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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Is that a snake or a coiled rope? Intriguingly, that is the question which starts Professor Sunil Khilnani's look at the life and legacy of Adi Shankaracharya, the philosopher and theologian who set Hinduism - the third largest religion in the world - on a new course. Shankaracharya's ambition was to provide a unified, coherent, single reading of the Hindu scriptures. His teachings were not universally embraced but they were revived by Indian nationalists looking for a muscular response to the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam. His efforts to capture the oneness of the universe produced beautiful, sometimes enigmatic sentences - as elusive as the man himself. "I am neither earth nor water nor fire nor air nor sense-organ nor the aggregate of all these," wrote Shankaracharya, "for all these are transient, variable by nature." Produced by Mark Savage
Listeners can catch up with the series and see the list of remarkable Indians featured on the Radio 4 website.. . .
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