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Title:Indians | Ep 3: The Mauryans and Megasthenes | A Brief History of a Civilization

Research, Script and Narration by Namit Arora; Producer: The Wire; Director: Natasha Badhwar; Camera: Ajmal Jami; Video Editor: Anam Sheikh. Made possible by a grant from The Raza Foundation and contributions to The Wire by viewers like you. Join The Wire's Youtube membership program and help fund many such initiatives. The story of India is one of profound and continuous change. It has been shaped by the dynamic of migration, conflict, mixing, coexistence, and cooperation. In this ten-part web series, Namit Arora tells the story of Indians and our civilization by exploring some of our greatest historical sites, most of which were lost to memory and were dug out by archaeologists. He will also focus on ancient and medieval foreign travellers whose idiosyncratic accounts conceal surprising insights about us Indians. All along, Arora surveys India’s long and exciting churn of cultural ideas, beliefs, and values—some that still shape us today, and others that have been lost forever. The series mostly mirrors—and often extends—the contents of his book, Indians: A Brief History of a Civilization. Bibliography appears below. EPISODE 3: THE MAURYANS AND MEGASTHENES In 327 BCE, the Greek warrior Alexander of Macedon invaded the Punjab. He was forced to turn back after his army suffered heavy losses in fighting Porus. Soon after, the Greek-ruled Seleucid Empire arose west of the Punjab, and the Mauryan Empire to its east, with its capital in Pataliputra. This produced a freer flow of ideas between India and Greece, as in science, art, and philosophy—and a fascinating account of India by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the Mauryan court. Megasthenes described the huge city of Pataliputra, its wooden homes, walls, and watchtowers; its bureaucracy, taxation and laws; its giant army; urban lifestyles, elite fashions and social norms. He noticed the emergence of endogamy and early castes in the Aryanized groups around him, and he saw Brahminism as more patriarchal than Buddhism. Two generations later came Ashoka who presided over an expanding agricultural state, often at the expense of the forest peoples. Still, his public embrace of non-violence in midlife was significant and likely unique among the world’s emperors. He converted to Buddhism and sent missions to spread it far and wide. His public edicts can be seen as the earliest expressions of Indian secularism, in which the state attempts to fairly patronize all major religions. From the Mauryan period, we get monumental stone art and stunning sculpture, such as of Sanchi and Bharhut stupas, some with clear continuities with pre-Aryan forms and aesthetics. PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY / FURTHER READING Anthony, David W, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton, 2010 Allen, Charles, Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor, Abacus, 2013 Dahlaquist, Allan, Megasthenes and Indian Religion: A Study in Motives and Types, Motilal Banarsidass, 1996 Evans, James, The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy, OUP, 1998 Keay, John, India: A History, Harper Collins Publishers, 2000 Kulke, Hermann, Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India, Psychology Press, 2004 McCrindle, J.W. (Translator), ‘Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian: A Translation of Fragments of Indika of Megasthenes Collected by Dr. Schwanbeck, and of the First Part of Indika of Arrian’, Trubner and Co., 1877 Muhlberger, Steve, ‘Democracy in Ancient India,’ 1988 Olivelle, Patrick and M. McClish (Eds.), The Arthaśāstra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft, Hackett Publishing, 2012 Sen, Amartya, The Argumentative Indian, Penguin, 2006 Sen, Sudipta, Ganga: The Many Pasts of a River, Gurgaon, Viking, 2019 Singh, Upinder, Ancient India: Culture of Contradictions, Aleph Book Company, 2021 Singh, Upinder, Political Violence in Ancient India, Harvard University Press, 2017 Thapar, Romila, Early India, Penguin Books, 2002 Thapar, Romila, The Past as Present, Aleph Book Company, 2013 Join The Wire's Youtube Membership and get exclusive content, member-only emojis, live interaction with The Wire's founders, editors and reporters and much more. Memberships to The Wire Crew start at Rs 89/month.


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