The Story of IndiaDVD - 2008
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60 years ago, India threw off the chains of the British Empire and became a free nation. And now the world's largest democracy is rushing headlong into the future. As the brief heyday of the West draws to a close, one of the greatest players in history is rising again. India has seen the ebb and flow of huge events since the beginning of history. Its tale is one of incredible drama and the biggest ideas. It's a place whose children will grow up in a global superpower and yet still know what it means to belong to an ancient civilisation. This is the story of a land where all human pasts are still alive, a 10,000-year epic that continues today...the Story of India. In the tale of life on Earth, the human story is brief.
A few hundred generations cover humanity's attempts to create order, beauty and happiness on the face of the Earth. The beginnings to most of us are lost in time, beyond memory. Only India has preserved the unbroken thread of the human story that binds us all. According to the oldest Indian myths, the first humans came from a golden egg, laid by the king of the gods in the churning of the cosmic ocean. Modern science, of course, works in a less poetic vein, but no less thrilling to the imagination.
Since ancient times, Indian civilisation has been driven by great ideas, by the search for knowledge and truth. Here in South India, the people of the Jain religion pay homage to a teacher who was once a king, who renounced his kingdom to seek enlightenment
This is the sacred city of Mathura on the River Jumna. The cool season is over now. The rains are ending. And the heat is beginning to rise. The Festival of Holi celebrates the coming of light, the triumph of good, the growth of life. And down there, there's bank managers and IT boffins rubbing shoulders with rickshaw men, all of them dancing for a god from pre-history. This amazing journey has already taken us from the Deep South of India to the wilds of the Hindu Kush in Central Asia and here to the heart of the Ganges plains. Already you can see the cultures and the languages and the religions of India have been built up over tens of thousands of years. They're the deep current on which the great events of history are just the surface movements. And they make up that deep core of the identity of India. And this... And this is just the beginning!
From the Buddha to Mahatma Gandhi, Indian history is full of such figures, men and women who contested the idea that history should only be written by the men of war. From the 5th century BC, these ideas shaped one of the most revolutionary times in history, when great empires were founded in India on these universal principles of peace and non-violence, the next chapter in The Story of India. … 'Amid one of the all too common crises of our modern world, we humans are a competitive species, 'fighting for resources and ideas, still to learn history's lessons.' We're heading to Varanasi, tempered slightly, as last night there were bombings at a railway station and a temple. Nobody knows quite why it's happened. But the trains are still running, so we'll see what happens. There are six billion people in the world now, compared with a hundred million in the 5th century BC. And the fulfilment of our desires has become a goal of civilisation. Every person has his own identity, his own needs.
Now I understand when the Buddha says, "All fortune is the cause of misfortune." All things must pass, even Buddhism itself. It became the greatest religion of the ancient world. It's still a power in Asia. But in the Middle Ages it died in the heartland of India. In the 18th century, when British explorers came seeking its lost history, they dug in the jungle here at Kushinagar where he died. And under the forest they found an astonishing image of the Buddha in the moment of death, the moment of nirvana. And that would begin the next cycle of the story, spreading the Buddha's message to new lands of the West and to continents the Buddha had never dreamed of. All across the world now, there is a big interest in the Buddha, in Western people also.
Why do you think this is?
-Buddha's message is true. So all people accept it.
The Buddha's message is true?
Next in The Story of India - silk roads, spice routes and China ships. Epics of the South and lost empires of the North. Ancient India goes global in the happiest time in the history of the world.
Civilisation is made by many things but, most of all by human interaction, by contact and exchange. Rich in resources, India has traded with the world since the beginning of history. But commerce is never just about commodities, it's the way civilisations adapt and grow, the way people learn about themselves and others, discover new ideas and new worlds. In the time of the Roman Empire, the opening of the Silk Road and the Spice Route saw the beginnings of a world economy. And at the centre was India. Sometimes change in history happens in the unlikeliest of ways.
Here in India, 2000 years ago in the time of the Roman Empire, these three things - the produce of a weed, of a grass and of the lava of a beetle - changed the course of Indian history, brought about the growth of civilization and caused other countries to make great voyages across thousands of miles of ocean, seeking the riches of India. The Arabian Sea off the coast of Kerala. Our boat is carrying timber, pepper and spices from South India to the Persian Gulf, the way they've done it for more than 2,000 years. It's easy to forget the great voyages of Columbus and Vasco de Gama were to find India. And those voyages started in the days of the Romans. We know about the Roman trade with India because of a guidebook written by an old Greek sea captain who knew Indian ports like the back of his hand.
In the early centuries AD, the Kushans had opened up India's horizons, creating a vast multi-racial empire. They put India onto the international map, linking it to the trade systems of the world. They laid the foundations for what would follow in the Middle Ages, adding another layer to story of India through peace, trade and tolerance. But above all is the simple civilising influence of contact, exchange and dialogue. In the second century, AD the Indian subcontinent had the world's biggest population, as it does today, and one of the biggest economies. And now, as the wheel of history turns full circle, that age looks like a precursor of our own. Next in The Story of India, the genius of early Indian technology, the astounding living traditions of the south... where God is the great dancer. And in medieval India, they didn't just invent zero - they even wrote the first great manual on sex!
All societies in human history, I suppose, have imagined a golden age - a past time when people lived in peace and plenty, when the rulers were just and the division between sacred and profane time had not yet happened. But here in India, above all countries, that idea has been extraordinarily tenacious and powerful right down to today. But is there a history behind such dreams? This is a journey back to the golden age - real and imagined.
In The Story of India, we've reached the year 400, the time of the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages in the West. But here in India, great kingdoms rose then in the north and the south, and in modern times, this has come to be seen as a golden age. And if one story is at the centre of that idea, it's the tale of Rama, the God who came down to Earth as a king, who defeated evil and ruled with justice. It's a tale known and loved by all Indians.
There are said to be 300 versions of the Rama story in more than 20 different Indian languages. In the days of the Raj, the British called the Rama stories and plays "the bible of India". If you didn't know them, they said, you couldn't know the people. Nor would you understand the powerful, driving idea behind the epic tale, that whether king or commoner, you should live in virtue - "dharma".
All the great ancient civilisations meditated on these big questions - how to live life, sharing the planet with other people, how to find happiness. For Indian people, the traditional goal of life is to live with virtue - dharma. To gain wealth and success - artha. To find pleasure - kama. But in the end, to seek enlightenment - moksha. Back in the 5th century BC, a series of kingdoms had grown up in the Ganges plain with cities. And in history, cities are always vehicles for change. India's greatest sacred city, Varanasi, was founded around 500 BC. It's been called the Jerusalem of India.
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