Reference to Zoroastrianism, fire-temples, Persian empire in Michael Woods’ “Story of India” TV documentary on PBS


On Monday, January 5, 2009, some of you may have seen a TV documentary “Story of India” on Public Television stations. In Southern California it was shown on KCET TV channel at 9 p.m. local time.

In it he traces the history of India from pre-historic times – migration of human race from African continent to South India, early religion involving worship of mother-goddess, followed by Aryan invasion from north of India and first settlements in the Indus river valley area known as Harappa and Mohenjodaro (in today’s Pakistan), marking the first known big cities with populations estimated to be over 100,000 people.

Then he traces where the Sanskrit language and the Aryan people came from, and based on excavations by Russian archaeologists, concludes that the Aryans originally were living in Turkmenistan area of Central Asia, where they discovered remains of Zoroastrian temples. Then, due to shift of a river, the Aryans move westwards (implying Iran ?).

He goes on to talk about the many battles within the Aryan tribes, referring to the big one mentioned in the Indian epic, Mahabharata, that occurred during the time of Krishna, with some archaelogical evidence that lends credence to the reality associated with the legendary story.

Referring to the Hindu religious practices, he talks about the Soma drink that had many health benefits, and the Soma plant from which the drink was made as a leafless plant (twigs) that he was able to purchase in Peshawar, Pakistan, but which plant does not grow in India. We know that the Persians pronounce the letter “s” as the letter “h”, thus in our rituals we have the Homa plant and juice derived from it.

Then he talks about how the invasion of Alexander the Macedonian changes things in Asia, showing brief flashes from the recent movie “Alexander” including the defeat of Persians at Guagemala battlefield, etc. and his invading northern India upto what is today’s Amritsar in the state of Punjab.

Moving forward he then talks about the rise of Gautama Buddha and the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, and their principles of detachment from material desires and non-violence, and then, referencing the contemporary Greek philosophers (giving credit to them of introducing the concept of reason as different from traditional Hindu religion).

The disappointing lapse of Michael Wood here was:  not mentioning Prophet Zarathushtra among the giants of religious founders and not giving him credit for introducing the concept of rational thinking and emphasis on using reason in addition to listening to elders and religious leaders.

Then, Michael Wood continues to talk about the great Indian King, Chandragupta Maurya who drives out Alexander’s greek armies and establishes the first great Indian empire with its capital in the city of Patna (in today’s Bihar state?), and who in old age renounces his kingship and becomes a monk follower of the Jain guru in South India.

Following this he talks about how King Chandragupa’ s grandson, Ashoka the Great starts out as a brutal king, but after his invasion of the kingdom of Kalinga (in today’s state of Orissa) and a battle victory that massacres many people, he feels an inner sadness and regret, and he gives up violence, taking up the teachings of Buddha and inscribing many pillars with teachings of rights of human beings, animals, environment, etc. Here Michael Wood hails Ashoka’s inscriptions as the oldest human rights charter that is in the United Nations, and neglecting to mention that Persian King Cyrus the Great had written the oldest known human rights charter on the clay cylinder, a copy of which is in the United Nations.

Our community leaders need to get in touch with Michael Wood through influential people in England and educate him about Prophet Zarathushtra and his teachings which introduced the concept of rational thinking (as menitoned by none other than the late American philosopher, Joseph Cambell on his TV series on Eastern religions), and about Cyrus the Great and his human rights charter on a clay cylinder, etc.


Maneck Bhujwala

One comment

  • I saw that show too and noticed the exact same things. However, I don’t exactly fault Michael Woods, the show is about India and it’s culture– not Persian/ Zoroastrian culture. I’ll just say– politely –that a certain amount of artistic license is usually given to highlight a nation’s or cultures achievements.

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