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Vidisha or Besnagar as it is called in the Pali scriptures, once the prosperous capital of the western dominions of the Sungas, contains some remarkable antiquities that throw light on the considerable architectural development of the period.

Situated in the fork of the Betwa and Bes rivers, Vidisha, 10 km from Sanchi, occupies an important place amongst the ancient cities in India. In the 6th and 5th centuries BC, it rose to become an important trade centre and a bustling city under the Sungas, Nagas, Satvahanas and Guptas. The Emperor Ashoka was governor of Vidisha, and it finds mention in Kalidasa's immortal Meghdoot.

Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh extends between Latitude 230 21' and 240 22' North and Longitude 770 15' 30" and 780 18' East. The District is situated in Eastern part of the fertile Malwa Region. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the Southern stretch of the District about 2 km South of the District Head Quarters.

It is bounded in the North by Guna District in the South by Raisen District and in the East by Sagar exceptionally rich in ancient monuments and historic places. A short distance to the north of the present town are the remains of the ancient town, known as Besnagar. Not far from Besnagar are the Udayagiri Caves with sculptures and inscriptions dating to the time of the Gupta Empire.


 Origin of the Name :  

        The District derives its Name from the Head Quarters town of Vidisha. The earliest reference of Vidisha is contained in Ramayana by Valmiki. It is stated there that Shatrughna's Son Shatrughati was placed in charge of Vidisha. In Brahmanical religious observance again, the place is called Bhadravati, the residence of Yuvanashva who supplied the famous horse to Yudhishthira during his Ashvamedha sacrifice.

        The historicity of the ancient city of Besnagar, three Kilometers from Vidisha and identified with ancient Vidisha, goes back to some centuries before the birth of Christ. Besnagar figures prominently in Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical Literature in various forms such as Vessanagar, Vaisyanagar etc. Tradition connects the town with Raja Rukmangada who neglecting his own wife for the Apsara Visva named the town Vishvanagar after her.

        On the destruction of Besnagar, located on the western side of the river Betwa sometime after 7th century A.D., a new town sprang up on the Eastern bank of the River. This new town was known as Bhailaswamin or Bhillaswamin, the name of the place was later corrupted to 'Bhilsa' or Bhelsa. The name Bhelsa appears to have probably been obtained on account of the famous Suryamandir dedicated to God Sun.

    The Mauryas : Samrat Ashok, still a prince aged 18, was appointed as a Viceroy by his father, Bindusaar, at Ujjain. While on his way from Patliputra to that place he met Devi, a banker's daughter of Vidisha or Besnagar of the Sakya clan and married her. Her son Mahendra, and daughter Sanghmitra are famous in history as their father's religious ambassadors to Ceylon. They are known to have carried a twig of the original 'Bodhi' tree and led a Buddhist Mission to that country. Devi never visited Patliputra. She stayed at Besnagar only and embraced Buddhism afterwards. A monastery type of building has been excavated near Sanchi setup (nearly 8 kms away from Vidisha Town) which is stated to have been constructed for her residence. It is said that before sailing for Ceylon Mahendra came to visit his mother at Besnagar. The mother took her son to a " Chaitya Giri " which, by popular belief was none other than the Sanchi Stup.

  After Mauryas : After the Mauryas the Sungas, the Kanvas, the Nagas, the Vakatakas, the Guptas, the Kalchuris of Mahishmati the Parmars, the Chalukyas remained in power at Vidisha. Idols regarding these regimes have been found in the Vidisha territory. Some Idols and monuments are placed in the District Archaeology office Vidisha.

           Later this region remained under Mughals, Marathas and Peshwas and thereafter became a part of the Sciendia's Gwalior State and was a Tehsil of Isagarh Pargana. In 1904 Vidisha was raised to a District having two Tehsils of Vidisha and Basoda till the formation of Madhya Bharat in 1948. The District was enlarged in 1949 by the merger of small States of Kurwai. The Sironj Sub-Division which was formerly in Kota District of Rajasthan State and small pargana of Piklone belonging to the Bhopal State were added to the District with the formation of new Madhya Pradesh. At the same time, the town and the District were renamed as Vidisha. However, under the Mughals Aurangzeb tried to rename the City as Alamgiri Nagar after himself, but without success.

           Even today, the antiquity and the modern historical progress of the plateau of Vidisha vividly reflects its grandeur in the form of Besnagar, Gyaraspur, Udaypur, Udaygiri, Badoh-Pathari etc.

    Khamba Baba The ruins of an early shrine at Vidisha dedicated to Vishnu reveal that the foundation bricks were cemented together with lime mortar, the first known example of the use of cement in India. The ruins are of period prior to 2nd century BC.


View of Heliodorus pillar

Close to the ruins are the remains of votive pillars with palm-leaf capitals; the only one that still stands is the Heliodorus pillar, also known as Khamba Baba. A monolithic free-standing column, the pillar bears an inscription which states that it was Garuda Pillar, raised in honour of Vasudeva by Heliodorous, a resident of Taxila, who had been sent to the court of Bhagabhadra as an envoy of Indo-Greek monarch, Antialkidas. This inscription is a valuable historical record, revealing both the relations that existed between the region and the Greek kingdoms of the Punjab, and the fact that the Greek ambassador had become a follower of Hindu god Vishnu. The inclusion of the name of Antialkidas dates the erection of the pillar to approximately 140 BC

Pillar in the Bijamaṇḍal with an inscription of Naravarman

Bijamaṇḍal. Near the eastern edge of the old town are the remains of a large temple of the late Paramara period known as the Bijamaṇḍal. The building was probably started in the second half of the 11th century. That it was never finished is shown by uncarved niches and unfinished architectural pieces found round the base of the temple plinth. On top of the plinth is a small mosque made using pillars that date, primarily, to the 8th and 9th centuries; one pillar has an inscription of king Naravarman (circa 1094-1134). It is a devotional inscription recording his reverence to Carccikā (i.e. Cāmuṇḍā) [3] The miḥrāb suggests the mosque was constructed in the late 14th century. To one side of the Bijamaṇḍal is a store house of the Archaeological Survey of India containing many sculptures collected in the neighborhood. A step-well of the 7th century is in the same campus and has, beside the entrance, two tall pillars with Kṛṣṇa scenes. These are the earliest Kṛṣṇa scenes in the art of central India.

Lohaṅgī Pīr. One of the most striking features of Vidiśā is the prominent rock known as Lohaṅgī Pīr. With sheer cliffs on all sides, it towers over the town. The rock takes it name from Shāykh Jalāl Chishti, a saint locally known as Lohaṅgī Pīr. His tomb is a small domed building with ruined structures round about. Two Persian inscriptions have been found here, one dated AH 864 (CE 1460) from the time of Maḥmūd I of the Malwa Sultanate and the other of Akbar dated AH 987 (CE 1583). Also on the hill is a tank and a large bell-capital of about the 1st century BCE. Less striking are the remains of a medieval temple which survives as a pillared crypt. It is now dedicated to the goddess Annapūrṇā.

 The District Head Quarters town as it stands today is different from the old town of Vidisha or Besnagar. Till 1956, its name was Bhilsa. After that it was renamed as Vidisha for its close proximity to that glorious city of great antiquity.

Places of Interest: 1. Vidisha 2. Gyaraspur 3. Udaypur 4. Badoh-Pathari 5. Sironj 6. Archaeological Places.


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