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Saturday, October 23, 2021

India’s ancient name was Bhārata or Bhāratavarsha

 


The traditional learning is that India was called Bhārata, which was the name of the son of Dhushyanta and Shakuntala and one of the early monarchs. But Dr. Mugda Gadgil of Bhandarkar Oriental Institute says in her scholarly lecture that the name Bhārata is mentioned in the Rg Veda and was the name of a clan.

Prof. Gadgil goes on to describe a war mentioned in the Rg Veda called the Dasharajna war, or the War of Ten Kings. It was probably the earliest record of a war in the history of India. Since this is in Rg Ved, this war probably took place several decades or centuries earlier than 1,500 BCE. Prof. Gadgil says that in the ancient literature, when they say “ten”, they usually mean several and not exactly ten.

One conclusion that can be made by the passages in the Rg Veda is that there was a king by name Sudas, in the family of Paijavana. He belonged to the Bharata clan. There was a war on the banks of the river Purushni, which is now called Raavi,  involving many kings whose names are mentioned in various passages. King Sudas was the ultimate winner and established one of the earliest mini empires in an area which is now in Pakistan. Since he was from the Bharata clan, the country was named Bharatavarsha.

It is interesting to note that reference to this war and to the names of kings are mentioned in two books from the Rg Veda. One is in Book 3 and another one, more elaborate, is in Book 7. Book 3 is attributed to Vishwamitra and Book 7 to Vasishta. Interesting, isn’t it?

Prof. Gadgil presents the actual passages from the Rg Veda on the screen and gives the meaning. She also summarizes the views of many scholars on the passages. Given that the text is ancient and, we do not even know the contexts, customs and motives of people involved, our speculations are just that – speculations. But there is no doubt about the name of the King and the war.

When I read the entire Maha Bharata and also visited Kurukshetra, I got the feeling that there probably was a major conflict in that part of India several centuries back and the book is a chronicle written much later based on anecdotes and storytelling passed on from generation to generation.

Making gods out of participants of the event might have been from the imagination of our ancestors who wanted to instill bhakti in the minds of the people or because in those times kings were considered to be earthly representatives of the heavenly gods. In the process they teach us moral values, ethics and customs. They  also show that Dharma is complex and has to be applied in context.


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