What's in a name?

Note: This article was first published in 'Indian Railways', September 1994, and is reproduced here by generous permission of the author, Shirish Paranjape. Readers may also be interested in the FAQ page on train names.

What is there in a name?!!

Travelling out of one's city is a thing most of us do, some more frequently than others, and for personal or official work. For traveling, we have today various options, namely airlines, railways, road transport or water transport. Amongst these various modes, Railway is, arguably, the most popular and widely used mode of travel. The popularity of railways could perhaps be attributed to a number of reasons such as economy, convenience, comfort etc. Rail travel, if you ask me, is also different than other modes of travel in yet another way. Railways stand apart from other modes of transport in that only the trains have names.

Well, aircrafts and ships also have names, but their names do not go together with their routes, and perhaps for this reason, their names are not remembered or recognized easily. We come to know the name of an aircraft either when it joins the fleet, or when it crashes!

Not so with the trains.

It won't be an exaggeration to say that trains are known and recognized by the names they bear. 'Shatabdi Express', 'Rajdhani Express' or 'Deccan Queen' immediately brings up in our mind a picture which is different from, say 'Delhi Janata Express' or 'Dehradun Express'. It is the name of a train that lends a specific character to a set of coaches and locomotive. Have you ever wondered about how our railways, the Indian Railways, name their babies -- the trains? Naming a newborn in our family, we all know, is by no means an easy task. It calls for participative brainstorming, debate, discussions and what not. Considering this, have you ever felt that the Indian Railways is doing a fantastic job in not only operating the trains, but also in giving a 'name' to them?

A closer study of the railway schedules will immediately indicate to us that the railways have been very resourceful in naming the trains. Just ponder a while at the areas from where the names are selected: names of states (old and new), rivers, mountains, Gods, and what not! Shall we take a more detailed look?

Railways have drawn upon heavily on Mother Nature for naming the trains. And so we have trains named after rivers -- Jhelum, Gomti, Krishna, Godavari, Indrayani, Brahmaputra, Vaigai Expresses (and many more) -- running across the length and breadth of our country, as the rivers do, for the service of the people of the country. We also have river-pairs like Ganga-Kaveri Express connecting Varanasi and Rameshwaram (with change of gauge at Madras Beach station), or Surat-Varanasi Tapti-Ganga Express, or Ganga-Sutlej or Ganga-Jamuna Express. Or names indicating the confluence of rivers -- Sangam and Triveni Expresses.

India is a country with a big coast-line, and we have trains running along, and named after these coasts -- like the Madras-Howrah Coromandel Express, the East Coast and West Coast Expresses.

Our country is also famous for its mountains, and our mountain/hill railways are extremely popular with the tourists, especially the children. Himgiri, Nilgiri, Saptagiri, Tirumala, Sahyadri, Satpura Expresses traverse through the mountains with the same names. The Kanchenjunga Express is named after the towering Himalayan peak and the Deccan Express after the plateau of Deccan. Kumaon and Barak Valley Expresses are named after these famous valleys, while Himsagar Express connects the Himalayas (Jammu Tawi) with the Sagar (Kanyakumari).

If the above names depict the 'natural' nature, Railways have also not forgotten the Nature created by man. We have, therefore, trains named after the famous gardens of the Moghuls located at Srinagar (Shalimar Express), the immensely popular Brindavan Gardens at Mysore (Brindavan Express) and the Udyan Express connecting Bombay and Bangalore.

Gods have always been an inspiration to us, and so also for the Railways while naming the trains. Various sacred temples and shrines find a place in the railway timetables. Thus we have Sri Jagannath, Kashi-Vishwanath, Mahalaxmi, Siddheshwar, Sambaleshwari, Nauchandi and Garib Nawaz Expresses carrying devotees to the places of worship with the same names. In the same spirit, Railways have also dedicated trains to several institutions which have dedicated themselves to the honorable task of service to mankind'. Take, for example, the Shanti Niketan Express (named after the famous institute of the great Rabindranath Tagore), Sabarmati and Ashram Expresses (named after Bapuji's Sabarmati ashram), Sevagram Express (dedicated to Vinoba's Bhoodan movement), or Shaheed Express (dedicated to the martyrs of our freedom movement).

India is a land with long and great history, spanning several centuries. The Railways help us fondly remember our erstwhile rulers and dynasties and their states and cities. We have Pallavan, Pandiyan, Cholan and Cheran Expresses running in the south, names after the dynasties which once ruled that region. Similarly, Magadh, Avadh, Kalinga, Utkal and Vaishali Expresses remind us of the bygone era, while Kushinagar, Pataliputra and Ujjaini Expresses refresh our memories of the historical cities whose names have changed with the passage of time. In the same manner, Ahilyanagari and Sayajinagari Expresses remind us of Holkars of Indore and Gaekwads of Baroda, respectively, while the Suryanagari Express is dedicated to the suryavanshi Rajputs.

We also have the popular Pink City Express named after Jaipur -- the Pink city, Mahanagari Express -- connecting the two 'mahanagars' (megapolises) of Bombay and Varanasi, or Chennai Express, reflecting the Tamil name of Madras city.

Famous kings and queens also figure here: Bangalore-Mysore Tippu Express or Ahmedabad-Bombay Karnavati Express, for instance. Talking of queens, a number of them are still gracing the tracks of the Indian railways -- Deccan Queen, Himalayan Queen, Flying Ranee.

After Nature and history, let us turn to geography.

Lots and lots of trains are named after the region/territory they serve. Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh Expresses provide 'superfast' connections between the national capital and the respective state capitals. You may wonder, however, that the Nagpur-Kolhapur Maharashtra Express doesn't connect either the national or the state capital! Punjab Mail and Shan-e-Punjab Expresses serve the land of five rivers, while Gujarat Mail and Gujarat Express trains connect Ahmedabad, the former capital of Gujarat, with Bombay -- the commercial capital of our country. Saurashtra Mail and Express, Chattisgarh, Vidarbha, Malwa, Rayalseema, Purvanchal and Neelachal Express serve these regions, and many more. Come holidays, and many of us would choose tourist places as our travel destinations. We could, possibly, take a train of the same name as the place of tourist interest we want to visit. Thus Taj Express can help us visit the Taj at Agra, Ajanta and Ellora Expresses would lead us to the famous caves, the Minar and Charminar Expresses would take us to Hyderabad. For paying a visit to the lions at Gir, we can take the Girnar Express, as Konark, Golconda, Amarkantak and Panchavati Expresses would carry us to these places of tourist interest.

Similarly, trains such as Mussorie, Darjeeling and Nainital Expresses would take us to the foot of these popular hill-stations. In this way, the Railways are making a big contribution towards the tourism industry, apart from actually carrying the holidaymakers around.

Will it be an overstatement to say that the train-names are all-pervading? Attention is paid even to the industry, the back-bone of our country's economy. Black Diamond and Coalfield Expresses run in the coal-mines belt, while Steel and Ispat Expresses provide convenient connections between Howrah and the steel cities of Tatanagar and Rourkela.

Many a train name reflects its speed. Who hasn't heard of the legendary Toofan Mail, which has even featured in a Hindi film song? Flying Mail, Flying Ranee and Pawan Express all indicate the aspect of speed. Pushpak Express derives its name from the mythological aircraft of the Gods, whereas Chetak Express takes us back to the times of Maharana Pratap's horse with the same name.

Sethu Express ('Sethu' means a bridge) is named after the long bridge over the sea connecting Rameshwaram with the mainland, while Grand Trunk Express is an old and popular train running on the Grand Trunk route linking New Delhi and Madras. Paschim, Dakshin, Poorva and North-East Expresses derive their names from directions, whereas Frontier Mail takes us to our north-west frontier (during pre-partition days, it used to operate up to Peshawar in North-West Province in undivided India). The Geetanjali Express is dedicated to the famous book by Tagore.

In the past few years, however, there appears to be a trend of giving modern names to trains. While Rajdhani and Shatabdi have become household names, we have train-names like Pragati (progress) or Kirti (fame). The motto 'work is worship' is truly reflected in Shramajeevi, Shram-Shakti and Shramik Expresses, while Sainik and Krishak Expresses are dedicated to our brave soldiers and hardworking farmers, respectively. We also have Navjeevan and Navyug Expresses indicating new hope. Samta and Ekta Expresses remind us of the values we cherish -- individually and as a nation, whereas Sarvodaya, Ahimsa, August Kranti and Swaraj Expresses are dedicated to these great movements.

I have, personally, always found some train names very amusing. The Capital Express, for example is in no way related to the famous Rajdhani Expresses - it operates connecting the cities of Danapur and Katihar. Similarly, Ratnagiri Express (it links Bombay and Varanasi) has nothing to do with the town of the same name famous for alphonso mangoes, while Sabarmati Express does not touch the railway junction of Sabarmati. There are also amusing alliterations in train names like Jayanti Janata, Teesta-Torsa or Chauri-Chaura Expresses.

After reading all that is written above, you may either tend to agree with the statement made earlier -- that Indian Railways is indeed doing a great job in naming the trains, or you may feel lost and confused about this whole affair. Whichever may be the case, my frank opinion, at the end, is that you should not worry whether you are booked by Rajdhani Express or Capital Express, Flying Mail or Flying Ranee, Steel Express or Ispat Express, Deccan Queen or Deccan Express, but only enjoy your rail travel. For whatever be the name, it is still one of the convenient, comfortable and safe trains of our Indian Railways. Of course, please do avoid the Lifeline Express, which, you might know, is the hospital-train operated by the Railways.

Material provided by Shirish Paranjape, Copyright © 1994.
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