The history behind India being officially known as ‘Bharat’

The many perceptions behind India being named as Bharat

Source: Wikimedia commons

By Shubhi Mangla

India the land of different cultures, religions, languages and beliefs has a very colorful and rich history. Being one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India has two principal short names both in the official and English language i.e. India and Bharat. The name ‘India’ is derived from the river Indus or Sindhu River and has been widely used in Greek since Herodotus and in English in the 17th century.

Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution states that, “India that is Bharat shall be a Union of States”. The name Bharat has been given to India by its founding fathers. However, there are some specific reasons as to why India is officially called Bharat. Many of us are unaware of the theories that relate to India coming to be called so.

 The term ‘Bharat’

The name Bharat has originated from the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit.

  • Bharat is a derivation of the Sanskrit word Bharata which stands for ‘Agni’ meaning fire. The term is a verbal noun of the Sanskrit root ‘bhr’ meaning to carry with a literal meaning of ‘to be maintained’ (of fire),
  • The term Bharata also means ‘one who is in search of knowledge’
  • According to sterlingholidays.comBharata is the official Sanskrit name of the country, Bharata Ganarajya, and the name is derived from the ancient Indian texts, the Puranas, which refers to the land that comprises India as Bharata varsam, and uses this term to distinguish it from other varsas or continents’

Related: How Indian laws define the term ‘Hindu’

Emperor Bharata Chakravarti and Mahabharata

King Bharata killed a lion as a young kid all by himself Source: Wikimedia commons
King Bharata killed a lion as a young kid all by himself
Source: Wikimedia commons

According to Gita, India came to be known as ‘Bharatvarsha’ after the emperor Bharata Chakravarti who was the son of King Dushyanta of Hastinapura and Queen Shakuntala. Thus, a descendant of the Lunar dynasty of Kshatriya Varna. Bharata was known to be a brave king who went to conquer the whole of Indian empire which came to be named after him as ‘Bharatvarsha’ meaning land of Bharata. In the epic Mahabharata, India was mentioned as Bharatvarsha by Lord Krishna and this huge Bharata Empire not only included the modern day India but also parts of other countries like Russia, Iran, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

‘Bharat’ in Puranas

Purana Manuscripts from 15th- to 18th-century Source: Wikimedia commons
Purana Manuscripts from 15th- to 18th-century
Source: Wikimedia commons

The term Bharat has been used in ancient Indian texts and Puranas. India has been mentioned as Bharatvarsha in Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, Linga Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Agni Purana, Skanda Purana, Khanda and Markandaya Purana.  A version of the Bagavatha Purana says, the name Bharatha is after Jata Bharatha who appears in the fifth canto of the Bagavatha.

This country is known as Bharatavarsha since the times the father entrusted the kingdom to the son Bharata and he himself went to the forest for ascetic practices”  —  Vishnu Purana

“The country (varsam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata”  Vishnu Purana

Retaining Bharat

 India as a nation has still preserved the traditional and ancient name of Bharat in many ways.

The Bharat Ratna Source: Wikimedia commons
The Bharat Ratna
Source: Wikimedia commons
  •  The highest and the most prestigious award which can be given to any Indian citizen is named as ‘Bharat Ratna’.
  • The Government of India has named various companies and Governmental institutions after the name Bharat keeping in mind the age old tradition. These include Bharat Petroleum, Bharat Heavy Electricals, Bharat State Bank, Bharat Aluminium, Bharat Steals etc.
  • Legendary poet, Rabindranath Tagore in his National Anthem described India as `BHARATHA BHAGYA VIDHATA` which means one is lucky to have been born in India.
  • Our nation has been referred to as Bharat Desam and Bharatha with great patriotic passion in Mahakavi Bharathi’s renowned nationalistic songs and poems.

This shows the people of India have not given up recognizing India as Bharat. Thus, honouring the traditional name of Bharat and using it for patriotic and nationalistic purposes.


Shubhi Mangla is an intern at Newsgram and a student of Journalism & Mass Communication in New Delhi. Twitter @shubhi_mangla