Mughals - the way history can be told through documentaries!

While it was commendable of Arvind Narayan Das to make D D Kosambi's seminal book into a documentary series, its rather sombre tone may not appeal to children (or even adults for that matter). Maybe the seriousness of the issues and themes raised merited such an approach - where history is not merely telling you something very empirical from the past but focusing more on the underlying forces and socio-economic processes that shape the more visible aspect of our past. But here we have this wonderful documentary on Mughals titled "The Mughal Empire" under the series called Warrior empires shown on the History Channel, which even as it focuses on empirical history makes for compelling viewing and offers very revealing insights into the way Mughals fought their war, the way they built their massive monuments and the 'class' they brought to the royal lifestyle.



Much of the works in history written today are largely concerned in giving insights into political economy and mode of production of a given epoch or a period. The problem with such an approach is that history then does not come to us, a lay reader (most certainly a school student) as lived history - something so experiential to which we can connect with our lived experience and contemporary perceptions. The more visible aspects of people's life in the past which one can easily relate has been jettisoned by many of the JNU or Aligarh Muslim University scholars in favour of the more processual approach. While I do not want to belabor such efforts but when will our JNU or Aligarh guys ever get to make their writings, their researches and their scholarship engaging as this wonderful documentary on Mughals does?? I wonder if any of the leading scholars of Mughal India i.e. the caucus headed by Irfan Habib in Aligarh Muslim University, his bete noire Sanjay Subhramanyam and his close associate from JNU Muzaffar Alam or even outside these loops like the late John Richards have and would ever present their researches and findings in such a simple way but yet deeply profound to which even a 10 year old can connect. ( As I see it the value, worth or popularity of a scholar in social science circles in India is directly proportional to his/her ability to be obscure, jargon ridden and convoluted. The less people understand you the better it is and more good are your chances to be taken seriously. So if more people including children can understand you, the lesser are your abilities and accomplishment as a scholar!! But guess you can counter this argument with this red herring: When not all can understand scientific journals with their formulas, theorems and calculations why expect history research to be any different eh??) Based on some modest reading on the Mughals including the book edited by Sanjay Subhramanyam and Muzaffar Alam titled 'The Mughal State' and parts of Irfan Habib's classic 'The Agrarian systems of Mughal India', (with their alleged claims of 'nuanced' and 'complex' study of aspects like economy, administration and state formation) I never obtained the kind of insights that this documentary puts across. Like for example the way Mughals fought their battles using the composite bows, the thick armoury used for their elephants, the muskets and pikes and the rockets used and how all these were fundamentally different from the arms and armaments and the battle strategies used by the predecessors of Mughals in India and elsewhere. And it is not just about battles and arms that this documentary is talking about. It also highlights certain aspects of Mughal architecture and gives certain rare insights into their building techniques. The rather imperceptible gradation they were able to give to their water ways to ensure gentle movement of water in their gardens that would make the right gurgling sound and thereby heighten the effect on one's presence in the beautiful gardens they designed!! This documentary left me breathless! With some brilliant animations (in 3D) and where even the siege by Akbar of the Chittaurgarh fort is so well simulated, this incisive documentary is a must watch. I'm offering this on my own website.

Not surprisingly not one scholar that an average student of Indian history (in India) would normally associate with the Mughals like Irfan Habib or Harbans Mukhia appear anywhere in the film giving their expert comments. Most are European and American. Many may perhaps argue that this documentary is more Hollywoodish in its approach and romanticizes the past. But who cares! Element of romance in right doses does a lot to heighten the appeal of the past and study of history. In the process this documentary is so engagingly made that one just wishes that Arvind N Das's work too would have had some slick elements and made half as exciting as this one! Happy viewing!

In sequential order - The first episode is a general introduction to Mughals, the second and third episodes deal with Babur. The next three episodes are about Akbar and the weapons used by Akbar's army. The fourth, fifth and sixth episode delves elaborately into Akbar's campaign against Chittaurgarh. The final episode is on Fateh pur Sikhri.

{Good Broadband connectivity will be needed. Alternatively you can press the play button and then pause it. Allow the film to load (the time for the film to load completely will depend on your bandwidth) and then press the play button again for uniteruppted viewing.}

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