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The first Indians

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The Telegraph Online   |   Published 23.04.08, 12:00 AM

The next time you go to Chennai, know that your roots lie there. The first Indians’ DNA has been found in Tamil Nadu.

Geneticists from the University of Madurai tested the DNA of tribal villagers in Tamil Nadu to get a clue about our migrational history. Professor Ramasamy Pitchappan tested a man called Virumandi and in his DNA (Gene-M130) was the marker of the first human migration that took place some 70,000 years ago. In fact, all non-Africans on the planet supposedly trace their descent from those early migrations into India.

Discovery Channel has launched a six-part series called The Story of India last Wednesday which is replete with such revelations.

Through the series, historian and series narrator Michael Wood embarks on a journey through India to uncover the dazzling achievements and the dramatic history of the world’s oldest, richest and most influential civilisation. In the series, he will look to the present for clues to its past and to the past for clues to its future.

In a village in Kerala, an ancient clan of Brahmins performs a 12-day-long religious ritual for the God of Fire. For centuries these mantras have been passed down from father to son, among Brahmins. But some of the mantras are in no known language. Only recently have outsiders been allowed to record them. They discovered that whole tracts of the ritual were sounds that followed rules and patterns but had no meaning. The nearest analogue came from the animal kingdom; it was a birdsong! These sounds, perhaps, date back to before human speech evolved.

The series will take the audience to the time of the Roman Empire in the West when India became a great player in the first global economy, with the spice routes and the silk roads opening up. The series also tells the story of the forgotten empire of the Kushans that ruled India in the first centuries AD: one of the greatest and least-known empires in history whose story can only now be told with the recent decoding of their language.

The last episode takes the story to the present day — how India continues to be a land of amazing contrasts: housing the high-tech brilliance of Bangalore’s Silicon Valley beside the archaic splendour of the Kumbh Mela.

The show airs every Wednesday at 8pm, with an encore every Sunday at 11am.

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