Of the several Bharatas known to the Hindu mythological lore, first comes the emperor Bharata, the son of Ṛṣabha and Jayantī. The country that he ruled came to be known as ‘Ajanābhavarṣa’ or ‘Bharatavarṣa’ or ‘Bhāratavarṣa’.
The son of the king Duṣyanta and his queen Śakuntalā was also known as Bharata; and sometimes, as Sarvadamana.
The Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas were his descendants. Some scholars opine that this country got its name ‘Bharatavarṣa’ from him.
Of all the Bharatas known to the Hindus, Bharata of the Rāmāyaṇa, the younger brother of Rāma, is the most popular. The second son of Daśaratha born in the womb of Kaikeyī he was deeply devoted to Rāma. When Kaikeyī forced Daśaratha, on the pretext of unfulfilled boons given earlier, to banish Rāma for 14 years and got the kingdom for Bharata, he refused to accept it. After chastising his mother, he went to the Citrakūṭa mountain where Rāma had just settled down, to persuade him to return. Since Rāma was firm, that obeying the commands of their father Daśaratha was binding upon both of them, and advised Bharata to rule the kingdom during the period of his banishment, Bharata returned to Ayodhyā with a heavy heart. He established the pādukās or wooden sandals of Rāma on the throne at Ayodhyā and ruled the kingdom on his behalf from Nandigrāma, a nearby village. He lived like an ascetic till Rāma returned and then handed back the kingdom to him. During his rule he had considerably improved it. (See also RĀMĀYAṆA.)
Bharata has remained as the model of brotherly love, affection and loyalty for the Hindus over the centuries.
Nāṭyaśāstra, an original treatise on dramaturgy, is ascribed to one Bharata who is almost a legendary figure for us now. He might have lived during the period 200 B.C.—A.D. 400. His work as extant today does not seem to be the original. According to Abhinavagupta (A. D. 980) the most authoritative commentator on the Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata, this work was in 36 chapters comprising 6000 ślokas or verses (vide Abhinava-bhāratī). (See ALAṄKĀRA-ŚASTRA for details.)
The Ṛgveda (3rd and 4th maṇḍalas) mentions Bharatas as a clan of people.