Indian state names have very interesting etymologies. Not as bland as ‘North West Frontier Province‘ and not as voyeuristic as ‘Virginia‘. Some are rooted in geography, Kerala apparently means land of palm trees. Karnataka means lofty land, a reference to the Deccan plateau and the Western Ghats. Meghalaya means ‘the abode of clouds’, little surprise, given that the worlds wettest place lies there. Meghalaya seems to be derived from Sanskrit, I wonder what the native tribes (Garo, Khasi and Jaintia) call the state. Himachal Pradesh means ‘land of the snow clad mountains’, which makes enough sense while Punjab means the land of the five rivers (Ravi, Beas, Sutlej, Jhelum and Chenab).
But the coolest geographical state name has to be Arunachal Pradesh; it means Land of the Dawn Lit Mountains. Try beating that . Arunachal is the kind of place that fills your head with absolute wonder, I have never been there but from the pictures it looks quite spectacular, the people and the place.
Other state names derive from the culture and language of the state, actually this seems to be the most common theme. Tamil Nadu means Tamil homeland, which the Tamil people are fiercely proud of. Gujarat derives from ‘Gujjars’ apparently. I still havent figured out what makes Gujjars so special, they seem to be very important politically. Heck they are important enough to have an entire state named after them. Orissa (the coolest sounding name) derives from the Odra tribes that inhabited the central part of that state.
Unfortunately, there are some very disappointing state names. The worst offenders have to be Madhya and Uttar Pradesh. Not only are they extremely uninspiring names, but in the case of UP they are also misleading, as UP has become synonymous with North India. Maharashtra!! Talk about blowing your own trumpet, ‘Great State’ ? Come on, wasnt that a bit premature ?
Poor West Bengal, they seem to be in denial. One of my American friends asked me whereEast Bengal was. It is Bangladesh now, of course. I really feel sorry for the Bengali people. Among all the different groups in India, I think the Bengali identity was one that emphasized language way more than religion. Partition must have been very traumatic for them.
Some derive from royal dynaties and heritage. Tripura derives from a 2500 year old (and still continuing) Tipra dynasty. Assam derives from the Ahom kingdom who defeated the Mughals and stopped the expansion of their empire. Of course, Rajasthan means land of kings, famous for its palaces and forts.
So learning about the origin of Indian state names is like learning Indian history and geography. I hate when people use words like ‘North India’, ‘South India’ etc etc. Why would you want to call “Land of the Dawn Lit Mountains” anything else ?
P.S. : Apparently ‘Virginia’ is nicknamed ‘Mother of Presidents’ because many US presidents were born there. Talk about contradictions.