Shimla Or Shyamala? Just about a week ago, even as Haryana government decided to rename Gurgaon into Gurugram, the move did not seem welcome with most residents of the city and, if fact, most Indians. From outright criticism to social media jokes about other possible name changes reflected the dissatisfaction with the decision. Even as the Gurugram name change embers refuse to cool off, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has asked the Indian National Congress (INC) government of the state to consider renaming the state capital and one of the most important tourist destinations of North India. The General Secretary of Himachal’s VHP unit, Manoj Singh, has appealed to the state Governor Acharya Devvrat to consider renaming Shimla as Shyamala. The VHP holds that Shimla is a distorted version (by the British) of the word Shyamala, the name of the Goddess whose temple had been a prime centre for worship in the region in the 19th century. Colonial Legacy Not willing to stop at Shimla, the VHP, apparently, has plans to seek a change in official names for Dalhousie, Nupur and even the historical Peterhoff building in Shimla. Dalhousie should be renamed after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Nupur after Veer Ram Singh Pathania and Peterhoff should be called Valmiki Sadan, according to the organisation. Manoj Singh claims that continuation of the use of names accorded by the Britishers is a sign of lugging the colonial baggage in a sovereign nation. Shimla was the summer capital of the Britishers in India. Though the history of the region dates back many centuries, the city itself was founded by the British due to its cool climate, verdant greenery and breathtaking beauty. As the summer capital, the city witnessed historic political events. In 1974, Simla was renamed Shimla to reflect a more accurate pronunciation. What’s in a Name? While Shakespeare might not have attached much importance to a name, there is a lot to consider before renaming any city, especially one that is an internationally well-known tourist centre. Brand Shimla may suffer and tourism may take a beating, the government feels. Some researchers also say that the reference to the Goddess Shyamala temple is not substantiated by any archaeological findings. For now, the government has rejected the VHP’s appeal to consider a name change but the latter has further submitted a memorandum to CM Virbhadra Singh making a strong case for throwing off colonial names. When India gained independence from British rule, a number of cities were renamed to reflect the original cultural roots and this was largely an attempt to re-establish the Indian identity as distinct from the British. But almost seven decades into independence, it is said that Indian parties and organisations are still keen on changing the names of important cities, apart from state and UTs (Orissa to Odisha, Pondicherry to Puducherry etc) Major Cities Renamed in Recent Times
- Visakhapatnam – If you are taking the train down the eastern coast of India, you’re still likely to hear people speak of Waltair station. In case you’re wondering, it is Vishakapatnam they are referring to. The name was changed in 1987 to rid the city of its English name.
- Vadodara – Vadodara derives its name from the word ‘vatodar’, a reference to the core of a Banyan tree. When the British arrived, their inability to pronounce native names transformed the city’s name into Baroda. In 1974, the name of the city was changed back to Vadodara.
- Thiruvananthapuram – Prior to the days of British domination in India, Thiruvananthapuram was a main city in the south built around (and named after) the Padmanabha Swamy Temple. In 1991, the Kerala government decided to discard the British name, Trivandrum, and reinstate the city’s old name.
- Mumbai – In 1995, the Shiv Sena and a few other parties of Maharashtra pushed to rename Bombay to Mumbai. The city derived its name from patron goddess Mumba Devi. Bombay, though still much in vogue, was a colonial name that many locals resented.
- Chennai – Madras was not only the name of one of the biggest cities in South India, but also the entire presidency. And its name was certainly not a colonial legacy, coming from the name Madrasapattinam. And yet, in 1996, the local authorities deemed it fit to rename the city to Chennai (after the Chenna Kesava Perumal temple), another of the city’s local names.
- Kochi – From Cochin to Kochi does not seem to be a great change but considering that the city is still referred to as Eranakulam, it seems that the local authorities may have been in a hurry to rid the city of its colonial name when they changed it in 1996.
- Kolkata – In 2001, India’s erstwhile capital, Calcutta was renamed Kolkata. The word Kolkata is derived from the name of one of the three villages – Kalikata, Sutanuti, and Govindapur – that grew to form the city. Kalikata may have been named after the Goddess Kali who has an important temple here.
- Bengaluru – In 2014, the Karnataka government went ahead with the change in official names for 12 cities in the state including major hubs such as the state capital Bangalore (to Bengaluru), Mysore (to Mysuru), Mangalore (to Mangaluru), Bijapur (to Vijayapura), Gulbarga (to Kalburgi), and Hubli (to Hubballi). The idea behind changing these names was to retain their cultural identity in a fast growing global space. The name Bengaluru is believed to have been derived from a 9th-century rock edict discovered in Begur. The edict is believed to date back to 890 CE and refers to the city as Bengavaluru. This name means “city of the sentinels”.
- Gurugram – In April 2016, the Haryana government decided to rename Gurgaon as Gurugram. According to traditional Indian mythology, Gurgaon is the village which was given to the royal preceptor to Dronacharya as his guru dakshina by the Pandavas who ruled from nearby Indraprastha (Delhi). The change certainly attracted extreme reactions.