Historian Michael Wood takes a dazzling journey through modern India to uncover the history of the world’s largest democracy and asks, how is India’s amazing past helping to shape its future? The six-part series will air in January and is being billed as the most comprehensive history of India to show on Western TV.
“Beginnings”—The first episode examines the identity and roots of India’s famous “unity in diversity.” Beginning with the first human migrations out of Africa and using technology, Wood explores the living cultures of the subcontinent, from the tropical backwaters of South India to the lost ancient cities of Pakistan—the scene of India’s first civilization. In Turkmenistan, Wood finds dramatic new archaeological discoveries that cast fresh light on India’s deep past and travels into the Ganges plain to investigate India’s “first civilization” and its “Age of Heroes” in the time of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Airing Jan. 5, 9 p.m.
“The Power of Ideas”—Wood’s epic series moves into the revolutionary years after 500 BCE—the Age of the Buddha. Traveling between the ancient cities of the Ganges plain, he tells the tale of the young prince who gave up the good life and became the Buddha, “India’s first and greatest protester.” He then illustrates how Alexander the Great’s invasion changed the course of India’s history and visits India’s earliest capital, Patna. Wood realizes how the ideas of the Buddha were turned into political reality by the great Indian emperor Ashoka. Airing Jan. 5, 10 p.m.
“Spice Routes & Silk Roads”—The next episode covers the early centuries AD, the time of the Roman Empire in Europe. In this period, India, located at the “center of world,” became a great player in the first global economy. As the Spice Routes and the Silk Road opened up, Indian civilization grew. Beginning in Kerala, Wood journeys on an old wooden sailing boat carrying pepper to the Gulf, and shows how the spice trade opened up India to the world. Then far to the north, Wood takes the Silk Road from the deserts of Turkmenistan and heads down the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, to discover the forgotten Indian empire of the Kushans who opened North India to the riches of international trade and built a lost Wonder of the World in the magical caravan city of Peshawar. Airing Jan. 12, 9 p.m.
“Ages of Gold”—This episode covers the story of India in the Middle Ages. At the time of the fall of the Roman Empire and the European Dark Ages, India experienced a series of great flowerings of culture. In astronomy, Indians discovered the heliocentric universe, absolute zero, and the circumference of the earth; they mastered the world’s first large-scale wrought iron technology—the Delhi iron pillar; and their courtly culture was the setting of the world’s first sex manual, the Kama Sutra. Then in the South, Wood goes on pilgrimage to a sacred mountain where the annual fire festival was already famous in 700 AD. He demonstrates how the Middle Ages laid the social and imaginative foundations of today’s India. Airing Jan. 12, 10 p.m.
“The Meeting of Two Oceans”—The fifth episode tells the epic story of one of the greatest encounters in history—the coming of Islam to the Indian subcontinent. Wood takes viewers to the time of Europe’s Renaissance, when India was the richest, most populous place in the world and home to one of the most glamorous ages of world civilization, the Moghul Empire. He offers a new theory on the design of the Taj Mahal, arguably the most famous building in the world, and tells the story of the life of Akbar, a Muslim emperor who decreed that people should try to find the common basis of all creeds, as no one religion could hold the ultimate truth. At its height in 1600, Moghul India had the world’s highest gross domestic product (GDP). Airing Jan. 19, 9 p.m.
“Freedom”—The final episode tells how a foreign multinational thousands of miles away, the British East India Company, took power over great swathes of the Indian subcontinent; how, after the horrendous shock of the 1857 Indian Mutiny, the British state took over and turned this supremacy into the jewel in the crown of the largest empire the world had seen. After the World War I, the Amritsar massacre helped speed the rise of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the fateful events that led to the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947—an episode whose repercussions Pakistanis and Indians still live with today. The series concludes with India, the world’s largest democracy, rising again to be the global giant it has been for most of its amazing history.Airing Jan. 19, 10 p.m.