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How Did India Get Its Name, and What Is the “New” Name, Bharat?

Taj Mahal, India, Bharat
India will be joining the G20 under its new name, Bharat, but how was the name India given initially and where does Bharat come from? Credit: Flickr/ cc by 2.0

India will be attending the G20 under a new name, Bharat.

According to Harnath Singh Yadav, a member of the Indian Parliament in the BJP party, the name India was one given to the country by the British, while Bharat is “the symbol of [the country’s] culture.” The Bharatiya Janata Party, the nationalist party Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to, is making a strong political statement through the name change, and this is bound to have international implications.

Etymology and Terminology: “India,” “Bharat,” and “Hindustan” at the G20

“This is a hit to the slave mentality,” the leader of the party in the state of Uttarakhand, Pushkar, Singh Dhami, remarked.

India is a large subcontinent and has always been referred to by many names. Among the first to use the term “India” (“Indos”) were the Ancient Greeks, and Herodotus also referred to the country by this name.

When they discovered the Northern area of the subcontinent passing through the Hindus River, located in modern-day Pakistan, they adopted this name and used it widely in place of others.

Alexander the Great and his travel companions also referred to the geographical area around the delta of the Ganges and its inhabitants as “Gangaridai,” probably in recognition of the cultural diversity that defines the subcontinent’s identity to this day.

The names used by Greeks to refer to India may not have been so culturally specific, as they were mostly concerned with geography when talking about distant lands. However, they had not invented the term “India” at the time, and the British certainly did not invent the term centuries later either. The term actually predates the concept of national identity by at least two thousand years if not more.

The term “Hindus” as a geographical term for the river is an Ancient Persian adaptation of “Sindhus,” which is the Indian term for the river. “Hindustan” has also been widely used and has the same Persian origin. It was a popular term during the rule of the Mughal Empire, and an ancient Persian adaptation of “Sindhu” (the Farsi name for the Hindus River).

“Bharat” is another name used for the country in a variety of Indian languages. It is one of the official names of the country as per Article 1 of the 1950 Constitution, which reads “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

The name also appears in the official Sanskrit name of the country, Bharata Gaṇarajya, which is yet another officially recognized name. Hence, the Constitution went unchanged, and it is only a matter of international recognition. It is to be seen how the international community receives this name change on the part of India—correction: Bharat.

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