India is one of those few nations that have two names. How many countries have you heard of that have two names – first that is constitutionally documented, and another name that is perhaps an English translation meant for all those people who cannot pronounce the word? It is often a challenge for people whose first language is English or any other European language to pronounce eastern names. Therefore, in the olden times, it was a norm to change all those names, and people would blindly accept the new names without much resistance.
Take, for example, our country. We go by two names – Bharat, the original name and India, the name given by people. People who invaded Bharat arrived at the river Sindhu, and somehow, they changed the name to Hindu. Then, the name further changed to Indus. And now, India has stuck on as the name of the country for centuries.
In this context, it is essential for historians to come up with a satisfactory explanation that justifies the evolution of the name “India” and also trace its origin. It is fascinating to know that the name India does not appear anywhere in the Puranas, Vedas, Itihasa or Amarakosa. Some scriptures of India say “jambu dweepe Bhaarata varshe….” Yet, India was included as the name of our country in our constitution, and everyone was liberally allowed to use this name even after the country attained independence from the British rule.
Whenever we speak in one or more of our regional languages and/or Rashtra Bhasha, the name Bharat or Bharat Mata is proudly used. However, when our nation is addressed in Engish, people often address it as India just like a literal translation for its original name to be understood by the non-Bhartiya people. It is a known fact that Sri Lanka eschewed its name Ceylon a long time ago. Yet, we still cling to the name Ceylon that was given by invaders a long time ago.
The question now is, do we really need to use two names? Is it not possible for us to stick to Bharat and also make others understand why it is crucial for our country to revert to its original name? Talking about our country, it has had multiple names such as India, Bharat, Hindustan, Hind, Bharatbhumi, and Bharatvarsh. So, which name should we use? That is a story for another day.
In any case, the word Bharat has a deep-set history behind its name. So, does the other names of our nation. Let’s find out the history and etymology behind all these names!
The word Bharat comes from the Sanskrit language and is definitely a very ancient name. It has references in the Mahabharata and the Hindu Puranas to “Bharatvarsh.” The Puranas describe the word Bharat as a geographical entity that lies between the oceans in the south and the Himalayas in the North. The Puranas also say that Bharat is a politically divided land into several smaller territories.
Yet, it is always referred to together. Therefore, the “Bharatvarsh” stated in the Puranas consisted of the same plurality in religion, caste, language, lifestyle, and culture as today’s “Bharat.” This unity in diversity often makes us think of the most beautiful interpretations of the word Bharat. The word is derived from the dance form Bharatanatyam. “Bha” means expression, “Ra” means melody and “Ta” stands for rhythm. This beautiful interpretation of the word Bharat renders a lovely image of harmonious diversity of our country. It also offers a glimpse and a deep insight into the meaning of “Bharatvarsh” for people in ancient times.
The origin of the word Bharat also lies in Sanskrit and Hindu texts, and this gives this word a religious significance for all Hindus too. Bharat can be called a nation where all Hindus feel a deep-seated sense of belonging and identification. This feeling can be rightly inferred from popular slogans such as ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ that were popular at the time of freedom struggle. Several deliberations took place in the Constituent Assembly at that time regarding whether or not Bharat should precede the name India in the form of “Bharat, or the English language, India…”
As is evident in recent years, there have been several Public Interest Litigations that have been filed in the courts of law in favor of the name “Bharat” being adopted in the country as the sole official name of India. The litigations have also favored the idea of India being seen only as a colonial name or hand-me-down. Therefore, today, popular brands such as Patanjali by Baba Ramdev promote themselves as “Made in Bharat” instead of “Made in India.” This emphasis on the word Bharat makes it crystal clear that even though the Constitution of India may technically think “Bharat” to the be equivalent of “India” where the meaning of these names is concerned, both the names continue to present different connotations for the majority of the ‘Bharatvasis’ who might not relate to the name India as much.
The Latin name “India” and the Persian name “Hindustan” both come from the ancient Persian term “Hindu.” The word Hindu is a Persian word for Sindhu which is the name of Indus river in all the ancient Sanskrit scriptures. Therefore, Hindustan can be called “the land beyond the Indus.” The name Hindustan became a very prevalent term in the Mughal Empire before the British rule and primarily comprising of North India. That said, with the passage of time and due to colonization, the term Hindustan expanded in its geographical scope in order to include British-ruled India and all its territories. The old Urdu song ‘Tarana-e-Hind’ of Iqbal which is popularly known by the name of ‘Sare Jahan Se Achcha’ is a well-known and ubiquitous ode to Hindustan, which is the un-partitioned subcontinent of the early 1900s.
If we further delve into the history of Hindustan, several more amusing yet remarkable realizations are revealed. The religious identity of Hindus today has come from the Persians who were perceived by Hindu nationalists as the destroyers of the Hindu culture. After the 19th-century expansion of Hindu nationalism which was led by VD Savarkar, Hindustan was referred to by Sanskrit name “Hindusthan.” The Sanskrit name is made up of two words – “Hindu” and “Sthan” for a place. Therefore, the word Hindusthan was born as ‘the land of Hindus’ rather than giving geographical importance to the name with reference to the Indus river.
Thanks to this name, another slogan appeared that was called ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ meaning one language, a single religious denomination as well as one territory. This connotation is drastically different from the initial original name of “Bharat” or even “Hindustan.” It is also fascinating to note that in 2003, the Vishva Hindu Parishad demanded that the name India be changed to Hindusthan and not Hindustan.
Talking about the official naming of our country, the Constituent Assembly of India always unwittingly rejected the name “Bharat” throughout their debates. Another reason for the widespread use of “Bharat” by the citizens of India was that people felt that the name “Bharat” sounds significantly more secular than Hindustan. On the flip side, another reason why people often shun the word “Hindustan” is that Pakistan usually calls India “Hindustan.” Therefore, people are usually seen avoiding this connotation. Having said that, “Hindustan” is still widely used in various slogans of Subhash Chandra Bose such as “Jai hind or the popular song ‘Tarana-e-Hind.’
The word “India” shares a lot of its etymology with the name “Hindustan.” This is because the Persian “Hind” connects our land from all sides with the Indus river. The name India became popular after the 17th century in English language posts, and ultimately, this word became the popular English reference to our country. Therefore, for everyone who has been brought up in the Western world, our country will probably be known to them as India. This term is also frequently found on television, in conversations, in books or the news. Most people cannot fathom our country being called anything other than India due to its prevalence and popularity.
That said, many people still think that the word “India” is a colonial relic that needs to be discarded immediately, just like Sri Lanka discarded “Ceylon.” For other people, India is the equivalent of modern and the most urban regions of India whereas Bharat refers to the “real India.” Urbanization and the unequal growth that has been witnessed by our country further exacerbates this massive divide between India and Bharat. However, for many people, especially the youth, India and Bharat and Hindustan are all the same. Bharat and Hindustan are simply inclusive of everything that India stands for!
India or Bharat or Hindustan (whatever you fancy calling our country) is a mystic land full of different cultures, languages, and religions. Therefore, you can call the nation with whatever name that resonates most with you.