillar in an enclosed courtyard, known as the Column of Heliodorus, was erected in 113 BC by a Bactrian-Greek envoy from Taxila, the capital city of Gandhara (now the northwest frontier region of Pakistan), who converted to the local Vaishnavite cult during his long diplomatic posting here. The shaft, dedicated to Krishna’s father Vasudeva, was originally crowned with a statue of Vishnu’s vehicle Garuda.

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