Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's in the name of India

Shakespeare had told, ""What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet". Yes that's true. The identity of a person is not much in his or her name. Gandhi was born Mohandas but has lived for ever as Mahatma. Nevertheless, neither Gandhi nor Mahatma tells much about the person whom we know as the Father of the Nation. Still some names are indeed significant when it signifies some history or some trivia. Some people append names of their villages or parents. Lata Mangeshkar is from Mangesh village in Goa, Mohandas' father's name was Karamchand, Jamshedpur is named after Jamshedji Tata, Islamabad was named to commemorate the foundation of the Islamic state of Pakistan, which again means Holi Land (and there's also a view that PAK stands for Punjab, Afghanistan & Kashmir). Most of the Kings and Emperors, both in India and abroad, used to name cities after themselves, or Gods or to commemorate some victory. Alexandria (after Alexander), Aurangabad (after Aurangzeb), Srirangapatnam (after Sriranga or Vishnu, a Hindu God highly revered by Hyder Ali) are just to name a few. So what's the background of the name of our country?

First let's see how many names are there for our country. In most Indian languages the name Bharat, Bharatvarsha, Hindustan are commonly used whereas in English India is popular. Indians are also known as Bhartiya or Bharti, Hindi, Hindustani.

Perhaps the earliest reference of the entire Indian Subcontinent as a single country can be found in Vishnu Purana (post 500BC) where it's mentioned:

Uttaram Yat samudrasya Himdreschaiva Daksinam

Varsham Tat BhaAratam nama BhaArati Yatra Santati

Meaning - The region spanning from the snowy mountains (Himalayas) in the north to the sea (Indian Ocean) in the south is called Bhaarata and the children (natives) of this region are called Bhaarati (for the sake of simplicity let me write the spelling as Bharata, and not Bhaarata, though the pronounciation should be like Bhaarata).

The name of the country comes from the mythical Emperor Bharata. According to the Mahābhārata Bharata's empire covered all of the Indian subcontinent, Bactria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgistan, Turkmenistan, and Persia. If that's true then Bharata's Empire (Bharatvarsha or Bharatavarsham as in Sanskrit) is the biggest of all empires ruled by any Indian King. Neither Ashoka (the greatest of Mauriyan Emperors and one of the greatest in India), nor the Mughals had such a big empire. Not even the British India was as big as that.

Bharat is the son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. The couple's love story and a part of Bharat's childhood are the context of Kalidas' Sanskrit classic Abhigyanam Shakuntalam. The Pandavas and the Kauravas of Mahabharata are descendents of Bharat. There's also a view that Bharat might have been the earliest proponent of democracy when he wanted to crown a popular and competent person outside his family as his successor because none of his sons were found to be competent enough to rule his kingdom.

There's also a reference to one Bharat, in Jain scriptures, as one of the hundred sons of Rishabh, the first Tirthankar. The Jains believe that Bharatvarsha is named after this Bharat.

The name Hindu, derived from the name of the river Sindhu, was coined by the Persians to refer to the people staying to the east of Sindhu. The land of Hindu's thus became Hindustan in Persian. The name India came from Ancient Greeks, who transformed it further from Hindu. They used to call Sindhu Indus and the people of Indus as Indoi.

The history of all the names of India are important because it clearly brings out the idea of a nationhood of people belonging to a particular geographical region and sharing a more or less similar culture. There's no intonation of any religion or creed in the name. It's very significant in today's perspective when regionalism, or rather ghettosim based on language, caste, creed, culture is becoming more and more important beyond the nationhood!! Whatever we might speak or eat or believe in, everyone of Indian Subcontinent is a Hindistani or Hindi!! Let me end with Iqbal's poem:

sāre jahāñ se achchā hindostāñ hamārā
ham bulbuleñ haiñ us kī vuh gulsitāñ hamārā

mażhab nahīñ sikhātā āpas meñ bair rakhnā
hindī haiñ ham, vat̤an hai hindostāñ hamārā

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