Bharatvarsh(India) That Was Aryavart

In order to understand the origin of terms Hinduism and India, one must look into the history of ancient India. This article briefly accounts for those events in India’s past that are relevant to explaining the origin of these terms.

Mahabharat to the beginning of foreign invasion ■ By Surendra Nath Pandey, Ph.D. of India as discussed later.

Bharatvarsh refers to the whole of modern India

Thousands of years ago India was known  and many other countries which did not exist as Aryavart (Dee³ee&Jele&) meaning abode then as separate nations. Bharat was one of the (avart) of the Aryas.  The boundary of  few emperors to rule all of former India or aryavarta may have extended in the north to Bharatvarsh, which was much bigger than the Himalaya mountain range and to the Vindhya modern India. Vishnu Puran (2.3.1) includes an Mountain range in the south as per several references, such as The Manu Smriti (Chapter 2 -22/24) which describes aryavart as `the region located between the eastern sea to the western sea and the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya mountain ranges.’

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However, in the two most popular epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat, many locations are mentioned that can be found all over India extending to as far as the current Afghanistan, Pakistan, Arabian Sea, Aruna Mountain, Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar) to the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. The most populated areas, however, were the plains of rivers Sindhu (Indus), now dried up Saraswati, Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna, and their tributaries.

Later the land (aryavarta) was named

Bharatvarsh, after the noble king Bharat. This name existed for thousands of years from pre-account of the extent of Bharatvarsh,

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uttaram yatsamudrasya himadrescaiva daksinam varsham tad Bharatam nama bharata yatra santatih

“The region (varsha) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharat; there dwell the descendants of Bharat.”

The religion of the inhabitants of aryavart (Dee³ee&Jele&) was known as Sanatan Dharma, an eternal religion which had no founder meaning it always existed.

To the west of Bharatvarsh, the region referred to as the Middle East, a man named Jesus Christ was born about 2,000 years ago who proclaimed himself as the son of God. His followers started a religion Christianity in his name hence, they became known as Christians. About five centuries later, another man, named Muhammad was born in the same region. He claimed to have received word from God whom he called Allah, and declared himself the last prophet of Allah. Thus a new religion, Islam was born –the followers of Islam became known as Muslims. It’s noteworthy that both Jesus Christ and

Muhammad shared the common ancestor Abraham, hence these are known as Abrahamic religions. As the Christians and Muslims tried to expand their religious influence all over the word, they fought with each other several wars over religious and territorial control mostly confined to the Europe and Eurasia initially. The first victim of Muslim invasion toward the east was the portion of India which is now in Afghanistan/Pakistan. It is believed that when

Muslims from the north and west traveled toward Bharatvarsh, the first river they reached was Sindhu (Indus) River. They started identifying inhabitants around and across the Sindhu River as Hindus. After several wars, the Muslim invaders succeeded in establishing a firm rule over Bharatvarsh, and gave it the name Hindustan, abode of Hindus. Thus the religions of people of Hindustan were identified as either Hinduism, of the natives practicing Sanatan Dharma, or Islam, of the invaders and forcibly converted Hindus. A few centuries later, the Christians from Portugal, France, Holland and England started coming to India through naval routes primarily as traders. As their influence expanded they captured some part of India forcibly and started conversion to Christianity. The British became most influential and powerful. They eventually defeated the Muslim ruler in 1757; making Hindustan a colony of the British Empire, and India became its official name. Perhaps, the name India emanated from the word Hindi, the most common language of Indians during British entry into India or a deformation of the word Hindu. In 1857, the first fight against the Colonial rule was started by the Hindus serving in the British (Indian) army. Even though the original “rebels” were hanged by the British, they had planted enough seeds that would produce many freedom fighters over the years to come. After 90 years of struggle, the British granted independence to India in 1947. The new Indian government adopted two official names for this newly independent nation: Republic of India in English and Bharat Ganrajya in Hindi, in short India and Bharat. Unfortunately, before granting independence, the British carved out two sections from India to create a new nation Pakistan (East and West). Later the East broke independent from the West and emerged as an independent nation of Bangladesh.

The above is a very brief history of India or Bharat which is relevant and necessary to understand the term Hinduism, the current name for the Sanatan Dharma practiced by the Hindus in Bharat (India) for thousands of years, and by the Hindu Diasporas all over the world.

About the author

Dr. Surendra Nath Pandey is a retired university professor and administrator. He is the Chief Editor of Mandir Vani and editor/contributor to other

Hindu/Indian publications. He is a member of the Governing Council of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA).