How I, India, Came To Be Named


I will not begin with

there existed once upon a time

a country because I exist even now; what I am not exactly sure of though is when did I actually start existing. If Nehru is to be believed, I came into being sometime during the Post-Vedic period when the Aryan settlers decided they had enough of the present day Afghanistan and Pakistan and decided to move further south-east into the fertile Gangetic lands. This is the point where my confusion starts, as documented history entangles itself with mythology into terrible knots till the point where you cease to know which is which. I will explain to you how.

People tell me that one of my several names that include India, Hindostan, Jambudwip etc. is Bharatavarsha. And why am I being named Bharatavarsha which is quite a big name and makes people stare at you? It’s because in the annals of history, (or is it mythology) around this time there existed a great king on my lands by the name of Bharat, the son of king Dushyanta and lady Shakuntala. This Bharat is not to be confused with another Bharat, who is mentioned in Ramayana as the younger sibling of Rama. This Bharat is supposed to have conquered all of the known world at the time, and the land he conquered was named Bharatavarsha after him; etymologically that would mean land of Bharat (dear me, but to me it almost smacks of the arrogance of those Britishers who coined the phrase the sun never sets on the British Empire; fancy just me being the whole world, I am flattered). Anyway, that was Bharat and that was me, and then there are in this world a set of people called Jains too, who would promptly disagree with you. They would tell you a similar story, but with a small twist. According to them, I am not named after this Bharat, but rather after that Bharat. ThatBharat was the oldest son of lord Ridabha, and in the later part of his life he retired as a monk and attained Nirvana, holy me! Since he became a siddha or the knowledgeable one, he was occasionally worshipped and I was named after him. Apparently most of the Puranas support the Jains, and let me tell you, that’s a heavyweight combination.

The name game doesn’t end here, for Bharat in Sanskrit means the cherished one and so some tell I am not named after anybody, but that my name simply means in Sanskrit, the cherished land. Tell you what, this makes a lot of sense to me – people should say: I know about and respect the whole world, but I also cherish the land where I was born whichever it may be. And so I like being Bharatavarsha, and I would have put a smiley post stating that, except that smileys are sadly forbidden in formal language, and equally sadly this is a formal assignment for which a young man who lives on me is supposed to get some credits. So I will refrain from putting a smiley and instead tell you the reason why I most like being named Bharatavarsha: Bha in Sanskrit means knowledge or light and rat is a verb for doing. So Bharat therefore means one in search of knowledge and Bharatavarsha means the land of people in search of knowledge. Isn’t that a really sexy name as the young man for who I am writing this would imprudently exclaim if he were here? Unfortunately nowadays, I don’t think working for pursuit of knowledge is held in high regard within my boundaries, but that’s another story; and I won’t crib about it now, I have limited space. For the same reason I wouldn’t tell you the etymology of my other names though even those stories are equally interesting. I will now move back to Nehru and my confusion about when the hell did I come into existence.

So if I then drop the two Bharats from my story, and stick to my favorite in pursuit of knowledge theory, answering that question is not so difficult. I don’t have to enter mythological dilemmas and it can be safely said that sometime during those hallowed times when the society here held plain pursuit of knowledge in high regard, when intelligent people spent years sitting beneath trees and pondering silently over existential questions and it was actually hip to do so, when great books such as the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata were written and the concepts of Moksha and Nirvana were discovered, some idealist fellow decided it was the precise road which the people of his land should walk on always, and henceforth the land should be known as Bharatavarsha. You see, I don’t think my name came to be about just one fine morning like when Bharat was crowned the king of the whole world, supposedly me; it was a tapashya of centuries if you would allow me to use that word. So I started being Bharatavarsha anytime during those few centuries, and that way I wouldn’t mind even the whole world being called by that name. Continuing in that vein, is it correct to call me Bharatavarsha even now? I have my doubts.