Bharat that is Indu: The original names of our country
by Jayasree Saranathan on 14 Sep 2023 8 Comments

Nowadays no one asks what is in a name or why not any name, while naming one’s child. Lot of thinking goes into finding a name for the child. Concepts such as energy and vibration of the name and what the name conveys are given due consideration. The Sanatan system of thought also followed certain concepts to pick out a name for the new-born in a ceremony called ‘Nama-karma’ – naming the child soon after birth. Our land too must have been given a name with suitable meaning when it came into being.


Specific names referring to our land are invoked in the Sankalpa mantras uttered for every act of religious and Vedic work. After mentioning Time in terms of Yuga, we say ‘Jambu Dweepe, Bharata Varshe, Bharata Kande’ and continue with the locality of residence by referring to a nearby river’s name. This mantra with timeless beginnings indicates that we live in Bharata Kanda which is part of Bharata Varsha, located in Jambu Dweepa. Who gave this name and when are questions that have definite answers in Vishnu Purana.


In Chapter 2-1 of Vishnu Purana, there is a description of how this earth was initially divided among people. A king by name Priyavrata, born to Swayambhuva Manu, divided the earth into seven dweepa-s. A dweepa has several meanings of which the meanings ‘continent’ or ‘shelter’ make better sense as locations suitable for living. He assigned each of them to each of his seven sons by which the dweepa named Jambu Dweepa came under the control of Agnidhra. Agnidhra means the one who takes care of the Agni in a homa. It is the name given to the priest who kindles the Homa fire.


Agnidhra divided Jambu dweepa into nine divisions and gave them each to each of his nine sons. The land south of Himavat came under the control of his son named Nabhi. He called it Hima, meaning cold or ice. He was succeeded by Rishabha and then by Rishabha’s son Bharata. The country from thenceforth came to be called after him as ‘Bharata Varsha’ where varsha stands for ‘division’ – of Jambu dweepa.


Varsha also means rainfall and it is possible to assume that this Varsha division took place after the starting of monsoon rainfall in our country 13,000 to 12,500 years ago – the date given by Overpeck et al. (


After many generations, during the period of Vishwagjyothish, the country was divided into nine divisions, known as nine Kanda-s. A Kanda refers to a further division or stem of the Varsha of Bharat. Thus, nine Bharata Kanda-s came into being. As per Tamil dictionary, the Nava Kanda-s included eastern Videha, western Videha, northern Videha, southern Videha, northern Revata, southern Revata, northern Bharata, southern Bharata and Madhya Kanda. In course of time, 56 countries such as Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Chera, Chola, Pandya and others started springing up within the nine Kanda-s of Bharata Varsha.


Etymology of Bharata


Over thousands of years, new countries have come up within Bharata Varsha with many of them annexing others or in regular fights with neighbours, but they all stood by an underlying unitary culture of Bharata, which is best explained by the etymology of the term given in Vishnu Purana and a concept noted in Vayu and Brahmanda Purana.


In Chapter 4-19 of the Vishnu Purana, the meaning of Bharata is given in the context of Bharata, son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. The child was born in the hermitage of sages, who decided to unite the couple and entrust the child to its father, Dushyanta. Dushyanta could not recognise Shakuntala and therefore was advised by the sages to accept her and the child as a father who must cherish the child. Bharas is the root, word meaning ‘cherished’. Therefore, the child came to be known as Bharata.


Apart from ‘cherishing’, Bharas also means ‘holding’ and ‘bearing’. The country is being cherished and held and therefore it is ‘Bharata’. In the lineage of Dushyanta’s son Bharata was born Hasti, who founded Hastinapura. The lineage after him who ruled from Hastinapura came to be known as ‘Bharata-s’. The Mahabharata is the story of Bharata-s. By coming in the lineage of Sibi, the cousin of Dushyanta, the Chola-s also can be called as Bharata-s. In fact, all the people of this country are Bharatam Janam – an expression given in Rig Veda III.53.12 “Visvamitrasya rakshati brahmedam Bharatam janam” (Vishvamitra’s mantra protects the people of Bharata). 


Bharata also refers to the agni used in yajnas. There are basically three types of Agni-s – Pavamana, Pavaka and Suchi. Pavamana is created by rubbing Arni sticks. Suchi is the solar fire. Pavaka is the agni drawn from lightening strikes. This agni is known as Bharata! According to the Satapatha Brahmana, this Bharatagni supplies Havya to Devas (I.4.2.2). Bharatagni being fundamental to Vedic culture, it holds the country that cherishes Agni.


The initial name as Bharata Varsha coming from Bharata, the grandson of Agnidhra, it appears that he named the country after Bharatagni that was essential even in ordinary life in those days after the end of Ice Age. It was difficult to grow Agni and maintain Agni. The Aupasana homa was ordained for everyone to grow and protect the Agni throughout one’s life. The rationale seems to lie with the difficulty in making Agni.


The Agni so protected will protect one in mundane as well religious life. Perhaps it was Bharata, the grandson of Agnidhra, who made it mandatory for everyone to cherish Agni so that the Agni cherishes them. By this the entire country came to be cherished by the Bharatagni. So, the name Bharatam arises from the fact that this country was a Yajna Bhumi right from its inception. This name continuing to be in use in Sankalpa Mantra goes to prove that it was meant to keep this country Vedic in culture.


The Tamil culture which zealots claim to be exclusive, also has stuck with the name Bharata, as it appears in the 2000-year-old twin epic of Silappadhikaram, namely Manimekalai. In several verses in old Tamil, the country is also recognised as Jambu dweepa. Manimekalai goes a step further by stating that the Guardian deity – a female Goddess – of the Jambu dweepa was in Pumpukar.


Long before the river Kaviri was born, a woman who did penance under a Jambu tree was elevated into a Goddess with a boon to protect Jambu dweepa. The place where she did the penance came to be called “Jambu-pati” which in Tamil was known as ‘Samba-pati’. It was here river Kaviri entered the sea during the period of Agastya of Ramayana fame. Since then, the place came to be called as ‘Kaviri Pumpattinam’ which in course of time became ‘Pumpukar’. Such unitariness of Jambu dweepa from Pumpukar to Himalayas was recognised by identifying Bharata Varsha as the land between the Himalayas and Indu Sarovar – the olden name for the Indian Ocean.


Bharat that is Indu


Indu Sarovar as the name of the Indian Ocean raises our curiosity to know if Indu was an indigenous name related to our country. In his book ‘Glimpses of World History’, Jawaharlal Nehru says that,

“India was known of old as the Land of the Moon-Indu-land! Hiuen Tsang also tells us about this and describes how suitable the name is. Apparently even in Chinese In-Tu is the name for the moon.”


“In his travelogue, he (Hiuen Tsang) records that “the correct pronunciation for Tien Chu (India) is Intu” which means the moon in Chinese language. He further elaborates that “the scholars from that land have brightened the world with their delightful and shining knowledge, like the moon.”


Even the name Hindukush is not correct, according to Nehru. It was Indukush: “This mountain range was famous for medicinal plants that bloomed in the moonlight. The Sanskrit word “Indukush” (Hindukush) means “krupan” (leaves or grass) that grows in the moonlight.”


Ibn Batutta gave a wrong meaning as ‘Hindu-killer’ which was faithfully copied by western writers and Indian secularists. Note that Jawaharlal Nehru did not manipulate nor alter the original meaning of India.


Indu seems to be the indigenous name for our country and that is why it was found as ‘Indica’ in the work by Megasthenes, the 4th century BCE Greek historian. Indu is the land of Devi, the Goddess of the Moon. We can relate it to the first-ever name, Hima, given to this country by Nabhi.

Hema or Parvati was the daughter of Himavan. She was referred to as Bharati in the Rig Veda, having two sisters namely, Saraswati and Ila (Rig Veda: 1. 142, 1.188, 2.3 & 9.5). Justifying the worship of Indu as the manifestation of Goddess Shakti, evidence of Shakti-worship by means of a triangular stone was found in ‘Baghor Shrine” in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh. Archaeologist Jonathan Kenoyer dated the shrine to 9,000 BCE (11,000 years old); a similar structure continues to be worshiped by the people in the vicinity. Kenoyer observed, “The fact that it is worshipped even today, shows the remarkable continuity of religious beliefs in India.”


Triangle is the shape of the Shakti Yantra worshiped by devotees even today. Interestingly, Bharat also is triangular making it special for drawing the power of Mother Goddess. The ocean to the south of Himalayas was duly known as Indu Sarovar. Today it is known as Indian Ocean. The land between Himavat and Indu Sarovar came to be known as Hindustan.


In an article titled, “Who is a Hindu,” published in January 1965, in a monthly called “The Call Divine,” edited by Kaviyogi Maharishi Shuddhananda Bharatiar from Bombay, Brihaspati Agama is quoted as saying that the divine land extending from the Himalayas to the Indu Sarovar (Kanyakumari) is known as ‘Hindustan’.


People have been thinking that ‘Hindu’ is the name given to us by Persians and other foreigners. This seems unlikely according to the version of Brihaspati Agama cited above. The name Hindu is also found in Madhava Digvijayam of the 14th century, where it says that a ‘Hindu’ is one who regards AUM as his mantra, who believes in rebirth, who is devoted to the cow, who is harmless and who is devoted to ‘Bharat’. This quote also appears in The Call Divine.


An oft quoted verse from Brihannaradiya Purana states that the word Hindu is drawn from ‘Hi’ from Himalayas and ‘Indu’ in Bindu Sarovar (Indian Ocean) to denote the people living in Hindustan spread between the Himalayas and Indu Sarovar. This is like the word ‘Hora’ in astrology, which people claimed to belong to the Greek, but clarified by Varahamihira in Brihad Jataka as a shortened form of ‘Ahoratra’. 


What is Indu, indigenously expressed to identify our country, was pronounced as Indae and India by outsiders. That identity, being compatible with our own given name Indu, we have easily accepted. If it was a completely new or alien name, we would not have accepted it. So, India is very much part of our identity as Indu, while Bharat is our name given by Nama-karma at the birth of our country. This land holds us (Bharas) by which we are cherished in the wisdom of the Yajnas. 

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