Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government replaced the name India with a Sanskrit word on dinner invitations sent to guests earlier this week attending the Group of 20 summit, leaving many wondering whether the country’s name will be changed.
The name change is backed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. They have argued that the name India was introduced by British colonials and is a “symbol of slavery.”
The British ruled India for about 200 years. The country gained independence in 1947.
In India’s constitution, the world’s most populous nation of 1.4 billion is known by both India and Bharat. Hindustan — “land of the Hindus” in Urdu — is another word used for the country. The three terms are used interchangeably, although India remains the most popular around the world.
‘The Prime Minister Of Bharat’ pic.twitter.com/lHozUHSoC4
— Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) September 5, 2023
The Modi-led government is likely to bring a resolution for changing India’s official name during the special session of Parliament that’s scheduled for Sept. 18. Critics of the move have said the name change is in line with Modi’s Hindu nationalist messaging, while also stripping the country of names tied to colonialism.
The name India has a rich and complex history, reflecting the diverse and multifaceted nature of the subcontinent itself. The origins of the name can be traced back to ancient times. The name is believed to have originated from the ancient Sanskrit word “Sindhu,” which referred to the Indus River. The body of water was a crucial geographical feature in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, and its name eventually came to represent the entire region.
The earliest recorded use of the term “Sindhu” can be found in the Rigveda, one of the oldest sacred texts within Hinduism, dating back to around 1500 B.C. Over time, the pronunciation of “Sindhu” became “Hindu” and associated with the land and the people living in it.
The Persian Empire — under Darius I in the 6th century B.C. — referred to the region as “Hindush” in its inscriptions, further popularizing the name. The Greeks, who came into contact with India during the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C., referred to the land as “Indoi,” a term they borrowed from the Persians. The Greek geographer Megasthenes, who visited India during the time of the Mauryan Empire, wrote about the land and its people using the name “Indica.”
The name “India” as we know it today began to take shape during the Roman Empire. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder, in his work “Naturalis Historia” written in the first century, referred to the region as “India” or “Indica.” This term was further popularized through the Roman trade with India, which brought valuable spices and textiles to the Mediterranean world.
During the Middle Ages, the name “India” continued to be used by various civilizations, including the Byzantines and Arabs, who referred to it as “Al-Hind.” Islamic conquerors and traders played a significant role in the spread of the name “India” during the Middle East.
With the arrival of European explorers in the late 15th century, most notably Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, the name “India” was applied to all lands they encountered in the East, including South Asia and Southeast Asia. This led to the European nomenclature of East Indies and West Indies to distinguish between the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean islands.
In 1947, India gained independence from British rule and adopted “Republic of India” as its official name.
“Bharat” is a term that holds deep cultural and historical significance across India. The word derived from the Sanskrit word “Bharata,” which is associated with several meanings and legends in Indian tradition.
In Hindu mythology, Bharata is a legendary king and an ancestor of the Pandava and Kaurava clans, central characters in the epic “Mahabharata.” Bharata is often used to refer to India because of this connection to the epic, which is one of the most significant literary and cultural works in the country’s history.
The term “Bharat” has also been used historically to describe the Indian subcontinent. It is believed to have referred to the whole region that includes modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and sections of Nepal. This usage emphasizes the historical and cultural unity of the subcontinent.
For example, Article 1 of the Indian Constitution reads: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States” — recognizing the name “Bharat” as an official and equal alternative to India.
In modern usage, “Bharat” is often employed in formal and official contexts when referring to India, particularly in the Hindi language, as a way to emphasize the country’s deep historical and cultural ties.
Produced in association with Religion Unplugged