June 17, 2010

UCLA History 9A - History of India

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Update: This podcast no longer appears to be available online.

Available at the course website.

Finding podcasts on ancient history which do not focus on Mediterranean civilisations is very hard. The only one I have found so far is UCLA’s History 9A – History of India course. This is a recording of the lectures given as part of the university course by Vinay Lal at the end of 2009. However, the course encompasses far more than the ancient history for which I was searching. Starting with the first civilisations, it races through history to end with Indian Independence and Partition.

This course is not available on iTunes but there is a course website with the lectures in both MP3 audio-only and video in real player format. Unfortunately, two of the lectures were not recorded. The 27 recorded lectures are around 50 minutes in length and 24MB (for the MP3s, I didn’t watch the videos). As is normal with recorded lectures there is some class discussion taking up the first few minutes of each podcast. The course reading is also available from the class website. Professor Lal occasionally mentions visual aids, but video is available. Production quality is otherwise fine and the material is presented in an interesting manner.

The podcasts start with the Indus Valley Civilisation (in what is modern Pakistan), one of the three early human civilisations along with Egypt and Mesopotamia). These people were replaced by the Aryans (no relation to the Nazi Aryans) in some disputed manner. From there the course quickly skips to Hindu religion and culture, telling Indian history through Hindu texts. I imagine a similar history of Europe could be told through early Christian texts, but it would miss much. In Europe, there were many non-religious texts; the lectures suggest that in comparison, Hindu texts are the main primary sources for ancient Indian history.

In any case the lectures on Hinduism are quite interesting if you don’t already know much about the religion. The course covers the content of the main Hindu texts from the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Puranas and a little on the Bhakti poets. It is intriguing to see how some Hindu concepts such as Karma or Yoga have been transformed in western culture. Yoga is a much larger concept then physical exercise and describes many methods of achieving the goals of life. The Hindu gods also have many avatars – incarnations or personifications of aspects of the god. One of the avatars of the main god Vishnu is Buddha – this avatar appeared at a time when Buddhism was expanding in India. The lectures also detail the basic beliefs of Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism (including a discussion on its disappearance from India) – all of which have their origins in India.

After the arrival of Islam towards the end of the first millennium AD, the course returns to a more traditional history format. As there is still a thousand years to the present day, the coverage of events can be succinct. Starting with the Delhi Sultanate, Muslim rule of India continued with the Mughal Empire
, which succumbed to the East India Company. It seems strange to have a country ruled by a foreign company and Professor Lal spends some time detailing how this occurred. The subsequent rule (and sometimes, misrule) of the British Empire is covered, with the final lecture detailing Gandhi and his policy of nonviolent civil disobedience leading to independence.

Not knowing much about Indian history other than the basics, I can’t say I learnt a huge amount more through this podcast, although there are occasional worthwhile tidbits. However, I did learn a huge amount about Hinduism. It covers all Indian history in an introductory sweep.


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