As we celebrate 74 years of freedom, many of us remember the Indian rebellion as well as the freedom fighters that brought us to this day. But that also begets the question, “When did we acquire the name of ‘India’?”

A person once told me that India stood for Independent Nation Declared In August. Not only is that categorically false, but it’s also ridiculous. Did the East India Company know its own future 200 years ago?

But let’s look at it seriously. Before the colonisation of the subcontinent, the state of India didn’t really exist. It can be more accurately described as a collection of princely states. So if the very idea of India did not exist, how did the name come into being? More importantly the name India doesn’t even sound like it roots from an Indian language. So what is the real history behind it?

India’s mountainous regions up north have kept the subcontinent reasonably isolated for periods. The river Sindhu ( present-day Pakistan) was an important river for the Indus civilization. The people on the other side of the river Sindhu referred to the people on the Eastern side as Sindhus. As Persian influence grew in the area, the name Hindu came into usage as Persian translated the letter ‘s’ into ‘h’. This later evolved into the words Hindu, Hindustan, Hind etc.

As people from different parts of the world came into the subcontinent, they further corrupted the name based on the linguistic and pronunciation of their mother tongues. It was Indos under the Greeks ( the h was lost due to the dialects of Greek spoken in Asia Minor), Tianzhu by the Chinese, the French made it Inde or Ynde and so on till the English used the word India.

It would be correct to state that the word was originally used to only describe the people on the other side of the river Sindhu and was restricted to a small section of Northern India, however it has now come to refer to the entirety of the country.

India has historically been referred to by many other names such as Bharat and Hindustan as well. Hindustan is simply an extension of the Persian translation and adds the word ‘stan’- place. Bharat on the other hand is a name based on Hindu beliefs and comes from the story of Dushyanta. Bharata is said to be the son of Dushyanta who conquered all of India. Indian people are sometimes referred to as ‘Bharatvarshi’ aka from the lineage of Bharat.

India’s rich and diverse history is reflected in its various names. They reflect the wide variety of ethnicities, religions and philosophies that have gone into its making.

Happy Independence Day!

  • Adyesha Singhdeo