Bharatha Varsha and Bharathas
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?
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.
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).
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.
The concept of Jambu_Dvipa is present not merely in Hindu Puranas but also in Indian literature, history and in edicts.
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. 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 SarasvatiRiver in the desert) and Prayaga and Vindhya, is Madhya Desha (CentralLand). 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.”
Kautilya, the author of Artha Shastra, mentions Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Himalayas to Kanyakumari; 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 ), Daksinapatha (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!.)
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.
The Sanskrit word bhārata 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. 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.