Incarnations - India In 50 Lives - Omnibus

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Incarnations: India In 50 Lives20161029

An omnibus edition of Professor Sunil Khilnani's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Indian history over two thousand years. He starts with the Buddha, founder of a way of living with nearly 400 million followers, who turns out to be more interesting than the popular image of a simple figure in the lotus position.

His second subject is Mahavira Jain who was born around the same time and is the inspiration for millions of followers of the Jain religion, which teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation - at its heart is a belief that the entire world, from the ground we tread on to the air we breathe, is filled with life: our duty is to protect this universe of living souls through non-violent action.

People in the West tend to look at India through the prism of religion but that's to ignore contributions made in the field of science, medicine and the world of ideas. Professor Khilnani ends this programme with a portrait of the political strategist known variously as Chanakya or Kautilya and the emperor Ashoka who provided an inspiration for modern day India, set in stone.

Produced by Mark Savage.

Incarnations: India In 50 Lives20161104

An omnibus edition of Professor Sunil Khilnani's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Indian history over two thousand years.

He begins with a visit to a modern-day clinic which follows the practises set out by Charaka, a medical pioneer whose handbook is still widely in use. His text, known as the Charaka Samhita or 'Compendium of Charaka', is an encyclopaedic work covering different aspects of health and how to live a good life.

He stays in the world of science and medicine with a look at Aryabhata, a mathematician and astronomer whose work, in the fifth or six century, predates some of the discoveries made in the West many years later.

His next subject takes us to the land of the Tamils in the South East India. Rajaraja Chola was a cult-figure and self-styled king of kings who ordered the construction of one of India's most magnificent temples built around the 11th. Some see the period of his reign and that of his son Rajendra as the era when the centre of gravity of Indian history moved southwards.

He ends on a poetic note with a portrait of Basavana, a religious guru whose words have inspired many writers today'

Produced by Mark Savage.

Incarnations: India In 50 Lives20161105

An omnibus edition of Professor Sunil Khilnani's audio portraits of figures who have shaped Indian history over two thousand years. Today's programme focuses on four medieval poets whose influence continues to the present day.

The first is Amir Khusro, a 13th century warrior, prisoner of war, court poet and passionate Sufi devotee. A quick-witted literary survivor whose words would endure for 700 years, he described himself as 'The Parrot of India'. We also explore the life of Kabir. Born in India's holiest city, Benares, of a low-caste weaver's family, Kabir was a provoker whose poems and actions challenged religious orthodoxies.

Another poet established one of the great world religions: Guru Nanak, the 15th century founder of Sikhism. At its core, his religion was based on Discplined Worldliness - living and witnessing your faith within the world, rather than retreating from it.

Sunil Khinani's last subject is Mirabai, a Rajput princess who became a wandering religious singer devoted to the Hindu god Krishna. She composed many songs or bhajans which have been passed down through the centuries by oral tradition. Today some see Mirabai as a potent symbol of feminism, others as a passionate religious inspiration.

Producer: Jeremy Grange.

Incarnations: India In 50 Lives20161111

An omnibus edition of Professor Sunil Khilnani's audio portraits of figures who have shaped Indian history over two thousand years. Today he explores three lives from the world of power, politics and kingship in late medieval India - and another figure, more humbly born, an artist whose paintings reflected in a unique, intimate way, the life of a north Indian prince.

He begins in the 16th century with the greatest ruler of the Mughal Empire. Akbar showed no mercy in his pursuit of power and secured his gains with an iron fist. And yet he seems to have grasped the diversity of beliefs and culture across the land he ruled and propagated his own system of religious faith known as Din-I-Lahi.

On the Deccan plateau of central southern India Akbar - and later his son Jahangir - met their match from an unexpected source: an Ethiopian warlord who had originally come to India as a slave. His name was Malik Ambar but Jahangir had another name for him: The Dark-Fated One.

Malik Ambar's guerrilla tactics would be adopted and refined half a century later - again in the hill country of Maharashtra - by Sunil Khilnani's next subject. Shivaji was a warrior king who's still finding new incarnations as a symbol of regional pride and identity - and most recently as an inspiration for would-be entrepreneurs.

Sunil Khilnani also profiles Nainsukh, the 18th century artist whose intimate and engaging portraits of a prince's life created a new vision for Indian art. This is the story of two men: one a painter with a unique talent to express humanity and individuality; the other a prince who unselfconsciously gave himself to the artist as subject.

Producer: Jeremy Grange.

Incarnations: India In 50 Lives20161125

An omnibus edition of Professor Sunil Khilnani's audio portraits of figures that have shaped the arc of Indian history over two thousand years.

Professor Khilnani begins with a study of one of the founding fathers of the study of Asia by the West. Sir William Jones set sail for India at the end of the 18th century where he became one of the greatest advocates for studying the glories of India's past. Already a master of many languages, he learned Sanskrit which he declared "more perfect than the Greeks, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either". With a recital of an Indian composition on harpsichord, from the Oriental Miscellany by Jane Chapman.

His next subject is Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi, the queen who fought against the British and became a heroine of India's 1857 Rebellion. 'She was certainly no ordinary queen," he says. She was listed by Time Magazine as one of its 'Top Ten Badass Wives'. A typical day for Lakshmibai involved weightlifting, wrestling and steeplechasing - all before breakfast. Yet, despite her physical prowess, she was a reluctant rebel. She was drawn into the uprising only when the British annexed Jhansi after her husband died. The legend goes that, when the Rani's fort was under siege from the British, she mounted her horse, her young son holding on tight behind her, and leapt to freedom from the ramparts.

His next portrait is of the social reformer and anti-caste campaigner Jyotirao Phule who set out to educate women and promote the cause of the lower-caste members of Indian society. Phule and his wife were castigated for challenging the caste system. In a defiantly symbolic act, he allowed all comers to drink from the well at his house, in an age when members of the lower castes were barred from drinking water used by the upper castes. Today there are many government funding schemes for schools which bear either Phule's or his wife's name but discrimination against the Dalits, then known as Untouchables, hasn't gone away. "Phule wanted to rock the system," says Professor Khilnani "not just to create tiny islands of equality".

Professor Sunil Khilnani ends with a profile of Birsa Munda, the young, charismatic healer who led his tribal community in revolt against the British and whose life, more than a century after his death, poses the question: 'Who owns India?' Scattered across the subcontinent, India's tribal peoples or Adivasis, match in size the populations of Germany or Vietnam. Yet the land rights of India's original inhabitants are regularly overridden in the name of development. One of history's great defenders of Adivasi rights was Birsa Munda, born in the late 19th century in what is now the north-eastern state of Jharkhand. At a time of famine and disease across northern India his community looked to the Birsa for healing and leadership. The young man who claimed he could turn bullets to water led a rebellion against the British, their Indian middlemen and Christian missionaries.

Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured in the series on the Radio 4 website.

Produced by Mark Savage and Jeremy Grange.