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Ancient Egypt, here we come

Lakshmi Palecanda, Jan 13, 2013

Telly Review

Natural A scene from ‘Planet Egypt’

Fiction writers make up stories of fantastic people and places, and strange lives and beliefs, to enthrall their readers. However, historians have something even more powerful — Egyptology.

This study of the various aspects of ancient Egypt is invariably so fascinating that it can almost be called ‘Fact-ion’, where the truth is even more intriguing than fiction.

Why is this civilisation so intriguing to us? Firstly, the origins of this culture may border the dawn of civilisation and communal life as we know it. They stretch well past 30 BC or 5,000 years from today. In fact, it was first ‘discovered’ by ancient Egyptians themselves.

When King Thutmose IV was in power in the 13th century BC, he discovered the Sphinx which was buried up to its neck in sand, and excavated it. What must have been his thoughts when he saw this work of his ancestors, the colossal statue in all its glory?

Which brings us to the next and most important point. Ancient Egyptians were not a timid or retiring race by a long shot. They had a lot to say, and a legacy they wanted to establish. They understood the ephemeral nature of life, and sought to transcend mortality. And they thought big, as in huge, enormous, gigantic, colossal, intimidating.

Erecting structures that make the skyscrapers of today look flimsy, painting pictures with words that can be interpreted in today’s vernacular and make so much sense, thereby revealing the common thread that has flowed through the history of man, and following a philosophy and religion which make today’s concept of religion seem so pale and bloodless, the Egyptians have left enough artefacts for us to gawk at for the rest of our tenure on this planet.

The Narmer Palette is one of the oldest documents in the world at 5,000 years. And the Rosetta Stone, inscribed in 196 BC in three languages, helped crack the hieroglyphic ‘alphabet’ as it were, and decode an entire civilisation. Ramesses II built the temples of Abu Simbel, and Ramesseum, that are on par size-wise with the pyramids that were built 1,500 years before him.

The meticulous detail of these constructions fill us with a thirst to figure out what the lives of the people that lived on parched desert sands but thought in sophisticated, technicolor, and enduring ways.

This endless curiosity and fascination for the details and nuances of Egyptian civilisation are the driving force behind Discovery HD’s new groundbreaking series, Planet Egypt. This show endeavours to visualise the history, achievements and life in the times of ancient Egyptians.

It tries to give a complete picture of this wonderful barbaric-sophisticated civilisation as is possible to deduce from the plethora of sometimes contradictory, sometimes hyperbolic evidence that archaeology has uncovered.

From the tales surrounding the unification of Egypt under one rule, the military secrets of the Egyptian pharaohs, the unbelievable temples built to honour the pantheon of Egyptian gods, and inevitably, their quest for eternal life through their magnificent tombs, life has been poured into the two-dimensional figures we see on the hieroglyphics through dramatic re-enactments, and detailed 3D computer-generated imagery of places and events in colour.

The draw of this programme, however, is its narrative style which is more like story-telling in the present tense, than a historical drone that has been dehydrated and wrinkled by the heat of the ages.

You feel the immediacy of the hour, feel the heat, the dust, and relive those days in your drawing room, sitting in front of a television set. At the end of the show, you realise that the Egyptians have truly achieved their goal — immortality or life through the ages.


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