‘What’s in a name?’ is perhaps not the question the Indian navy would like to be asked when it is grappling with the death and devastation on INS Sindhurakshak. But once the pain wears off and when the significance of the week gone by sinks in—when INS Arihant, an indigenously developed nuclear submarine, achieved ‘criticality’ and INS Vikrant, the indigenously developed aircraft carrier, was launched—a question well worth asking is: what kind of signal does this secular republic send when most of its naval vessels, whether they are developed in India or acquired from elsewhere, are given mostly Sanskrit names, often picked up from Hindu mythology?
From 1948 onwards, India had formulated its own policy of naming new naval vessels. They were to be given Indian-origin names. Accordingly, the light fleet was named after mountains or their peaks, cruisers after national capitals and major Indian cities, destroyers in a manner so that each flotilla would have the same initials, aircraft frigates after rivers, anti-submarine frigates after Indian weapons, submarines after various species of fish and minesweepers after Indian states.
Arihant, Vikrant and Sindhurakshak are names taken from Sanskrit and belong to a pattern the Indian navy has been following for some years now. Here are the names of some of its other vessels—Chakra, Vikramaditya, Sindhughosh, Sindhudhvaj, Shankul, Shalki, Shankush, Shivalik, Airavat, Trishul, Nirbhik, Vinash, Prabal and Pralaya—all are Sanskrit; quite a few are taken from Hindu mythology. The practice also extends to the other wings of the armed forces—the army and air force. Our missiles have names like Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Trishul and Nag; our main battle tank is called Arjun and our multi-role jet fighter is named Tejas.
Do names with Indian origin mean only those with Sanskrit provenance, or those part of Hindu mythology? Or more importantly, while giving such names, what is the target audience we have in mind? Are they meant for people inside the country or are we trying to send out a strong signal to those across the border?
Different countries have their own sets of guidelines for naming ships, naval vessels and crafts. At times they come from mythology, at other times, names of national heroes and historical places and events are celebrated through such names. But more often than not, a secular democracy is also aware of how such names will be perceived not only within but also outside the country.
The US has had a system from 1819 by which naming of such vessels is left to its defence secretary, who in turn follows a protocol whereby cruisers are named after battles, attack submarines for US cities and destroyers after naval and marine heroes. The British naval fleet, depleted significantly over the years, even had ships and crafts with names like HMS Flirt, HMS Blonde and HMS Dapper, apart from carrying names of major cities, ports, battles and royalty. But if you are looking at diverse names, look at the French navy, which has even named one of its vessels Venus, after the Roman goddess of love.
One of the countries where this pattern is not followed is Pakistan. It was a country formed on the basis of religion. In the past six decades Pakistan has hardly missed any opportunity to showcase its Islamic identity, particularly when it comes to naming armaments after Muslim invaders of India. But while doing so, it has often overlooked the fact that these invaders not only tormented and brutalised Hindus, but also large numbers of Muslims in India, often at times when the country was under Muslim rule.
But is India trying to become a mirror image of Pakistan? Why is it not moving away from a narrow interpretation of looking at things Indian through the narrow prism of Sanskrit and Hindu mythology? India may well be a Hindu majority country, but we proclaim in our Constitution that it is a secular nation. There is no denying that Sanskrit has been the parent language of many of the tongues that we speak. But that is half the story. Many of our languages originated and developed beyond the pale of Sanskrit. Many different cultures and religions made significant contributions to the making of modern, secular India. Let us consider why we should not celebrate the achievements of our scientists, scholars and entrepreneurs by using all the other influences that shaped us. Let us move away from this obsession that we have developed about Sanskrit. Perhaps, the time has come for the next indigenously developed Indian aircraft carrier or a naval vessel to be named from a pool that is much deeper and wider, and truly celebrates the diversity of secular India.
The article on the need to be more inclusive in the naming of our defence assets and get rid of the overt Sanskritisms was interesting, but a waste (INS Cheraman, Aug 26). What’s the problem if the Indian navy uses Sanskrit names? Who will use them if we won’t? The US or Pakistan?
Deepak Sholapurkar, Bangalore
Bad article. Even worse is the fact that the picture used is of a delta class US submarine, not Arihant. Time to pull up socks and stop lazy journalism.
Anonymous, on e-mail
Sanskrit is an ancient language, but ultimately has its origins out of India! But powerful Brahmins, who have had a stranglehold over the country’s affairs forever, deny that, and impose it all over the country. That is also how Sanskritised Hindi, a relatively newer language, ended up as the national language.
Nasar Ahmed, Karikkudi
A typical example of excessive political correctness and misperception on the author’s part. Had the Agni missile been named in Latin and called Ignis, would there be a controversy that it was ‘Christian’? The united Indian heritage is centuries old. Do you find the Greek navy ever naming their ships Gandhi/Buddha?
Raj Prabhud, Hyderabad
Pranay Sharma’s line of argument is fallacious. While a whole body of literary and religious works derive from Sanskrit, it’s nobody’s case that Sanskrit is a Hindu language. Sanskrit is an Indian language, and frankly many Indian languages are derived from it. So one shouldn’t have any objections. Secondly, names like Sindhurakshak, Arihant etc don’t represent Hinduness; they represent Indianness.
C.K. Jaidev, Dubai
Sanskrit is the common heritage of India, part of the country’s soul. What’s the big deal?
Varun Shekhar, Toronto
Other than active and sceptical minds, there are over-thinking minds, possessors of which render their services to journalism and investigative processes. This article comes from one such mind. What a needless exercise!
Santosh Gairola, Hsinchu, Taiwan
As for Pakistan, they name their hardware after Muslim invaders who actually invaded the land that is now Pakistan and Afghanistan! So they celebrate the ruthless invaders who defeated and converted their own ancestors.
INS Vikramaditya is the first ship to be named after a person. This sets a new trend. Until now, only shore establishments have been named after persons. Personally, I think it’s retrograde to rename INS Hooghly (the base establishment in Calcutta) INS Netaji Subhas, as it opens the floodgates to rename units after people. This will mean the entry of politics in the whole affair. We should be thankful that there has been no agitation to rename INS Adyar after Anna/Periyar—the current Tamil icons.
Cdr Arun Viswanathan, Chennai
Pranay Sharma is asking to roll back the subtle gains made by the parivar via its moles in different organisations since independence. And their working template is Pakistan. They aspire to achieve the same level of simplicity and barbarity.
Kishore Dasmunshi, Calcutta
To be fair, all Indian military names are quite secular, even though they are in Sanskrit. We do not have any ship, plane or weapons system named after a Hindu god! A Sanskrit name doesn’t automatically imply a Hindu name.
Ganesh Natrajan, Isere, France
The Mi-35 helicopters that the IAF uses are called Akbar, from my limited knowledge of defence issues. There might be other examples, but the ‘secular’ author couldn’t be bothered about those.
Christian Thompson, Calcutta
I found the article INS Cheraman (Aug 26) quite worthless. It has been said that the English-speaking intelligentsia, either ignorant or unappreciative of Indian culture, are a threat to Indian society. People like the author of the article prove the point.
Prakash Singh, Noida
Pranay Sharma’s opinion on the politics of names in the realm of defence—like Sindhurakshak and Agni—came out of nowhere, and was ill-judged. All people who agree with him strongly should go to the registrar and change their ‘Hindu, Sanskrit’ names.
i think the colomunist dear pranay he being himself 'romantic' by his name should understand other r not so towards him. it was just a outburst akin to sindhuraksha from nowhere. got nothing to do - try and find something to poke the sentiments of love and peace abiding indians. i think if somebody has got such strong opinions in name pls speak to your parents first abt u r own name. also we should have an office est for registrar of names in armed forces and a comptroller general of names. really bad and pls stop such poor opinions and certainly this was not an OUTLOOK article.
It is sad that someone with name Pranav 'Sharma' comes out with this pseudo secular argument.
Perhaps, Pranav could first start by removing 'Sharma' from his name to show us the pseudo secular path. Even better, if he stops using the sanskrit name 'Pranav' too.
Shows typical hyprocrisy of the secularist - practice one thing and preach quite another.
Though the article is a waste of time ... I can suggest a few names INS Chor, INS Kharab, INS Neta, INS Tharkee, INS Rishwat ... and the list goes on and one ....
This is another pseudo secular trash piece, we must preserve our forefathers identity through sanskrit names of our military assets as they are the strong arms of our motherland.
>> What a sick argument! And you are comparing the number killed in a few days with those killed over a 10 year period!
How many have been killed over a 10 year period in Gujarat under Modi's rule?
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