Rumor has it that the Indian state is planning to change its name from „India“ to „Bharat“. The latter term is not chosen at random, but has a profound significance for India and its cultural history. For this embodies the country’s spiritual heritage like no other term and is very prominent in Indian society. Those who are not familiar with the Indian (or other, South and Southeast Asian) languages, might have difficulties to assign the word „Bharat“, respectively to understand it at all. The following article should therefore give the reader a good overview of the topic of changing the name from India to „Bharat“ and provide a comprehensive explanation of the term and political classification.
Origin and meaning of the term „Bharat“ (also in other languages)
The origin of the word „Bharat“ can be traced back to Sanskrit writings several thousand years old, in which modern India is described as an ancient kingdom on the subcontinent of the same name. Presumably, the term originated from the name „Bharata,“ which must have been a mythical founder of this kingdom.
Literally translated from Sanskrit, „Bharat“ is composed of the words „bha“ (meaning „light“) and „rata“ (meaning „to love“) and can therefore be translated as „loving the light“. In Arabic, on the other hand, „Bharat“ can be translated as „spices“ – an indication that today’s India was known in ancient times primarily as a source of various spices. Again, in Indonesian, „Bharat“ means something like „westward direction,“ which is an indication that India is located west of Indonesia.
History of the term „India“
The current name „India“ is closely rooted in the colonial influences on the subcontinent that prevailed here in the mid-20th century. Thus, „India“ derives from the Indus River, which historically held a significant, geographic role. During the heyday of British colonialism in India (around the 19th century), the name „India“ was first used to describe an area on the subcontinent that was then under British rule. The idea behind this was to unite a multitude of different peoples and regions as well as languages and cultures under a single name. In addition, two other terms were created, which will be explained in more detail in the following subsections:
Differentiation from Hindustan
Over the centuries, „Hindustan“ has also become a common term to describe the Indian subcontinent, especially within India. However, it refers to the religious orientation of the country, which is primarily inhabited by Hindus. In detail, however, it has always meant the northern part of the country, which has a stronger cultural connotation of Hindu religion. Therefore, „Hindustan“ is used today primarily in literary, poetic, or traditional contexts. Thus, the terms „India“ as well as „Hindustan“ differ in their usage, as well as in their meaning.
Differentiation from Bharat
While „India“ is used in international contexts, „Bharat“ sometimes appears primarily in domestic contexts. „Bharat“ emphasizes the spiritual as well as historical dimension of the country and is often used in religious and philosophical discourses. If „India“ stands more for modern, political views, „Bharat“ embodies more spirituality and national consciousness.
Political Classification of „Bharat“
The term „Bharat“ is used today, among other things, in the Constitution of the Republic of India and serves to officially name the country (domestic). The passage in question is found in Article 1 of the Constitution of India and attests to the widespread recognition of this term. „Bharat“ as an official political classification thus reflects the deep connection between the modern Indian republic and its cultural heritage. The term „Bharat“ can therefore be compared roughly with the German „Germanien,“ which is an archaic (and often used in a right-wing conservative context) designation for Germany. This is similar to the term „Bharat“ for „India“.
Use of the term „Bharat“
„Bharat“ has come back into focus with increasing frequency, especially in recent years. The reason for this is the change of India’s name sought by Indian nationalists. Therefore, „Bharat“ is used today mainly in the following contexts:
- by Hindu nationalists
- on social media
- in everyday life
In the subsections below, this will also be discussed once in more detail.
Hindu nationalists often use „Bharat“ in an ideological context to emphasize their vision of a Hindu India. „Bharat“ thus symbolizes the country’s political unity and its cultural and religious identity. The use of „Bharat“ instead of „India“ is therefore considered controversial and is attributed to the conservative camp. At the same time, „Bharat“ is seen as a countermovement to India’s pluralistic culture, regularly leads to tensions in ethnic groupings. The political use of „Bharat,“ which has increased sharply in recent months and years, thus underscores the continuous efforts of Hindu nationalists to create a more Indian identity.
The term „Bharat“ is also increasingly used on social media. Here, it is used in politically motivated postings by right-wing conservative Indian politicians. Popular is the use in the form of so-called hashtags on Instagram as well as on Facebook and also on other social media platforms.
As the term becomes more common in politics and on social media, it has also become part of everyday life in India. „Bharat“ is therefore used primarily by the conservative in everyday speech, which naturally increases the momentum around the use of the term considerably.
Criticisms of the term „Bharat“ and the planned name change
The use of the term „Bharat“ and the change of India’s name sought by Indian nationalists repeatedly causes criticism as well as controversial discussions. The main criticism is that the use of „Bharat“ would be at the expense of diversity and the secular principle of India. In addition, „Bharat“ is causing division in the country and is highly controversial, especially politically. To date, there is no firm evidence that India will actually be renamed „Bharat.“
Conclusion on the topic „Bharat“ and naming of similar terms
The term „Bharat“ has a deep cultural meaning in India and can be interpreted in many ways, or translated from other languages. While it reflects the identity and diversity of India as a country, it can also be politically charged and is highly controversial, not least for this reason. Rumors of a potential change of India’s name to „Bharat“ are spread primarily by Hindu nationalists.
The words „Hindustan“ and „Aryavarta“ can also be associated with the term „Bharat.“ While „Hindustan“ is an archaic name for India (also used by nationalists), „Aryavarta“ in Sanskrit mythology refers to the land of the Aryas in part of present-day India.