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A river a people a nation

Thursday, 16 August 2012 10:57 Written by 

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 Thousands of years ago, much before the time of the Mughals, Persian explorers came to India. After they     crossed Khyber Pass and came towards the East, they reached what the locals called ‘Sapta Sindhu’, the land of   seven rivers. The Persians pronounced it as ‘Hapta Hindu’. It is from here that the evolution of the word ‘India’ began.

Coming back to Sapta Sindhu, the phrase stood for the Indus River System with its seven tributaries. In Sanskrit, Sapta is seven and Sindhu is river. When the Persians went back, they carried the word Hindu with them. Hindu came to denote the land and culture beyond the river Sindhu, which is now popularly called Indus.

The Greeks made Hindu into ‘Indos’. The name Indos is mentioned in Greek writer Megasthenes’s book Indica, which historians estimate to have been written between 350-290 BCE. The book is based on his experiences during his visit to the court of Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra (modern-day Patna), as ambassador of Seleucus I of Syria.

Indos became ‘India’ in Latin. One of the earliest uses of the name India appears in the 2nd Century, in the work of satirist Lucian of Samosata, one of the earliest Western novelists. The word then entered Old English. We find it used in the English king Alfred’s translation of Orosius’s Histories against the Pagans, which was translated from Latin to Old English around the 9th Century.

But the name India was soon forgotten. The French made India into ‘Ynde’ in around 13th Century. That name was in use until around the 16th Century, when it came under Spanish or Portuguese influence. After hundreds of years, the country was once again called India.

The name India gained popularity not only within the Westerners, but was also accepted by natives. The Constitution gives it equal importance as with the ancient Sanskrit name ‘Bharata’. In fact, the first Article of the Constitution of India states “India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states.” This line made both India and Bharat the official names of the country.

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