The Story of India

Mon, 01/05/2009 - 9:00pm

Host Michael Wood with local women in Mathura after the Holi festival.

Callum Bulmer

India is a land of history and myth; opulence and poverty; spiritualism and science. Celebrated across the globe for its many-armed gods, cultural diversity and traditions, India has more recently become known for its computer technology, industrial production and the professional acumen of its educated, upwardly mobile middle classes. Only 60 years after India’s independence, the nation is now recognized as the world’s largest democracy and a rising economic giant. The Story of India, a six-part series, airs Mondays, January 5-19 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).

Even though this ancient civilization is poised at the precipice of an immense economic expansion, India’s real fortune has always been its wondrous culture and the astounding diversity of its people. From the deserts of Turkmenistan to the Khyber Pass, from war-torn Iraq to the palm-fringed shores of Kerala, historian Michael Wood journeys across the Indian subcontinent and beyond to uncover the fabulous sights, the dramatic history and the dazzling achievements of the world’s oldest and most influential civilization.

India’s history is filled with fascinating figures and amazing tales, including successive invasions from Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamburlaine, the Moghuls and the British. India has also been famous for its spiritual traditions, giving birth to four world religions and accepting many others. The subcontinent is home to great artistic traditions and an extraordinary spectrum of music, dance and literature, along with great leaders who have changed the face of the globe. India ushered in many aspects of modern science, including the decimal system and absolute zero, and gave rise to some of the most remarkable individuals in world history, including the Buddha, Mauryan emperor Ashoka, Moghul emperor Akbar the Great and political leaders Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.

The Story of India tells the stories of these ideas and individuals and their effect on its peoples and cultures. Home to more than a billion people, India is also a land of contrasts. It contains both the high-tech brilliance of Bangalore’s Silicon Valley and the primeval splendor of the Kumbh Mela festival, when 25 million pilgrims bathe in the sacred River Ganges on a single night: India is in touch with its ancient past, even as it accelerates into the third millennium.

In this six-part series, Wood embarks on a compelling journey through India, “seeking in the present for clues to her past, and in the past for clues to her future.” The deep-rooted equilibrium of India’s past has always shaped and sustained it, but do the teachings of the Buddha, Ashoka, Akbar, Gandhi and others still inform both India and the modern world? The answer to that question may predict not only India’s future, but the future of the world it occupies.

The Story of India companion Web site will highlight the documentary’s photography and provide a wealth of information about India’s history, culture, arts, sciences and historic figures. The site will include a timeline and video excerpts from the film. Visitors will be able to contribute their own stories about India and to ask Michael Wood questions about his work and experiences. A teacher’s guide will help foster discussion of historical and cultural issues in Indian history.