Michael Wood’s The story of India, another misleading programme

One of the most annoying things to watch on TV is the way that some documentaries, especially historical programmes attempt to skim the surface of history.

I can understand tight recording schedules but to miss out fundamental aspects of history is an absolute sin and should be exposed immediately.

What really got me the other day was the way that Michael Wood, (The Story of India, Friday, 9pm, BBC TWO) painted an incorrect image of the Mughal empire. He misrepresented them, suggesting them as attempting to create harmony between the various religions. He missed out communicating their barbaric acts of ethnic cleansing that are truly unforgivable.

In addition, although he mentioned Sikhs for approx 2 minutes of footage, he made no attempt to explain who the Sikhs are and continuing to be defenders of the defenseless.

I also find it amazing that the same people are selected again and again to cruise around the word, for example, Michael Palin.

Back to my issue with Michael Wood. Although I find his presentation style, engaging and enthusiastic, what are we being presented with? Is it his opinion or is there simply not enough time to research fully such sensitive areas? Michael is described at the BBC shop site as…
’an historian and acclaimed writer’. I’m sure he is but what went wrong? There is no doubt that the filming is outstanding but documentaries are about more than landscapes, they are about documenting the truth!

At a recent couple of presentations I suggested that Sikhs need to create more media, for example documentaries, both audio and video, else we may have a situation on our hands where the media could potentially distort the truth.

The problem is that creating media takes time and dedication. We have to applaud www.siknet.com for their outstanding work, together with the Spinning Wheel festival – These initiatives help us all communicate positive messages.
This years participant categories range from juniors to the age of 126!
If you get a chance, watch the videos online and be impressed with the dedication that participants have put into create unique and engaging content.

It is such as shame that if you type in Michael Wood, The Story of India into Google, all you are returned with is a list of products, DVDs and books. Some damage has been done!

We need more curators to validate what is being researched, recorded and then eventually communicated. We need these people to have no political agendas or miss-out essential facts.
We need to speak-up against a potential tide of distortion.

We can only do this if we become so prolific in our investment in national education and a hope that truth will prevails.

Categories: 2007, Sikhs

19 replies

  1. I was actually surprised that the Sikhs were mentioned at all in Mr Wood’s documentary. For some reason Sikhs are almost forgotten in History.

    Unfortunatley all programme makers are afraid to criticise any one of the Muslim faith. So Mr Wood barely mentioned if at all Babur and Auranzeb’s atrocities and decided to concentrate on Akbar’s reign. Mentioning that he gifted the land in Amritsar where Harmandir Sahib stands today.

    I’ve not seen the next programme in the series yet which is supposed to explore the British Raj, but again would be surprised if the Sikhs are mentioned in particular Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

  2. I happened to See the programme the other day!!
    Michael wood doesn’t portray the Mughals to be a bridge for harmony among different cultures but only elaborates on how Akbar, being an illiterate, still had the rationality to foresee religious tolerance!! his policies related to that! He mentions Akbar, not the Mughals at a whole. In his show, he shows the mughals to be believers in Sufism, yet Akbar broke the ground rules, and worked for religious tolerance. His work was so astounding towards humanity as a whole, he got letters from the king of spain and the queen of england itself!!
    All in All Woods in his series… is picking up pieces of our glorious past! And not undermining it!!

  3. I’m certainly not suggesting that Mr Woods is not a celebrated historian.
    I’m simply fed up with the way that the Mogul empire is not viewed in the way that is true.
    The BBC have written to me about this particular episode and suggested that budgets et al can influence end product.
    I’m personally not able to reconcile this as the empires obessiveness with ethnic cleansing should not be hidden.
    It is a bit like selective praise for the Nazi’s!
    Akbar may have been more liberal than others but points made about the mogul empire need to be clear from both a regime perspective. Millions were killed and all in the most brutal of manners.
    In summary, yes Mr Woods may have been remarking about Akbar but in the same sentence he needs to balance the moguls destructive nature from a generational perspective.

    • @drsavi Your concerns are right in the essence, but first of all I would like to clear up a couple of things:
      This is not even a tiny bit like selective praise for the Nazis……… one of the nazis’ PRIMARY AMBITIONS was ethnic cleansing, while in the case of akbar, it was rather more like a secondary idea…..
      Also, this not exactly like lying,he just did not give the full truth. You are propably aware of it, but i would still like to tell you that this is called truth by ommision, and the concept has been around for a long time……………

      Now back to the main point, The primary reason that wood didn’t mention akbar’s atrocities is that, to put it bluntly, the documentary is ‘the story of india’ and not ‘the story of akbar’. Michael wood, through his documentary, is trying to capture the progress, the changes and the evoulution in india through all this years and the important people’s contribution to it.
      Akbar’s acts, althogh terrible, were not significant when you are looking at the overall story and trying to capture the important moments of the story that were the cornerstones of progress and change.
      As an afterthought, i think that you have so much pent up anger at akbar for committing those horrendous acts, that you are directing some of it at wood because his documentary shows only what he contributed towards the good of the nation and not his darker side. But if you look at the whole thing in an unbiased and professional way from the point of view of a layman, you will realise that wood is innocent here.

  4. for any historian facts are important . take the archeological approach; start from what can be seen now and remove the layers. Read regional histories . why there were so many reformers [ Hindu Sikh Parsee Jain…
    Brahmanical saints as also Veerashaiva mystics never mentioned . aliens who invaded and converted eminent persons specially Brahmins forcibly as ;then they could have a distinguished community [ good genes] . these things are known to some families by word of mouth

  5. Atleast sikhs were mentioned.The Maratha empire wasnt even mentioned once which was once a strong and long ruling indigenous empire…

  6. I enjoyed the documentary.The vast rich History of my country can never be discussed or shown in a mere 6 episode long documentary.Woods tried , and so a huge thank you to him.Many things were not mentioned,be it dynasties,personalities,battles or communities..but i feel that it can be overlooked.I wont call it Wood’s ignorance,(as whatever were missed cant be ignored) but rather his subtle attempt to keep the documentary interesting and fast paced.The chalukyas,pahlavas,rashtrakutas,gurjarapratihars, and many other dynasties were not mentioned…not even Harsha.The Sens of Bengal too were left out.Maratha and Rajputs prominently not talked about.He started talking about the Delhi sultanate with Ghazni but missed its famous sultans like Iltutmish and Balban,further missing to mention khaljis or Tughlaqs.And when came to the advent of the British,he didnt mention the Battle of Plassey(1757).So yes things were missed,but things were mentioned too.More than the time of the dynasties,i enjoyed the pre-dynasty era,the fact he called it our”own” history,i liked it.All in all,it was enjoying and worth a watch.

  7. Yes it is surprising that nobody talks about vijayanagara empire which spanned for 350 years where as the main moghul rule(from akbar to aurangazeb) was just 150 years, also the great hemu who won 21 straight battles and due to too civilized rules of hindu war practices they surrendered to moghul army(just because hemu was killed in the battle). Also all the military campaigns of akbar were led by man singh (a hindu) without whom them they cannot get foot hold, after too much brutality the moghul was sacked by maratas who ruled more land than moghuls ever had…These things are all missing….

    • Aren’t these things missing in our history textbooks as well ?? Our textbooks continue to patronize mughals while empires like the marathas , the vijayanagara empire which encompassed almost the whole of south India , the sikh guru’s etc continue to be partially mentioned . So the fact remains that most of us Indians remain blissfully unaware of many of such things and our education board is exactly to blame.

  8. @author – I found the documentary nice .. Yes there were some flaws but we Indians also tend to patronize Mughals , for instance look at the textbooks of school kids . Except for Maharashtra , The history textbooks Go on and on about the Mughals and their achievements particularly Akbar but as for brave leaders like Chattarpati Shivaji maharaja and Sikh Guru’s , they are given very limited coverage . I studied in Madhya Pradesh and Shivaji maharaja was only mentioned for about 3 pages while the Mughals and the Delhi sultanate had the whole textbook . And our textbooks see mughal kings albeit the later ones like aurangzeb in a good light especially Akbar .

    And Michael woods mostly appreciates India . He called Tamil Nadu the only surviving classical civilization of the world which is exactly true. He also mentioned in an interview that Indian classical languages like tamil and sanskrit are far older that the modern european languages and that europeans should stop assuming that the european languages are superior (not his exact words ) He also appreciates that India is modern yet it maintains its connections with its roots . I just found it irksome that he promoted the Aryan migration theory which i believe is false and he was sort of partial towards mentioning the british rule in india for instance he mentions allen octavian hume in a good light for forming of congress but as we all know that he created it for selfish purposes .

    But on the whole it was an okay documentary and shows India in a glorious light albeit some instances . Atleast thats what i felt.

  9. Overall its positive about india and peoples, this we should appreciate. Definitly not possible to show entire history of india in 6 episode it will require 600 episode. Wood is basiscally a historian, and for historians only things such as art, culture, commerce, philosophy matters.
    Buddism was given much needed attention, the profound impact it had on history of the world. Religion that came after buddism, were completly related to buddism.
    Another main highlights is trade & commerce, india was good at this historically. World history is completly interlinked and not happening in isolation as we think.
    That histroy is not about war, hatred and violence as told in many history books, its about the common people whos name we never know (100% true in 21st century – People governing India has a lot to learn).

  10. Mr Woods call s himsef a historian. If he is historian then he should stick to history. Islam did not come to the Subcontinent with Mahmud Gaznawi. It came by Sea in the first century of Islan in 711 in Sindh by 7115 all what are now Pakistani eastern Provinces of Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir ( Pakistani and Indian ) but in those days called Sindh ( as in ancient days ) Mahmood Gazznawi came to aid Sindh against Indian Rajas who used to gether in Somnath and attack Islamic Sindh. He did that 16 times but in the end he crossed over into India 17 times and destroyed the head quarters of the Indian kings meeting plcace. It was Muhammad Ghori who succeeding to Mahmud Gaznawi invaded both ISindh and then India stablished Nuslim rule in India and for his administration put most of Sindh in India though what remaind of Sindh is now Pakistani Province of Sindh which remained more or less independent untill British comquered it in 1843. By the way Multan was part of Islamic Sindh and 100 percent Muslim when Mahmud Ghaznawi may have passed there over 400 years latter. There are many more facts of Islamic history which are cinveniently left out by Mr Woods. Just two small facts Akbar was not illitrate , He had two great schollars as his tutors, he was married to a Hindu Princess and his father had originally lost his thrown to Shair Shah Suri for 20 years and it was Surii who invented the modern Civil Srevice which the British copied and spread it to around the world.. I have learnet lot from Mr Wood regarding the pre Islamic period which is very interesting and have great love for Chandra Gupta and Ashka but as regards to Muslims in the Subcontinent as suggest he should aknowlede the his falls far short of a historian, And not more than the knowledge of an ordinary TOURISt.

    • I have nothing against muslims but the invaders whose rule was worse than the british . They raided temples , raped thousands of women and almost sabotaged the Hindu literature .

      People proudly associate mughals with India but i just see them as invaders and your shed shah sure was an afghan . They were all foreigners and the conquest was bloodier than the British.

      • Chiragh Aidsani. I think you seem to out do Mr Woody who has hardly scratched the surface of history of the subcontinent in contributing your bit to this very complex. Of the so called 5000 ( from what we know the history of the subcontinent is at least twice of that) years of Mr Wood’s 1200 years are occupied by Islamic period. And all that went looting, raping and destroying temples? The achievement of Muslims all around you if you care to look. Indeed Muslims cared far less in Islamic Sindh than they cared for India At least they did not take the wealth of the country out of India and sent to Iran, Arabia or Afghanistan. Regarding the literature they translated lots of Indian classical work and introduced them to the rest of the world. Muslims Introduced the subject of Psychology, knowledge of medicine and Arithmetic to West among many other subjects including classical stories within stories…Ocean of Stories. Had not been for the Muslims The world still would not know Zero or digits 1-9. Indeed in Arabic the digits are called Hindsah which roughly means Indian digits. All translated from ancient Sanskrit.

        As regards to Bloodier you have really crossed the boundary. Forget the for distance past. What about the Amritsar Massacre almost just before independence, What about 1857 genocide in Delhi alone 2 million people were murdered leave alone the rest of the Vast India. Yes before India came in the hands of your beloved Britain ( actually East India Company owned by Rothschild the Usurer until 1857 ) London was a city of wooden huts except for the rich merchants and royals. And India had far too advanced technology with lit streets for 3000 years, bric house, palaces, temples, mosques tombs studded with precious stones. More Gold in India than the rest of the Old World put together. Did you not read how they copied metal technology, Gun Making, Rocket making , colth manufacture of the kind that left them wide eyed. From Peshawar to the tip of South India, Hyderabad Sindh to Rajisthan to Lakhnow, to Daccan, Banagal. I can go on, sufficient to say, they destroyed bases of India’s technology, murdered technician, cut off the fingers of artisans, closed down universities and selectively killed thousands of scholars. India was reduced to stone age just producing raw materials to be exported to England and then sold to India at many times the price had it been made in India. Even cloth had to be imported as India was not allowed to manufacture its own cloth with its own cotton. Yes India was Reduced to live in huts while England was promoted to live in Stone Houses. India has yet to recover from this Mega Loots. I do not blame England for they played divide and rule game and there were enough traitors to devide the country in hundreds principalities and some provinces.

        As for Shair Shah Suri , yes he was of Afghan origin but was born in India and thus he identified himself with India During his rule he introduced a kind of social security which gave benefit to the unemployed and pensions to sick, widows, orphans and old. The security which in modern day neither India or Pakistan are willing to give to their citizens. Indeed Suri would often repeat ” Alas only if I had Seized power long ago I could have done so much for India “. To me he was among some the great rulers of India such as Chandra Gupta and Ashoka It is sad to that in India and Pakistan we so proud to mimic the culture of Upstarts but detest our fellow Asian.

  11. Historians like Michael wood are the reason that the most important event of the Indian History of the Mughal era, the Sikh history is given very little importance.. It is also the reason the West cannot understand certain issues like driving factors behind terrorism by Islamist extremists.. Michael Wood’s lack of understanding of motives of people like Jinnah, who he believes to be a secular person who wanted a united India, is typical of so called history experts. Jinnah wanted a united India as an Islamic state and not as a secular state. Anyone as naive as Michael woods should not be allowed to make misleading documentaries by BBC

  12. Isn’t there any indian historian who can present his own India in a better way? Why Michael Wood? I happened to see one of the similar programs (is it on ‘world history?’ don’t remember). Same observation there as well. With the name of national geographic, I expected something credible… But they also represented Mughals as Masiahs of religious harmony which is not. I am from Maharshtra, and the major part of known History of Maharshtra is itself struggle of Hindus Against religous brutality by Mughals.
    I turned the TV Off and lost faith on NG.

  13. There is no way Mr. Wood can summarize 5000 or more years of Indian history in 6 episodes. It was meant for people who are not familiar with Indian history including the children of NRI’s born abroad. I gave the DVD’s to many of my American friends and their appreciation for India’s rich past and culture has increased. I am thankful to Mr. Woods for this project. I also understand the concerns of many as addressed above. I hope some Indian historians will come up with more detailed history that will address different periods in more details.

  14. Unbeaten Mind I wrote this Novel and published in November. The story in this novel based on early Sikh immigrants to Canada and USA. I have tried my best to narrate the story with history and life of Sikhs. I would like to get some feed back from the Sikh community. My book is available with Amazon. At least you can read couple of chapters for free by searching the book on line. The name of the Novel The Unbeaten Mind.
    John Kunthara 832-344-0028

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: