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Title:Indians | Ep 7: Alberuni and Marco Polo in India | 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 7: ALBERUNI AND MARCO POLO IN INDIA In the early second millennium, two famous travellers visited India: Alberuni and Marco Polo, who’ve left behind vivid impressions of social life. Alberuni, a great scientist and scholar of the Persian ‘Golden Age’, was in north India between 1017–30, when Mahmud of Ghazni was raiding temples. Led by his own curiosity, Alberuni spent thirteen years studying Indian thought and society. He learned Sanskrit, studied the works of Brahminism, and sought out learned men to clarify his doubts. In 1030, he published his magnum opus, Alberuni’s India, containing sharp insights into Brahminical religion, scriptures, caste, marital norms, festivals, inheritance, taxes, crime and punishment, etc. He also assessed the quality of the ‘Hindu sciences’. Alberuni’s portrait of India is so perceptive that he deserves to be called the ‘first Indologist’. Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant–adventurer. Returning home from China in 1292, he stopped in south India. He landed in the kingdom of the Pandyas, near modern Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. He spent a few months going around the coast, finally sailing out of Gujarat. Marco Polo was less scholarly and more gullible than Alberuni, but he still astutely recorded many practices of religion and caste, customs and professions, norms of beauty and sexuality. These travellers add colour and depth to our understanding of medieval India, with rich insights into how much has—or hasn’t—changed. PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY / FURTHER READING Alberuni and Sachau, Edward C (translator, 1888); Alberuni’s India; Rupa Publications, Delhi, 2002 Asher, Catherine B., Cynthia Talbot; India before Europe; Cambridge University Press, 2006 Battuta, Ibn (Translated and selected by H. A. R. Gibb); Travels in Asia and Africa; 1325–1354, London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1929 Berzin, Alexander; 'History of Buddhism in Afghanistan'; Dutta, Amartya Kumar; ‘Aryabhata and Axial Rotation of Earth’; Resonance, Vol.ll, No.4, pp. 56–74, 2006 Eaton, Richard M.; India in the Persianate Age 1000–1765; Allen Lane, 2019 Erik Gregersen (editor); The Universe: A Historical Survey of Beliefs, Theories, and Laws; Britannica Educational Publishing, 2009 Kulke, Hermann and Rothermund, Dietmar, A History of India, Psychology Press, 2004 Kunitzsch, Paul (2003); ‘The Transmission of Hindu-Arabic Numerals Reconsidered’, in J. P. Hogendijk; A. I. Sabra (eds.); The Enterprise of Science in Islam: New Perspectives; MIT Press, pp. 3–22 Polo, Marco (Translated and Introduction by Ronald Latham); The Travels of Marco Polo; Penguin Books, 1958 Saliba, George; ‘Al-Bīrūnī’, Encyclopaedia Britannica; Retrieved Aug 12, 2017 Samarqandi, Abd al-Razzaq; Narrative of My Voyage into Hindoostan, and the Wonders and Remarkable Peculiarities which This Country Presents; Written after his 1442–45 voyage and translated from Persian into English in 1857. Thapar, Romila; Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300; Penguin, 2003 Thapar, Romila; ‘Somanatha and Mahmud’; Frontline, Volume 16 - Issue 8, Apr. 10 - 23, 1999 Thapar, Romila; Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History; Verso. 2005 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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