Ancient Indian Names (The Subcontinent)

Ancient India

The Indus Civilization, centered on the Indus Valley in western India, flourished from about 2500 BC to 1700 BC. The civilization covered a larger area than modern Pakistan. Two of its large cities, modern-day Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan, each held perhaps 35,000 people at their height. Other cities included Kalibangan, on the border of India and Pakistan, which was almost as large as Harappa or Mohenjo-Daro. These cities were made of brick and had well-planned streets, pottery drainage ditches, large granaries, and a large bath for ritual cleansing. The city's major buildings were constructed on a raised platform of brick. Houses ranged from small, two-room structures to large houses with courtyards and a second story. (1,2,3,4)

The pre-Indo-European Indus civilization traded with the people of Sumer and sent merchant ships to the island of Bahrain (The Sumerian Tilmun) in the Persian Gulf. Pottery, inlays, and perhaps wood from the Indus Valley was exported to Sumer. Sumerian merchants may have referred to the Indus Valley as Meluhha. People of the Indus Valley also traded with other cultures in Mesopotamia and with Egypt. The Sumerians were especially interested in wool and cotton from India. The people of the Indus Valley were the first to turn cotton into yarn and then weave the yarn into cloth. Cotton was first developed around 2000 B.C. Grain, pottery vases, ivory combs, pearls, precious woods, and semi-precious stones were exported from India. Gold came from southern India or Afghanistan, copper from Rajasthan or Afghanistan, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, turquoise, silver, lead, and tin from Iran (Persia), and jade-like fuchsite from southern India. Onyx and chalcedony were imported to make beads. In Gujarat, chank shells were popular for inlays. Cedar wood came from Kashmir and the Himalayas. Farmers in the Indus Valley grew wheat, barley, field-peas, melons, sesame, and dates. They also raised humped cattle, short-horn cattle, and buffaloes, and perhaps pigs, camels, horses, and donkeys. Although the area is now desert-like, the land used to be filled with water buffalo, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and enormous forests. Their unique script, which consisted of 400 symbolic pictures, has not yet been deciphered. While other writing systems were simplified over time, their writing system remained unchanged for 1000 years. The lack of public inscriptions or written historical documents has hindered translation. (1,2,3,4)

The Indus civilization began to decline in 1900 BC under pressure from a new group, the Arya. The Indo-European speaking Arya, or Aryans, moved into the area from eastern Iran. The Aryans invaded the Indus Valley by 1500 BC. The Rig Veda was written between 1300 and 1100 BC. The Rig Veda calls the pre-Aryan peoples the Dasa or Dasyu. Buddha lived in the 6th century BC. Darius I's forces reached the Indus Valley around 539 BC. The Peshawar plain was known as Gadara or Gandhara to the Persians and was one of the last satrapies of the Persian Empire. Its capital, Pushkalavati or Peukelaotis ("Lotus City", the modern Charsada), was later besieged by Alexander the Great's forces. Alexander the Great arrived in the Punjab about 326 BC. Other early Indian cities included Hastinapura, capital of the Kaurava kings, Ahichchhatra (near Ramnagar in Uttar Pradesh), the capital of North Panchala, Vaisali, the capital of the Lichchhavis, and Taxila (Bhir Mound-Sirkap), a caravan city that submitted to Alexander the Great. After Alexander the Great died in Babylon, Chandragupta founded the well-known Maurya Dynasty, which flourished from 324 BC to 186 BC. The later Gupta Kingdom lasted from 320 AD to 550 AD. The capital of Maurya India and early Gupta India was Pataliputra (modern Patna). The Gupta later seem to have moved their capital to Ujjayini, the former Shaka capital. The Gupta empire ended around 500 AD, although it continued in some areas into the middle of the 6th century AD. (1,2,3).

Female Names

Kumaradevi - Lichchavi princess and wife of Chandra Gupta c. 320 AD (2)
Prabhavati - Daughter of Chandra Gupta II, Chandra Gupta II lived c. 388 AD. (2)

Male Names

Agrammes, Xandrames - Last Nanda king according to Greco-Roman sources (1)
Aryabhata - 5th century astronomer and mathematician who wrote about the concept of zero and who said that the world was round and revolved around the Sun (2)
Asoka, Ashoka - Maurya king, son of Bindusara (1)
Bindusara - Maurya king, son of Candragupta (1)
Budha Gupta - Gupta king, ruled c. 475 - 495 AD. (1)
Candragupta, Candra Gupta, Chandragupta - The name of several Maurya and Gupta kings, including the founders of the Maurya and Gupta Dynasties (1)
Harsha Vardhana - Post-Gupta king who ruled c. 606 - 647 AD (2)
Kalidasa - Greatest poet and playwright in the court of Chandra Gupta II (2)
Kautilya, Canakya - Brahman advisor to the Maurya Candragupta and traditional author of Arthashastra, a classical text on politics and government (1, 4)
Kumara Gupta - Name of two Gupta kings who ruled c. 414 - 454 AD and 473 - 476 AD. (1)
Mahinda - Brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, may be Asoka's son, Maurya Dynasty (1)
Narasimha Gupta - Gupta king, ruled around c. 467 - 473 AD. (1)
Porus (Sanskrit Puru) - Powerful ruler in the Sind (modern Pakistan), Maurya Dynasty (1)
Pura Gupta - Gupta king, ruled in 467 AD (2)
Pusyamitra - First Sunga king, ruled around 186 BC after the decline of the Maurya Dynasty (1)
Rama Gupta - Gupta king (2)
Samudra Gupta - Second Gupta king, ruled c. 335 - 376 AD (1)
Skanda Gupta - Gupta king, ruled c. 454 - 467 AD. (1)
Sushruta - Writer of a 4th century medical textbook (2)
Yashodharman - Lived c. 533 AD (2)


(1) Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, ed. Arthur Cotterell, New York: Penguin Books, 1980.

(2) India's Gupta Dynasty, Kathryn Hinds, New York: Benchmark Books/Marshall Cavendish, 1996.

(3) Civilizations of the Indus Valley and Beyond, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966.

(4) A Traveller's History of India, Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda, New York: Interlink Publishing Group, Inc., 1995.

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Updated November 30, 2009