The Word “Hindu”

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Scholars suggest that the term “Hindu” was first used around the 8th century CE, by Persian invaders to refer to the people on the far side of the River Indus. These early connotations weren’t specifically religious but more cultural, political and geographical. Only later, when outsiders (first Muslims and later Christians) tried to impose their own doctrines, did the “Hindus” and outsiders try to define the religious traditions of India as a separate autonomous whole, a religion similar to other world faiths. Many scholars prefer to call Hinduism “a family of religions” with each member unique but bearing distinctive family features; or an “umbrella-term” covering different philosophical schools of thought and systems of belief.  Unlike most world religions it has no single founder, no one scripture, no common creed and no universally-accepted code of conduct. The common denominator to all the traditions within Hinduism is the acceptance of the Vedas as revealed scriptures. Indeed according to the Supreme Court of India Hinduism was legally defined in 1966 primarily as “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophical matters”. (Buddhism and Jainism though born in India are not included within the numerous varieties of Hindu doctrines and practices chiefly because both these traditions rejected the supreme authority of the Vedas)  The word Hindu and Hinduism, though very practical and convenient for Scholars, outsiders and even its followers, are nowhere to be found in any of the ancient Vedic scriptures written in the Sanskrit language, so perhaps a more appropriate way to refer to the different “Hindu” traditions could be “Vedic” traditions.


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