Friday, May 24

India to Bharat: Tracing the Evolution of a Nation’s Name from the Rig Veda to the Constitution of India

India to Bharat: Tracing the Evolution of a Nation’s Name from the Rig Veda to the Constitution of India

Speculation has indeed arisen regarding the possibility of an official change in the name of the country from India to Bharat. It’s worth noting that the Constitution of India itself acknowledges both names in Article 1, which states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

This constitutional provision reflects the historical and cultural significance of both names, recognizing the country’s dual identity. While the formal change of the country’s name would require a constitutional amendment, the use of both names in the Constitution underscores the rich tapestry of India’s history and its deep-rooted connection to its ancient identity as Bharat. Such a change would symbolize a reaffirmation of the nation’s historical heritage and its ongoing evolution.


India to Bharat: Tracing the Evolution of a Nation's Name from the Rig Veda to the Constitution of India
India to Bharat: Tracing the Evolution of a Nation’s Name from the Rig Veda to the Constitution of India


The use of “The President of Bharat” on official invitations to a G20 dinner, rather than the customary “President of India,” has stirred considerable attention and discussion among opposition politicians. This alteration in nomenclature appears to signify a potential shift in how India chooses to represent itself on the global stage.

It suggests a deliberate emphasis on the historical and cultural significance of the name “Bharat,” signaling a departure from the colonial-era nomenclature “India.” For some, this change may be seen as a statement of national pride and a reconnection with India’s ancient identity. However, it has also sparked political debate, with differing opinions on whether this is a symbolic gesture or part of a broader agenda. The choice of nomenclature reflects the complex interplay of historical, cultural, and political factors in India’s ongoing evolution as a nation.

The speculation regarding an official change in the country’s name from India to Bharat persists, despite Article 1 of the Constitution using both names interchangeably with the phrase, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” This constitutional provision acknowledges the historical and cultural significance of both names, highlighting the dual identity of the nation. Interestingly, several institutions and entities in India, such as the Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Railways, already incorporate Hindi variants with “Bharatiya” in their names, showcasing a degree of linguistic diversity within the country.

Moreover, this debate surrounding the country’s name extends beyond just legal and linguistic considerations. It delves into questions of national identity and the legacy of colonialism. In June 2020, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking the removal of “India” from the Constitution, with a preference for retaining only “Bharat” in order to help “ensure the citizens of this country get over the colonial past.”

The court’s decision emphasized that the Constitution itself recognizes “India” as “Bharat,” highlighting the nuanced balance between acknowledging India’s colonial history and embracing its indigenous identity. This debate underscores the complexities surrounding the nation’s nomenclature and its broader historical and cultural context.

The name “Bharat” has deep roots in Puranic literature and ancient Indian culture, particularly in texts like the Mahabharata. In the Puranas, Bharata is described as the land situated between the southern sea and the northern abode of snow, encapsulating the geographical extent of the Indian subcontinent.

Social scientist Catherine Clémentin-Ojha has emphasized the significance of “Bharata” as a concept that pertains to a religious and socio-cultural entity rather than just a political or geographical one. It denotes a territory where the Brahmanical system of society prevails, reflecting its cultural and spiritual importance in Indian history.

Furthermore, “Bharata” is also associated with an ancient legendary king, the forefather of the Rig Vedic tribe of the Bharatas. This connection extends to being seen as the progenitor of all the peoples of the Indian subcontinent.

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his writings from January 1927, alluded to the enduring “fundamental unity of India” rooted in a shared faith and culture. He referred to India as “Bharata,” the sacred land of the Hindus, highlighting its spiritual significance. Nehru’s perspective underscores the idea of India as a diverse yet unified nation with a common heritage, a sentiment deeply embedded in the historical and cultural fabric of the country.

The names “India” and “Hindustan” have intricate historical origins that reflect the region’s rich history and interactions with various cultures over time.

“Hindustan” is believed to have originated from “Hindu,” which is the Persian cognate form of the Sanskrit word “Sindhu,” meaning the Indus River. This term gained prominence during the Achaemenid Persian conquest of the Indus valley, which began in the 6th century BC, around the time of Gautama Buddha in the Gangetic basin. The Achaemenids used “Hindu” to refer to the lower Indus basin. Over time, around the 1st century CE, the suffix “stan” was added to create “Hindustan,” which referred to the region.

The Greeks, who acquired knowledge of “Hind” from the Achaemenids, transliterated the name as “Indus.” By the time of the Macedonian king Alexander’s invasion of India in the 3rd century BC, “India” had come to be associated with the broader region beyond the Indus River. This shift in terminology reflects the evolving geographical and cultural understanding of the region and its connections to various civilizations and linguistic influences over the centuries.

The evolution of the names “Hindustan,” “Bharat,” and “India” within the context of the Indian Constitution and its drafting process is a fascinating reflection of the diverse historical and cultural perspectives of the time.

Historian Ian J Barrow’s research highlights how the term “Hindustan” was used to describe the entire Indo-Gangetic plain by the early Mughal era and continued to represent the territories of the Mughal emperor in the 18th century. However, with the ascendancy of British colonial rule and their increasing use of the name “India” in maps and administrative contexts, “Hindustan” began to lose its association with the entirety of South Asia.

The adoption of “India” was influenced by its Graeco-Roman associations, its long history of use in Europe, and its adoption by scientific and bureaucratic organizations like the Survey of India, signifying a shift in colonial perspectives and territorial boundaries.

When the question of naming India in the Constitution arose, “Hindustan” was excluded, and both “Bharat” and “India” were retained. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his work ‘The Discovery of India,’ often referred to “India,” “Bharata,” and “Hindustan,” showcasing the diverse nomenclature used for the country. During the Constituent Assembly debates, there was a division among members regarding the choice of name. Some were against using “India,” which they perceived as a reminder of the colonial past.

Suggestions were put forth, such as “Bharat, or in the English language, India,” or “Bharat known as India also in foreign countries.” Hargovind Pant argued passionately for “Bharatvarsha,” emphasizing that it reflected the desires of the people in Northern India. He criticized the term “India” as imposed by alien rulers and urged its abandonment.

Ultimately, none of these suggestions were accepted, but they highlighted the contrasting visions and sentiments regarding the name of the nascent nation. The choice to retain both “Bharat” and “India” in the Constitution reflects the intricate balancing act between historical identities, linguistic diversity, and political considerations during that period.

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