India: Ancient State, Modern Country

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I will start with History, and end with Poetry….

We did not start off being called India. We had several names – from Bharat, then Hindustan and later India. India is an ancient civilisation and growing to be a most modern nation.

Ancient Geographers referred to India as ‘chatuh samasthana samsthitam’ – a fourfold conformation with three sides facing the sea. We did not start off being called India. We had several names – from Bharat, then Hindustan and more later India. India is an ancient civilisation and growing to be a most modern nation. In ancient times, the land was called Bharata (the cherished) derived from the ancient Hindu Puranas which tells the story of Emperor Bharata, the first conqueror of the Indian sub-continent.

“The country (Varsam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata. – Vishnu Purana

Later, the people of India, got its name from the river Sindhu (reference to the Indus River). The Persian invaders referred to it as Hindustan (Sindhu converted to Hindu, and ‘Stan’, being place). Hindus evolved to Indos, by the British, and by the 17th Century it was being referred to as India. This land was referred to by other names as well: Aryavarta, Matrubhumi, Punyabhumi, Dharmabhumi, Devabhumi, Jambudvipa, Bharatkhanda or Bharat Mata.

Across centuries, India was reputed the world over, as a powerhouse of wealth, culture and influence. Her influence spanned not just in agriculture and trade, but also her spiritual and philosophical knowledge which has influenced the rest of the world. India, then was referred to as Sone ki Chidiya (a Sparrow–the Golden bird!). Geographically, India’s boundaries have often been fluctuating. Burma was until 1937 part of British India. The final construct of India as we know it today is post partition of Bangladesh and Pakistan. There is often the false notion that it was the British that created the idea of India as a single nation, uniting it politically. India was very much still run by large number of princely states, when Britain left. Due credit to Patel for his stellar work in getting the princely states around to join India. 

Unlike other civilisations of bygone eras, India is truly the world’s largest, oldest continuous civilisation, and the world’s largest democracy. There have been many ancient cultures existing in the world.

·     The Mesopotamian civilisation (3500 BC – 500 BC) parallels the Indus Valley Civilisation (3300 BC – 1900 BC).

Other ancient civilisations include

·     the Ancient Egyptian Civilisation (3150 BC – 30 BC),

·     Greek (2700 BC – 479 BC), 

·     the Mayan (2600 BC -900 AD),

·     Chinese (1600 BC – 1046 BC),

·     Persian (550 -331 BC),

·     the Roman (550 BC – 465 AD),

·     the Aztec (1345 AD – 1521 AD),

·     the Incas from South America (1438 AD – 1533 AD).

The ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece, Rome, were destroyed with time, and only archaeological remnants remain. Recent findings have uncovered evidence that the Indus Valley Civilisation (modern day Pakistan) is in fact 7000 years old, even older than 5500 years, as previously thought. This would suggest that the Harappan civilisation with its technological advancement could well claim the distinctive title of ‘cradle of civilisation’.

In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate, writes a poem, titled Prayer about a new and awakened India. For me this poem continues to stir me more so in our modern times.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

   Where knowledge is free;

   Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

   Where words come out from the depth of truth;

   Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

   Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

   Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action

   Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

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