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January 12, 2009 8:39 PM   Subscribe

The Story of India : PBS HD
posted by vronsky (28 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Been watching it. Simplistic, but very good.
posted by notsnot at 8:47 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been really enjoying it as well. There's no way to do Indian history without over simplifying. I have a shelf full of books on Indian history that I will simply never get through.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:52 PM on January 12, 2009


This was just on PBS an hour ago. It was breathtakingly beautiful and reminded me of my middle school history classes in India. Only thing I'd like to add is that the temple girls were called Devadasis and in recent years, they have been associated with prostitution. So it's a very soft-spot in the cultural history to dig deeper into their lifestyles.
posted by chime at 8:58 PM on January 12, 2009


Mughal-e-Azam excerpted in part 4 :)
posted by vronsky at 8:59 PM on January 12, 2009


I'd like to watch it, but I'm still trying to calculate the carbon offset I need.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:03 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once a student of Indian history, I have also enjoyed the series tremendously. Michael Wood has succeeded in giving the viewer a sense of historical context that is, if unavoidably simplified, completely accurate. One could spend many incarnations studying the history of the Great Subcontinent and not pick up a great deal more than Wood has shown in the series. Moreover, what book could show 2300 years of continuous human occupation of Peshawar as effectively as Wood did tonight?

I have particularly enjoyed Wood's interactions with the population during his filming. The foundation of any civilization is its people, and the many peoples of India have been on display in a most colorful and appealing manner. I loved tonight's vignette of the reverent Tamil bronze casters and the sculptor's evident and enormous pride that his handiwork would vastly outlive the lives of its makers. Writ large, that is the story of the vast syncretic assemblage that is India's contribution to world culture.

Finally, Wood has admirably shown the historic impact of climate on Indian civilization-- a cautionary reminder to the climate skeptics about what really happens when the monsoons fail and the the rivers run dry.
posted by rdone at 9:16 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


chime: There's a great article by William Dalrymple on devdasis here.
posted by the cydonian at 9:51 PM on January 12, 2009


Michael Wood

His Footsteps of Alexander the Great (netflix avaialble as DVD or streaming) was pretty interesting, in a you-are-there way. He also made it into Afghanistan right when the Taliban were on the verge of pushing our "Northern Alliance" friends back over Hindu Kush, and seeing the utter destruction of Kabul ca. 1996 was educational -- looked just like Berlin 1945 from all the shelling.
posted by troy at 10:15 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


there is this wiki entry on the BBC "Story of India" with the synopsis of the six episodes.
posted by kryptos at 4:12 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've just started rereading Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods: The strange rise of Moderb India for background research - its superbly written and a highly recommended MUST READ
posted by infini at 5:23 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Boy, that Wikipedia entry is terrible.

In Turkmenistan, there they find a civilisation named "Zorashtrian", and there they also find horse drawn carts or chariots called Raths which are mentioned in the "Rig Veda". Wood also discovers a drink made from a plant called "som", this drink was used in ancient times and is recorded in "The Rig Veda".


"Zorashtrian"? And the whole idea that the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex is Indo-Iranian and related to Vedic civilization is extremely controversial (not to mention that it's ridiculous to think that stuff he brewed up from a street vendor's herbs is the same stuff the Rigveda talks about); from the Wikipedia article on the BMAC:

The archaeological record is inconclusive with regard to a migration of Indo-Aryans or Indo-Iranians to the BMAC, or with a migration of Indo-Aryans from the BMAC to the Indus Valley. There is no archaeological evidence for an invasion into Bactria and Margiana. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the complex even represented an ethnic/linguistic unity. Moreover, cultural links between the BMAC and the Indus Valley can also be explained by reciprocal cultural influences uniting the two cultures, or by the transfer of luxury or commercial goods. The BMAC complex is also very poor in horse remains or representations, which are often seen as a sign for Indo-Aryan presence.


Wood interviews one archeologist who believes in the Aryan hypothesis, and talks as if Saranidi represented the consensus view. I realize he can't go into every argument in detail, but it would be nice if he at least acknowledged there was doubt about the nice, neat story he's telling.

That said, the series is very well done and my wife and I are enjoying watching it, and with the links we can catch up on any episodes we miss. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 5:52 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sweet, I was waiting for this to hit Netflix.
posted by The Straightener at 6:16 AM on January 13, 2009


Oh YAY! I just watched a couple of shows on the idiot box last night. Wonderful! The country is so complex, so incredibly beautiful, so dazzling, so interesting it's about bloody time it was depicted on PBS so people can get to know more about it.

I have a few Kushan Empire copper (bronze?) coins and now see them with totally dazzled eyes.

Hitch hiking overland and having arrived in India in 1975, certain the country was packed wall-to-wall with leprosy, every disgusting disease, solid, revolting wretchedness and Sister Theresa clinics, I was terrified of the place. All based on deep ignorance. Arriving across the border from Pakistan into Amritsar, after 2 thousand miles of mostly desert from Western Greece, it was stepping across the threshold into a fairy tale with flocks of green parrots sitting on old-fashioned telephone lines, relaxed looking beautiful women in lollipop colored saris and lithe men in lollipop colored turbans, brilliant reds, pinks, lime greens. It was an extraordinary union of messy, entertaining peace and fascinating chaos.

Over the next ten years I was too in love with the present moment of the country to want to study its past. Its past is incredibly present. It seems redundant to need to know about the past there, the past is everywhere there in ancient styles, architecture. Any moment may seem or look Biblical with flocks of goats being herded through the bazaar, near naked holy men in the simplest robes.

What happened was that I never learned about the history of India. It's fantastic to learn about it now in these Slumdog Millionaire, Microsoft outsourcing days.

Thanks for this treat of these videos vronsky because I know I'm going to watch them over and over. It's really handy having the vids to see repeatedly and try to soak in, actually remember the details of the marvelous kaleidoscope of India's story.
posted by nickyskye at 6:39 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


languagehat: Related, but Hindu group has indeed found notions of Aryan migration into India problematic in the documentary.

I remember this to be quite a polarizing notion among "intellectuals" in India when I was doing research on an unrelated subject; at least one researcher wanted to first expand on the Out of India theory and make sure I was agreeable to it before talking to me on my research topic. I don't have citations on me, and for sure, may be persuaded to accept the theory with sufficient rational arguments, but I remember thinking it all sounded politically very convenient; the thinking, it seemed, was that if 1000 years of Islamic presence in India is to be de-legitimized by calling it an invasion and an occupation, how can a possible invasion by Vedic people be legitimatized? Ergo, the Aryan presence in India is eternal, thus making them the "true" sons of the soil [1]. Here's Wikipedia on the subject.

Of course, the Vedas themselves offer no additional clue, and indeed, the center of all universe, Jambudvipa is, indeed, India in contemporary vernacular languages and Sanskrit prayers (you're supposed to mention your location when you perform a Vedic ritual), as is the generic word for any peninsula (so The Jambudvipa is India, but West Malaysia has the shape of a jambudvipa).

Personally, it's all very sad. I think the Vedas and Vedic-era literature is rather fascinating with a lot of scope for exploration; dealing with this creeping dogma is quite dehabilitating to say the least.
posted by the cydonian at 7:01 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"and the many peoples of India have been on display in a most colorful and appealing manner." I think one of the youtube comments summed it up rather well when they said it was like a good National Geographic article come to life. The indigenous people are simply gorgeous. I was there only briefly when I was young. We spent a week in Calcutta. The overwhelming sense of poverty was everywhere, I remember dog sized rats in the public garden. On a side trip to the Taj mahal, I managed to fall in the reflecting pool and get soaked from head to toe looking at some fishes.

sitar :)
posted by vronsky at 7:41 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


languagehat: Related, but Hindu group has indeed found notions of Aryan migration into India problematic in the documentary.

I hope I didn't give the impression I doubted the idea of "Aryan" (i.e., Indo-Iranian) migration into India! Of course Sanskrit (and, presumably, its early speakers) came into India from outside, just as English came into England and Greek into Greece. I was merely pointing out that the evidence for that particular site being tied into the migration is shaky. It's truly a shame that mindless nationalism distorts scientific findings all over the world. Why can't people just accept that in the end we all come from somewhere else, and find their pride in what they're doing now instead of what their putative ancestors may or may not have done millennia ago?
posted by languagehat at 8:21 AM on January 13, 2009


The FPP says "HD" which I take to mean High Definition but I don't see an option.
posted by stbalbach at 9:24 AM on January 13, 2009


Add me to the list of pilers MeFites who have been watching this series avidly. I found it quite by accident, but am quite glad I did. It's incredibly stunning visually on my big-ass HDTV; I'm glad it's HD online, but it would probably be quite a come-down after seeing some of those images practically life-sized.

I'm not familiar with Michael Wood, so thanks to troy for the link to the Alexander series, and thanks to infini for the book recommendation to fill in the factual gaps.
posted by briank at 9:48 AM on January 13, 2009


languagehat: I hope I didn't give the impression I doubted the idea of "Aryan" (i.e., Indo-Iranian) migration into India! Of course Sanskrit ...

lh, I doubt the idea of an "Aryan" migration into India. I'm almost afraid to contradict you, given your philological clout, but I think you're missing the main point of contention in the Aryan Invasion Theory: that it was a violent conquest of Dravidian people by an outside (and lighter skinned, thinner nosed, etc.) people who really established Indian culture. No serious scholar, or rational human being, would doubt that a diffusion and exchange of languages, technologies, and culture was happening between India (and especially the more easily accessible Northern India) and the rest of world, but this isn't what the AIT suggests. Nor is the theory supported by any historical, archaeological, linguistic, or genetic evidence.

The true reason the AIT is such a contentious subject lies in its colonial origin. British pseudo-scientists used the theory to not only justify their imperium, but to divide and exploit the people of India. Perhaps the only reason any belief in the theory exists today is due to its only recent solid refutations and that it really is a good story, filled with horses and war and stuff.

Anyway some links:

Your general archaeological refutation

Another quick to-the-point refutation with the money shot "there was no significant influx of people into India during 4500 to 800BC."

An in-depth ,and rather snarky, look at the theory, in which the author posits the Iranians were more influenced by the Indians than the other way around (at least as far as the developement of Zoroastrianism goes).

PS - Rather than saying "English came into England and Greek into Greece," I would say something like, "The Proto-Indo-European speakers at the southern ends of the British Isles and Balkan Peninsula, respectively, developed what we today know as English and Greek through successive waves of immigration, as well as linguistic adoption and evolution." But I'm a stickler like that.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:46 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think you're missing the main point of contention in the Aryan Invasion Theory: that it was a violent conquest of Dravidian people by an outside (and lighter skinned, thinner nosed, etc.) people who really established Indian culture.

Eh, I don't really give a damn about that, though I can sort of understand why Indians do (but see my earlier remark about putative ancestors). We don't know, and we never will know, exactly who came when and who established what bits of Indian culture. What I do know is that Sanskrit (and all its descendants) came from elsewhere; the details of how it came (whether conquest or trade or cultural hegemony or whatever) don't particularly interest me, and a good thing too because (as I say) we'll never know. I also automatically discount any theories propagated by people with an emotional/political parti pris, and there's an awful lot of that on this topic.

PS - Rather than saying "English came into England and Greek into Greece," I would say something like, "The Proto-Indo-European speakers at the southern ends of the British Isles and Balkan Peninsula, respectively, developed what we today know as English and Greek through successive waves of immigration, as well as linguistic adoption and evolution." But I'm a stickler like that.

That's not being a stickler, that's just wrong. PIE had broken up into individual languages long before English and Greek got where they are. If you want to be a stickler, you can say "The speakers of Proto-West Germanic/Pre-English crossed over to the British Isles, in unknown quantities, somewhere in the fifth century AD" and "the speakers of Proto-Hellenic/Pre-Greek came to what is now Greece at an unknown time in the third millennium BC from an unknown direction." But that seems awfully verbose for not much gain in accuracy.
posted by languagehat at 12:55 PM on January 13, 2009


"Originally proposed in the late 18th century in an attempt to explain connections between Sanskrit and European languages, [the Out of India theory] is today deprecated by academics who favor the Kurgan model."

Excerpted from the wiki link in the cydonian's post or this thread?
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2009


I'm still confused: where is the HD video? Looks pretty low-def to me.
posted by stbalbach at 3:27 PM on January 13, 2009


I tried watching it, the wicker narrating it somehow gives me a tinfoil-on-filling feeling so went and did something else.. it did seem beautifully shot though.
posted by edgeways at 6:19 PM on January 13, 2009



That's not being a stickler, that's just wrong. PIE had broken up into individual languages long before English and Greek got where they are. If you want to be a stickler, you can say "The speakers of Proto-West Germanic/Pre-English crossed over to the British Isles, in unknown quantities, somewhere in the fifth century AD" and "the speakers of Proto-Hellenic/Pre-Greek came to what is now Greece at an unknown time in the third millennium BC from an unknown direction." But that seems awfully verbose for not much gain in accuracy.


See, this is why I fear to correct you.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:08 PM on January 13, 2009


Eh, I don't really give a damn about that, though I can sort of understand why Indians do (but see my earlier remark about putative ancestors). We don't know, and we never will know, exactly who came when and who established what bits of Indian culture.

fwiw, my dad sent in his DNA to the IBM genetics study that was ongoing with the National Geographic a couple of years ago. Here's the visual he received of where and how his DNA marker (and thus mine) has been traced in its path from the Olduvai Gorge/Great Rift Valley to the Indus Valley.
posted by infini at 11:59 PM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


You're still wrong about dismissing the importance of ending the myth of the Aryan invasion, though.

Whether or not someone has parti pris (thanks for that, by the way), or whether or not someone gives a damn about the whole argument, is irrelevant when the facts establish the theory to be not only wrong, but based on and propagated by racist pseudo-science. Obviously, with the Aryan Invasion Theory, we are talking about much more than the origin of Sanskrit, this is what you seem not to realize.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:19 AM on January 14, 2009


imho, that theory is also used to explain the caste system, why fair skin is considered higher caste than dark skin and a bunch of other stuff embedded in local culture, idiom, language etc that i'm increasingly beginning to believe is just another form of apartheid (made worse by the fact that 'scholars' point to the Vedas and crap like Manu's Laws to propagate all kinds of injustice) after my recent foray into rural India.
posted by infini at 1:00 AM on January 14, 2009


Obviously, with the Aryan Invasion Theory, we are talking about much more than the origin of Sanskrit, this is what you seem not to realize.

Of course I realize that, I'm not an idiot. What you seem not to realize is that I do not have your intense interest in the Aryan Invasion Theory and all the ludicrous racist crap that gets mixed in and makes people unable to think sensibly about language ("OMG people are using historical linguistics as fodder for their ludicrous racist crap so we must deny it and claim that SANSKRIT WAS INVENTED IN INDIA!"). What I care about is language; as long as we agree that the Indic languages came from the west/north, I don't give a damn what your theory of cultural origins is.
posted by languagehat at 5:24 AM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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