Fascinating stories of how Indian cities got their names
There’s some kind of story behind every name. Our parents will attest to the fact that even our own names had some story or background. Be it the name of their favorite gods or numerology or a suggestion from the wise elders, all our names have a story to them. If you don’t know yours yet, do ask your parents about it!
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Similarly, the names of countries, towns, cities, mountains, hills, seas, oceans and all the places that you see around you have some kind of story to them. While we might not be able to appreciate their stories mostly because of a lack of understanding of the historical contexts in which the names were given, it’s always interesting to know them. Especially of the places where you hail from or stay!
Here, we look at how some of the cities in India got their names.
The name Mumbai is derived from Mumba or Maha-Amba, the name of the patron Goddess Mumbadevi of the native communities and a’i, which means mother in Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra.
The name Hyderabad means “Haydar’s city” or “lion city”. It is derived from haydar (meaning lion) and abad (meaning city). It was so named to honor the Caliph Ali Ibn Abi Talib, who was also known as Haydar because of his lion-like courage in battles.
Kolkata derives its name from the Bengali term Kolikata, which is a variation of ‘Kalikshetra’ meaning the land of the Goddess Kali. Another explanation for the name suggests that the area specialized in the production of quicklime (koli chun) and coir (kata), hence leading to the name Kolikata.
Bengaluru was originally known as “Bengaval-uru”, meaning the “City of guards” in Halegannada (Old Kannada). Another possible explanation for the name that has been put forward is that it is derived from benga, the Kannada term for the Indian Kino Tree that grew abundantly in the region.
Vadodara or Vadpatraka is derived from the Sanskrit word vatodar, which means “in the heart of the Banyan tree”. Before Vadodara, the city used to be called Chandanavati after its ruler Raja Chandan of the Dor tribe of Rajputs.
Srinagar derives its name from 2 Sanskrit words – sri, meaning glory or prosperity (also a name for the Goddess Lakshmi) and nagar, meaning city. Thus, the name means City of Prosperity or City of Lakshmi. However, earliest records mention the name as siri-nagar, a transformation of the original Sanskrit name, surya-nagar, meaning City of Sun God.
Chandigarh derives its name from Chandi, the warrior avatar of Goddess Parvati, and Garh, meaning fort. The city was thus named because of Chandi Mandir, an ancient temple devoted to Goddess Chandi, located near it.
According to folklore, Bhopal was originally known as Bhojpal after a dam (pal) that was constructed by King Bhoja, who founded the city in the 11th century. Another theory states that the city was probably named after another king named Bhupala.
The origin of the name Kochi is thought to be from the Malayalam word kochu azhi, meaning small sea or lagoon. Another theory is that it is derived from the word Kaci, meaning harbor.
Mysore derives its name from Mahishuru, which means the abode of Mahisha. While Mahisha means buffalo in Sanskrit, the name refers to the mythological demon Mahishasura, who could assume both human and buffalo form. According to mythology, Mahishasura used to rule here before being killed by the Goddess Chamundeshwari.