INDIA - ETYMOLOGY

 

India enjoys a rich and ancient history, made all the more complex and intense by the importance placed on religion and mythology. In addition, explorers from around the world would visit India, even centuries ago, to discover its natural and mineral value. These outside influences played a key role in the development of the Indian cultures that is firmly established today.

The name of this land, recognised as a sub-continent in its own right, demonstrates how these outside influences and complexities affected this country. Essentially, the name “India” was derived from the Old Persian word for the Indus River. Originally, there were seven main tributaries that ran through north-west India, making up one main river. For this reason, this part of the subcontinent was called Sapta-Sindhu, which meant “land of seven rivers”. Sindhu generally refers to a body of water (like a river, lake or ocean), and the local inhabitants would refer to the river by this name.

When the Old Persian travellers arrived in this area, they were no doubt fascinated by the topographical and geographical features of this beautiful land. When they translated “Sindhu” into their own tongue, the “s” became an “h” in line with
Image of old Indian map
Vintage map of India from the 19th century.
Map from 1879
Iranian Sanskrit. So, the river and the land it characterised became known as Hindu.

When the Greek businessmen and travellers began their involvement with India, they dropped the “h” and pronounced the name of this land as “Indos”, which became “Indus” in Latin. They called the local people Indoi, which simply identified them as being the people of this area. This name extended over the entire subcontinent, and was adapted to “India” by the Romans. Since the 17th Century, the whole of Europe recognised India as the area’s official name. Before this, in the medieval time, Inde was more used exclusively.

“Bharat” is recognised and used as the alternative name for India in many of the local languages. In the country, this name is just as widely known and acceptable as the more globally accepted “India”. It originates from the name of King Bharata, who is a legendary ruler in Hindu Mythology. Interestingly, Bharat is also the word for “world” in Sanskrit and the other Indian languages, including Hindu. This name likely dates back to before Sindhu or India. In Sanskrit, the “a” on the end is still pronounced.

India is a land of rich diversity and cultural abundance. Its name and the origin thereof demonstrate the evolution and discovery that has taken place in this mystical land over the centuries.


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