I was recently wondering how Karnataka got its name! Many of us might not know that Karnataka in the medieval ages was called Mysore state, and was renamed to Karnataka only in 1973. There has to be some reason behind every state’s name. For example, Bihar is named so because it is derived from ‘Vihara’, meaning dwelling place of Buddhist monks.
The earliest known references to Karnataka are found in the Sabha Parva and the Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata. Even the Matsya Purana, Skanda Purana, Markandeya Purana and the Bhagavata Purana make references to the name ‘Karnata’. Scholars Panini, Mrichchakatika and Kathasaritsagara make references to Karnataka in their ancient works. Later, in the 5th century, the term Karnataka was used by the astrologer Varaha Mihira in his work Brihatkatha. Many such references exist. Karnataka was always Karnataka! But why was it named so?
In Sanskrit, ‘Karna’ means ear, and ‘atati’ means wander, together giving a meaning for ‘Karnata’ as where ones ears would want to wander, since this region was always enchanted by its wonderful music. In Kannada, karu and nadu means elevated land. For ages, this was the beautiful majestic land of Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas and the Vijayanagaras. In another tale, Karna, son of Kunti fled and lived in the forests of this part of the country. ‘Ataka’ in Sanskrit means forest, hence the name Karnataka.