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 10 Jun 2015

Prof. Sunil Khilnani explores the life of Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi, the queen who fought against the British and became a heroine of India's 1857 Rebellion. "The Rani was certainly no ordinary queen," he says of the woman who 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. The most iconic image of the Rani of Jhansi is at her last stand, in battle: again on horseback with her sword held high and the reins of her horse between her teeth. It's an image that evokes powerful Hindu goddesses like Kali and Durga. However, Sunil Khilnani argues that, by ascribing its heroines extra-human powers, supposedly to celebrate them, India is in fact denying the reality of women's experience. Producer: Jeremy Grange Executive Producer: Martin Smith Original Music composed by Talvin Singh.. . .