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हिन्दुस्तान « Hindustān » / हिन्दूस्थान « Hindūst‛ān » / هندوستان « Hindūstān » / ہندوستان « Ĥindūstān » / भारत « B‛ārat »

Originally, India was the land of the Indus River. The term eventually became associated more with the culture of the Indus region, and as this spread, India itself expanded, eventually comprising the entire land formation (depicted at right) between the Indian Ocean and the northern mountains (including the Himalaya (हिमालय « Himālaja », “home of snow”, from हिम « hima », “snow” + आलय « ālaja », “home”)). This is the classical understanding of India; but the name can also apply to any primary state within historical India, including the modern state that constitutes the largest portion of historical India, the Indian Republic.

Many names for India, including ‘India’ itself, come from the names of the Indus River; many of those names, in turn, come ultimately from an Indo-Iranian word for “river”. The Indo-Aryan root /sɪndʰ-/, in local names سندھ « Sindh », سنڌو « Sind‛ū », and सिंधु « Sĩd‛u », also gives the name of the Sindh region, now in Pakistan, which is simply the region of the lower Indus. The Iranian root /hind-/, as in Old Persian 𐏃𐎡𐎯𐎢𐏁 « H-i-du-u-š », “India”, was borrowed into Indo-Aryan dialects during the period of Muslim rule (the Muslim dynasties all being Persianized), leading to local names ‘Hindi’ (हिन्दी « Hindī »), ‘Hindu’ (हिन्दू « Hindū »), and ‘Hindustan’. This root was also borrowed into Greek, whose name for the river, ΙΝΔΟΣ « Indos », is the source of ‘India’.

A civilization developed in the Indus Valley starting around 3300 BCE. The culture is sometimes referred to as “Harappan”, after Harappa (ہڑپّہ « Har̩ap:ah »), the modern site of one of its most prominent known cities; the site of the other most prominent city is Mohenjo-Daro (موئن جو دڙو‎ « Mūỉan Ĝoŭ Dar̩oŭ », “mound of the dead men”). The originators of this civilization are unknown, though the Dravidians, who now mostly live in southern India, are the best candidates. This civilization began to disperse to the east and south, abandoning its western cities, starting around 1900 BCE, before the arrival of the Aryans.

The Aryans (आर्य « Ārja »), an Indo-European people, began to enter the Indus Valley from the northwest around 1500 BCE. While they of course brought culture with them, including their Indo-Iranian dialect, a relative of classical Sanskrit, it was in the Indus Valley, specifically the upper valley or Punjab (پنجاب « Panĝāb » / ਪੰਜਾਬ « Păjāb »), where the classical form of Indian culture developed. This was a fusion of Aryan elements with some Harappan and Dravidian elements. The Indo-Aryans, as they were subsequently known to history, became the dominant people of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, the fertile lowland that stretches across the north of greater India. The Dravidians were displaced into southern India, known in Sanskrit as Dravida (द्रविड « Dravid̩a », possibly derived from தமிழ் « Tamiz, “Tamil”), for which they are named.

The vernacular form of Sanskrit eventually developed regional dialects in a continuum across the Indo-Gangetic Plain and into the Deccan Plateau, with insular outliers as well; these regional dialects became the Indic branch of Indo-European. The vernacular dialects, known as a “prakrits” (प्राकृत « prākŗt », “natural”), were contrasted with the educated Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् « Săskŗtam », “refined”), and many of the prakrits eventually developed into literary dialects of their own. The Indo-Aryans and the Dravidians developed a common sound system, with Dravidian incorporating the aspirated stops of Indo-Aryan and Indo-Aryan incorporating the retroflex stops of Dravidian. Dialects of both families are written in scripts descended from Brahmi, which was developed to represent this joint sound system.

The religious traditions of the Indo-Aryans evolved into what is now Hinduism (हिन्दू धर्म « Hindū D‛arma », “Indian way” / सनातन धर्म « Sanātana D‛arma », “eternal way”). The main scriptures of Hinduism, all in some form of Sanskrit, are the Vedas (वेद « Vēda », “knowledge”), the Mahabharata (महाभारत « Mahāb‛ārata »), and the Ramayana (रामायण « Rāmājan̩a », “Rama’s journey”). The Vedas are the oldest, and represent the Aryans’ pre-Indian beliefs, thus sometimes known as ‘Vedism’. Hinduism is a pluralist tradition that accepts many traditions within it; any belief system that descends from the early Indo-Aryan traditions can be considered Hindu, though some (like Buddhism and Jainism) set themselves apart.

Islam entered India early in the religion’s existence, brought by Arab traders who sailed throughout the western Indian Ocean. It became more firmly entrenched through a series of Muslim dynasties, of various origins but all of them, again, Persianized. At the independence of India from Britain, two large areas of Muslim concentration, the Indus region and eastern Bengal, were split off to form a separate “Pakistan” (پاکستان « Pākistān », literally “land of the pure”, Persian پاک « pāk » “pure” + ستان- « -stān » “land”, but coined partially as an acronym, ‘PAKSTAN’, by Choudhary Rahmat Ali: “Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan”). The Bengali portion, East Pakistan, was significantly more populous, and its marginalization within the Pakistani state eventually led to its own independence as (Eastern) Bangladesh (বাংলাদেশ « Bā̃lādēś », “Land of Bengali”, which was thus a name for the entire Bengali-speaking region).

The spread of Indian culture, including the successive spread of Hinduism and then Buddhism into Southeast Asia, has created an Indo-Asian cultural sphere in which borrowed Indo-Aryan vocabulary and Brahmi-descended scripts are common. Because Buddhism is a component of Chinese religion, all of Sino-Asia is at least peripherally a part of Indo-Asia as well.


For the modern states in historical India:

Republic of India:

(Eastern) Bangladesh:




Sri Lanka:



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