India: A Concept of Nationhood (Part-I)

– Dr. Raj Kumar

I would like to start this article with the preamble of the Constitution of India.

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, and to secure to all its citizens:

Justice, social, economic and political;

Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship;

Equality of status and of opportunity;

And to promote among them all

Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;


The preamble of the constitution is the essence of the idea of INDIA. A country like India will only shape with cross-cultural communication. The formation of this communication can only be possible, where listening to each other is more desirable than a monologue or non-dialogue, where the discussion is preferred to talking, and where community interest is given priority to the individual interest. Modern India came together through our Constitution.

The idea of India is a socio-political model for the most unique and unusual nation in the world. The vast diversity of religions, caste, region, language, views, and most importantly people of this country living together as a country in such a way that no country in the world embodies. America is also a very diverse country, but it began as multiple colonies before becoming a nation. India began as a diverse country that has been preserved through the millennia.

British, who ruled India for more than 200 years, never consider India as one country. British propagated this theory through scholarly publication of renowned 19th-century historian, John R. Seeley, who mentioned, “India is not one country, and therefore it has no one civilization.” Sir John Strachey in his book, India: Its Administration and Progress, wrote, “There is no such country, and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned” (Chapter 1, page 2, Sir John Strachey).

If this is true, then what about a text at least 2000 years old, Vishnu Purana, which defines INDIA.

‘उत्तरे यतसमुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम
वर्षम तद भारत नाम भारती यत्र संतति’ – विष्णु पुराण (2/3.1)

Meaning, the country that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharat.

Not only our ancient texts, famous western scholars from time to time mentioned India in the text as one region.

Megasthenes (300 BC) wrote in Indika:

“India the being four-sided in plan, the side which looks to the orient

 and that to the south is the great sea; that towards the arctic is divided

by the mountain chain of Hemodus from Scythia, inhibited by that

  the tribe of Scythians who are called Sakai, and on the fourth side, turned

  towards the west, the Indus marks the boundary, the biggest or nearly

  so of all rivers after the Nile.”

Arrian (140 CE) defines in Indoi, Indou:

The boundary of the land of India towards the north is Mount Taurus

(Caucasus). The western part of India is bounded by the river Indus right

down to the ocean. Towards the south this ocean bounds the land of India,

and eastward the sea itself is the boundary.”

Said- al Andalusi, a Muslim Qadi (Qazi in Urdu) described categories of people in his book Al-tarif bi-tabaqat al-umam (Exposition of the Generations of Nations). He defined nation as a region of land which cultivates learning. Although nations on the human plane are uniform, they differ in three ways, namely, morals, shape, and language. His approach for defining a nation was based on the scientific-philosophical concept. According to this concept, there are three requirements; a) compression of a level of discourse (theoretical reason), b) asceticism and control of the temper of the soul, and c) the essential place of philosophy and natural sciences in self-education and training. He also identified the most important people in the history. They were Persians and Chaldeans (Syrians, Babylonians, Jews, and Arabs), Copts (ancient Egyptians, Sudanese, Ethiopians and Nubians), Greeks (Romans, Franks, Russians, Bulgarians and others from the same region), Turks (Kimaki and Khazars), Indians and Chinese.

Babur who equally recognized this in his Babur Nama (Sinha and Monta, 2007), “The country of Hindustan is extensive, full of men, and full of produce. On the east, south and even on the west, it ends at the great enclosing ocean. In the north, it has mountains which connect with those of Hindu-Kush, Kafiristan, and Kashmir.”

Let’s go to start of formation of earth landmass. If you examine the formation of Earth’s landmass (Pangaea), you can notice that India is sitting on the Indian Plate, a major tectonic plate that was formed when it split from the ancient continent Gondwana land. This plate starts moving around 90 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period and covers the distance of ~ 3000 km before hitting the mainland of Asia to create Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. The point I want to make here is that India has a unique place since the start.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Formation of Earth’s landmass. Note the formation of Indian landmass. This landmass formed and drifted separately than rest of the world.

In another way, the concept of India is not new. There is a direct evidence that human migration happens from Africa to India. Genetic evidence suggests that the first human from Africa migrated to Kerala about 70000 years ago (southern part of India). Gene M130 is the marker of the first human migrated from Africa, and Virumandi tribes of Kerala (southernmost state of India) have this gene. This is the most ancient migratory genes because the later migrations do not have this marker (Arun Kumar et al., 2012). There is already a growing view among geneticists that humans migrated to other parts of the world from India (Fig. 2). So, the first human evolved, then they migrated and at last they developed a language. Note that language is not the same as ethnicity. However, development of language provides a belief and thought system. The idea of the belief and thought system is so powerful that it provides a freedom to everyone a very robust system to believe in themselves, propagate their views, have every liberty to be proud of what they have. The idea of India allows this and it is the fundamental reason, I believe, why India is having a such a vastness of humanity with a diversity but still with the unity.


Figure 2: Migration of human out of Africa (IBM Genographic project). Humans migrated from central Africa to eastern Africa, from there the migrated to India and distributed to the world.

Since the start of the language and writing, from time to time scholars defined India in their texts indicating British perspectives were not correct. However, British projected their view about India very strongly and most people still believe that. Honestly, I believed the same for a very long time. In fact, British did this to justify their reign and right to rule India.

I think I have given the right arguments to settle two things; a) why British were wrong in defining India, and b) from ancient to medieval period India was considered as one region.

                                                                                                                        to be Continued……..

 Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.



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