This was one of the best BBC documentaries I’ve ever seen, reminiscent of PLANET EARTH and just as in depth and in vivid colour, but rather than the natural world, it focuses on the civilizations that occupied the subcontinent since the time of the first humans to leave Africa. Superb–and I’m not merely saying that due to a DNA connection, I would have enjoyed this were it from any corner of the world. This is an intense study of the history of mankind, and the journey we’ve all taken thus far.
The Story of India is a BBC TV documentary series, written and presented by historian Michael Wood, about the 10,000-year history of the Indian subcontinent in six episodes.
An accompanying text was published by BBC Books.
As in most of his documentaries, Wood explains historical events by travelling to the places where they took place, examining archeological and historical evidence at first hand and interviewing historians and archaeologists, as well as chatting with local people.
Episode 1 – “Beginnings”
Michael Wood travels throughout the subcontinent, tracing the richness and diversity of its peoples, cultures and landscapes. Through ancient manuscripts and oral tales Wood charts the first human migrations out of Africa. He travels from the tropical backwaters of South India through lost ancient cities in Pakistan to the vibrant landscapes of the Ganges plain. Archaeological discoveries in the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex in Turkmenistan by Soviet archeologist Viktor Sarianidi, including horse drawn carts (mentioned in the Rig Veda), cast new light on India’s past. Wood also attempts to re-create soma, an ancient drink recorded in the Rig Veda.
Episode 2 – “The Power of Ideas”
The second episode in Michael Wood’s series moves on to the revolutionary years after 500BC – the Age of the Buddha and Mahavira. Travelling by rail to the ancient cities of the Ganges plain, by army convoy through Northern Iraq, and down Pakistan’s Khyber Pass, he shows how Alexander the Great’s invasion of India inspired her first major empire in the form of the Mauryan Empire, ruled by Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka.
In this episode he traces India in the days of the Roman Empire; the Greco-Roman navigator Hippalus discovered monsoons for the Romans. In Kerala the spice trade opened India to the world, whilst gold and silk bazaars in the ancient city of Madurai were a delight for visiting Greek traders. From the deserts of Turkmenistan Michael travels down the Khyber Pass to Pakistan to discover a forgotten empire, the (Kushan Empire) of Northern India that opened up the Silk Route and at Peshawar built a lost Wonder of the World. The Wonder is nowadays known to people as the “Bare Raja Ka Tila”. Also offers an interesting theory about the death of Emperor Kanishka atMathura.
Episode 4 – “Ages of Gold”
The achievements of the country’s golden age, including how India discovered zero, calculated the circumference of the Earth and wrote the world’s first sex guide, the Kama Sutra. In the south, the giant temple of Tanjore built by emperor Rajaraja Chola and traditional bronze casters, working as their ancestors did 1,000 years ago are shown. Michael Wood calls Tamil Nadu, “The only surviving ‘Classical Civilization’ in the world.
In an interview to The Hindu Michael Wood said “One that’s 2,000 years old like ancient Greece or Rome. Tamil is the last living classical Indian language. The first surviving work in Tamil, a 300 B.C book on linguistics, refers to an already existing culture. Tamil is older than any modern European language. I wanted to remind Western-centric audiences, who implicitly assume the superiority of Western modes of thought, that Tamil is one of 23 official Indian languages, with a literature comparable to any in the West. It makes viewers sit up and question their assumptions”.
The documentary series about the history of India charts the coming of Islam to the subcontinent and one of the greatest ages of world civilisation: the Mughals.Mahmud of Ghazni leads an expedition to Somnath and destroys the temple of Shiva and all idols there. Michael Wood visits Sufi shrines in Old Delhi, desert fortresses in Rajasthan and the cities of Lahore and Agra, where he offers a new theory on the design of the Taj Mahal. He also looks at the life of Akbar, a Muslim emperor who decreed that no one religion could hold the ultimate truth, but whose dream of unity ended in civil war.
Episode 6 – “Freedom and Liberation”
This episode examines the British Raj and India’s struggle for freedom. Wood reveals how in South India a global corporation came to control much of the subcontinent, and explores the magical culture of Lucknow, discovering the enigmatic Briton who helped found the freedom movement. He traces the Amritsar massacre, the rise ofGandhi and Nehru, and the events that led to the Partition of India in 1947.