Unlike other creeds, Hinduism does not originate in a single founder, a single book or a single point in time. It institutes many divergent beliefs, philosophies and viewpoints. However, these blatant conflict of ideas strikes only to those who are not accustomed to the “Hinduism” which claims that the oneness expresses itself in many different forms.
Hinduism is a vast and complex religion, a socio-religious body which further reflects the complexity of Indian society. It is a blend of rich geography, myriads of dialects, diverse customs and traditions, racial heterogeneity all of which shapes Hinduism as a whole.
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The Origination of word “HINDUISM”
There are many theories concerning the subject but amidst many tales, one takes us to river Indus which was a major part of ancient India and now a major river of present day Pakistan.
It is said that the Persians used to refer to the Indus river as Sindhu. Indus is a major river which flows partly in India and partly in Pakistan.However, the Persians could not pronounce the letter “S” correctly in their native tongue and mispronounced it as “H.” Thus, for the ancient Persians, the word “Sindhu” became “Hindu.” The ancient Persian Cuneiform inscriptions and the Zend Avesta refer to the word “Hindu” as a geographic name rather than a religious name.
When the Persian King Darious 1 extended his empire up to the borders of the Indian subcontinent in 517 BC, some people of the Indian subcontinent became part of his empire and army. Thus for a prolonged period of time, the ancient Persians referred to these people as “Hindus”. The ancient Greeks and Armenians followed the same pronunciation, and thus, gradually the name stuck.
The word “India” also has a similar foreign origin. Originally, the native Indians used to address the Indian subcontinent as “Bharat”. As a matter of fact in Mahabharat, which is one of the two “Itihasa”, we find reference to the word “Bharat”. As per legend, the land ruled by the great King “Bharata” was called Bharat.
The ancient Greeks used to mispronounce the river Sindhu as Indos. When Alexander invaded India, the Macedonian army referred to the river as Indus and the land east of the river as India. The Greek writers who wrote about Alexander preferred to use the same name.
For the Arabs the land became Al-Hind. The Muslim rulers and travellers who came to India during the medieval period referred the Indian subcontinent as “Hindustan” and the people who lived there as Hindus.
Thus, if we go by the original definition of the word Hindu, any person living in the land beyond the river Indus is a Hindu and whatever religion he or she practices is Hinduism. The word Hindu is a secular word. Hinduism denotes any religion or religions that are practised by the people living in the Indian subcontinent.
– prepared by Nikita Tayal, Twitter: @NikitaTayal6