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The story of India: The story of India is a BBC documentary series which was written and presented by historian Michael Wood. This series encapsulates the history of India. Like other great civilizations—Greece or Egypt, for example—over the millennia it has enjoyed not just one but several brilliant golden ages in art and culture. Its great thinkers and religious leaders have permanently changed the face of the globe. India’s history is a ten-thousand-year epic but for over two millennia, India has been at the center of world history. It has seen successive invasions from Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to Tamburlaine and the British, all of whom left their mark but all of whom succumbed, in the end, to India herself. For all that time India has been famous for its spiritual traditions; it gave birth to two world religions, one of which—Buddhism—had a profound impact on all of East Asia, China, Japan and Korea, and in modern times has found root even in the US and Europe. The subcontinent is home to one of the world’s greatest—and least understood—artistic traditions and to an extraordinary spectrum of music, dance and literature. India gave birth to some of the most remarkable characters in world history, including the Buddha, the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, and the Moghul emperor Akbar the Great, not to mention the likes of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
In this documentary Michael Wood traverses from the exploration of human origin migration to India from Africa, the height of ancient Indian civilization during the time of Indus Valley Civilization from 3300 to 1900 BC, the rise of Buddhism, Alexander the Great’s foray into India, the rule of the Mauryas, the silk routes and the spice trade during the Kushan era post their invasion, the decorated Cholan rule, the Muslim entry into the Indian Subcontinent and finally the British Raj.
The Indus valley Civilization was an ancient civilization which was located in Pakistan and northwest of India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity. The Indus Valley Civilization though was the epitome of Indian medieval history because inhabiting 2 – 5 million residents ushered along the banks of river Indus in between 3300 BC and 1900 BC. Two cities, in particular, have been excavated at the sites of Mohenjo-Daro on the lower Indus, and at Harappa, further upstream. The evidence suggests they had a highly developed city life; many houses had wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate underground drainage system. The sites recovered in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa provide clear evidence of the vast urban population that practiced then-sophisticated techniques like sculpting, trading, usage of metals and drainage systems. The reason behind its gradual phasing out still remains unsubstantiated but it has been majorly attributed to the shifting of the flow of river. By 1800 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization saw the beginning of their decline: Writing started to disappear, standardized weights and measures used for trade and taxation purposes fell out of use, the connection with the Near East was interrupted, and some cities were gradually abandoned. The climate change in the medieval era possibly could have shifted the civilization eastwards in search of river banks, staking their survival. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear, but it is believed that the drying up of the Saraswati River, a process which had begun around 1900 BCE, was the main cause. Other experts speak of a great flood in the area. Either event would have had catastrophic effects on agricultural activity, making the economy no longer sustainable and breaking the civic order of the cities. This climate change had a major role to play in shaping the Indian civilization because had it not happened, the city would have flourished and possibly might have continued on its technological advances, making India the sustained center of all global trade.
The Mauryan empire was established by Chandragupta Maurya and lasted around 300 BC to 200 BC. Chandragupta Maurya was influenced by Alexander the Great and set out building a massive empire. The warrior he was, conquered more than three-fourths of ancient India. The next significant Maurya was Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka. Ashoka, as suggested in the documentary was initially a wielder of violence and a tyrannical ruler. Later after the Kalinga battle he took to Buddhism and adopted peace. This is particularly important in shaping the ancient Indian civilization because it was the first attempt at carving out India as a unified state.
Contact and exchange was what formed the basis of discovery in the ancient times and trade was a major facilitator of this contact. India was a major trading partner of the Mediterranean. It is said that three things – a weed, a grass and the larva of a beetle – was what caused the Romans and the Greeks to seek out the riches of India. The voyages to discover India began in the times of the Romans and the Greeks, a feat which is overshadowed by modern history figures such as Vasco Da Gama and Columbus. Hippalus, an old Greek Sea Captain, documented his voyage to India into a guidebook, with a fine and acute knowledge of all the ports across the coast of India. Contact with India began with the discovery of the Monsoons. Hippalus discovered that around the period of June, strong winds of the southwest monsoon began to blow towards the Indian peninsula, causing the seas to become heavy and the region to become dangerous. But with strong enough ships, one could ride on the strength of these winds from the Red Sea, eventually leading up to India. As these winds retreated, the winds from the northeast monsoons would then help you back the other way. Hence, the discovery of the monsoon alone was probably the single most important discovery of the time that led the Romans and the Greek to the coast of India. And the Spice Coast of Kerala was what they primarily came for. The Romans loved the Indian spices – pepper, ginger, coriander etc. But all the Indian could ask for from the Romans was bullion – gold, silver, tin, antimony etc. Old Tamil poems also mention Romans and Greeks exchanging gold for pearls and textiles. The pashmina shawls were a favorite among the Romans
The establishment of the Silk Route began a new chapter in the economy of India. The Silk Route began as a confederation of tribes called the Kushans. The Kushans adopted Buddhism and funded their religious propaganda by their control of trade on the Silk Route. They were among the first people to adopt the use of a legal contract for disputes along the Silk Route. Kainshka, the king of the Kushans, and the inscription, Surkh Kotal, are form the most important contribution of the tribe. The inscription gives in detail the deeds of the king and the extension of his power across India. The Khyber Pass formed an important connecting tradeway between India and Central Asia. Under the Kushans, the economy and the trade thrived and soon they introduced minted coins. The Capital of the Kushans was the twon of Peshawar in Pakistan, a caravan town ever since, it primary source of income being the old contacts of the Silk Route. Peshawar was a meeting point for all traders across the Silk Route, the richest cargos among them carried on camels was Chinese silk woven into art by Indian weavers. At the height of the Kusha Empire, you could witness the mingling of several civilizations – the Greeks, the Romans, the Bactrians, the Persians and the Chinese. All of it was a direct result of the opening of the Silk Route and the contact of civilizations between the Mediterranean and the Indian Peninsula. Yet, the most important legacy of the Kushans was the control of the Silk Route to propagate Buddhism into China and Tibet.
The Mahmud of Ghazni was the first foray of the Muslim Mughals into India. It led to the first confrontation of a Hindu State with the Mughals. Lured by the peace, non-unity and riches of India he invaded India 17 times and plundered at will. He was most notorious at stealing gold form the temples and razing them on his path to monetary basking in glory. He desecrated the holy statues at the Somnath temple and completely destroyed the temple as well. He was despised throughout the Hindu Heartland as he had pledged to plunder India at least once a year and the lack of resistance to his multiple forays made it extremely easy for him to achieve his task. As the Cholas were protecting the south, the lack of a protector in North was the key reason behind it. As is evident even today, the violence coupled with the completely different religions of Islam and Hinduism could not find compatibility.
The later Mughals landed in India through the Khyber Pass. The battle of Panipat in 1526 marked the formal start to the Mughal reign in India as Babur claimed the throne to India. Akbar was a key figure in the Mughal rule because he was tolerant to all religions. The uneducated ruler who attained the throne to India only because his father died from falling from the footsteps of his library. He was sharp and went about expanding his empire across India and ensuring that people in his reign were happy. He even abolished the religious tax on Hindus and held surprise incognito visits to the markets to check for hoarding and other malpractices. Their rule ended with the advent of the British and they were finally punished for wasting valuable resources in capturing Deccan. However, they ruled the subcontinent from 1526 to 1857 according to records and managed to handle such a vast empire without much hassle due to the decentralization of power. The empire was handled by the concept of Mansabdars. It was a hierarchical system and had a local ruler for every area. Depending on the rank of the Mansabdar he would get a salary, status and military might to guard his borders. They were also subject to criminal proceedings in case anybody interfered with the system for his own benefit, basically taking care of the agency problem. They were supposed to be in charge of collecting the taxes and sending it out to the Emperor in Delhi.
The British landed in India in the 17th century and were traders initially but as time progressed they built forts in India and increased their clout over the local inhabitants. The battle of Plassey marked the formal entry of British. They did learn from the Mughals in the way of allowing the locals to rule as they knew the agency problem though conflicts of interest could arise again. So, they took control of the colonies themselves. The British East India Company was the first multinational corporation of the world and is also accused of plundering the riches of India. Initially they wanted cloth and other finished products from India but as Clive introduced the idea of getting taxes from the Indians, they no longer required the bullion from the costly Spanish ports in South America. They slowly started taxing India and fixed the taxes at the 1790 levels when the production was at its peak. With the industrialization in Britain they shifted to getting raw materials and sending it out to Britain to produce and sold almost 40% of all the produce back to India due to an increase in cost in India owing to droughts and famines which lead to Indian local goods being found comparatively costlier. With the first mutiny in 1857 the Indians united over the course of time and the British disbanded the EIC and took control of India from London. They enslaved a huge population and forced them to fight their wars mainly in the First and the Second World wars even though India wasn’t even remotely involved in the conflict. They increased taxes and disrespected human rights at will.
When Britain left India, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the founded of Muslim League was adamant about having a separate country and believed that Hindus and Muslims could not live together. Nehru was a party to this and in order to be the first PM of free India he agreed by influencing his mentor and the most powerful man in India back then Mahatma Gandhi. This led to fleeing of around 15 million people who turned refugees and close to 2 million people were killed in the religious massacre.
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