Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

By Prof Sunil Khilnani

On Going since May 2015 • Updated weekly

Over the course of 50 episodes, Sunil Khilnani, director of the King's India Institute in London, takes listeners on a whirlwind journey from ancient India to the 21st century through the prism of the life stories of 50 remarkable individuals. He will also explore their surprising afterlives, which illuminate both the astonishments and urgent conflicts of India today.

He begins with the Buddha, exploring the story of his life and how he has been reinvented in modern India by those who oppose the caste system. "Buddha's solution to suffering lay in the individual mind. But he was also sketching a new form of society," says Professor Khilnani. "He was a moral meritocrat, and to an extent a social one too."

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  Direct Link   Download 0 Minutes 03 Mar 2016

Sunil Khilnani tells the story of EV Ramaswamy Naicker, known to his followers as Thanthai Periyar: the Great Man - a self-conscious dig at his nemesis Gandhi, the Great Soul. Periyar is best known in India as an anti-Brahmin activist, a rationalist and a take-no-prisoners orator. He campaigned actively and energetically for decades against religion, against the caste system and for the equality of women. Where Gandhi and his followers wore white, Periyar instructed his supporters to dress in black. Where Gandhi massaged the religious beliefs of his audiences, Periyar called his listeners fools, insulted their beliefs and caste practices, and threatened to thwack their gods and idols with his slippers. And where Gandhi wanted to build a national Indian movement, Periyar revelled in the Dravidian south. 'I've got no personal problem with God," Periyar once said. "I've never even met him, not once". Occupying conventional political office never interested Periyar, but he left a massive imprint on modern south Indian politics. Producer: Martin Williams Executive Producer: Martin Smith.. . .