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 27 May 2015

Today's Incarnation is a poet who established one of the great world religions: Guru Nanak, the 15th century founder of Sikhism. Like the Buddha and Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion, Nanak was a wanderer. He spent 25 years on the road and is said to have travelled as far as Mecca and the Himalayas. But, unlike his predecessors, when he had achieved enlightenment he returned to his homelands in the Punjab. He taught his disciples that, rather than renouncing the world and retreating from it, they must use their faith to change it from within. Nanak's 'disciplined worldliness' emphasised the importance of work and family. He also instituted an idea which is practised in Sikh temples all over the world. Sunil Khilnani visits the Gurudwara Nanak Piao in Delhi as they serve the langar, a meal provided by volunteers to anyone who comes, regardless of status, sex or religion. Everybody eats together in an equalizing act, a dispelling of the taboos designed to protect caste boundaries. Sunil explores the life of a man whose ideas were polemical and provocative. In announcing that "there is neither Hindu nor Muslim" Nanak wasn't proposing a harmonious blend of religions. Instead, he was rejecting other paths and creating an entirely new religion, one which now has around 30 million followers. Producer: Jeremy Grange Original music composed by Talvin Singh.. . .