Nainsukh: Pictures in Motion
The famed 18th century painter's creations are set in motion by filmmaker Amit Dutta in this biopic on Nainsukh's life and work. Visually stunning and remarkably silent with the exception of dialogues that one can count on his fingers, the movie forces the viewer to focus on the visual aspect of this docu-drama, rather than tell the story in the typical style of period dramas. Dutta has recreated the lifestyle of the princes of medeival India, who had succumbed to a life of pleasure and opulence, as the country around them slowly and steadily fell to the colonial power of the British. Nainsukh served at the court of Jasrota, a princely state in Jammu, and captured the most private moments of his patrons in a style that shifted from the symbolic to the realistic, although retaining the suggestive aspect of Indian art.
Its a treat for one's eyes, and accessible quite easily on Vimeo. All you need is a credit card to rent this video for $5, and 2 hours of uninterrupted viewing time. Access the video here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/nainsukh
Parvati Sharma's 'Jahangir - An intimate Potrait of a Great Mughal' is an easy read for history buffs and the average reader alike. As the name suggests, the author stays away from going too wide on the topic, and instead stays focused on building a potrait of Jahangir, bringing out his many traits, explaining some of the decisions for which he has earned enough slack from historians, and also deepens the contrast between the personalities of the whimsical prince and his larger than life father. Sharma brings alive the Mughal household that often fades into the background as major political conflicts and military events take centre stage.
Definitely worth the hours and makes for a fantastic read for the curious history reader !
An often neglected part of Indian history that is overshadowed by the Vijayanagar empire and later exploits of Shivaji, this refreshing summary of the few centuries that passed before the Deccan came under the sway of Maratha rule, sets a great backdrop to commonly known history of the Deccan plateau. Manu Pillai writes with fluency and creates enough peaks of interest throughout the narrative to make it difficult to put the book down. His tongue in cheek style of humour is welcome from an otherwise drab impression of history writing for common readers. The book captures the period between the downfall of the Vijayanagar empire and the rise of Maratha warlords. If you have any questions about this era, this is the book that will give you most if not all the answers!
Sometimes we give so much importance to chronology and time periods when writing history, we tend to forget that time is but the track on which the much bigger element of history, the human story itself, keeps progressing...it is easy to miss the story in the bid to trace the tracks...was reading Manu Pillai’s ‘The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin’ which appears at first to be a random collection of essays but is actually a portfolio of carefully selected stories that add up to relate the bigger story of Indian consciousness.
William Dalrymple, the Scottish historian who reminded India of its many forgotten stories, starting with his hit 'White Mughals (2002)' and then going on to win hearts with 'The Last Mughal (2006)' , 'Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (2012)', has now brought the journey forward with 'Anarchy' which goes deep into the events that led to India falling into British hands. The infamous Battle of Plassey that every Indian regretfully remembers from school historu textbooks, finally comes alive in a way that only Dalrymple could paint. How did a trading company come to rule such a vast country? Why did Indian rulers not put up a stiff resistance? What were the conditions that led to the fall of the mighty Mughals? Read all of this and more in Dalrymple's magnum opus !
This book is as much a history of Ashoka, as his discoverers. If you want to know how the ancient king's memory was recovered from the ruins of Sarnath and Sanchi, and the stone and pillar inscriptions that he left behind as his legacy, this is the right book for you. Charles Allen goes through the process of reconstructing Ashoka, from the point where the early antiquarians did not even know of his existence, to the point where Ashoka had archaeological circles in India buzzing with excitement as his ancient script was deciphered, and a 2000 year old truth came to light, once again.
Sudha Shah has made a great contribution to South Asian and Asian history overall, with this book that chronicles the event preceding and following the exile of one of the mightiest Asian monarchs, the Emperor of Burma (now Myanmar). Indian readers would be intrigued with the king's story, especially because he spent most of his exiled life in the scenic coastal town of Ratnagiri, in Maharashtra. Palace intrigues, royal egos, and small town scandals that could inspire many a film maker, but somehow unknown to most people in India nad Myanmar, the story of King Thibaw is one that leaves the reader feeling thrilled and remorseful at the same time. Shah's research is solid, and her capacity to capture the various details of the Burmese king's journey from Mandalay to Maharashtra, and from a life of luxury to penury, makes this book one of the most important works on Asian history.
The first history of Buddhism available to us, thanks to the efforts of a 16th century Buddhist monk, Taranatha, who compiled the development of Buddhism from a humble sermon of the Buddha to becoming India's most subscribed religion at one point in time. Scholars have heavily depended on this version ever since it was translated, first into Russian and then German. Relatively unknown in India, this is a modern day translation in English by Lama Chimpa and Alaka Chattopadhyay.
Evolutionary Biologist, Dan Liebermann, tells us a fascinating tale of our own body! He takes the reader on a journey through the many twists and turns that finally resulted in the human body being in its present day form. As you read, you will realize how much we have adapted to the modern day needs of work and comfort, with little or no understanding of how that may affect our evolutionary adaptations. From our sitting posture to the way we run, everything is impacting our bodies, without us realizing it, until we start experiencing the issues that arise as a result. Reading this book will surely make you appreciate several gifts of adaptation that are otherwise taken for granted.
Like the title gives away, this is a biopic on Chenghiz Khan. However, if you are looking for a movie that details his entire life, this is not the movie. This film gives you the story of how the Mongol, Temujin Borjigin, rises all the way up to become Chenghiz Khan, the emperor of China and Mongolia.
Stunning landscapes transport the viewer into the steppes, and the wild Mongolian spirit becomes apparent with it. Some visuals like the journey of the Buddhist monk through the desert or Temujin being put up as an exhibit in a cage outside a rich Chinese man's house, make this movie quite unforgettable. I am writing this review nearly 8 years after watching it, and those scenes still come alive.
Great if you find a good, subtitled copy either on Amazon or on some online platform. The movie was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Perhaps, a rare Kazakhstan film that made it to the Academy Awards. Definitely worth a watch! To find more information, check it out on IMDB https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416044/
India's favourite English author, Amitav Ghosh, leaves you spellbound with his storytelling skills, weaving an enormous South Asian quilt of history and fiction, that stretches from the palace for a king in exile on the western coast of India to the trading colony of Indian merchants in Canton. The most thrilling adventure, set in early colonial India, when opium laced dreams lured white men to take extreme risks and not stop at committing heinous crimes against slave and savant alike. Ghosh introduces a new language that takes us back to the time when the Sahib's own tongue had begun to wiggle and waggle with newly acquired terms of conducting life and business in the sun-scorched plains of Northern India. It is the tale of the warm sappy blood that flowed from those poppy flowers and their growers in the fields of Bihar and Bengal and painted the walls of the mansions and stockholding corporations in London, where unsuspecting Memsahibs sipped Darjeeling tea and nibbled cinnamon flavoured pastries. Read it to know what happened to the Indian nobility and honour as an unkown system of creating wealth took it by surprise and force, changing its fate, forever.
Are you intersted in knowing a chronological story of India, without getting bored by the chronology itself? John Keay's India will not disappoint you then. Keay, who has more than a few history texts to his credit, progresses sequentially, yet selectively, giving the reader a glimpse into the evolution of India's political history. Its a buffet of historical periods, and if you don't care about following the courses, just feel free to randomly dig into any part of the saga, without having to worry about the loss of continuity. Essentially, for those who never quite enjoyed the history textbook in school, and were looking for interpretaion rather than protracted and discursive stacking of facts. If you like his India, make sure you also read John Keay's China.
Moriz (Maurice) Winternitz's gigantic work of comprehending and containing the history of Indian literature from the Vedas to the Vedanta, from Buddhist Triptakas to Kalidas's Shakuntal is one of the greatest contributions to Indian history. Relatively unknown to Indians themselves, the chronology of Indian literary evolution serves as a timeline of cultural evolution as well. He managed this while living in Europe, working from the university in Prague. It is a feat that remains unsurpassed by any Indian born historian. One of the lesser known facts about Winternitz is his proximity to two giants of his era - Max Mueller and Albert Einstein. Naturally, in such august company, he must have felt compelled to compile his own master work. Start with any of the volumes, though I personally enjoyed the first volume more than anything, given its clear explanation of the structure of India's oldest literature, the Vedas and the Upanishads. The 3rd volume is also quite engrossing as it glides over the monumental work in drama by Bhasa and Kalidas. The size of the volumes could scare one, but as you dive into the content, it is the very depth that will keep you engaged.
Jadunath Sarkar is the foremost authority on Mughal history, and does not need an introduction for the initiated. However, for those who aren't aware of this man's accomplishments, it is important to mention here that his 4 volumes on 'The Fall of the Mughal Empire' are quoted without exception by any writer who attempts to capture the events following Aurangzeb's death and the rise of British power in India. Speaking of Sarkar's determination, he was so impressed by Shivaji's role in the beginning of the fall of the Mughal empire, which started with the Maratha king causing deep fractures in the empire's invincibility, that Sarkar made over 80 trips to Maharashtra in the early 20th century, when modern means of transport and communication were almost non-existent. As a result he produced a detailed history of Shivaji in the two epics 'House of Shivaji' and 'Shivaji and his times'. However, Sarkar's mastery comes out with no other subject like Aurangzeb. He paints the story of the sixth and last of the Great Mughals, in a deep, yet not necessarily intimate manner. He remains focused on his work as a historian, rather than being bothered by the concerns of readership. His art was always in the detail that he brought out with every subject that he undertook in his life. Before you read any other biopic of Aurangzeb, read this work to get a full view of the Mughal emperor's life and times.
John S. Strong specializes in Buddhist studies and with emphasis on the Buddha's biography, relics, and the legends and cults of South Asia. A number of his books serve as reference material for students of Buddhist history. The Legend of King Asoka is one such book that presents all the versions of Ashok, as remembered in Buddhist literature. 'Remembered' because there is no contemporary literary source for Ashok. The legend on Ashok contained in the Divyavadana and the Sri Lankan legend Mahavamsa, were written a few centuries after Ashok. However, it is important to read these legends as they are the only literary source for his history besides Ashok's own edicts. The Puranas do tell a story of Ashok as well, but it is more or less a blend of these legends. Captivating despite the great detail in which the book is written, it is a must read for any student of Ashokan and Buddhist history.
The name Farzana is given to the central figure of this biopic by the author of this book, the late Julia Keay, since the protagonist's given name is unknown, and the plaques installed in her honour only read her later Christian name, Joanna. However, she was awarded the title of 'Farzand-i-Azizi' or 'Beloved Daughter (of the state)' by none less than the Mughal Emperor himself. Therefore, the author chose the name Farzana, in a bid to dignify the memory of this distinguished lady, who started her life in such obscure circumstances that even her real name was not considered worthy of mention, until she found a white jagirdar and turned into his Begum or Begum Sumroo as she is known more popularly in history.
Published posthomously, this biography is a tribute to Begum Sumroo herself as much as the author's keen interest in Indian history and life. The Begum, relatively uknown to the common Indian, and lost to popular history, her image resembles one of the Mughal era stories of courtesans turning into political figures who operate from behind the purdah. Only, in the Begum's case, she never operated in purdah. She rode into battle like any other commander of armies, and she faced court room matters like a regular noble. The only time she made an exception for the purdah was when faced with an important guest who could be embarassed to deal with a woman outside the purdah. Begum Sumroo outlived and outlasted her contemporaries, living all the way into her eighties, a rare feat for her time and age, and also outdid many who tried to wrest her beloved jagir of Sardanah from her benevolent care.
Read the book with the expectation of a biopic but do not be surprised if you discover more than just one biopic in there. Other characters like Walter Rheinhardt, the emperor Alam Shah II, and Mahadji Shinde, also make a large part of the book. A wholesome treat for a lover of the 18th-19th century politics in India.
The most comprehensive history of the Mughal empire's decline starting with Aurangzeb's death in 1707. Interestingly, the book does not end in the rebellion of the privincial rulers against the British in 1857, but with the fall of the Maratha empire in 1803 on the battlefield of Assaye. This becomes clear only as you work through the four volumes, and realize that the fall of the Mughal empire is as much a fall of the Maratha state as well. Once sworn enemies, the Mughals and Marathas, worked out a symbiotic relationship, in the face of adversities, especially the ones that came in the form of foreign invasions from Iran and Afghanistan. Unknown to most Indians, the Marathas were the only force holding up the Mughal or Chugtai banner as it was known, to ensure indigenous rule in the country, regardless of differences in faith and ideology.
This 4 volume set is a fascinating tale of shifting loyalties, unprecendented alliances, and bitter betrayals that became the new normal of 18th century politics in India.
If you are looking for a coffee table book with substance, then this could be a great addition to illustrated books in you collection. Painted by Indian artistes, the illustrations of daily life in 19th century India came to be known collectively as Indian Company Paintings. Humble professions of the weaver, tailor and farmer, rarely make it to the pages of big history. This book gives you an artful glimpse into the lives of these ordinary people who produced the revenue for the mighty emperors and princes who hog all the space in history textbooks.
It is an untended gift to the modern Indian people, from the very people who once ruled and ruined these indigenous professions and industries. A gift for every Indian to remember what made India the fabled land of treasures.