The term ‘India’ culturally and historically richer

Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

India and Bharat have both evoked the same emotions and patriotism among Indians for decades, but these labels of pride have now been weaponized for nefarious political ends. Opposition has claimed that invites to the G20 Summit dinner sent by the Rashtrapati Bhawan had ‘President of Bharat’ inscribed on them, instead of the customary ‘President of India’.

This started a buzz that a resolution to rename India Bharat may be brought in by the government during Parliament’s upcoming special session. However, given India’s rich tapestry of cultures and languages, a name change would invariably be rife with implications.

In today’s fast-paced world, we often take the names of countries for granted, rarely brooding their historical origins. This brings us to the fascinating query, “Who named Bharat or India or Hindustan. for the first time?”  The answer lies in a tapestry of history, entwined with tales of mighty rivers, mythical kings, and ancient texts.

The Republic of India has two principal short names, each of which is historically significant, India and Bhārat. A third name, “Hindūstān”, is sometimes an alternative name for the region comprising most of the modern Indian states of the Indian Subcontinent when Indians speak among themselves. The usage of “Bhārat”, “Hindūstān”, or “India” depends on the context and language of conversation and is used interchangeably in both formal and informal manners.

The word “India” is not linked with colonial slavery as propagated. Rather India’s naming origin brags of a vast and intricate lineage, tracing back to the Sanskrit word “Sindhu,” which signifies the mighty Indus River and the lower Indus basin. The Greeks, in their encounters around the 5th century BCE, labelled the region surrounding the Indus River as “India”.

This very term took a journey through time and languages, transitioning from Greek “Indikē” to Latin as “India. This nomenclature stemmed from the Sanskrit “Sindhu”. Later, the Romans embraced the Greek term, leading to widespread usage. British Influence British maps from the late 18th century favoured “India”, reducing “Hindustan” usage. By the 9th century, Old English literature mentioned “India”, and by the 17th century, the term had comfortably nestled into Modern English.

The river has been a dominant figure in shaping the region’s culture and history. The ancient Hindu scripture, the Rig Veda, contains mentions of this river. People residing along its banks were often termed “Indus.” Ancient texts have references to the name “India”. For instance, Megasthenes, in his piece “Indica” during the 4th century BCE, when he was an ambassador to the Mauryan Empire, gave detailed accounts of the nation under this name.

The alternative name “Bharat”, from Sanskrit, is linked to the legendary king Bharata. Contrarily, “Bharat” harks back to India’s mythological past. The roots of “Bharat”, “Bharata”, or “Bharatvarsha” are traced back to Puranic literature, and to the epic Mahabharata. The Puranas describe Bharata as the land between the “sea in the south and the abode of snow in the north. Some other says that at first, the name Bhārat referred only to the western part of the Gangetic Valley, but was later more broadly applied to the Indian subcontinent and the region of Greater India, as was the name “India”.

The name for India in several Indian languages, is mainly derived from the name of the Vedic tribe of Bharatas who are mentioned in the Rigveda as one of the principal kingdoms of the Aryavarta. This name originates from the Mahabharata, one of India’s two great epics. The name Bharat can go back to the time of the Great Emperor Bharata who is known as the initial conqueror of the whole subcontinent – India and the Republic of India. The great King Bharata was the son of Queen Shakuntala and King Dushyant. Some others say that Bharata is the son of Jain Tīrthaṅkara Rishabhanatha’.

Social scientist Catherine Clémentin-Ojha explained Bharata in the sense of a religious and socio-cultural entity, rather than a political or geographical one (India Express, September 7, 2023). ‘Bharata’ refers to the “supraregional and subcontinental territory where the Brahmanical system of society prevails”, Clémentin-Ojha wrote in her 2014 article, ‘India, that is Bharat…’: One Country, Two Names.

“Hindustan” is a third name for the Republic of India. With the myriad of cultures, languages, and histories that India embodies, it’s intriguing to ask, “Who gave the name Hindustan to India?” and delve into its significance. Rooted in ancient connections with the Achaemenids and Greeks, and later popularized during the Mughal rule, the name “Hindustan” has had a roller coaster journey, often intertwined with the nation’s identity. t was popular during Mughal rule. “Hindustan” is still common amongst Urdu scholars.

Hindustan’s origin stems from the Achaemenids’ term “Hind” to mark the lower Indus basin. Around the first century AD, the suffix “stan” joined in, painting the picture of “Hindustan.” The Greeks, influenced by the Achaemenids, embraced this by transliterating it to ‘Indus’. Transformation Suffix “stan” was added around the first century AD. 1750-1880 Shift “Hindustan” became linked with the Muslim minority. The British Empire preferred “India”, causing a shift in popular terminology.

January 26, 1950, marked the adoption of the Indian Constitution. It officially recognized the nation’s dual identity, referring to the country as “India that is Bharat”. However, as with many terms, the name shifts depending on the language or context it’s used in. Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’ offers a profound look into the nation’s rich history. Nehru seamlessly interwove the terms “India”, “Bharata”, and “Hindustan”, illustrating the diverse ways one can refer to this vast land.

Hindu nationalists foreground the argument that “Bharat” offers a culturally and historically richer connection. This is wrong. Calling our country “India” has more significance in the international arena too. According to famous mythologist and columnist Devdutt Pattanaik, unlike what is believed, the name India was not given by foreigners but was a deviation of the Sanskrit word Sindhu, meaning river. He further said “We have associated it with the Greeks…some people think it is the British but not really. Really uneducated people say such things. It is not even the Greeks. It is really from a Sanskrit word from the Rig Veda,” ( Business Today, September 6, 2023).

He said that first the Persians and then the Greeks’ inability to say the word eventually led to the word India. He also said that the term Bharat does not refer to the entire country but a specific region in the Northern part of the country. Explaining the origins of the word India, the mythologist said that the word India comes from the Sanskrit word Sindhu meaning river, “very specifically a river that passes across India for several hundred km before entering Pakistan”.

“From Sindhu comes the name Sindhadesha. But the Arabs could not pronounce ‘sa’ so they started using ‘ha’. So Saptasindhu became Haptahindhu, Sindh became Hind. And 2,500 years ago, we had the Persian king referring to India as Hind. The Greeks came to India and they couldn’t say ‘ha’, so they say ‘aa’ or ‘ee’. So, Indu, Indus, Indica,” he clarified. Pattanaik said that Greek historian Megasthenes wrote Indica but he really was referring to Sindhu. He also said that apart from Sindhu, India could have potentially been a reference to Lord Rama’s grandmother Indu or Indumati.

When it comes to ‘Bharat’, Pattanaik says that the term first comes from the Rig Veda as well. It is a reference to Bharata, king of the Bharata clan, who won the battle of ten kings. “Now Rig Veda happens only in the Kurukshetra region. You have the Mahabharata epic, again talking about the Bharata clan…and it happens only in the northern part of India.

According to him, the Kuru-Panchala region is what is today roughly Delhi, Mathura, up to Prayagraj. First, the word Bharatvarsh was carved in stone about 2100 years ago in Odisha in the Hathigumpha caves. You find this word Bharatvarsh but it is referring only to the Gangetic region, not to the entire India. So, the word Bharatvarsh refers to a certain part of North India…and it is a name given by Brahmins. So, when people say Bharat, Bharatkhand, Bharatvarsh, these are coming from Brahmin sources…something like Aryadesh, the land of Aryans. Bharata is a victorious king of the Aryans. So, it is a very North Indian Brahminical word that emerges,” he explained.

What is important is that can a poor nation like India afford such extraneous work which is highly expensive, time-consuming, and cumbersome especially when there is massive poverty, hunger, unemployment, and inequality.

(*The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected] )

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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