‘India’ taps into a much older strand in Malayalam. It’s only well into the 20th century that ‘Bharatham’ came into formal use. Even now, it’s not quite part of common speech
(Illustration: Tanmoy Chakraborty)
One of the earliest references in Malayalam to the term ‘India’ that I have seen is in the late 18th century travelogue Varthamanapustakam. Written by the priest Paremakkal Thoma Kathanar, it is a detailed account of an eight-year-long journey from Kerala to Rome, via a variety of places, including Portugal. What is striking in that text is that there is a clear understanding that the entirety of the geographical region which traded with the countries of the West like Portugal was ‘India’, especially as there are astute observations about the terms and conditions that bound commercial activities of the time, regulating relations between countries.