Posted by: Vikram | December 10, 2008

State names and what they tell us

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. 🙂



  1. Interesting post Vikram!

    Thanks Nita. Its amazing how the simplest things tell us so much about places sometimes.

  2. Beautifully written, loved the last line the most,
    ‘Why would you want to call “Land of the Dawn Lit Mountains” anything else ?’

    But Uttaranchal and Jharkhand are nice names. Why is Bihar called Bihar?

    Uttaranchal was nice … before it became Uttarakhand 😦 . Bihar derives from ‘Vihara’, a Buddhist monastery, which flourished there during Buddhist times.

  3. very nice post Vikram!!! your posts always carries an great information.. I love them 🙂
    And this one is interesting and informative.. and truly the pictures of Arunachal Pradesh are very nice.. a beautiful land..

    Thanks man. Arunachal is indeed beautiful and so are its people.

  4. Good post, Vikram. I believe Kashmir is derived from Rishi Kashyap. Manipur, the ‘jewelled land’ is another great name. It is beautiful, as is Arunachal in a very dramatic manner. I’ve been there and one of my enduring fantasies/dreams has been to settle down somewhere there in a spectacularly beautiful spot. And there are plenty!

    I think Tripura also traces its name to the Great Goddess Tripursundari, one of the ten Mahavidyas.

    Manipur and Kashmir are similar in a sense, both are valley states. Yes, there are plenty of beautiful places in India, from Goa to Kerala to Manipur. Each with its unique culture.

  5. Thanks for the response on my page.
    I liked your EU style status comment.
    Apropos Singapore, i just mean that only one
    asset (hydro-elect) could take Kashmir close to where Singapore stands right now.

    And no doubt Kashmir will need to trade with its neighbors but not only India , china too will be the largest trading partner and source of tourist revenue.

    Anyways at least your not like others who cant think about independent Kashmir.

    thanks for being there.

  6. Oh well I am late this time but you have written very well. I guess my favourite state names would be Meghalaya and the least favourite would be Uttrakhand/Uttranchal. I guess they should probably rename West Bengal simply as Bengal.

  7. Hi Vikram,

    I have a sweet little award for you here:

    Hope you will like it 🙂

  8. Hi Vikram, I just stumbled upon your blog- and have absolutely loved this post.. Beautiful!

    Welcome Smitha. Thanks for the nice comment 🙂

  9. You missed out Bihar . 😦

    Sorry Kislay, I didnt intend the list to be comprehensive. I believe Bihar originates from Vihar or Vihara, Buddhist monasteries that used to be ubiquitous there before the arrival of Islam.

  10. hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, dost how are you
    Thanks man. Arunachal is indeed beautiful and so are its people


    Thanks Bittu. Welcome to the blog.

  11. lol!I love the Maharashtra comment…:D
    ”Talk about blowing your own trumpet, ‘Great State’ ? Come on, wasnt that a bit premature ?”

    good one…and a very informative post…:)

    and one on city names I think woulkd be aesome…if you could find time that is…
    keep writing…:)

  12. lol!I love the Maharashtra comment… 😀
    ”Talk about blowing your own trumpet, ‘Great State’ ? Come on, wasnt that a bit premature ?”

    good one…and a very informative post…

    and one on city names I think would be awesome……if you could find time that is…
    keep writing… 🙂

    oops spellings…:D

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