The Meaning of “Hindu” and “dharma”

Most Hindus call their religion Hindu Dharm, but in the western world it is called Hinduism. However, it is interesting to note that the word ‘Hindu’ is not of Indian origin. This word is not found anywhere in Hindu scriptures. There are many interesting stories and explanations about the origin of the word ‘Hindu’. Some modern Hindu scholars believe that it is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Hidi’ which means to achieve one’s objective, to acquire knowledge, to be progressive and ignore what is obstructive. Therefore, a person who follows the spiritual path in order to acquire perfection through divine knowledge is called a Hindu.

However, the most popular story about the origin of the word ‘Hindu’ is that it is of Persian origin, and has no religious meaning. It is a distorted version of the word ‘Sindhu’, the name of a river in the northwestern part of India (now in Pakistan) where the early Hindu civilization developed. The ancient Persians referred to Hindus as “people who live on the other side of Sindhu”. The story goes that since the Persians pronounced the letter ‘S’ as ‘H’, they called Sindhu as Hindu. Thus, they coined the word Hindu for Indian people of that region, and India was then called Hindustan, the land of Hindus. The Greeks transformed ‘Hindu’ into ‘Indus’ which finally became India. Some Hindu scholars reject this theory of the word Sindhu becoming Hindu. They assert that ancient India, being amongst the highly advanced civilizations of the world, would not have been without a name; its people were not primitive aborigines waiting to be discovered, identified and named by some foreign adventurer. In 1912, N.B. Pavgee offered a more logical origin of the word Hindu in his book Self-Government in India. He states that a Sanskrit scholar, Swami Mangal Nathji, had found ancient Hindu writings called Birhanaradi Purana, in the village Sham of district Hoshiarpur in Punjab. It contained the verse, “Himalayam Samarabhya yavat bindusarovaram Hindusthanamiti qyatam hi antaraksha-rayogatah.” When translated this means, “The country lying between the Himalayas mountain and Bindu Sarovar (Cape Commorin sea) is known as Hindusthan by combining the first letter ‘Hi’ of Himalayas and the last compound letter ‘ndu’ of the word Bindu.

The meaning of Dharm

The ancient Hindus called their religion ‘Dharm’. In English, the word Dharm is translated as Religion, but in fact the English language has no single word to give the true and complete meaning to Dharm. It comes from the Sanskrit word Dhr which literally means to sustain or to hold together, and has a much more comprehensive meaning: Dharm includes all moral and social obligations, virtues, codes of behavior, right actions, traditions, and beliefs that sustain human life on earth. Many Hindus also refer to their religion Sanatan Dharm. In the Sanskrit language, Sanatan means eternal, ever existing or everlasting. The truths it expounds are eternal and everlasting. Since the Vedas are considered the ultimate source of all knowledge, some Hindus prefer to call their religion Vedic Dharm.

Book: Hindus of Canada

Article By: Ajit Adhopia