Friday, August 28, 2009

Delhi, Dilli, Indraprastha

The elite that affects cosmopolitan airs derides de restoration of pre-colonial names or name forms for cities as "provincial" or worse. They wouldn't dare to say that to Robert Mugabe who restored Rhodesia to its ancient glory as "Zimbabwe". But they do say it to harmless people such as the Hindus who want to de-anglicize "Delhi". An article by one Sadhvi Sharma expresses the Anglo-secular elite's impatience with "provincial" attempts at restoring old city names such as Mumbai for Bombay and, according to her, "Dilli" for Delhi. She falsely claims that the common people don't support these endonyms (indigenous names). To create this impression, she uses the typical Time/Newsweek trick of interviewing one or two people on the street, possibly real but certainly unrepresentative, who by coincidence express as their own the elite viewpoint buttressed by a one-dimensionalist argument about how these names don't affect their "real" (i.e. economic) concerns.

In the name-change debate, the usual double standars apply: indignation over the Hindu-nationalist Shiv Sena's "Mumbai", tacit acceptance of the Communist Party (Marxist)'s "Kolkata" or the ethnic-chauvinst Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's "Chennai". But that's so common we needn't discuss it here. What does raise my curiosity, however, is the choice of "Dilli" (the present colloquial Hindi form) as the supposed original of "Delhi". That is most certainly wrong, and seems to exemplify how even educated Hindi-speakers are losing the grasp of their own language.

The original was "Dhillika", and that the /h/ shifted due to the Persian aversion to aspirated occlusive consonants like /dh/ (cfr. Sindhu > Hindu), hence "Dihli-", which in turn was messed up by the British to "Delhi". There is, as Sarvesh Tiwari informs me, also an old name "Devali".

At any rate, if the name must be restored to its original form, why not go the whole hog and return to the name given to the capital by its founder Yudhishthira hero of the Mahabharata, probably ca. 1500 BC), viz. "Indraprastha"? That is what the Hindu-nationalist party Jan Sangh used to promise decades ago, and likewise "Karnavati" for Gujarat's metropolis Ahmedabad. And promises should be kept. As Ms. Sharma notes, the Shiv Sena promised Mumbai, and implemented the name change not long after coming to power.

But the Jan Sangh or at any rate its successor party BJP is made of mellower stuff. The BJP has been in power numerous years at the city, state and central levels in Delhi and Ahmedabad, and yet no move was ever made in this direction. Possibly the present crisis in the BJP will churn up a new resolve to get serious about the Hindu nationalist agenda. Restoring the capital to its traditional name would be a resounding international statement of self-respect.


Dosabandit said...

The Hindu right in India saw some hope in the BJP. Most all mistake this as communal rabble rousing tendencies of the so called "saffron brigade". But what prejudiced minds did not see was that the Hindus actually supported the BJP in the hope that it would finally restore dignity to Hindus all over and they would no longer have to be apologetic for being one. Alas, those hopes were dashed when BJP began bending backwards in a bid to be accepted by opinion makers. This sudden reversal from arguing against "pseudo-secularism" and selling hope to the Hindu masses to going on a limb to be praised by the same "pseudo-secular" opinion makers made Hindus grow skeptical of the party. And hence, in my humble opinion, this growing disillusionment about the party.

Deshabhakta said...

The nation needs de-colonisation and de-islamisation of the names of the cities. Both are signs of hegemony, slavery, misrule, barbaric attacks and massacres. The name "Allahabad" to one of the holiest places for Hindus "Prayag" is a representative of dominance that existed during the mughal rule and suppression of Hindu identity and beliefs. Darjeeling for Durjaya Ling is unacceptable. It is the place for the god (Shiva) who destroyed the evils (Dur Jaya). What does Darjeeling mean? Nothing. What is Bangalore? Nothing for a local; it does not mean anything at all for the natives of the city. Bangalore is a type of explosive in the english world. The native name "Bengalooru" tells the significance of the place.

Shankara said...
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Anonymous said...

Dear Koen baba,

I have shortly talked to you last Sunday during lunch in Brabant, at one of the seven Zaaligheiden.

Here is the address of which I made mention,

"The Brainstem Brainwaves of Atman-Brahman" by Sutapas Bhattacharya, work in progress. Read some excerpts here:

The other book by him is also interesting, title is "The Oneness/Otherness Mystery", available in Google-Books, online.

Drop me a line, if you please;

dhyanamulam -at-

Karmasura said...

Koenraad sire.. love your articles and your feelings for the Hindu right but I am not sure about Yudhishthira founding Delhi in 1500 B.C. From astrological evidences, people state mahabharata as having started circa 3100 B.C. and if so, Indraprastha would have been founded in that age.

Is there more than meets the eye?

Bhuvan said...
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Bhuvan said...

Change Allahabad to Prayag - I think in the order of priority, changing Allahabad to Prayag should come first. Prayag has been a venerated Hindu holy place from times immemorial and the name was changed to Allahabad by the purpotedly secular Akbar. It is ludicrous for one of the foremost Hindu holy sites to be named after Allah!I remember that before the BJP came to power for the first time in UP, there was talk of changing the name to Prayag in the RSS/BJP quarters. But true to form, these soft melons did nothing after coming to power.

Sushant Gupta said...

For the local(me included) in India's capital,the name of their beloved city is Dilli from the heart. Also, as is common justification for the current name is that Dilli is of 'Dil wale' people, meaning people who act according to the heart. Geographically too, the city is located in heart of India. This explanation coupled with the old name 'Dhillika' is enough to console the local to accept that the real name of the city is Delhi. Some people elitist or anglicized, foreign or ignorant refer to city as Delhi but in common use it is Dilli and so should it be named officially.

Balaji Ramasubramanian said...

Dr. Elst,

I see a meaningful need for restoring the Ramjanmabhumi at the site in Ayodhya, a useful point in having Indo-Israeli ties and so on. But this name change to that of the medieval times is not of value. To illustrate, let me draw to you that the name being changed to Indraprastha would have an impact on the Indian psyche for perhaps a few moments, but it does not have a lasting impact on our general development.

If we really wish to go back to our roots, why not restore Sanskrit as the national medium of communication, issue all official pamphlets in Sanskrit and go on to ban the use of every Urdu or Semitic word in the parliament? How about renaming Orissa as Kalinga, Bhihar and a part of Bengal as Magadha, Tamil Nadu as Dravida, Punjab as Panchala and Kashmir as Kashiraja.

There would be no end to this sort of renaming and it would be a useless attempt to "get back to our roots."

Bhavya Ketan said...
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Miss Green said...

Dear Dr. Elst,

I am interested in the history of naming Delhi. In your article you mention that Jan Sangh "used to promise" the idea "decades ago", I have tried to find more information but I was not successful. Would you please be so kind and share some more details? Who "promised" and when? And, do you know why the idea was rejected?

Thank you very much!