Thursday, December 26, 2013


India vs. Bharat

The Land of a Million Contradictions,
The Land of a Billion representatives of Humanity,
The Land of the Oldest Existing Civilization on the Planet!

What is it about this land that fills one with a sense of Enigma??? The very name conjures up vivid images of contrasting Geographies and colorful Traditions..

The Sub-continent where some of the Greatest religions of the World originated,
The Nation which created History by attaining Freedom through Non-Violent means,
The Economy which is the 4th largest in the world in terms of Purchasing Power Parity,
The Land supporting a Multi-lingual, Multi-ethnic, Multi-cultural and yet Functional Democracy!

Home to over a billion people, India is where people live with variety, thrive on diversity and are too familiar with largeness of it all to let it boggle them..

Incredible India!

As the Sun God Surya enters Northern Hemisphere (Uttarayan) today, it Inspires us all to move away from darkness and towards light. In different parts of the country, we are celebrating Lohri/Makar Sankrant/Pongal and Bihu -One festival, many names- Just like our nation..

In a previous post, (Genetics of the Wandering Indian), I talked about the morphological distinctness of Indians hiding Genetically identical constitutions. The same plurality has been preserved in the variety of names that we posess and I am suddenly inclined to explore the history behind them..

Naming a Nation

Our country has two official names - India and Bharat. The Persians and Arabs used yet another name for the country - Hindustan/Al Hind and since Persian has played a big part in the development of our National language Hindi, the term Hindustan is also used in common parlance today.

Both Hindustan and India however, are derived from the name of the river Indus which marked the Western boundary of India for travelers. Indus again is derived from the Sanskrit name Sindhu and both the terms have been in use since at least 5th century BC. However, these are the names given to us by travelers and traders.. What did the indigenous people of ancient India refer to their country as??

India/Bharat/Hindustan/Al Hind

I was fascinated by this question and tried to look into all the scriptural data I could lay my paws on. NOT surprisingly, I found plurality here as well :o)

The Indus-Saraswati people extended in the West from Afghanistan-Pakistan border right upto Yamuna in the East and Gujarat in the South. This region, especially the land between Saraswati and Ganga rivers was known as Aryavarta or the Land-of-the-Noble.

The Mesopotamians with whom ancient Indians ahd extensive trade relations, referred to this region as Meluha. The same name has been popularized by one of my favorite authors Amish Tripathi in his best-seller - 'The Immortals of Meluha'. But again, this was an apellation for a particular region of the country and not the entire Indian sub-continent..

Aryavarta/Meluha/Northern India

Delving further into the research, I quite literaly stumbled onto an ancient ruler, Emperor Agnidhra, the son of the FIRST MAN - Swayambhu Manu who is believed to have ruled over the ENTIRE globe, then known as the Jambu-dweep.{For more details, click on this link - Jambudweep - The Global Island}

While retiring, Agnidhra divided his kingdom (aka the entire planet) into 9 Continents or Divisions handing them over to his 9 sons to rule. Thus, the peninsular stretch spreading from Himalayas to the Ocean, came under the supervision of his eldest son Nabhi, thereby giving us the oldest appellation of our land - the NABHI-VARSHA.

As most of you would know, the term Nabhi refers to the 'Navel' in Sanskrit and thus Nabhi-varsha could easily be translated as the 'Central Region'. Interestingly, the Japanese name for India was Tenjiku. Tian, the root word, means "Heaven", while, jiku, means: "The center of", translating it to "The Heavenly Center of the World".

Nabhi Varsha/Tenjiku/Navel of the World

So I managed to find the oldest name of our sub-continent as per the scriptures. But then, I wondered, where and how did the name BHARAT come from??

India and BhArat

According to at least half a dozen different scriptures, our country is called BhArat as a mark of respect to the legendary Emperor, Chakravarti Raja Bharat.

This fact has been attested by the Vishnu Puran (2,1,31), Vayu Puran (33,52), Ling Puran (1,47,23), Brahmand Puran (14,5,62), Agni Puran ( 107,11-12), Skanda Puran (37,57) and Markandeya Puran (50,41)!! For example, Vishnu Puraan states-

उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।
वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।
The country lying North of the Ocean and South of the snowy mountains is called Bhārat; There dwell the descendants of Bharat.

BhArat Varsha extending from Himalayas to the Ocean

Now, there are again TWO very interesting stories about this ONE name and I'm gonna share both of them with you today..

The Legends of Bharat

The FIRST legend begins with Emperor Nabhi, the grandson of Manu, whom we encountered above.

Emperor Nabhi, First ruler of the Indian sub-continent

According to Hindu as well as Jain scriptures, Nabhi-dev was married to Meru-devi, the daughter of Indra, and their eldest son was the Saint-King Rishabh Dev.

Now, RISHABH Dev was the first Tirthankar according to the Jain tradition and I should mention here that Srimad Bhāgavatam also counts Him as 8th of the 24 Incarnations of Lord Vishnu. According to the Bhagavatam, He was born to show the people of this world the path of salvation. It was He who laid down the foundations of Civilization and advised people to follow the path of spiritual bliss, instead of indulging in a life of worldly pleasures and enjoyment.

Adinath Rishabdev

Now, Rishabh Dev had many sons, and the eldest two from his two wives were Bharat and Bahubali. The two sons were competing for the illusive title of Chakravarti (Emperor-of-Entire-World) but Bharat was the natural winner and as per the scriptures, it is THIS Bharat after whom our country is named.

In Hymns 2.1.31 and 2.1.32, the Vishnu Puraan states-

Rishabh was born to Merudevi, Bharat was born to Rishabh,
Bharatvarsha was named from Bharat, and Sumati arose from Bharat. [2.1.31]

This country is known as Bharatavarsha,
Since the time the father entrusted the Kingdom to the son,
And himself went to the forest for ascetic practices. [2.1.32]

Talking of Ascetic Practises, it has been observed, that a lot of Indus-Saraswati Civilization seals and figurines depict Yogic postures on them, which BTW highlights the continuity of Yogic practice in India since at least 5000 years ago.

Yogic postures in Indus-Saraswati figurines
Three-faced Pashupatinath seal

There are certain seals that depict the Yogic position called Kayotsarga, traditionally described in connection with the penance of Rishabh-dev. It may very well be that the seals record the histories of Jain Tirthankars as much as the Hindu Gods as ultimately both belong to the same Spiritual Tradition!!

The Second Legend of Bharat
The SECOND legend of Bharat, brings us into more familiar territory, probably due to the wider reach and popularity of the Epic containing it, the Mahabharat.

The story begins with Rishi Vishwamitra, one of the Seven Great Seers of Hindu Mythology. The rishis's penance worried Indra sufficiently enough to make him send Menaka, the most beautiful Apsara in heaven, to distract the sage.

The result of their dalliance was Shakuntala who got married to King Dushyant of the ruling Lunar Dynasty. Their story is the stuff of a typical Bollywood movie and has been immortalized in Sanskrit in Kalidasa's poetic rendition and in art by one of the most celebrated Indian artists Raja Ravi Varma.

Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Varma

Dushyant and Shakuntala's son was called Sarvadaman, the subduer-of-all by the caretakers in the ashram where he grew up. Even as a kid, he would play with lions and other ferocious animals of the jungle!

By the time he grew up, he could subjugate lions and tigers with his bare hands, a feat which is remarkable and is mentioned MORE than once in various scriptures. Nevertheless, this subduing child of Shakuntala was later renamed Bharat as he was 'cherished by all' in his father's kingdom.

Shakuntala introduces Bharat to Dushyant

Interestingly, there's again an Indus-Saraswati Seal that matches the description of Bharat subduing two tigers with his bare hands! The scene may or may not refer to Shakuntala's son, but its iconography is certainly suggestive..

Indus Valley Seal probably depicting Bharat

I firmly believe that these seals when deciphered, would be an extremely valuable and AUTHENTIC source of our ancient History!!

Bharat grew up to be a great warrior and a Chakravarti Raja who conquered and united the entire continent of India again, spreading right from the Ocean to the Himalayas, thus giving the country his name.

Chakravarti Raja Bharat
Image courtesy Grant Morrison's 18 Days
{Art by Mukesh Singh}

This appellation for the country was well noted in the ancient world as well. From the perspective of the Malaysians, Indians were the most common visitors from the West, therefore the word Barat was absorbed into Malay language meaning "West".

For the Middle Eastern traders, particularly Arabs and Turks, spices were the most common materials coming from the East. Therefore, some scholars believe, the term Bharat was borrowed first into Arabic as Baharāt (meaning - spices); and then into the Turkish as Baharat with the same meaning.

It is fortunate that the two BHARATs of our History who gave their name to the Nation were called the same, otherwise one of them could have quite easily been forgotten like the Emperor Nabhi!! We should therefore understand BhArat to mean not just the 'Land-of-Bharat' but the 'Land-of-BharatS' instead ;o)

BhAratvarsha, the Land of Bharats

I have heard from various people the view that we Indians have always been fighting with each other and it was the British who actually turned us into a NATION! To the supporters of this belief, I would urge to read their scriptures and understand their own heritage.

There is no Future for any nation, if we do not remember our Past. I hope I was able to share with you some interesting facts about our Origin as a Country and I guess should conclude here with one of the most optimistic poems ever by Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur-

Where the Mind is without Fear,
And the Head is held High,
Where Knowledge is Free,
Where the World has not been broken i
nto fragments
by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of Truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms
towards Perfection;
Where the clear stream of Reason has not lost its Way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by Thee,
into ever-widening
Thought and Action,
Into that Heaven of freedom,

My Father,
Let my Country awake.

Vande Mataram!
Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:

No comments:

Post a Comment