The Word 'Hindu'
History is mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice.
(Will Durant)

The word 'Hindu' has its origin in Sanskrit literature. In the Rig Veda, India was referred to as the country of'Sapta Sindhu', i.e. the country of seven great rivers. The word 'Sindhu' refers to rivers and sea and not merely to the specific river called the Sindhu (Indus), now in Pakistan. In Vedic Sanskrit, according to ancient dictionaries, 'sa' was pronounced as 'ha'. Thus 'Sapta Sindhu' was pronounced as 'Hapta Hindu'; similarly 'Saraswati' was pronounced as 'Haravyati' or 'Harahwati'. This is how the word 'Hindu' came into being. The ancient Persians also referred to India as 'Hapta Hind', as recorded in their ancient classic 'Bern Riyadh'. That is why some scholars came to believe that the word 'Hindu' had its origin in Persia. The Greeks who invaded India under Alexander the Great, dropped the 'H' completely and used the name Indoos or Indus which later led to the formation of the word 'India'.
The Origin and Other Names of Hinduism
As explained above, there is no equivalent word for 'Dharma' in English. Dharma is not confined to the performance of religious rituals and ceremonies but is used in a much wider sense. It is a synthesis of worship, morals, a code of conduct and duty. It is based on the laws of nature. Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism all come within the fold of this Sanatana (eternal) Dharma (laws of nature). Because the earliest known Hindu scriptures are the Vedas, it is also known as the Vedic Dharma. As depicted in the family tree of Hindu scriptures, the Vedic literature is the root of almost all Hindu scriptures.
Some Hindu scholars and philosophers have defined Hinduism as a noble way of life. The Sanskrit word for 'noble' is 'Arya', hence Hinduism is also called Arya Dharma. In fact, the ancient name of India found in many Hindu scriptures is 'Aryavarat', meaning the abode of noble people. Some scholars have misunderstood the use of the word 'Arya' in Hindu scriptures, and have made the mistake of thinking that 'Arya' is the name of a race which came from outside India. Hindu scholars reject these ideas based on the evidence from recent archaeological findings. The Aryan invasion of India is at best an unproven theory and at worst a myth.
There is a period in Hindu history during which Hinduism is often identified as 'Brahmanism' by some Western scholars. This is the period when the true teachings of the Vedas were forgotten and ritualism propagated by some Brahmin (priestly) classes became popular. Whilst it is true that Hinduism went through a period of experimentation or perhaps some degradation, it would be illogical and incorrect to assign to Hinduism the name of just one class within the whole Hindu community.
Often followers of a particular sect or movement may use a name to identify themselves. For example, generally non-reformist adherents of the ancient Hindu traditions and rituals are known as 'Sanatanist'. The followers of a reformist movement, Arya Samaj, may call themselves 'Arya Samajist'. Many other names, like Vaishnavite, Jain, Lingayat, will also be found.
The most important point to remember is that Hinduism is not founded by any one person and it is not based on any one book. Its name as well as its traditions have changed throughout its long history.
Finally, it should be noted that whilst the term 'Hinduism' is popular in the English language, Hindu religious leaders prefer to use the name 'Sanatana Dharma' or Hindu Dharma instead of Hinduism. The General Secretary of the World Council of Hindus, Shri Ashok Singhal, has explained that in spite of the rich diversity of religious sects and traditions in Hinduism, there is a certain unity because their principles are based on the 'eternal laws of nature' which can be rightly defined as Sanatana Dharma. This name also signifies unity in diversity.
The Land of Hindus: Hindusthan
Etymologically, what is Sindhu in Sanskrit is Hindu in Persian and India in English. This establishes the simple fact that Hindus originate from the country now known as India. In the present Indian Constitution, the country is referred to as 'India that is Bharat'. Before it
was termed India, the country was known as Hindusthan, i.e. the land of Hindus and Hinduism. In the Baarhaspatya Shastra (400 BCK), Hindusthan was described as the vast stretch of land spreading between the Himalayas and the Indian ocean. Prior to that it was Bharat Varsha, named after Bharat, the son of Rishabhdev. Some people believe that the country was so named because it is the land of the Vedas, which are called 'Bharati', meaning dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. The ancient name for India is 'Aryavarat', literally meaning 'abode of the Aryans'. Unfortunately, in the Western mind the term Aryan has negative connections with Nazism, but in the Sanskrit language the root 'Arya' means 'worthy, holy, noble'.
Some scholars believe that Aryans invaded India from some other part of Asia or Europe. A German scholar, Max Muller, first proposed the hypothesis that conquering legions of white 'Aryans' invaded North India on horseback around 1500 BCK and ultimately displaced India's Dravidian tribes. This theory of Aryan invasion of India is now strongly contested by many scholars on the grounds that the internal evidence in the scriptures like the Vedas points to India as the immemorial home of the Hindus (Aryas). Furthermore, no one has been able to fix the starting point of this imaginary journey, which some believe to be propaganda by German nationalists, whilst others have alleged that the Aryan-Dravidian split provided a convenient precedent for British subjugation of India.
New astrological and archaeological evidence has come to light which suggests that the people who composed the Vedas called themselves Aryan and were indigenous to India. Evidence to discredit the invasion theory comes from Rig Veda which mentions in verses 6-51-14/15 that the winter solstice occurs when the sun rises in Revati nakshatra (Aries); this was only possible in 6000 BCK, long before the alleged invasion. Carbon dating has confirmed the presence of horses in Gujarat (a state in western India) in 2400 BCK, disproving the hypothesis that Aryans brought the horses to India. NASA satellite photographs prove that the Sarasvati river basin is real, not a myth. Kunal, a new archaeological site in Harayana (another state in India), has revealed the use of writing and silvercraft dating from about 7000 BCH. Finally, six seals excavated from the Indus Valley depict animals and indicate that some form of early Hindu yogic arts existed there more than 4000 years ago.
The Time Line, depicting the chronology of Hindu history, published by the newspaper Hinduism Today (December 1994, London edition) and articles in The Organiser (Vol. XLV No.25, January 1994, published in New Delhi, India) present the views of contemporary researchers which, in short, conclude that the Aryan invasion of India is at the most an unproven theory and in all likelihood just a myth.


Click for Pdf