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About the Words "Hindu" and "Hinduism"

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    http://www.swamij.com/hindu-word.htm ABOUT THE WORDS HINDU AND HINDUISM The words Hindu and Hinduism are described in different ways by different
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2007
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      The words "Hindu" and "Hinduism" are described in different ways by
      different people. The origins and usages of the terms are not
      universally agreed upon. As you'll see in the references
      below, "Hindu" and "Hinduism" have been variously used to describe
      one or another of culture, geography, or religion. Some say that the
      terms were not used by the indigenous people until fairly recently in
      history, brought on by foreign peoples and governments, not their own
      evolution. Many say that the original collective term used for the
      diverse teachings of the region is "Dharma" or "Sanatana Dharma."
      There is some impetus in the world today to advocate these terms,
      either along side of, or instead of the terms "Hindu" and "Hinduism."

      Below are some quotes on the words "Hindu" and "Hinduism." These
      references are not intended as academic or scholarly proofs or
      arguments used to win a debate. Because they are only offered as a
      most general overview, source information is not included. It is also
      not intended that any of these quotes are necessarily more or less
      authoritative than others, but rather to provide enough discussion
      that it's easy for the reader to get a feel for the issue. It's easy
      to find many such references through internet searches and books.
      Through one's own research and reflection, each person can draw his
      or her own conclusions about the meanings and uses of the
      words "Hindu" and "Hinduism," as well as the words "Dharma"
      and "Sanatana Dharma."


      "The word 'Hindu' occurs nowhere in the classical scriptures of
      Hinduism. The ancestors of the present day Hindus did not identify
      themselves as Hindus."

      "When Western scholars and Christian missionaries arrived on the
      scene, the Hindus found their faith tradition 'ism'-ized and its name
      became 'Hinduism'."

      "That even an atheist may be called a Hindu is an example of the fact
      that Hinduism is far beyond a simple religious system, but actually
      an extremely diverse and complicated river of evolving philosophies
      and ancient traditions."

      "The word Hindu is not a religious word. It is secular in origin. It
      is derived from the word Sindhu, which is the name of a major river
      that flows in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. The
      ancient Greeks and Armenians used to refer the people living beyond
      the river Sindhu as Hindus and gradually the name struck. When the
      Muslims came to the sub continent they called the people living in
      the region as Hindustanis to distinguish them from the foreign
      Muslims. Subsequently when the British established their rule, they
      started calling the local religions collectively under the name of

      "Only 180 years ago Raja Ram Mohan Roy coined the word 'Hindu' to
      describe the huge variety of faiths and sects with similar but not
      identical philosophies, myths and rituals."

      "According to the New Encyclopedia Britannica 20:581, 'Hinduism' was
      a name given in English language in the Nineteenth Century by the
      English people to the multiplicity of the beliefs and faiths of the
      people of the Indus land. The British writers in 1830 gave the
      word 'Hinduism' to be used as the common name for all the beliefs of
      the people of India excluding the Muslims and converted Christians."

      "According to our ex-President [India] and scholar Dr S
      Radhakrishnan, the term 'Hindu' had originally a territorial and not
      credal significance. It implies residence in a well-defined
      geographical area."

      "All scholars agree that the category 'Hinduism' is something created
      by Orientalists. This obviously does not exclude the existence of an
      Indian spiritual experience. But at a certain point it was decided to
      use this label, which during Colonialism became a flag for
      independence, and after that an attempt was made by the people of
      India to recognize themselves in a common religion."

      "Surprisingly, though Hinduism is a very ancient religion, the
      word 'Hinduism', which today defines it and distinguishes it from the
      rest of the religions, is of much later origin. In ancient India you
      had either a yogi, a bhakta, a tantric, a sanyasi, a sankhya vadin, a
      vedantin, a lokayata, a rishi, a muni, a pandit, a pragna, a yogini,
      a devi, a swami, a Saivite, a Vaishnavite, a siddha or Buddha, but no

      "The Supreme Court [of India] in the course of deciding an appeal in
      an election petition, has interpreted the meaning of 'Hindutva'
      and 'Hinduism' as a "synonym of 'Indianisation' -- i.e. development
      of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all all
      cultures co-existing in the country.' The unanimous judgement given
      by the three-judge bench consisting of Justices J.S. Verma, N.P.
      Singh and K. Venkataswami, on December 11, 1995, has quoted earlier
      Supreme Court judgements and opinions of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Dr.
      Toynbee and others in coming to the conclusion that Hinduism
      represented a way of life."

      "The Supreme Court [of India] bench dealt with the meaning of the
      word 'Hindutva' or 'Hinduism' when used in election propaganda. The
      court came to the conclusion that the words 'Hinduism' or 'Hindutva'
      are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined
      only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture
      and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the
      Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary
      meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a
      way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech
      indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are
      indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not
      confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as
      a faith. This clearly means that, by itself, the word 'Hinduism'
      or 'Hindutva' indicates the culture of the people of India as a
      whole, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians,
      Jews etc."

      "The word 'Hinduism' was coined by European travelers and traders in
      the 16th century."

      "It is interesting to note that the word Hindu is neither Sanskrit
      nor Dravidian and did not originate in India. It was not used by
      Indians in their descriptions or writings until the 17th century. If
      we go by the original definition of the word Hindu, any one who lives
      in the subcontinent is a Hindu and whatever religion he or she
      practices is Hinduism. The word Hindu is a secular word and literally
      translated it means Indian and the word Hinduism denotes any religion
      or religions that are practiced by the multitude of people living in
      the land beyond the river Indus."

      "It is hard to define Hinduism, let alone defend it. This is the
      reason when someone asks the question, 'Who is a Hindu or what is
      Hinduism?' a variety of answers are given. The most appropriate
      answer perhaps is a long pause and then silence. The confusion that
      has been propagated in the religion over many centuries has made it
      prohibitive even to define the word Hinduism."

      "Unfortunately Hinduism is represented as monolithic. However, there
      is no essential Hinduism, no single belief system, and no central

      "The Hidden Hindus... include at least 1-2 million non-Indian
      Americans (Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics, etc.) who
      practice Yoga, meditation, vegetarianism, believe in reincarnation
      and karma, study the Vedic scriptures, etc., but who –- despite the
      fact that they are practicing Sanatana Dharma -- will not call
      themselves 'Hindu', and do not understand that they are part of an
      ancient and living religious tradition. We need to do everything in
      our power to bring these two communities together, to bridge this

      "It is well known among scholars of South Asian religion that the
      word 'Hinduism' is a term of convenience--a blanket name for a wide
      variety of religious practices, beliefs and worldviews that some
      times have little common ground beyond their Indian origins.
      Ironically, Hinduism is not an indigenous word to any of the
      traditions it labels."

      "There are legal pronouncements [in India] that Hindus are Indian
      citizens belonging to a religion born in India. This means Buddhists,
      Sikhs or Parsis, even those who did not recognize themselves as
      Hindus, are to be considered Hindus."

      "It should be pointed out that the word 'Hindu' is not found in any
      of the classical writings of India. Nor can it be traced to the
      classical Indian languages, such as Sanskrit or Tamil. In fact, the
      word 'Hinduism' has absolutely no origins within India itself. Still,
      it persists, and traditions as diverse as Shaivism and Jainism,
      Shaktism and Vaishnavism, have been described as 'Hinduism.' This may
      work as a matter of convenience, but ultimately it is inaccurate."

      "Hinduism has one of the most genetically and ethnically diverse body
      of adherents in the world. It is hard to classify Hinduism as a
      religion, as the framework, symbols, leaders and books of reference
      that make up a typical religion are not uniquely identified in the
      case of Hinduism. Most commonly it can be seen as a 'way of life'
      which gives rise to many civilized forms of religions. Hinduism, its
      religious doctrines, traditions and observances are very typical and
      inextricably linked to the culture and demographics of India."

      "Using the overarching term 'Hinduism' for the many religions of
      India is comparable to ignoring the different religious orientations
      within each of the Western traditions, arbitrarily merging them under
      a single banner—'Semitism' (which, like 'Hinduism,' merely denotes
      geographical location). Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other
      constitute the diverse religious traditions of the Western world.
      Just as the term Semitism is too broad and reductionistic to
      represent properly the unique religious manifestation of the great
      Western traditions, and just as it would be inappropriate to refer to
      all these traditions as one religion, the term Hinduism falls short."

      "The word Hindu is also not mentioned in holy books, Upanishads,
      Shashtras and Valmiki Ramayan, Shatpath Brahmin Granth etc. And in
      these holy books there is not any word Hindus or sects or caste
      system, where as it is clearly mentioned in every chapter of thereof
      that there is only one God of the Universe."

      "According to Jawaharlal Nehru, the earliest reference to the
      word 'Hindu' can be traced to a Tantrik book of the eighth century
      C.E., where the word means a people, and not the followers of a
      particular religion. The use of the word 'Hindu' in connection with a
      particular religion is of very late occurrence."

      "If you examine ancient Indian history and religion, you will find
      that the word 'Hindu dharma' is not used to describe what is today
      called 'Hinduism'."

      "The word Hindu is relatively modern and is derived from the word
      Sindhu which means red. The Arabs called the Sindhu river the Indus
      river since they could not pronounce the S-sound. Thus, the people
      west of the Sindhu river came to be known as the Hindus and the
      country got its name India. The original name for the country was
      Bharata Varsha - the land of Bharata, the king who ruled the country
      in ancient times. The true name of the religion is Sanatana Dharma.
      Sanatana means ancient and eternal. Dharma means moral duty. The word
      Sanatana Dharma connotes a Universal Way of Life for all living

      "'Hindu' means a person believing in, following or respecting the
      eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up
      in Bharatkhand [India] and includes any person calling himself a

      "The word 'hindu' is a non-Indian word, it's origin is
      Persian/Arabic. It's original meaning is 'dog,' 'low life'
      or 'slave'."

      "The word 'Hindu' means a liar, a slave, a black, an infidel, in
      short, a man possessed of every evil to be found in the world; while
      the term Arya means a pious, a learned, a noble, and a wise man,
      devoted to the true worship of the Eternal. With this explanation, I
      dare conclude that no man of common sense would like to be called a
      Hindu, when once he knows its meaning."

      "It should be noted that the word 'Hindu' originally referred to any
      inhabitant of the Indian subcontinent, or Hind, not followers of the
      religion as it does now."

      "If we see in the four thousand years worth of religious literature
      in India we cannot find a single reference to the word 'Hinduism'
      anywhere! 'Hinduism' is a word concocted by Europeans to refer to the
      myriad streams of religious faiths in the land of Hindustan."

      "The word 'Hinduism' itself is a geographical term based upon the
      Sanskrit name for the great river that runs across the northern
      boundaries of India, known as the Sindhu."

      "The word Hinduism is not found in the 'hindu' religion. In fact
      there is no such thing as the 'hindu' religion."

      "The word 'Hinduism' was introduced in the 19th century to define the
      aggregate beliefs of the Arya, immigrants who left Central Asia in
      1500 BC, and animist religions of native populations in India."

      "The word 'Hindu' is not found in any Hindu religious text or any
      other ancient writing. People who lived on the western side of Hindu
      Kush (killers of Hindus) mountains gave this name to the natives of
      India. The word Hindu means black, slave, robber, thief and a

      "Until about 19th century, the term 'Hindu' implied a culture and
      ethnicity and not religion alone. When the British government started
      periodic census and established a legal system, need arose to
      define 'Hinduism' as a clearly-defined religion, along the lines of
      Christianity or Islam."

      "The word 'Hinduism' originated about only 200-300 years ago."

      "Beginning around 1000 AD, invading armies from the Middle East
      called the place beyond the Sindhu 'Hindustan' and the people who
      lived there the 'Hindus'"

      "Today most Western scholars seem resigned to the inconclusiveness of
      the project of defining Hinduism. Some decline to use the
      word 'Hinduism' at all, or prefer to use it only in the
      plural, 'Hinduisms.'"

      "At a very early date, Persian explorers entered the Indian
      subcontinent from the far Northwest. After they returned, they
      published chronicles. But due to the phonetics of their native
      Persian language, the 'S' of Sind became an aspirated 'H.' This is
      how the people of the Indus Valley came to be known generically
      as "Hindus" by the Persians. This flawed intonation inevitably stuck.
      And was later re-imported when the invading Moguls conquered India.
      Since they always referred to the locals as "Hindus," the term was
      adopted by the Indians themselves as a way of distinguishing native
      culture from that of the foreign Muslims."

      "The word Hinduism was coined by the Muslim scholar Alberuni in the
      11th century C.E."

      "Various origins for the word 'Hinduism' have been suggested: It may
      be derived from an ancient inscription translated as: 'The country
      lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara is known as
      Hindusthan by combination of the first letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and
      the last compound letter 'ndu' of the word `Bindu.' Bindu Sarovara is
      called the Cape Comorin sea in modern times."

      Hinduism did not exist before 1830. It was created by the English
      colonialists in the 1830s. This remarkable circumstance is evidenced
      by the fact that none of the travelers who visited India before
      English rule used the word 'Hindu'.... This is amply borne out by the
      Encyclopedia Britannica, which states: "The term Hinduism ... [was]
      introduced in about 1830 by British writers." In other words, the
      founding father of 'Hinduism' is an Englishman!

      "According to the Hindu Scholars, Hinduism is a misnomer and the
      religion `Hinduism' should be either referred to as `Sanatana
      Dharma', which means eternal religion, or as Vedic Dharma, meaning
      religion of the Vedas. According to Swami Vivekananda, the followers
      of this religion are referred to as Vendantists."

      "The word Hinduism is an incorrect nomenclature, which was coined by
      the British. Thereafter, it has stuck due to the ignorance of its
      followers. The term 'ism' refers to an ideology that is to be
      propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism,
      socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have
      no such 'ism'. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for
      the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in
      Hindu Dharma there is no place for any 'ism'. Hindus are democratic
      in approach, for each individual is free to adopt any philosophy or
      way to self-realization."
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