Bharatha Varsha and Bharathas

01 Sep


Traditionally the Indians, while in India, in their daily prayers, identify themselves as those residing in Bharatha_Varsha (the land of Bharatha), located to the South of MountMeru in the Jambu_Dvipa. Then, they go on to specify their location within the subcontinent.

What does this mean?


1. Cosmology

According to the cosmology projected in the books of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, the planet Earth consists seven islands (Saptha Dweepa vasundhara). One of those islands is Jambu_Dvipa (RoseAppleIsland) also known as Sudarshanadvipa.

Markandeya Purana says, Jambu_Dvipa is depressed on its south and north; elevated and broad in the middle. The elevated region forms the Ila-vrta or Meruvarsa. At the center of Ila-vrta lies the MountMeru.


The noted scholar Dr. Vasudeva S Agarawala, mentions in his work– Indian Art (A History of Indian Art from the earliest times up to the third century A.D) :


2. Location

Some attempts have been made , though not satisfactorily , to identify the zones(varshas) and the extent of the Jambu_Dvipa, by taking a clue from the details of mountain ranges, valleys and river systems and other geographical features of Jambu_Dvipa provided in Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata and in other Puranas.

According to one of those interpretations , Jambu_ Dvipa is a huge land mass of South Asia comprising the present day Indian Subcontinent, Tibet , Egypt , Mesopotamia , Syria and Corinth( near main land Greece).

Sanjaya said:  ‘Stretching from east to west, are these six mountains that are equal and that extend from the eastern to the western ocean.

 They are Himavat, Hemakuta, the best of mountains called Nishadha, Nila abounding with stones of lapis lazuli, Sweta white as the moon, and the mountains called Sringavat composed of all kinds of metals.  These are the six mountains, O king, which are always the resorts of Siddhas and Charanas. The space lying between each of these measures a thousand Yojanas, and thereon are many delightful kingdoms. And these divisions are called Varshas, O Bharata.

This (the land where we are) is in the Varsha that is called after Bharata.. Next to it (northwards) is the Varsha called after Himavat. The land that is beyond Hemakuta is called Harivarsha, South of the Nila range and on the north of the Nishadha is a mountain, O king, called Malyavat that stretches from east to west.

Beyond Malyavat northwards is the mountain called Gandhamadana.  Between these two (viz., Malyavat and Gandhamadana) is a globular mountain called Meru made of gold. Effulgent as the morning sun, it is like fire without smoke.   It is eighty-four thousand Yojanas high, and, O king, its depth also is eighty-four Yojanas. It standeth bearing the worlds above, below and transversely.

Besides Meru are situated, O lord, these four islands, viz., Bhadraswa, and Ketumala, and Jamvudwipa otherwise called Bharata, and Uttar-Kuru which is the abode of persons who have achieved the merit of righteousness. Bhishma Parva – Section vi

11 tasya pārśve tv ime dvīpāś catvāraḥ saṃsthitāḥ prabho/    bhadrāśvaḥ ketumālaś ca / jambūdvīpaś ca bhārata /  uttarāś caiva kuravaḥ kṛtapuṇyapratiśrayāḥ – The Mahabharata in Sanskrit-Book  6-Chapter 7

It is surmised that Ila varsha and Meruvarsha, refer to the mountainous regions around the Pamirs and parts of north-east Afghanistan. MountMeru (or Sumeru) is identified with the vast Nagard Sarovar in the center of the modern Pamirs in Central Asia.

indian cosmology2

The concept of Jambu_Dvipa is present not merely in Hindu Puranas but also in Indian literature, history and in edicts.

3.Buddhist tradition

The Buddhist tradition also accepts the geographical concept of Jambu_Dvipa and places it south of Sumeru. It believes Jambu_Dvīpa is shaped like a triangle with a blunted point facing south.

The Buddha once remarked that the people of Jambu_Dvípa excel those of both Uttarakuru and Tavatimsain in three respects – courage, mindfulness and religious life. The Uttarakuru referred to by the Buddha might be the Kuru region mentioned in the Rig-Veda, It might even be the region to the north of Pamirs. There are a number of views on the probable location of Uttarakuru. As regards Tavatimsain, very little is known about it and there are not many guesses either.

In the later Buddhist texts, the connotation of the term Jambu_ Dvipa became more restricted. It came to mean only the Indian subcontinent and did not include even Sri Lanka. The Síhaladípa or Tambapannidípa (alternate names for Sri Lanka in Pali) were mentioned separately from Jambu_dípa.

Further, the Emperor Ashoka introduced himself to the people of Sri Lanka as Devanam Priya (Beloved of Gods) hailing from Jambu_Dvipa, referring to main land India. Incidentally, the modern Sinhalese word for India is Dhambadiva, perhaps related to the Pali name for India, Jambudiipa. One of the other names for India in Buddhist literature is Indravardhana.

The Buddhists divided Jambu_Dvípa into three circuits or mandalas, for the guidance of their itinerant monks. The first circuit Mahámandala (greater circuit) extended over nine hundred leagues and the Majjhima (middle circuit) extended over six hundred leagues. The perambulation of both circuits was expected to be completed, each , in nine months time; while that of the Antima (final circuit) of over three hundred leagues was to be completed in seven months time.


B. Bharatha _Varsha

1.Location and Extent

According to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, the Bharata Varsha, the land of Bharatha, located in Jambu_Dvipa, lies to the South of Sumeru. However, the extent of Bharatha Varsha varies from text to text and from tradition to tradition.

Markandeya Purana describes Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Kailasa to kanyakumari; while Vishnu Purana mentions Bharatha Varsha as The country (var ṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains, where the descendants of Bharata dwell.

uttaraṃ yat samudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇam  varṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ

Further, it extols the virtues of Bharatha Varsha and says, “Bharata is the most excellent division of Jambudvipa, for this is the land of action, while the others are places of enjoyment.” Bharata Varsha is designated karmabhumi.


Manu gives a beautiful and a lyrical description of Bharaha Varsha and mentions its various divisions. This is how Manu describes, “The land between the rivers Sarasvati and the Drishadvati, is called Brahmavarta. Beyond it, the land of the five rivers up to the Mathura region is called Brahmarshi Desha. The land between Vinashana (the place of disappearance of the Sarasvati River in the desert) and Prayaga and Vindhya, is Madhya Desha (Central Land). Finally, the land bounded by the mountain of Reva (Narmada), the Eastern Sea ( Bay of Bengal ) and the Western Sea is Arya Desha. This is the land where the black-skinned deer roam freely.”

sarasvatī-dṛśadvatyor devanadyor yad antaram /
taṃ devanirmitaṃ deśaṃ brahmāvartaṃ pracakṣate // Mn_2.17 //
tasmin deśe ya ācāraḥ pāramparyakramāgataḥ /
varṇānāṃ sāntarālānāṃ sa sadācāra ucyate // Mn_2.18 //
kurukṣetraṃ ca matsyāś ca pañcālāḥ śūrasenakāḥ /
eṣa brahmarṣideśo vai brahmāvartād anantaraḥ // Mn_2.19 //
etad deśaprasūtasya sakāśād agrajanmanaḥ /
svaṃ svaṃ caritraṃ śikṣeran pṛthivyāṃ sarvamānavāḥ // Mn_2.20 //
himavadvindhyayor madhyaṃ yat prāg vinaśanād api /
pratyag eva prayāgāc ca madhyadeśaḥ prakīrtitaḥ // Mn_2.21 //
ā samudrāt tu vai pūrvād ā samudrāc ca paścimāt /
tayor evāntaraṃ giryor āryāvartaṃ vidur budhāḥ // Mn_2.22 //
kṛṣṇasāras tu carati mṛgo yatra svabhāvataḥ /
sa jñeyo yajñiyo deśo mlecchadeśas tv ataḥ paraḥ // Mn_2.23 //

Kautilya, the author of Artha Shastra, mentions Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Himalayas to Kanyakumari; and, he also called it Chakravarthi Khsetra, the land of the Emperor.

An epigraph of Kharavela (209 – 179 B. C?) who ruled over the region of the present day Orissa, found in Hathigumpha (near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa) uses the nomenclature of Bharatha Varsha.

The Hindu and Buddhist texts (vinaya) of later ages, described Bharatha Varsha as composed of five zones, namely the Madhya Desha ( the Middle Country), Purva Desha (the Eastern region), Dakshinapatha (the South), Aparanta or Praticya (the Western region) and Uttarapatha or Udicya (the Northern region). This zonal system was in vogue even in the Maurya period (322 BC to 125 BC).The maurya Empire was the largest and most powerful Empire of ancient India. It stretched from Assam to Khandahar; and from Himalayas to Tamil Nadu.

A similar Zonal system is now in India today too. (For more on Zonal systems consult a national cricket selector!.)


ancient bharatha

The different stages of Bharatha _Varsha as given in ancient literature represent various stages in the process of extension of the occupied or known areas of the country, during its history. Its shape is described variously at various stages. The changes represent the dynamics of the times.

A famous passage in Bhisma Parva of Mahabharata describes the shape of Bharatha Varsha. It views Bharatha as an equilateral triangle, divided into four smaller equal triangles, the apex of which is Kanya_ kumari and the base formed by the line of the Himalaya Mountains.

The famous historian Radha Kumud Mookerji remarked,” the shape corresponds very well with the general form of the country, if we extend the limits of India to Ghazni on the north-west and fix the other two points of the triangle at Cape Comorin and Sadiya in Assam.”

The Markandeya Purana is quite specific about the shape of the country. Its configuration is that of a bow in which the Himalaya is like the stretched string of the bow with the quill of the arrow at the peninsular area of the south. It is said to extend into a triangle with its transverse base in the north.

According to Buddhist tradition, Jambudvīpa (subcontinent) is shaped like a triangle with a blunted point facing south.

[ It is said; the subcontinent may be imagined to be in the shape of a Diamond; with its top (Northern end) being slightly broad and blunt; and, tapering to a point at its Southern end, jutting into the Indian Ocean.

The Northern borders of India dominated by Himalayan Mountain Ranges and the Hindu Kush, adjoin the rest of Asian continent.

From these magnificent Mountain Ranges down flow an array of streams feeding the mighty Indus and Gangetic Rivers. These River Systems, as also the range of mountains at the middle of the sub-continent, mark the separation of the Indo-Gangetic plain from the large Deccan (Southern) plateau of the Peninsular India.]

India Map

3.The name

The Sanskrit word Bhāratha is a derivation of bharata. The root of the term is bhr-, “to bear / to carry”, with a literal meaning of “to be maintained”. The root bhr is cognate with the English verb to bear and Latin ferō.

Interestingly, the term Dharma, which is the core concept of Indian values, is derived from the root dhr, meaning – to uphold or to nourish. Both the terms Bharatha and Dharma, eventually signify that which supports universal order or the orderly existence of the individual in life.

The first Article of the Constitution of the Republic of India states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states.” Thus, India and Bharat are equally official short names for the Republic of India. The name Hindustan was used in historical contexts, especially in British times.

Bharatha Varsha was not always called by that name. Its earlier name was Aja_nabha_Varsha. Before that, it was Himavath Pradesha. Why did it become Bharatha Varsha? Who was this Bharatha?

To know that, we have to go back to Swayambhu Manu, the progenitor. His son was Priyavarta, a great monarch. His son was Agni_dhara. His son was Ajanabha also called Nabhi. Ajanabha was a very virtuous and a noble king. During his reign, the land came to be known as Ajanabha_Varsha. Ajanabha’s son was the great Rsabhadeva. . He was a saintly king. Rsabha renounced the kingdom in favor of his son Bharata and became an ascetic. Bharatha was one of the most pious and noblest of Monarchs of his line. He nourished and nurtured his subjects righteously. During his time, the land that was until then called Aja_nabha_Varsha came to be known, as Bharatha Varsha – ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयते. It has been so since then. Ajanabha (Nabhi), Rsabha and Bharatha figure prominently in the Jain tradition.

What we call Bhatatha Varsha or Bharatha is named after a very virtuous and noble king Bharatha. The best we (who are born and who reside in his land) can do is to be worthy of his name.

Obviously, in the olden days being born in Bharath was a matter of pride. In the Gita, Krishna often refers to Arjuna as Bharatha, the noble one.(For more on the name of India please visit

Over the centuries the name of Bharatha Varsha, its shape and its extent have changed many times. Whatever is its present name, either borrowed or assigned; whatever the extent of its boundaries is; the concept of India that is Bharath has survived as a many dimensional splendor; even amidst the encircling chaos. It has always been a nation. India has held on to its pluralism, its democratic way of life and its basic values; despite strife, contradictions and endless diversities. This is no mean achievement. It is for these reasons we call it, the Miracle that is India.




Rig Veda mentions the tribe of Bharathas several times.

The Rig Veda has a certain geographical horizon. It projects a land of seven great rivers bounded by several oceans and many mountains. It mainly shows the geographical sphere of the Bharatas and their neighbors. Accordingly, Rig Veda mentions that Bharathas ruled the land that spread over the banks of the rivers Parushni ( Ravi ) and Vipasa ( Beas ).

The Purus and in particular the Bharatas among them, are the main Vedic Aryans of the Rig Veda.

2. Battle of Ten Kings (dāśarājñá)

The seventh Mandala of Rig-Veda treats “The Battle of Ten Kings”, fought between the Puru clan and the Turvasha/Drihyu/Anu clans, rather elaborately. There is a view that it was a battle between Aryans and non-Aryans. I however, do not, subscribe to that view. All of those kings involved in the battle –Puru, Turvasha, Druhyu and Anu were the sons of Yayathi who in turn was the son of Nahusha. It was a intra clan fighting.

3.Bharatha son of Dushyanta

Bharathas were a clan among the Purus. The Purus prospered in the North and strengthened the Chandra vamsha (Moon Dynasty). Many generations later into this, clan was born Bharatha son of Dushyanta. The great poet Kalidasa in his epic Abhignana Shakuntalam immortalized the love of Dushyanta and Shakuntala.

Bharatha son of Dushyanta is NOT the Emperor Bharatha whom we discussed earlier and after whom Bharatha _Varsha is named. As per the chronology listed in Vishnu Purana, Bharatha son of Dushyanta appears thousands of years after Emperor Bharatha son of Rshabha. Pandavas and Kauravas are decedents of Dushyanta/Bharatha but are several generations removed from them.

Thus, the Bharatha Tribe of dāśarājñá is far removed from Emperor Bharatha son of Rshabha.


Please read On Arya , Aryan , Sarasvathi and other issues that complement the above post.

Jambu-dweep of Love



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History, Rigveda


Tags: , , , ,

15 responses to “Bharatha Varsha and Bharathas

  1. Pingback: Jambu
    • sreenivasaraos

      September 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm

      My Dear Jambu , Thank you .I am happy you found it helpful . Regards

  2. Toms

    May 21, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    You tell me about the Aryan Mittani kingdom (2000 BC to 1500 BC) in present Kurdistan and the names of gods they used, the names of their kings and the sanskrit workds they used for numbers and ‘turning’!! Please dont bluff.

  3. Ameya

    July 16, 2014 at 5:18 am

    what are the seven dwipas and where they lie in the present world. what deshas/ varshasa are present in these sweepas(“like Bharat varsha in Jambu dweep”)

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    rao sir,

    thank you for this informative blog. your detailed research and extensive links are very commendable. i (like most of my indian brothers and sisters), had so far been under the impression that bharata varsha was named after dushyanta’s son, bharata. how wrong i have been! thank you once again for enlightening me and scores of others. keep writing. may your tribe increase.


    melody queen

  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    dear srinivasrao,

    an excellent article with a sharp analytical commentry. i am really delighted to read this. i had to read it twice in succession to fully grasp the content as this is my favourite hunting ground.i too have been reading on ancient history of india. i have my views. i have some points for your cosideration as follows:-

    – the vinasana saraswati river is different from the origional saraswati river which many indologists now claim was in afghanistan.

    – do you agree aryans were not a race but a lingual fraternity. you see there are only four human races. these are : cauckasoid (from the steppes of central asia or caucus), austroloid( australia),negroid( africa) and mongoliod ( mongolia). anthropologists do not recognise others as races or ethnic groups.also, do you subsribe to the view that aryans were indigenous?

    – if you notice rig veda talks mostly of saraswati & sapta sindhu–i.e the rivers of modern day punjab & pakistan. this was the land called actually aryavrata and beyond yamuna-ganga doab it was bhrata varsha. as the aryyans moved further east they carried the names of their geographical features with them. you find ayodhya in thai land too. if you do not think aryans came from the west, then why is it ganga the most venerated river of today finds mention only once in origional rig veda? even river beas & ravi (vipasha & prashuni) are mentioned morethan once.

    – the old bhratha varsha civilisation was spread out from alpgan sthan( afghanistan) to assam–it is a fact. but it was not one unified kingdom till ashoka came on the scene around 250 bc. before this aryans had already intruded into bharatha varsha , say some where around 1100 bc.

    there are sir, more points but i suppose we can take them up later. real nice blog. and it was recommended to me by melody queen. regards.

    Rajee Kushwaha

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      dear kushwaha
      thanks for the comments. thanks also for reading through and thinking about the issues involved.
      i have seen your posts . you are a very learned person.i have regard for you. i am therefore happy you read the post.
      as i finished the article its length bothered me a bit. i even consulted a couple of persons i am familiar with, whether i should edit it . now , that some of you have reacted to it let me see if i can improve it.
      when i wrote the article , i had a couple of friends in my mind . my concern was to make it readable.that is the reason i have avoided too many references and other abutting comments. i hope the article is readable.
      you have raised a number of issues. i have certain views on them > i will be happy to share them with you. i will do it in a day or two.
      please keep in touch.take care.

  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    shri rao

    simply wonderful…please let me add in a little bit i happen to have read:

    bharata is the name of the king that ruled bharata and, in time, according to the traditions of the time, crowned one of his sons and renounced the world.

    he lived in the forest and in his later birth was supposed to have been born a deer because he died pining for a deer, that he had saved from a lion and had grown as a pet, had wandered away and this attachment brought him his following birth. even as a deer, he remembered his past due to his consciousness having transcended to a high level and died in due course.

    he was then born as the youngest son of a brahmana. since he was full of wisdom, he refused to come down to this worldly level and so refused to talk, making everybody think that he was mute. although his parents loved him dearly, after his death, life was harsh for him in the cruel hands of his sisters-in-law who thought him to be a liability.

    having done all the work he was assigned, he would retire to a secluded place and wait until the (irrational) angst of his sisters-in-law subsided before he returned.

    once king rahugana’s palanquin bearer fell sick and jadabharata was found and made to replace him. rahugana was bothered because bharata was not steady and when the irked king questioned why he was moving like a corpse (this earned him the name jada-bharata) answered: who are you talking to? me? who is the me you are referring to? this body? this mind? this soul? this eternal atman? then you are talking to yourself! this body did not want to trample upon the ants and the little creatures that are busying themselves in their routines and that is why it wavered!” — these were the very first words he uttered!


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 3:51 pm

      dear riverine
      yes.there is tradition that says he became jada_bharatha, that is to say he became an avadhootha , one who is unaffected by cause or effect. that is the story you just narrated.

      the jain tradition in which [nabhi(aja_nabha) , rshabha and bharatha are the theerthankaras ] has its own version.there nabhiraja and rshabha_deva are the founders of jainism . most of the epics run parallelly in both traditions.

      wikipedia says bharaha s/o dushyanta is the one after whom india is named . there is also a mention in another site saying he belonged to ikshvaku dynasty . both are not correct.

      thank you .

  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    dear riverine
    is there a term in tamil or or in older form of tamil -” tirayans”? .(that is under greeks before alex).the link to that quotation does not work.try it


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      dear sir,

      tirayan or thirayan in tamil means one who works the seas- a sea farer. the word thirai means wave or alai. there is an old saying in tamil: thirai kadal odiyum thiraviam thedu.

      thirai- wave
      kadal – sea/ocean
      odiyum- run into
      thiravyam (equivalent of sanskrit dravya) – substance, material, wealth
      thedu – search

      loosely translated it means: seek wealth even it entails crossing the ocean.

      the ancient tamil people were skilled sea farers and extremely enterprising. they had port towns like poompuhar and had trade relations with the yavanas (greeks) and romans amongst others.


      melody queen

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm

        thank you melody queen
        you are absolutely right.
        it was used by the Greeks in the context of a sea fearing community
        that perhaps originated from India.

        The ancient Tamils travelled far and wide

        you are very well informed.

        thank you


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