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Why ‘Bharat’, ‘India’ And ‘Hindustan’ Evoke Different Emotions

More from Shweta Chopra

On September 18, 1949, the Constituent Assembly deliberated upon various names for the yet to be born Indian nation – ‘Bharat’, ‘Hindustan’, ‘Hind’, ‘Bharatbhumi’, ‘Bharatvarsh’. Ultimately, Article 1(1) of the Constitution of India became the official and the only provision on the naming of the nation, stating, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” Thus, the Constitution equates ‘India’ with ‘Bharat’, in meaning, language being the only technical differentiator. But what of their connotations, the feelings they ignite within Indian citizens? And what of ‘Hindustan’, does it still exist?


‘Bharat’ comes from Sanskrit and is the most ancient term of the three, with references in the Hindu Puranas and the Mahabharata to ‘Bharatvarsa’ and with a reference to a Bharata tribe in the Rigveda. The Puranas describe ‘Bharat’ as a geographical entity between the Himalayas in the north and the seas in the South, politically divided into various smaller territories, but yet referred to together. The ‘Bharatvarsa’ of the Puranas, thus, contained the same plurality in caste, religion, culture, language and lifestyle, as the ‘Bharat’ of today. This unity in diversity brings to mind the most beautiful interpretation of Bharat that I came across. It derives itself from the name of the dance form ‘Bharatnathyam’ – ‘Bha’ from Bhavam or expression, ‘Ra’ from Ragam or melody, and ‘Ta’ from Thalam or rhythm. This interpretation renders a beautiful imagery of harmonious diversity, offering a glimpse of what ‘Bharatvarsa’ might have meant to people in ancient times.

At the same time, its origin from Hindu texts and Sanskrit, also give ‘Bharat’ a religious significance for Hindus. ‘Bharat’ is a nation where Hindus feel some sense of identification and belonging. This can be inferred from the importance of slogans like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ for the Hindus participating in the freedom struggle. Deliberations in the Constituent Assembly took place, on whether Bharat should precede India, in the form – “Bharat, or in the English language, India…” In recent years, public interest litigations have been filed in favour of ‘Bharat’ being adopted as the only official name of ‘India’, with the latter being seen as a colonial hand-me-down. Thus today, when Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali markets itself as ‘Made in Bharat’ and not ‘Made in India’, it makes it clear that while the Constitution may technically equate ‘Bharat’ with ‘India’ in meaning, the two continue to have different connotations for a lot of ‘Bharatvasis’, who may not relate to ‘India’ as much to ‘Bharat’.

Image Credit: Ramesh Pathania/MINT via GettyImages


The Persian ‘Hindustan’, and the Latin ‘India’, are both derived from the old-Persian term ‘Hindu’. Hindu is Persian for Sindhu, the name for the Indus River in ancient Sanskrit. Thus, ‘Hindustan’ is ‘the land beyond the Indus’. Hindustan became a commonly used term to refer to the Mughal Empire, comprising primarily of north India, prior to British rule. However, with time and colonisation, the term widened its geographical scope to include the entire territory of British-ruled India. Iqbal’s Urdu song ‘Tarana-e-Hind’, popularly known as ‘Sare Jahan Se Achcha’ is an ode to Hindustan, the un-partitioned subcontinent of 1904.

Delving into the history of ‘Hindustan’ provided an amusing, yet remarkable, realisation – today’s Hindu religious identity gets its name from the Persians. The same Persians that Hindu nationalists perceive as destroyers of Hindu culture. ‘Hindustan’, post the 19th-century growth of Hindu nationalism led by VD Savarkar, began to be appropriated as the Sanskrit ‘Hindusthan’ – ‘Hindu’ along with ‘Sthan’ or place – forming ‘the land of Hindus’ instead of a geographical reference with respect to the Indus. This led to the slogan ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ that called for one language, one religious denomination and one territory, a connotation wildly different from the original inclusive ‘Hindustan’, or even ‘Bharat’. When the Vishva Hindu Parishad, in 2003, demanded India’s name to be changed to ‘Hindustan’, it was ‘Hindusthan’ they spoke of, instead of the former.

Despite being unintentionally referred to more than ‘Bharat’, in Constituent Assembly debates, ‘Hindustan’ was unwittingly rejected when it came to the official naming of the country. The Hindu nationalist appropriation of the term could be one factor that led to its present day perception of being unfair to minorities. For instance, my aunt mentioned that she felt ‘Bharat’ was more secular than ‘Hindustan’. On the other hand, the view that Pakistan refers to India as ‘Hindustan’ is another connotation that makes people shun the term. Despite this, ‘Hindustan’ continues to be widely used in the form of Subhash Chandra Bose’s slogan ‘Jai Hind’ and the singing of ‘Tarana-e-Hind’.

The Hindustan Times continues to be a leading national daily, and Hindustan Unilever, an FMCG giant. Personally, for my grandmother, ‘Hindustan’ continues to be the term, that in her heart, she can most relate to. She left her home in Lahore and fled to India at the age of 12, on August 14, 1947. Living through the Partition and its aftermath, Pakistan-Hindustan was a contrast that marked every day. Thus, she grew up a ‘Hindustani’, with it forming one of the most crucial parts of her identity. For her, ‘Hindustan’ refers to the post-Partition independent India, a stronger synonym for ‘India’ than even the ancient ‘Bharat’.


‘India’ shares its etymology with ‘Hindustan’, through the Persian ‘Hind’, connecting this land with the Indus River. It became commonly used in the English language post the 17th century, and eventually became the English reference to this region. For me, having been brought up in an English-speaking household, ‘India’ is the way I have grown to relate to my country. In the news, in classrooms, in conversations, on television, or in books – it is the term I have most frequently encountered. To be honest, I am practically unable to fathom this nation without thinking of ‘India’.

However, in the minds of some, ‘India’ remains a colonial relic that should be discarded, the way Sri Lanka gave up ‘Ceylon’. For others, ‘India’ refers only to the modern, more urban parts of India, while ‘Bharat’ is the ‘real India’. The unequal growth and urbanisation witnessed by the country exacerbates this divide. Still, for many, particularly those belonging to younger generations, ‘India’ is simply the same as ‘Bharat’ or ‘Hindustan’. It is inclusive of everything that is India. This diversity in connotations derived from the same term highlights the thoughtfulness of the decision to have more than one official name for this country. It acknowledges the existence of diversity, the harmonious diversity of ‘Bha-Ra-Tha’.

After digging deeper into the history and etymology of these different terms, ‘India’ continues to resonate with me the most. This is partly due to my upbringing in a certain generation, but also partly due to what I interpret ‘India’ to be. While both ‘Bharat’ and ‘Hindustan’ can be thought of as synonyms for ‘India’ in different languages – Sanskrit and Persian – they have histories and cultural ties that complicate their connotations. This is not to say that ‘India’ does not have multiple connotations. We have examined a few above. However, at the time of independence, a new nation was to be called into existence, by the ‘People of India’, inclusive of all of this nation’s diversity. I look at this as a moment of creation, the establishment of a new Constitution, with a new definition of what this nation is. So while ‘Bharat’ and ‘Hindustan’ deserve their due, I feel that ‘India’ was necessary, as a name that could stand for everything created at that moment – the moment of independence. That today there are people who do not relate to this term, is a failure of governance. However, the intention behind ‘India’ is something I find captivating.

The plurality yet unity of India is best described by Nehru in his “Discovery of India”, when he says, “… how each part differed from the other and yet was India.” I look at this as a perfect analogy for this examination of the meanings and connotations of ‘Bharat’, ‘Hindustan’ and ‘India’. Each of these terms differs from the other in its etymology, history and essence. They evoke different sentiments in different people. However ultimately, they are all India. They are India, in the glory of all their differences, and are India in the glory of all that they have in common.

Select Inputs From Friends & Family

 So, all three have very different connotations as far as I am concerned. Bharat would probably signify the ancient, culturally rich and vibrant civilisation that gives us the very basic identity and character as a nation. Not forgetting that Bharat was more of a ragtag collection of kingdoms. Very few rulers had the vision to attempt a unification. India, on the other hand, would emote to a more modern existence. A country that is not only vibrant but also an emerging world power in terms of technology and science. Hindustan probably originated sometime around the time when the concept of Pakistan was created. While we in India often use this, I am somewhat surprised to note that in Pakistan today, the common reference is made with the other two names. But in some sense, Hindustan reflects a non-secular tone. That is, in a gist, my take on the three names. The identity nonetheless remains very much the same. A country full of contradictions, chaos, love, hatred, opulence, poverty. And yet the vibrancy and optimism surprise one and all.

  • Sanjay Dixit, family friend

India is the English translation of Hindustan. After independence, Hind was termed as Bharat in Hindi. In Urdu, India was termed as Hindustan. Now since we talk mostly in English, I connect most with India.

  • Ashok Aggarwal, nana (maternal grandfather)

I think I relate more to Hindustan and India. Bharat doesn’t come to my mind. Maybe Hindustan comes more naturally because I have grown up hearing that we are Hindustani. India is given by the British but because we have heard, used, and read this word more often, so it comes to mind. For me, Hindustan doesn’t mean a place for Hindus, it is a name of a country. Hope I have made my point. ”

  • Sukirta Chopra, dadi (paternal grandmother)

Bharat seems more secular to me!

  • Pinky Aggarwal, mami (maternal uncle’s wife)

This article is a reproduction of the author’s essay submission for the course ‘Mother India: Romance and Reality’ at the Young India Fellowship 2017

You must be to comment.
  1. Marcos Polo

    How can “Hindu Religious Identity” can get its name from the Persians as stated by the author?
    When she herself quoting that Ancient Persians (Zoroastrians..not Moslims) derived the term ‘Hindu’ on the name of the Indus River in ancient Sanskrit. This means the term “Hindu” derives from the term “Sindhu” which itself is a Sanskrit word.

    Sounds like some appeasement agenda ..

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