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INDIA – What’s in a name?


>> A Blast from the past

What is in a name? Very much if the wit of man could find it out.”‘ Whoever penned this well known saying undoubtedly had it right. While a rose by any other name would surely smell as sweet, so does any name ~ even if it be the name of country like India.

Over centuries India has had many names meaning different things to different people. You might have heard some of such names for India like Bhaarat, Bhaarata Ganarajya, Bhaaratvarsha, Baharat, Tenjiku, Jambudvipa, Aryavarta, Hindustan, Hindoosthan, Hidush, Indica, Indika, Indoi, Indou, Hind, Five Indies, al-Hind. Of course all these names refer to just the one country we know as India.

Each of these names is historically significant and more contextual to the times during which they were used, given that the geo-political maps of India were also quite different during those times. India has been a continuous civilization that stretches back to at least 6000 BCE according to archeological, literary and other evidence. However did you know that the name India doesn’t equal her antiquity, as in fact the word “India” is of foreign origin? This does not mean the very idea of an Indian nation is a contribution by outsiders. There are many countries that bear names of foreign origin due to historical reasons. Here are some historical facts behind India’s well-known names.

  • The official names as set down in article 1 of the Indian constitution are India in English and Bhaarat in Hindi. The first Article of the Constitution of India states that “India, that is Bhaarat, shall be a union of states.” The Republic of India has three principal short names – India, Bharat and Hindustan which are historically significant.
    The name “Bhaarat” is derived from either of two ancient Hindu kings named Bharata, though it is more commonly accepted that the name derives from that of the son of King Dushyanta, whom the great epic Mahabharata credits with bringing the whole of Bhaaratvarsha (India and beyond) under his rule and securing the title of an emperor.
    Etymologically the name Bhaarat comes from “Bha” in Sanskrit means knowledge or light, and “rata” is a verb for ‘doing’. Bharat is therefore ‘the one who is in search of knowledge.’
  • The term India is derived from the name of the Sindhu (Indus River) and has been in use in Greek since Herodotus (4th century BCE). Hence India, the land to the East of the Indus river, soon came to be known as Hindustan by the Persians and the Arabs. Its short form was Hind, which became Hindia in Ancient Greek and India in Later Greek and Latin.  The term appears in Old English in the 9th century, and again in Modern English since the 17th century.
  • Hindustan is used by Muslim nationals and is mostly used in historical contexts (especially British India). In the time of the British Raj, the term Hindustan was formally used to describe not India in general but only North India, the former territory of the Moghal Empire, those lands north of the Vindhya Mountains, the land to its south being called variously the Deccan or South India.

Despite India’s names and its origins, our perceptions and ideas about India wouldn’t be the same – often coloured by our experience or knowledge. In fact there is a field of study called Indology which offers the knowledge of real idea or spirit of India hidden in her antiquity.

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