Yoga and the Words
"Hindu" and "Hinduism"
by Swami Jnaneshvara
Index of sections
Yoga, Hinduism and Physical Fitness
Usages of the words "Hindu" and "Hinduism"
Africanism, Americanism, and Europeanism
Confusing the Part and the Whole
Quotes about Hindu and Hinduism
Dates of Hinduism
Wikipedia on Hinduism
Rethinking religion in India
, HINDUISM AND PHYSICAL FITNESS
It is extremely useful
for the modern practitioner of authentic, traditional Yoga to be aware
of two major diversions from traditional Yoga as a system of pursuing
the depth of pure consciousness (atman, purusha or whatever name you
choose to refer to that consciousness).
One diversion is the
now common and incorrect view that Yoga is a physical fitness program,
rather than a process of moving towards the realization of the unity
(Yoga) of the individual and the universal consciousness. This is
addressed in the article Modern Yoga
versus Traditional Yoga.
The other diversion is
the view that Yoga is but one aspect of a religion known as Hinduism.*
Modern Yoga practitioners and teachers often face the assertion by
people in their community that they are practicing or teaching Hinduism.
However, few of these modern Yoga practitioners realize that it is
extremely questionable whether there even exists a singular, unified
religion known as "Hinduism". Rather than being religious, the word
"Hindu" historically was a geographic, social, and cultural term. The
Indic history is one of tremendous diversity of principles and
practices, and has only recently in history been invented into the
concept of a single, homogenized "religion" called "Hinduism". If there
is, in fact, no unified religion known as Hinduism, then it can hardly
be accurately claimed that Yoga is part of that religion, much less that
Yoga itself is "a religion". (See also the
paper by Dr. Arvind Sharma on an
Indic contribution towards understanding the word "religion")
*Please note that
the explanations given here are with great respect, admiration and
love for the Hindu people and culture, as well as acknowledging that
there are a wide range of indigenous spiritual or religious views
and practices within the geographic region.
USAGES OF THE WORDS "HINDU" AND "HINDUISM"
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 this region of the world 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."
Yet, it is also useful to know and bear in mind that some advocates of
the words "Hindu" and "Hinduism" can be very aggressive towards those
who are not, but instead prefer the concept of Dharma. This aggression
can be strongly experienced by practitioners of pure non-theistc yoga,
which is not necessarily linked with or promoting of any of the various
sects of deity worship.
AFRICANISM, AMERICANISM AND
A comparison that
should clarify the situation is to consider that "Hindu" has
historically related to a geographic region. Then reflect on the
geographic regions of Africa, America (including north, central, and south), and
Europe (or any other region of the world). Imagine for a moment that
somebody tried to talk to you about "religions" known as
Africanism, Americanism and
Europeanism. Anything that had ever been done in Europe, for example, in
the name of spiritual or religious practice throughout human history
would be lumped under one umbrella "religion" which had various
denominations, sects or orders of "Europeanism". So too, all of the
practices done by any of the historical peoples in the Americas would be
considered to be part of the "Americanism" religion.
Imagine you live in the
United States or Canada and somebody asks you "Why does your religion
practice human sacrifice?" Just because some people have done this in
the past in particular locations, this obviously does not mean the human
sacrifice is a part of some overarching religion of "Americanism",
much less that you practice this because of being resident of the
Imagine that you live
in one of the modern European countries and that you are asked about
your personal relationship with Thor, the "Europeanism" god of Thunder.
Just because there are historical religious practices in relation to
Thor, this does not mean that there is a "Europeanism" with this view,
or than any person in modern Europe can be presumed to follow this god.
These examples are
similar to what has happened in the "religion" of Hinduism.
Europe and Hindustan ("Hindu land", is one of the popular names of
India) each have their own unique and beautiful characteristics.
However, it is a gross distortion of the realities of religion and
spiritual practices to refer to these as "religions" of
Europeanism and Hinduism.
PART AND THE WHOLE
Even if there is such a
thing as 'Hinduism' it is an illogical confusion to say that the part is
the whole, in this case that Yoga is Hinduism. Is it proper to refer to
a tennis player, a golfer, a cricket player, or a football player only
as an 'athlete', while ignoring the particular sports skill that one
possesses and practices? To say that one is a 'golfer' says something
rather clear, but to just say he is an athlete says virtually nothing
without acknowledging that first and foremost, he is a golfer. So too is
the case with Yoga. While there are surely people who think of
themselves as Yogis and Hindus, with one being part of the other, this
is not a necessity or generally accurate.
Many similar examples
can be thought of. For example, an apple is an apple. If you want an
apple, you ask for an apple. You do not merely ask for a fruit and then
quietly hope for an apple. The category 'fruit' is irrelevant when what
you specifically want is an apple.
In my own tradition,
Swami Rama has made it quite clear that ours is a meditative tradition
of the Himalayan caves, emphasizing Yoga, and has nothing to do with any
of the institutions in the plains of India. He has written clearly of
these points in Living with the Himalayan Masters, Enlightenment without
God, and A Call to Humanity.
ABOUT "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
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." (Scroll down to the bottom for a list that is in date
order, as well as a Wikipedia description.)
"The word 'Hindu'
occurs nowhere in the classical scriptures of Hinduism. The
ancestors of the present day Hindus did not identify themselves as
scholars and Christian missionaries arrived on the scene, the Hindus
found their faith tradition 'ism'-ized and its name became
"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
"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 stuck. 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."
not to an entity; it is a name that the West has given to a
prodigiously variegated series of facts. It is a notion in men's
minds--and a notion that cannot but be inadequate. To use this term
at all is inescapably a gross oversimplification."
"[There was] no
such thing as Hinduism before the British invented the holdall
category in the early nineteenth century, and made India seem the
home of a 'world religion' as organised and theologically coherent
as Christianity and Islam. The concepts of a 'world religion' and
'religion' as we know them now, emerged during the late 18th and
early 19th century, as objects of academic study, at a time of
widespread secularisation in western Europe. The idea, as inspired
by the Enlightenment, was to study religion as a set of beliefs, and
to open it up to rational enquiry."
and perhaps the reality too--was born in the 19th century, a
notoriously illegitimate child. The father was middle-class and
British, and the mother, of course, was India. The circumstances of
the conception are not altogether clear. One heard of the 'goodly
habits and observances of Hindooism' in a Bengali-English grammar
written in 1829, and the Reverend William Tennant had spoken of 'the
Hindoo system' in a book on Indian manners and history written at
the beginning of the century. Yet it was not until the inexpensive
handbook 'Hinduism' was published by the Society for Promoting
Christian Knowledge in 1877 that the term came into general English
"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."
"The English term Hinduism was coined
by British writers in the first decades of the 19th century and
became familiar as a designator of religious ideas and practices
distinctive to India with the publication of books such as Hinduism
(1877) by Sir Monier Monier-Williams, the notable Oxford scholar and
author of an influential Sanskrit dictionary. Initially it was an
outsiders’ term, building on centuries-old usages of the word Hindu.
Early travelers to the Indus valley, beginning with the Greeks and
Persians, spoke of its inhabitants as “Hindu” (Greek: ‘indoi), and,
in the 16th century, residents of India themselves began very slowly
to employ the term to distinguish themselves from the Turks.
Gradually the distinction became primarily religious rather than
ethnic, geographic, or cultural."
"According to our ex-President
scholar Dr S Radhakrishnan, the term 'Hindu' had originally a
territorial and not credal significance. It implies residence in a
well-defined geographical area."
"The word Hinduism is an English word
of more recent origin. Hinduism entered the English language in the
early 19th century to describe the beliefs and practices of those
residents of India who had not converted to Islam or Christianity
and did not practice Judaism or Zoroastrianism."
"Just who invented 'Hinduism' first is
a matter of scholarly debate. Almost everyone agrees that it was not
the Hindus.... As a discrete Indic religion among others, however,
'Hinduism' was probably first imagined by the British in the early
part of the nineteenth century to describe (and create and control)
an enormously complex configuration of people and their traditions
found in the South Asian subcontinent. 'Hinduism' made it possible
for the British, and for us all (including Hindus), to speak of a
religion when before there was none, or, at best, many."
"It was the Europeans who coined the
word 'Hinduism' to denote all the Indian religions except Muslims,
Jains, and Buddhists, and the word Hindu was erroneously used for
those following the religions and worship under Hinduism."
"Hindus themselves prefer to use the
Sanskrit term sanatana dharma for their religious tradition.
Sanatana dharma is often translated into English as 'eternal
tradition' or 'eternal religion' but the translation of dharma as
'tradition' or 'religion' gives an extremely limited, even mistaken,
sense of the word. Dharma has many meanings in Sanskrit, the sacred
language of Hindu scripture, including 'moral order,' 'duty,' and
"It is most striking that people we
now call Hindus never used this term to describe themselves. The
Vedas, the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita, which today are seen by
many as the religious texts of the Hindus, do not employ the word
Hindu. That term was first used by the Achaemenid Persians to
describe all those people who lived on or beyond the banks of the
river Sindhu, or Indus. Therefore, at one stage the word Hindu as an
ethno-geographic category came to englobe all those who lived in
India, without ethnic distinction. It was only under the Muslim
rulers of India that the term began to gain a religious connotation.
But it was not until colonial times that the term 'Hinduism' was
coined and acquired wide currency as referring collectively to a
wide variety of religious communities, some of them with distinct
traditions and opposed practices. Communities like the Saivites,
Vaishvanites, and Lingyats, each with their own history and specific
view of the world, were tied together under the blanket category
"The non-Muslim people of the South
Asian subcontinent called Hindu had no precise word for their
religions. They were, as they are, divided into thousands of
communities and tribes, each having its own religious beliefs,
rituals, modes of worship, etc. Finding it difficult to get the
names of the religions of these communities, the British writers
gave them the word 'Hinduism' to be used as a common name for all of
their religions in about 1830. Thus the people called Hindus got a
common element, at least in word, to be identified as a distinct,
"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
"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 Hindu."
"Unliess by 'Hindu' one means nothing
more, nor less, than 'Indian' (something native to, pertaining to,
or found within the continent of India), there has never been any
such a thing as a single 'Hinduism' or any single 'Hindu community'
for all of India. Nor, for that matter, can one find any such thing
as a single 'Hinduism' or 'Hindu community' even for any one
socio-cultural region of the continent. Furthermore, there has never
been any one religion--nor even one system of religious--to which
the term 'Hindu' can accurately be applied. No one so-called
religion, moreover, can lay exclusive claim to or be defined by the
"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
"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."
Hinduism is represented as monolithic. However, there is no
essential Hinduism, no single belief system, and no central
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 gap."
"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
"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
"Hinduism as one of
the world religions we know today had only occurred or perceived
since the 19th century, when the term 'Hindu-ism' started being used
by leaders of Hindu reform movements or revivalists, and, often
considered to be biased, Western orientalists or the 'first
Indologists'. However it is clearly accepted that sources of
Hinduism and the 'streams' which feed in to it are very ancient,
extending back to the Indus Valley civilization and earliest
expressions of historical Vedic religion. It is not an accepted view
that Hinduism is the construction of Western orientalists to make
sense of the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based
on the Vedic traditions, however some many have suggested it is."
"From the western
point of view, the understanding of Hinduism was mediated by Western
notions of what religion is and how its relates to more ancient
forms of belief. It is further complicated by the frequent use of
the term 'faith' as a synonym for 'religion'. Some academics and
many practitioners refer to Hinduism with a native definition, as 'Sanātana
Dharma', a Sanskrit phrase meaning 'the eternal law' or 'eternal
"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."
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
"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."
"The name Hinduism
is a misnomer and of a foreign coinage. Indeed the term Hindu is
found nowhere in the Vedic scriptures, nor can it be found in any
classical texts of Sanatana Dharma."
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
"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 entities."
"As a follower of
the religion of santan dharma, I find it offensive that we use the
word 'Hinduism'. This term is an illegitimate term that was used to
label us by foreign occupiers and aggressors."
"'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 Hindu."
"The word 'hindu'
is a non-Indian word, it's origin is Persian/Arabic. It's original
meaning is 'dog,' 'low life' or 'slave'."
"I wish to state
emphatically and categorically that the very word Hinduism is a
misnomer. Properly speaking there is no such religion called
Hinduism. This great country to which I happen to belong was known
from time immemorial as ‘Bharatha’. Even in Bagavat Gita Lord
Krishna often addresses Arjuna‘as Bharatha’. The Ancient Country has
gone through uncountable vicissitudes. Because, foreign intruders,
invaders and travellers had to cross the Indus River before entering
this fabulous country (it was so in the past), they began to call
its inhabitants of this great and vast land as “Hindus”. This word
“Hindu” requires further elaboration. The word for water in Sanskrit
is “Sindu” In the Vedas and our Legends we come across such words as
“Saptha Sindavaha” which freely translated would mean ‘The Land of
Seven Rivers”. While other rivers have been given individual names,
this river on the extreme Northwestern border was known as ‘Sindu’.
Eventually, Sindu became ‘Hindu’. That is how the intruders,
invaders and travellers began to call the original people of the
"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
"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."
'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."
'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 waylayer."
"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."
'Hinduism' originated about only 200-300 years ago."
1000 AD, invading armies from the Middle East called the place
beyond the Sindhu 'Hindustan' and the people who lived there the
"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
"The word Hinduism
was coined by the Muslim scholar Alberuni in the 11th century C.E."
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
"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
“The word ‘Hindu’ is not a Sanskrit
word or nor mentioned in any of the ancient major texts of India. It
is believed to be originated from the ancient Persians. The Persians
who were shared some common culture with the people of Indian
sub-continent used to call the Indus River as ‘Sindhu.’ Due to some
linguistic problems, they could not pronounce the letter ‘S’ in
their language and started mispronouncing it as ‘H’. Thus they
started pronouncing the word Sindhu as Hindu. The ancient Greeks,
American and the rest of the world followed the same word and
started calling the Indus river valley people as Hindus and
gradually the word stuck. Even the word ‘Hindustan’ is not
originated from the mouth of any Indian. The Muslim travelers and
rulers who came to India during the medieval period called the
Indian subcontinent as ‘Hindustan’ and its people as ‘Hindus.’ The
British too followed the same words and later they used this name
religiously to distinguish Hindus from Muslims and Christians.”
DATES OF "HINDUISM":
In addition to the
question of the nature of the terms "Hindu" and "Hinduism," there is
also the question of the dates of the origins of the underlying
principles or practices. In other words, presuming that there is, in
fact, a "Hinduism" (rather than Dharma or Sanatana Dharma) here are a
few quotes listed in date order, which show the diversity of opinions.
"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." "Only 180 years ago
Raja Ram Mohan Roy coined the word 'Hindu' Hinduism did not exist
before 1830. It was created by the English colonialists in the
"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."
"The word 'Hinduism'
was coined by European travelers and traders in the 16th century."
"The word Hinduism
was coined by the Muslim scholar Alberuni in the 11th century C.E."
1000 AD, invading armies from the Middle East called the place
beyond the Sindhu 'Hindustan' and the people who lived there the
"The beginning of
Hinduism and the Indian subculture can be dated circa 600 BCE."
"No one is
completely sure of where Hinduism was started and by whom. Their
oldest written documents, the Vedas, were written down in 1000 BC."
"Hinduism was born
in India around the year 1500 bc."
"Hinduism began in
India about 1800 B.C.E."
date back as far as 2000 BC."
"Hinduism in India
is the most primitive religious belief. It dates back to its origin
of about 2500 BC."
"Hinduism is the
oldest extant religion dating back to over 3000 BC."
"Hinduism began in
India about 3,500-4,000 B.C." "Hinduism began about 6,000 years
"Hinduism started in... 6000
"Hinduism began somewhere
around 6500 BC"
"Hinduism began in
Bharat Varsha (Indian subcontinent) in 8000 BCE."
WIKIPEDIA ON "HINDUISM"
Although Wikipedia is a collective of
opinions from many different people, and is not necessarily
authoritative, the Wikipedia description of Hinduism is revealing. Here
are a few excerpts from the
Wikipedia page on
Hindū is the
Persian name for the Indus River, first encountered in the Old
Persian word Hindu, corresponding to Vedic Sanskrit Sindhu, the
The term was used
for those who lived in the Indian subcontinent on or beyond the "Sindhu"....
The Persian term
(Middle Persian Hindūk, New Persian Hindū) entered India with the
Delhi Sultanate and appears in South Indian and Kashmiri texts from
at least 1323 CE, and increasingly so during British rule.
Since the end of
the 18th century the word has been used as an umbrella term for most
of the religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions of the
sub-continent, excluding the distinct religions of Sikhism,
Buddhism, and Jainism.
The term Hindu was
introduced to the English. It generally denotes the religious,
philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.
Hinduism has been
perceived as one of the world religions we know today only since the
19th century, when the term 'Hindu-ism' started being used by
leaders of Hindu reform movements or revivalists, and, often
considered to be biased, Western orientalists or the "first
From the western
point of view, the understanding of Hinduism was mediated by Western
notions of what religion is and how it relates to more ancient forms
of belief. It is further complicated by the frequent use of the term
"faith" as a synonym for "religion".
RETHINKING RELIGION IN INDIA: The colonial
construction of Hinduism
All of the quotes below are excerpted from
the above titled book, which was published in January 2010. I include
these quotes so as to touch on the controversy over the possible
"construction" of Hinduism, particularly in the past couple hundred
years, and how this may not relate to any traditional realities in the
region known as either modern India or the Indian subcontinent. The book
is a collection of articles/chapters from nine different authors. This
is an academic publication and is rather expensive (I paid $114 for a
copy through Amazon), though it is extremely insightful if you wish to
explore this issue more closely. This is the finest overall summary of
the issue that I have encountered.
The preface of the book is written by
Rajaram Hegde, Shankaraghatta, India, June 2009.
It is becoming
increasingly clear today that the term 'religion' and its
cognates like 'worship', 'secularism', or 'religious freedom'
fail to make sense to Indian minds....
I gradually started to realize that I
could neither fully understand nor participate in the debates and
theory building on 'religion' and 'secularism', because they were
completely unrelated to my lived experience. I had never seen a
phenomenon like Hinduism, the religion to which I was supposed
to belong. No one in my family or the traditional society in which I
grew up had instructed me about any such thing called 'Hindu dharma'
and its characteristic features. It was only through my school
education that I learned about this 'Hinduism', which is
supposed to consist of religious scriptures called the Vedas and the
Bhagavad-Gita, beliefs about reincarnation, social divisions called
the four varnas and things like ashramas.
Sharing my experience with friends,
colleagues and acquaintances, I discovered that they too, without
exception, had similar experiences.
At the Center for the study of Local
Cultures at Kuvempu University, we conducted a field study, which
confirmed that even the college-educated in Karnataka fail to
figure out what this Hindu dharma is, once they forget their
textbook lessons in the process of living in the actual Indian
society. Though they know the term 'dharma', they never use it in
the sense of religion. Dharma is something like duty, good deeds
and meritorious acts of human beings, to which gods are largely
irrelevant. They find the term 'Hindu' every peculiar. Those
who happen to remember this term do not know its precise meaning
or implications. They say that they learned about things like
Hindu dharma, the four varnas, the four Vedas etc. in school. They
still remember these terms, they add, because of seeing them
repeated in newspapers and hearing them used by politicians and
If the common experience of Indians
does not know of any such thing as Hinduism, what are these
'religions' that we have been trying to investigate for all these
years? Why is it that social science research brushes aside this
experience, as though it is without value or importance? Why is
it that these peculiar concepts and vocabulary are being forced upon
us as truths about our society that we all have to accept? What
is the nature of this 'religion' that we see and judge in the name
of secularism or Hindu nationalism?
scholars argue that the theoretical framework of religious
studies is inadequate for the Indian context. Some go as far as
to argue that the use of the concept religion only makes sense
within a western, basically Christian, framework....
The issue of the colonial
construction of Hinduism plays an important role in this larger
debate on the adequacy of the theoretical framework of religious
studies. It raises fundamental questions such as: Is the concept
of religion western? Do we need to develop an alternative
concept of religion that allows us to also include non-western
traditions? Do Indian traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism and
Jainism form a different 'kind' of religion? Do such 'Indian
religions' exist at all? Did a new religion, namely Hinduism,
come into being during the colonial era? How could this
Even though postcolonial thinkers argue that Hinduism is a
construction, this has not been taken seriously by most
Indologists and scholars of religion who continue to study Hinduism
as the ancient religion of India. Neither has it become clear how,
if Hinduism is a construction, we should study problems in Indian
society which are taken to be related to religion....
By providing answers to the question
whether Hinduism is the ancient religion of India, or whether it was
constructed and if so what this means, the volume [this book] hopes
to give new vantage points to look at Indian culture and some of the
problems that it confronts today....
In the field of religious studies
there is a longstanding problem of how to recognize Hinduism as a
religion. The tremendous diversity of doctrines, texts, gods and
practices in India has puzzled scholars, missionaries and others who
tried to get a grip on the Indian religion. As an answer to this
problem many scholars have stated, from an early period onwards,
that Hinduism is not one religion, but should be seen as a
collection of many separate religions or faiths.
Against this background, Wilfred
Cantwell Smith's influential work "The Meaning and End of Religion"
argues that the concept of Hinduism is a construction of the West.
'Hinduism', he says, 'refers not to an entity, it is a name that
the West has given to a prodigiously variegated series of facts.
It is a notion in men's minds ¾
and a notion that cannot but be inadequate. The name 'Hinduism',
he argues was wrongly given to the varied series of Indian religious
facts as if these formed one system of doctrines. According to
Smith, this misconception was the result of the use of a Christian,
and more specifically, a Protestant conception of religion as
systems of doctrines.
Smith's main thesis is that the
concept of religion is itself Christian and therefore inadequate
to study religious phenomena in general. To Smith, the term
'Christianity' does not capture the religious phenomena of
Christians any more than 'Hinduism' does for those of Hindus.
The alternative he suggests is to study religious phenomena not as a
system of doctrines but rather as faiths and cumulative
The postulation of one religion,
Hinduism, unified the diversity of doctrines, texts, practices
and gods that existed on the subcontinent. Along with the colonial
needs of domination, a western Christian concept of religion is
said to have inspired the description of Indian religions in terms
of a pan-Indian Hinduism with a specific set of core
characteristics or essences. In other words, the constructionist
thesis tells us that orientalist descriptions made certain features
of Indian reality, such as the Sanskrit texts or Brahmanism, into
the essence of Indian religion, thereby distorting Indian realities
(by taking a part for the whole)....
Those who see 'Hinduism' as a
constructed concept focus more on the European and colonial agency;
others for whom Hinduism is a reality see the construction of
Hinduism more as a historical evolution of elements that were
already present in India....
In the account of the European and
colonial contribution to the construction of Hinduism many have
provided a genealogy of the term 'Hinduism' and the notion of a
pan-Indian religion. Even critics of the constructionist thesis
agree that the word 'Hinduism' is relatively young and not native
to India. The term 'Hindu' is traced back to the ancient Greek
and Persian 'Sindhu', which referred to anything native to the
region beyond the river Indus. this is also, many authors argue,
how the Muslim administration later used it: not to denote a
people united by religious identity but to bring together
various communities within the political structure of imperial
Muslim rule. Thus, the term 'Hindu' did not ascribe religious
unity to these communities and was inclusive of Indian
Muslims and Christians. Europeans only adopted the term
'Hinduism' as a name for the religion of India towards the end of
the eighteenth century. Before that, European travelers and
missionaries had regarded the Indian traditions as instances of
heathendom. Heathendom or paganism, according to medieval
Christianity, was one of the four religions of the world, next to
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The Indian form of paganism
later acquired the name 'gentooism', followed by the 'religion
of the Hindus' to be finally replaced by 'Hindooism', and
then 'Hinduism' by the end of the eighteenth century.
The constructionist thesis has it
that, in this process, different religious phenomena wrongly came
to be seen as parts of one religion of all Hindus. The form
attributed to this religion was based on a Christian
understanding of what religion is. Europeans, so the argument
goes, focused only on those aspects which they considered to be
properties of religion, viz. sacred texts, doctrines and priests,
while neglecting the myriad of other aspects of Indian religion. As
a result they mistook Brahmanism¾with
its texts and priests¾for
the religion of all Hindus. This idea of a unified and
clear-cut Hindu religion was then used by the British to rule India.
Several colonial administrative measures, based on the idea of one
Hindu religion, helped in creating this religion: the census and
legislation of aspects related to religion. To summarize, three
elements are identified as central to the role played by the
Europeans in the construction of Hinduism: a western
Christian concept of religion, the idea that the Indian
religions formed one pan-Indian religion and the needs of the
Hindus and Others -
David N. Lorenzen
As far as the specific English word
'Hinduism' is concerned, the earliest published uses of the term
that I had found were written by the early nineteenth-century Hindu
reformer, Ram Mohan Roy. The Australian scholar, Geoffrey Oddie
has since noted that 'Hinduism' was earlier used by the evangelical
writer, Charles Grant, in a text said to have been written in
1792 that was first published in 1797, as well as in some still
earlier private letters by Grant....
When it comes to early sources written
in Indian languages (and also Persian and Arabic), the word 'Hindu'
is used in a clearly religious sense in a great number of texts
as early as the sixteenth century....
What I have argued is that Hindus did
in fact share a religious identity as Hindus at least as far back as
1400 and probably much arlier as well. On the other hand, it is also
clear that outside observers, both Hindus and on-Hindus, may
justifiably regard the members of certain heterodox religious groups
to be Hindus although these persons themselves may not regard
themselves to be Hindus, or at least not exclusively Hindus.
Identity - Geoffrey A. Oddie
European expansion overseas, beginning
with Portuguese explorations in the fifteenth century, and leading
to an increased contact with non-European peoples in the Indian
ocean and elsewhere, was a crucial factor in the development of
European ideas of 'paganism' or 'heathensim'. In fact, the naming
of 'Hinsuism' was the end point in a long process of European
reflection and attempts to make sense of new knowledge and expanding
The traditional European view which
persisted in certain quarters into the nineteenth century was that
there were basically four religions, namely Judaism,
Christianity, Islam and paganism or idolotry....
Religion in Colonial India - John Zavos
I have identified
two broad trends in terms of the approach of protagonists in
the debate about how to shape a religion called Hinduism: one which
sought to articulate the idea of Hinduism through the
restructuring of society, as exemplified by some elements within
the Arya Samaj; and one which sought to articulate the idea of
Hinduism through the consolidation of the existing structures
of society, emphasizing 'organic' unity of the component parts.
religion - Sharada Sugirtharajah
Remarking on the
benefits of British rule to the colonized, Monier-Williams declared:
No one can
travel in India an shut his eyes to the benefits conferred on
its inhabitants by English rule. In fact, our subjugation of the
country affords an exemplification of the now trite truth that
the conquest of an inferior race by a superior, so far from
being an evil, is one of the great appointed laws of the world's
progress and amelioration.
Colonial rule not
only provided opportunities to further the cause of the
Christianizing mission, but it also came to be seen as an act of
Divine Providence. Some missionaries... even saw Britain as the
chosen nation entrusted with the task of evangelization.
Therefore the conquest of other lands was seen as a rightful and
legitimate activity undertaken by civilized societies for the
material, moral and spiritual benefit of the conquered.... They
saw themselves as bringing rationality and Christian
enlightenment to the benighted natives.
The word 'religion' itself is
problematic in that it has been defined and interpreted in many
different ways (both in complementary and contradictory terms).
Whether it can be treated as a universal category has been called
into question. As is well known, the concept 'religion' which
has come to be used for European engagement with other religious
traditions is also problematic in that it is deeply rooted in
nineteenth-century western Christian theology and is seen as
universally valid--an issue that has engaged western academic
discourse and continues to pose challenges. The marks of colonialism
are visible in the nineteenth-century construction of the
category of 'religion' itself as well as in what came to be
called "Comparative Religion" or the 'Science of Religion'.
[Explaining the views of
nineteenth-century Baptist missionary William Ward] What is
'false' or 'true' is seen in terms of Christian notions of
natural and special revelation. It is the gift of special revelation
that makes Christianity a 'true' religion. In other words,
Christianity is the revealed religion and others are repositories of
natural revelation. The implication is that others are false.
It seems to be a contradiction in terms to look for 'religion' when
one begins with the conviction that there can be only one 'true'
Women, the freedom
movement, and Sanskrit - Laurie L. Patton
more to come...
and the discourse of religion - Richard King
more to come...
Hinduism? Rethinking religion in India - Timothy Fitzgerald
more to come...
Oruientalism, postcolonialism and
the 'construction' of religion -
S. N. Balagangadhara
more to come...
construction of what? - Jakob DeRover and Sarah Claerhout
more to come...
(If you like it:
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This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga
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We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti
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