In a three-part voyage of discovery into the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent, art historian Dr. Sona Datta, former curator of the South Asia collection at the British Museum, travels 5000 years into the past along the arterial Indus River. Giving its name to the region, the waterway flows from Tibet, through India and Pakistan as far as Karachi on the Arabian Sea. From an extremely well informed viewpoint Datta highlights how the changing course of the Indus has shaped the artwork, architecture and people of an area long-riven by religion over the course of millennia, now all too frequently associated with the Taliban and the export of Islamic extremism.
Ali Sehti, a young writer and musician interviewed in Lahore, states that his native Pakistan is “politically very young and culturally very old”. The country gained independence from British rule just a little over 70 years ago and Datta is acutely aware of the effect that the past continues to have on the present in the Indus basin and its millions of inhabitants.
The first installment, which begins and ends in the vibrant and spiritual Punjabi provincial capital, looks into the changing perception of Buddha and representation of Buddhism in antiquities and architecture. We travel by train to the ancient City of Harappa, which dates back to the time of the pyramids; to Hund and Sirkap – where the Hellenic influence of a conquering Alexander the Great altered the physical image of Buddha we are familiar with to this day; and lastly to Taxila and a monastery used as a centre for learning.
Just as the river continues to flow, works of art destroyed by ISIS demonstrate how history has a tendency to repeat itself – conflict and religious discord remain intertwined. Dr. Datta’s ‘Treasures of the Indus’ promises to provide viewers with an element of adventure and wanderlust as well as engaging historical, anthropological and cultural material which lifts the veil on this region’s past and proves you must know where you have been to know where you’re going.