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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Professor Sunil Khilnani, from the King's India Institute in London, tells the story of Akbar, the greatest ruler of the Mughal Empire. Akbar seems to have managed to combine a ruthless early career with a startling religious tolerance in later life. His empire covered a huge swathe of the Indian subcontinent, from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Arabian Sea, and southwards to the Deccan. Akbar showed no mercy in his pursuit of power and secured his gains with an iron fist. The defenders of a fort in Rajasthan chose mass suicide rather than surrender and Akbar went on to slaughter, some say, more than 20,000 inhabitants. And yet he seems to have grasped the diversity of beliefs and of culture across the land he ruled and propagated his own syncretic system of religious faith known as Din-I-Lahi. His stance has made him a pet for modern secularists but Professor Khilnani says we should be cautious. "However complex his motivations might have been, his commitment to pluralism yielded clear-cut instrumental advantages: it allowed him to expand his empire and maintain dominion over so many subjects." Producer: Mark Savage
Researcher: Manu Pillai
Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured on the Radio 4 website.. . .
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