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 26 May 2015

By turns warrior, prisoner of war, court poet and passionate Sufi devotee, Amir Khusro was above all a quick-witted literary survivor. And his ability to write for all manner of patrons and audiences, added to his faith in Sufism, would help his words endure for 700 years. Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the man who called himself 'The Parrot of India'. After a career as a soldier, Khusro gained fame in the royal courts of Delhi where poets improvised and extemporised for their patrons, competing with each other in a kind of medieval poetry slam. But despite being the most admired court poet of his time, he eventually suffered burnout and turned for spiritual strength to the great Sufi Muslim saint Nizamuddin Auliya. From then on his poetry focussed on the ideal of Sufi devotion, a merging of identity between master and follower. Sunil Khilnani visits old Delhi and Khusro's tomb where his songs, passed down through 700 years of oral tradition, are still performed. Those songs have also come to live in the unconscious of millions of Indians through their use in cinema. Javed Akhtar, one of the great song-writers of Indian cinema, pays tribute to his 13th century predecessor. The founding fathers of modern India made Amir Khusro a mascot of cultural harmony. Sunil Khilnani explores the life of a Sufi Muslim who has become the embodiment of the nation's unofficial motto: 'Unity in Diversity'. Producer: Jeremy Grange Executive Producer: Martin Smith Original music composed by Talvin Singh.. . .