Michael Wood’s ‘The Story of India’ (BBC)
BBC’s 6-part documentary on Indian history, ‘The Story of India’, is indeed a most awe-inspiring and uplifting account of India’s religious, linguistic, intellectual and cultural diversity. Presented by Michael Wood, it is a mostly unbiased re-telling of the 6000-year-old story of the Indian subcontinent. This was aired on BBC on account of the 60th year of independence of India and Pakistan.
This story is presented in the following 6 parts :
- Episode 1 – Beginnings : Indus Valley Civilization, Aryans, the Vedas, Caste system, the Mahabharata
- Episode 2 – The Power of Ideas : Alexander’s Invasion, Rise of Buddhism, Mauryan Dynasty, Ashoka’s empire
- Episode 3 – Spice Routes and Silk Roads : Trade routes, Kushan empire (Kanishka), the Lost Stupa, Mathura and Madurai
- Episode 4 – Ages of Gold : The Gupta kindom (Chandragupta Vikramaditya) in the North and the Cholas (Rajaraja) of the South
- Episode 5 – The Meeting of Two Oceans : Foreign Invaders, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Akbar’s empire
- Episode 6 – Freedom and Liberation : Europeans in India, East India Company, First War of Independence, British Raj, Nationalist Movement, Partition
- The whole of Episode 3. This is an almost forgotten period of Indian history. Even the standard history books don’t say much about Kanishka and the Kushan empire. The fact that Mathura was their capital and such an important city during that era. And finally the Lost Stupa in Peshawar. Could have been a wonder of the world had it still existed there.
- Chandragupta Vikramaditya, another hazy figure in Indian history. It was actually in his period that India earned the title of the proverbial ‘Golden Bird’. Also the lesser-known Cholas and King Rajaraja, with their massive temple complex in Thanjavur. Also a fleeting mention of Ayodhya being ‘discovered’ by the Guptas, which poses scores of uneasy questions.
- The long-standing controversy of whether the Aryans came from Central Asia or were natives of India is as old as the Aryan theory itself. Apparently ‘Soma’ and horses are put forth as two reasons why Wood suggests that the Aryans were from outside India.
- The equating of Kanishka to Kansa – the maternal uncle of Krishna who was killed by Krishna and Balaram, seems almost funny at first glance. Even from a historical perspective, Krishna was from the Mahabharata period. And though the Mahabharata period still only exists as a legend, it was definitely nowhere near Kanishka’s period, the common capital city (Mathura) notwithstanding.
- Wood stops short of dismissing Ramayana as a piece of mythology. The Guptas ‘rediscovered’ the city of Ayodhya and renamed it. But it isn’t just Ayodhya that defines Ramayana. Several places all along the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka all correspond to the places described in the Ramayana. But Wood prefers not to tread on a treacherous road.
One or two inconsistencies notwithstanding, ‘The Story of India’ has all the elements which make a great documentary: research, facts and presentation. And it has a moral message too, which Wood presents from time to time at various points during the course of his journey: That since the very ancient times, India has represented the equality of beings, the yearning for knowledge, and a readiness to adapt to change. And these very qualities have led to the assimilation of all cultures that exist even today.
Watching this documentary was like watching the secrets of the past unfold before my eyes. If you’re an Indian, it will certainly have that feel-good factor about it throughout, which Michael Wood takes care to maintain. I’m not a history freak, but it is important to know the past, so that we may learn from it. Being citizens of such a vast and diverse country, it is supremely important to respect other communities: religious, ethnic or linguistic. This respect will only come from knowing our roots : how we managed to preserve our culture through all these millenia, how India was really made.
A must-watch for every Indian.