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Aired Tuesday May 4th, 2010 at 8:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
Historian and filmmaker Michael Wood traces the story of the world's most ancient surviving civilization - India. Filmed as far afield as Pakistan, Nepal, Turkmenistan and Iraq, Wood's fascinating journey uncovers the history of the Indian subcontinent -- the first history of India on western television. The film chronicles India's richness and diversity, its people, cultures and landscapes; outlines the originality and continuing relevance of its ideas; and relates momentous and moving events in world history. KUED presents the five-part series "The Story of India" beginning Tuesday, May 4 at 8:00 p.m.
As the world's largest democracy, India is also a rising economic giant, now as well-known for its high-tech computer brilliance as for its gods and gurus. "Within 10 years," says Wood, "India's population will be bigger than that of China, and its economy is predicted to overtake that of America in the 2030s."
Having enjoyed brilliant golden ages in art and culture, India's great thinkers and religious leaders have permanently changed the face of the world. Now, in the era of globalization, India is becoming an increasingly important leader in world politics and economy. Home to more than a billion people, it is a land of amazing contrasts: having advanced technology such as Bangalore's Silicon Valley as well as the splendor of religious practices such as the Kumbh Mela festival, where 25 million pilgrims bathe in the sacred river Ganges on a single night.
The first episode, "Beginnings," follows Wood's journey through the history of the Indian subcontinent. Using DNA and climate science, ancient manuscripts and oral tales, Wood takes viewers from the tropical backwaters of South India to lost and ancient cities in Pakistan, the scene of India's first civilization.
Traveling to Turkmenistan, the film uncovers recent archaeological discoveries that cast light on India's deep past. Wood then travels to the vibrant cities of the Ganges plain, where India's ancient myths and histories still intertwine.
The second episode, "The Power of Ideas," reveals the revolutionary years after 500 BC - the Age of the Buddha. Traveling by road and rail between the ancient cities of the Ganges plain, the program tells the story of Siddharttha Gotama who became the Buddha.
Moving by army convoy through Northern Iraq and down the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, Wood shows how Alexander the Great's invasion changed the course of India's history and inspired her first empire. Wood visits India's ancient capital, Patna, where the ideas of the Buddha were turned into political reality by the great Indian emperor Ashoka.
The third episode, "Spice Routes and Silk Roads," takes viewers into the India under the Roman Empire. Revealing the ancient Roman trading sites, Wood travels to the city of Madurai, with its fabulous temple and its gold and silk bazaars that were a delight for ancient traders.
Moving north, Wood takes the Silk Road from the deserts of Turkmenistan through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan to unveil the forgotten Indian empire of the Kushans, who opened up the Silk Road and built a lost Wonder of the World, the caravan city of Peshawar.
With unprecedented access to festivals, age-old practices and intimate family rituals, Wood shows how the Middle Ages laid the social and imaginative foundations of today's India in episode four, "Ages of Gold."
With the fall of Rome, the film seeks out the amazing achievements of India's golden age from 300 to 1000 AD. Viewers learn how India discovered zero, calculated the circumference of the earth and wrote the world's first sex guide, the Kama Sutra.
Wood visits the giant temple of Tanjore, meets the current "Senior Prince" and watches traditional bronze casters, working as their ancestors did 1,000 years ago. After sampling southern vegetarian food with a Tamil family, Wood goes on pilgrimage to a sacred mountain, where the annual fire festival (practiced sense 700 AD) is held.
"It has been such a privilege to be a guest in another culture, to experience so many things, like a huge festival on a sacred mountain or dawn on the banks of the Ganges with 25 million other people," says Wood.
The fifth part, "The Meeting of Two Oceans" uncovers the epic history of two great clashing civilizations -- the coming of Islam to the Indian subcontinent. Wood visits the shrines of wandering Muslim Sufi saints in Old Delhi, where people of all religions come to worship.
The film tells the story of Akbar, a Muslim emperor who decreed that no single religion could hold the ultimate truth and that humans should try to find the common basis of all creeds. "An idea that would be unthinkable today," says Wood. At its height in 1600, Moghul India had the world's highest GDP, but Akbar's dream of unity ended in a savage civil war. And waiting to pick up the pieces was a new invader - the British.
"The Story of India" ends with the final episode, "Freedom." Wood's 10,000-year epic reaches the British occupation of India - the Raj - and India's struggle for freedom. The episode begins in the south, where viewers witness the forerunner of modern multinational corporations, the British East India Company.
In Calcutta, Wood traces the beginnings of a world economy and describes an 18th-century British general who "went native" and adopted Hinduism. He samples the magical culture and food of the city of Lucknow and outlines its terrible fate in India's great rebellion against the British in 1857.
The film recounts the story of the enigmatic Briton, "the rebel in the Raj," who helped establish the Indian Freedom movement. After World War I, the Amritsar massacre helped speed the rise of Gandhi and Nehru and the fateful events that led to the partition of India in 1947 - an episode whose repercussions are felt to this day. The series ends as India rises again to be the global giant she has been for most of her amazing history.
"I've loved India for a long time," says historian and broadcaster Michael Wood. "Personally, travelling across it with my wife and children and, of course, for a historian too, it is an amazing country - history is still so very much alive there!"
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