The legacy of “Bharat”
by Sandhya Jain on 04 Nov 2023 6 Comments

The recent controversy over naming India exclusively as Bharat has led to much curiosity about the authentic name of this land, and its origins. We shall look at its deeper meanings.


Bharat or Bharatavarsha is the land south of Sagarmatha, forehead of the ocean and epithet for the tallest Himalayan peaks, and north of Hind Mahasagar (Indian Ocean). Bharatavarsha means the continent (‘varsha’, Sanskrit) dedicated to light (‘rata’) and wisdom (‘bha’).[1] Our Vedic Rishis devoted themselves to the quest for the eternal truth and ultimate reality, kevala jñana, satchidananda.


Famed as a divine creation, it is the land of the Bharatas, an ancient tribe mentioned in the Rig Veda, particularly Mandala 3 of Rishi Vishvamitra and Mandala 7 that states that the Bharatas were the victors in the Battle of the Ten Kings. Scholars believe that the Bharata tribe created India’s first known empire along with a rare model of assimilation unseen anywhere else, and gave their name to a whole civilisation.[2]


Rig Veda


The Rig Veda says the Bharata tribe lived on the banks of the Saraswati river in modern-day Haryana. They called their land Sapta Sindhu, Land of Seven Rivers, namely, the Saraswati and its tributaries.


The Bharatas were attacked by a coalition of 10 tribes from the West. Led by their chieftain Sudas and Rishi Vashishta, the Bharata army crossed the Saraswati and went to meet the enemy. In the Battle of Ten Kings on the banks of Parushni river (now Ravi), the Bharatas defeated the coalition. Sudas then turned eastwards and defeated another chieftain called Bheda on the banks of the Yamuna.


Thus, the Bharatas created India’s first known empire, and Sudas became the first ‘chakravartin’ or universal monarch. But the real reputation of the Bharatas rests on their spiritual conquest.


Far from imposing their gods on the vanquished tribes, they invited all defeated tribes and other neighbouring clans, to contribute their ideas, rituals and gods to a common pool that formed the Vedic corpus. Many contributors, such as the Bhrigu clan, were on the losing side in the epic battle.


The last hymn of the Rig Veda issues a message of unity to all tribes:

“Assemble, speak together: let our minds be all of one accord,

Let all the ancient Gods take their rightful place around the sacrificial fire,

The place is common, common the assembly,

Common our mind, let our thoughts be united.”


This unique idea of assimilation became the Hindu paradigm and more and more gods and people added their wisdom to the civilizational corpus. From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Land of Seven Rivers stretched to cover almost the whole of India. This is captured in a hymn chanted even today during ritual bathing:

“O Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu, Kaveri!

May all your waters come together to purify me.”


Thus, the land from the Himalayas to the ocean was proclaimed to be inhabited by the Bharata people. Bharata is not so much an ethnicity as it is a cultural legacy of unity without uniformity; it laid the basis for the famed diversity of India.  



There were three personifications of ‘Bharata’ in Hindu tradition, one each in the first three yugas, or time cycles. Together they are regarded as the epitome of the civilizational values of Sanatana Dharma.


Bharata of the Sat Yuga


The first Bharata was a descendant of Manu, son of his grandson, king Nabhi, and was born in Ayodhya in the Sat Yuga. He was the son of Rshabnath or Rshabdeva, first among the recognized ancient sages. The Jaina community traces its spiritual lineage from Rshabdeva, designated as the first Tirthankara; he is also known as Adinath, and synonymous with Shiva, the foremost yogi of the Hindu tradition.


Jinasena’s Adipurana says three great events occurred simultaneously in Jaina history: Rshabdeva attained enlightenment and became the first Jina; the cakra (wheel) appeared in the armoury of his son Bharata and proclaimed him a cakravartin (emperor); and a son was born to Bharata, ensuring continuation of the Iksvaku dynasty founded by Rshabdeva.


The duty of the Cakravartin is total conquest of all the directions (digvijaya) by means of superior moral and political powers, to unite the country under a single moral kingdom and prevent anarchy. Cakravartin is not merely an ideal ruler, but a powerful ancient political concept, inspired by a vision of the Hindu bhumi as a unity despite multiple kingdoms and rulers. That is why civilizational values permeated the whole land and gave the tradition its abiding continuity.


As first cakravartin, Bharata fasted, meditated, performed puja and followed the cakra symbolizing his kingship as it moved of its own accord to various parts of the country. He paused to perform pradaksina in Saurastra, where the Jina Aristanemi (cousin of Sri Krishna) would be born, all the while circling Ayodhya, centre of Aryavarta (land of the noble ones).


Bharata’s digvijaya was accomplished without violence, through innate capability, on account of punya (merit) acquired in previous lives through practice of Jaina precepts. He exemplifies the virtues of compassion (daya), divine-wisdom (brahma jnana) and penance (tapas). 


Bharata of the Tretayuga


The second Bharata was born in the Tretayuga as the son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, and younger brother of Sri Rama. The story of the Ramayana is well known, but briefly, Keikeyi, second wife of King Dasaratha, schemes to have Rama, the heir apparent, sent into exile for fourteen years, and her own son, Bharata, appointed crown prince in his place. Rama, accompanied by his brother Lakshman, and wife Sita, departs immediately and the grief-stricken Dasaratha passes away soon afterwards.


Bharata, then on a visit to his maternal grandfather’s kingdom in Gandhara, returns and learns of his father’s tragic demise and brother’s unfair exile. Tormented at the thought that he could be considered complicit in this palace conspiracy, he decides – unswervingly – not to accept the throne. He then leads the people to the forest to persuade Rama to return,


When Rama refuses to return to Ayodhya as rightful king, Bharata, at the intervention of Sita’s father, King Janaka, accepts the onerous duty of facilitating Rama to live righteously, i.e., in exile for fourteen years. He vows to immolate himself if Rama does not return immediately at the end of the exile period and ascend his throne. Agreeing to govern Ayodhya only as regent, he places Sri Rama’s sandals at the foot of the royal throne as the symbol of His kingship.


Bharata is regarded as the symbol of dharma and idealism, second only to Sri Rama. He embodies the virtues of love (prema), devotion (bhakti), and brotherhood (bandhutva). 


Bharata of the Dwaparyuga


The third Bharata was born in the Dwaparyuga as son of Shakuntala and King Dushyant. Shakuntala was the daughter of Rishi Vishvamitra and apsara Menaka, who was sent by Indra to distract the sage. Menaka returned to heaven, and her daughter was raised in the hermitage of Rishi Kanva.


King Dushyant was the youngest son of King Puru, who had sacrificed his youth for his father, King Yayati. He founded the Paurava dynasty. Dushyant was hunting in the forest when, following a wounded deer into the hermitage of Rishi Kanva, he found Shakuntala nursing the animal. They fell in love and married secretly in Gandharva style, being their own witnesses.


The king gave her a ring as token of his love and to establish her identity as his wife. Sadly, Shakuntala lost the ring and the king refused to accept her; she retired to the forest and gave birth to Bharata, who grew up so bold and fearless that he played with lions. Some years later, the ring was found and Dushyant brought Shakuntala and Bharat to Pratishthan, where Bharata later became king.


Bharata is regarded as the greatest king of India. He had nine sons, but found none of them fit to succeed him, and adopted a capable child as future ruler. Bharata personifies the values of service (seva), valour (shaurya), and charity (dana). 


Eternal values, eternal tradition


Thus, the three Bharatas (two kings, one prince) seamlessly united the three yugas and the land. Each exemplified three ideals that permeated Hindu civilisation and form its core values to this day. Rsabhdeva’s son Bharata gave daya, Brahma-jnana and tapas; Dasaratha’s son Bharata gave prema, bhakti, and bandhutva; and Dushyanta-Shakuntala’s son Bharata gave seva, shaurya and dana. Their sterling qualities raised a landmass to divine bhumi - Bharat Mata, mother of the Bharata people.


Hindus impart these nine values to every generation. The jeneu ceremony marking the transition from childhood to youth revolves around this value system. Those taking the sacred thread take nine vows; each vow is represented as a knot that binds the three separate strands of the jeneu.


The jeneu was a great privilege, bestowed upon conscious Hindus. Today Hindu gurus are extending its reach to all sections of society, shattering mindsets and barriers, and raising the whole population to higher awareness about the responsibilities of religion and culture.


Bharata is the sacredness of this land, its enduring civilisational values, and cultural unity.


Thank you.



1] I owe some of these insights to discussions with Bharat Bhushan Padmadeo.

2] Sanyal, Sanjeev, The making of Bharatavarsha, India Today, September 25, 2023.


Speech delivered at the eighth anniversary function of Sri TV, Chennai, on 28 October 2023

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