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BHARAT The Constitution of India begins with this sentence: "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States." Written in English and adopted in 1950, the Constitution uses the name "India" throughout, but nevertheless provides the Sanskrit alternative to a name that is essentially foreign. Persian kings had named the eastern province of their large empire Hindu after the river Indus (Sanskrit Sindhu, Iranian Hindu); then, in the mouth of Greek-dialect speakers, the initial consonant was lost, and the people were called Indoi and their land India. These foreign forms were introduced as Hindostan (Land of the Indians) by the Muslims and India by the Europeans. In the oldest Indian texts, the country was simply called "the Earth," later also Jambū-dvīpa (continent of the rose-apple tree). After the emergence of a powerful tribe, the Bharatas, in the Punjab toward the end of the second millennium b.c., the name Bhārata Varsha (the continent belonging to the Bharatas), or simply Bhārata, appears first in the great epic Mahābhārata, where it denotes more or less the Indian subcontinent, that is, the world region south of the mythical Mount Meru, which was ideally (but never in reality) ruled by an Indian "world ruler" (cakravartin). Later the name appears also as a compound, Bhārata-varsha.

India's great epic, the Mahābhārata (The Great Tale of the Bharatas), deals with the dynastic conflict within the ruling family, which resulted in a gigantic battle and ultimate unification under the model king Yudhishthira. Though many of the events in this epic may be fictional, Indians have always regarded them as part of their early history, a time of great conflict but also of glory and the triumph of good over evil. It is often claimed that karma "matures" only in Bhārata-varsha, meaning that a man's soul can only be cleansed and achieve spiritual liberation there. The people living in this land were supposed to observe the four social orders or classes (varna) and the four stages of life (ashramas), following thus the code of inherited customs and ethics. Outsiders were considered mlecchas (barbarians), and contact with them was to be avoided. Historical events, however, resulted in many compromises, such as the acceptance of foreign rulers and extensive political and commercial interactions. But the ideal of Bhārata-varsha ruled by a righteous king like Rāma was never forgotten, and the mythology held out the hope that at the end of this decadent aeon Vishnu, in the form of Kalkin, born in a Brahman family, will arrive on a white horse and restore the world to its proper order.

Hartmut E. Scharfe

See alsoHinduism (Dharma) ; Mahābhārata


Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Taplinger, 1968.

Rocher, Ludo. The Purānas. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1986.