Updated: Sep 5
Do you remember the famous NY Times caricature illustrating India's mars mission chutzpah. It seemed to be an overwhelming attempt, only to be dwindled by the success of the mission. To boot, if the cost of production of the space probe is 75% of the Hollywood movie Gravity, the buzz will be even significant.
The global word is - “This century belongs to INDIA”.
But are we really India or is it just a convenient name for the elite west, shoved onto us. Let us together take a deep dive into how the name came into existence.
What is the story behind the name Bharat?
The two well-known ancient names of the Indian subcontinent, as we know it today, were Jambudvipa and Bharatavarsha.
As per the Puranic geographic concepts, the earth consisted of seven islands. These islands were - Jambudvipa, Puskarvardvipa, Varunvardvipa, Kshirvardvipa, Ghrutvardvipa, Ikshuvardvipa and Nandishvardvipa. The island in the center is called Jambudvipa. Additionally, the same mention appears in a lot of Buddhists and Jain literatures.
One of the varsha or the country within Jambudvipa was called Bharatvarsha. According to Puranas, the name ‘Bharat’ is either derived from King Dushyant’s son Bharat from Mahabharat or Chakravartin Bharat, son of Jain tirthankara Rishabh.
Bharat in Vishnu Purana shloka
The following shloka in Vishnu Purana signifies the appearance of the word Bharat in it.
“uttaram yatsamudrsaya himadrescaiva daksinam varsam tadbharatam nama Bharati yatra santatih”
It means that the territory that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharata, where the descendants of Lord Bharat live.
How the name India originated?
King Darius was the ruler of the Persian empire from 550-486 BCE. He conquered the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent and named this new region as ‘Hindush’. Apparently, due to linguistic evolution and the change of sound of ‘s’ to ‘h’, the river Sindhu was called Hindu by the Persians.
The Greeks, who were very active in the region in that period acquired the word Hindu and changed it to Indos (contemporary Indus), as the letter ‘h’ was not pronounced in the Greek scriptures. The region around Indos came to be known as India (derived from the word Hindush).
When was the word Hindustan used for the first time?
It was not the Persian rulers or authors, who used the word Hindustan for the first time during the medieval period. Around 1700 years ago, the Sassanid dynasty of Iran started using the suffix ‘stan’ to denote geographical areas and they used the word Hindustan for the region around lower Indus valley or the Indian subcontinent.
The post-independence nomenclature
After India got independence from the British rule, this was hotly debated in the constituent assembly. After intense discussion, the constitution adopted two names for the country, India and Bharat.
Article 1 in The Constitution of India 1949 states that:
India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States
During drafting our constitution in Nov 1949, constituent assembly members like H.V Kamath, objected to the Ambedkar committee’s draft that had two names – India and Bharat. He proposed putting Bharat or Hind as the primary name, keeping India only as a name in English language.
Other prominent names like Seth Govind Das, a freedom fighter, cited Puranas, Mahabharat and Vedas to say that Bharat should be the original name of the country. The Article 1 can be altered to say – “Bharat, known as India, in foreign countries”.
At the end though, when put to vote, all amendments fell, and Article 1 remained intact.
Petition to change the name of India to Bharat
In May 2020, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking removal of India as the name of the country and keeping it just Bharat. The petitioner had said the name ‘India’ is a symbol of slavery. The Supreme Court has rejected the petition, stating the name Bharat is already part of Article 1 of the Constitution. SC has although asked the center government to investigate the plea and take action.
List of countries that have changed names
The colonial countries that have changed their names post-independence are:
1. Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
2. Myanmar (Burma)
3. Ghana (Gold Coast)
4. Mali (French Coast)
5. Mexico (New Spain)
6. Philippines (Spanish East Indies)