In paragraph, two of my post “Greece and India before Alexander” I mentioned about the origin of the word India. Please click here.
2. Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor. In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu, the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.
The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia .
With reference to the above, I received a message, from someone who read the post, saying that the word is a corruption of a corruption and India owes much to outsiders.
I have thought about the remark and this is what I have to say.
It is a fact that the word ” India ” is of foreign origin but this does not mean ,the very idea of an Indian nation is a contribution by outsiders.
There are many countries, as I know, bearing names of foreign origin. This is because of historical reasons. This does not in any way take away the identity of those nations or the nationalities of their people. These nations continue to bear the names given to them, with pride, and function as the honoured members of the International community. Let me cite a few examples.
- France: The French are descendants of the ancient Gaulish people, who spoke languages that belonged to the Celtic family. The Gauls were conquered by Rome; and when Rome itself was taken over by Germanic people, the Gaul came under the influence of the Germanic Franks. The Franks gave their name to the country and called it France. Now, France has a language that had its origin in Latin and the people of France, largely, are of Celtic race. However, no one can sanely argue that French nation owes its existence to Germany.
- Germany: The word Germany is of Latin origin and the Germans call their nation “Deutschland”. Hardly any non-Germans use this name. Germany is also known as Allemagne (after the name of a Germanic tribe). The Arabs and Iranians use this word.
- Great Britain: Bulk of the British population speaks English, a Germanic language. However, the name “Britannia” celebrated in songs and legend by English poets is a Celtic name.
- Basques: The French popularized the term ‘Basque’, but the Basques call themselves Euskera.
- Similarly, America is named after an Italian. Spain takes its name from a Carthaginian word for “rabbit”.
- I think Finland and a few East European countries like Armenia , Georgia also have their names derived from languages foreign to them. (I am not very certain about the exact details in these cases).
There may be number of other countries, that I may not be aware of, bearing names that either were derived from a foreign language or were given to them by outsiders.
The substance of my argument is, a nation’s identity does not depend merely on the name by which it is called. What matters is whether that single term can adequately capture its ‘identity’. The term itself can be native or foreign.
Similarly, in the case of India too the terms ‘India/Hindu/Indus’ may not be of Indian origin. That alone does not mean, India has no culture of its own or the notion of India does not exist or that India owes its existence to outsiders etc.
No matter how the name India originated, India is a well-defined nation having a history, culture and identity of its own, like any other nation in the International community.
After posting the blog I came across a wonderful web site that says most countries of the world have different names in different languages and that some countries have also undergone name changes for political or other reasons.
This web page gives all known alternative names for all nations, countries and sovereign states. Try this link .It is really good.
Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu, the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.
The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian termHindu became the Greek Indos/ (plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia.
This view is supported by the observations made by the Supreme Court of India .
The Supreme Court of India while dealing with the case “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal” in the matter of the Ramakrishna Mission’s petition to be declared a non-Hindu, minority religion under the Indian constitution, discussed the term Hindu and also identified Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism. The petition was denied. The court determined that the RK Mission is Hindu and there is no religion of “Ramakrishnaism” as claimed by them.
(For full text of the ruling please see http://www.hinduismtoday.com/in-depth_issues/RKMission.html )
Generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu.
There is also a judicial definition of Hinduism.
The following are the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the term Hindu:
(27). Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our inquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of `the word `Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indo-logists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived form the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. `That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia , through the mountain passes into India , settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called theIndus ). The Persian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brother Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus `Indoi’.
(28). The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described `Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p.686). As Dr. Radhakrishan has observed: `The Hindu civilization is so called, since it original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus ) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab . This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of the Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p.12]. That is the genesis of the word `Hindu’.
The Supreme Court of India discussed in detail the nature of Hinduism, citing several references and authorities. While laying down the characteristics of Hinduism, This is what the Hon. Court observed:
Features of Hindu religion recognized by this Court in Shastri Yaganapurushdasji (supra) as coming within its broad sweep are these:
(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.
(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.
(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.
(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.
(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.
(vi) Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.
(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.
Hinduism is a way of life.Some consider Sanatana Dharma (The Eternal Way) to be a better nomenclature as it represents those spiritual principles that are eternally true; in this sense it represents the science of consciouness. Hinduism is unique among religions in neither being polytheistic or monotheistic, but one with a universal vision.Dr. Radhakrishnan calls Hinduism a movement not a position; a process not a result; a growing tradition not a fixed relevation . There is therefore always a possibility of further development.The indian way is a process of balanced growth.It is a balance between tradition and change.
This does not mean that Hinduism has neither form nor certainty. Far from that; it is a vibrent, dynamic , living faith which has an ethos of its own.
Hinduism is neither fanatical nor undefined , as J commented.
I agree with V V Raman that those who “contrive spurious history to add even greater glory to their past” be they Western or Indian deserve to be condemned.
As regards ITS, the book has served a purpose. It has given a wake up call.
It is an important step but only the first step.
They have left it to the enterprise of individuals, families and social groups to devise appropriate methods to preserve and propagate true versions of our history, culture and religion. We therefore have a task on our hands. The least we can do is to have wider public debate in all the forms of media, social groups and academia. If there is no wider debate on the major concerns of the book then its aspiration remains largely unfulfilled.
There is a mistaken belief that anyone who speaks of Hinduism is a fundamentalist. The apathy of the “secular minded” to join the debate is on the belief that it relates to religion. But the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem. Discussions and arguments are critically important to carry forward the agenda of the ITS.
I find no mention, reference let alone debate about the book in the print or electronic media in India .The reach of its appeal is presently limited to a few blog sites; and within those sites confined to a couple of small groups. Even here, I cannot help feeling that the discussions have been rather patchy. They are highly repetitive, highlighting often repeated quotes from the book. Hardly any thought was expressed about what we need to do next? How do we carry forward the agenda? In addition, we have the points made out by Mr. Raman. The discussions did not also take into account the “Purva Paksha”.
The writings by some westerns cited in ITS is a symptom. The malady goes much deeper and has its roots in India ; in its schools, textbooks, Research organizations, Universities and in the “safe” set of historians patronized by the Govt.
It therefore takes a much greater effort and dedication to effectively deal with the issue in a holistic fashion and to find credible answers to questions gnawing at the root of our cultural identity,” What do we tell and how we tell our children, who we are?”. A well thought out long term strategy involving various segments of the academia, the Research Organizations, the Government and intellectuals looks inevitable. There are no quick fixes here. We have to have a road map or a vision.
The efforts at home to preserve the culture need to be supplemented supported and nurtured by organized exercises at schools, Universities, Research organizations and social groups. It would be a blessing if the best of our young minds take up and pursue studies in our History and culture. Because it is here our perceptions of History, culture and religion get defined, acquire a broader appeal and get propagated. It is here that myth and “nonsense” as Raman said, gets weeded out .The important break through, if any, should logically appear in the organized sector. The families can protect and nurture the values. But they need a space to grow in the outer world. Else, our young ones will live in a zone of confusing and conflicting identities.
While on the subject of Hinduism in Universities, I wish to reproduce a passage from Mark Tully’s book India’s unending journey, which makes a significant observation on teaching of Hinduism in western universities :”( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational- or in the departments concerned with studying India as an area , which gives the impression it is peculiarly Indian and so irrelevant to western thinking…. Indian philosophers haven’t helped to improve matters, as many of them spend their time trying to identify the points at which their philosophy meets western philosophy rather than promoting an understanding on its own terms.”
Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in History and culture?
Addressing these questions, sanely, is not an easy task. The debate is likely to generate more heat than light. We have the “secular “experts who equate everything Indian with Hindu and shoot it down. We have also the exhilarated ones who over adulate everything Hindu and ancient. While the Establishment will predictably be cautious and timid. Can we strike a Golden Mean? How do we project our History in the best light in a balanced manner?
Any further debate on ITS would be purposeful only in case it addresses issues concerning : carrying forward the agenda; re structuring the way Indian History, culture and religion is written , taught and studied at the advanced levels; and how the cultural values are preserved and nurtured in our homes.
In any case, the least we can do is to initiate spread of awareness, broaden the debate and carry it forward in forums like these , in social/informal groups and toenlarge the debate over a broader community.
Please also see the Comments received from Mr. Raman and Mr. de Nicolas
Message received from VV Ramanvvrsps@rit.edu
Dear Dr. Rao:
Thank you for your insightful comments.
Here are some thoughts on some of them.
1. Hindu’s wouldn’t really care to just “follow” some “vision” laid out by the Book team.
Well said. However, having recognized and exposed in detail a problem, it does not hurt to suggest some positive solutions.
Fair enough, that was not the intent of the book. So, now perhaps it is time to discuss these.
Then again, it is important to discuss two quite different, though in some ways interrelated questions:
(a) How do we change the negative perceptions and portrayals (intended or not) of Hinduism in the Western world?
(b) How do we enrich, enhance, and create more positive understandings and more enlightened practices of Hinduism within the Hindu world, both in India and beyond?
2. Absolutely. You may recall what I said in my reflections on the book: “Unfortunately, those who speak for the tradition are sometimes caricatured as mindless fundamentalists wearing trousers instead of saffron robes, and skeptical non-traditionalists are sometimes looked upon as unwitting agents of the colonizers, pathetic victims of Thomas Babington Macaulay, by their respective ideological adversaries. Mutual name-calling only hurts the larger cause.”
3. This is an extremely important point, and needs to be fully analyzed. It is a fact, for the good or for the bad, that Hindu culture – like the Islamic – is still intricately intertwined with religion, as used to be the case in the West also. The decoupling of culture and religion began in the West only in the 18th century, with some very positive and some very negative consequences.
4. But, the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem.>
Very good point. But it is important to realize that the whole book is in the context of Hinduism as written about by a handful of Western scholars, which is very relevant and important no doubt. But the book can also serve to provoke greater self-examination among thoughtful Hindus, ignoring Western perceptions of what we may or may not be.
5. Excellent point. Just what I said above.
6. As to Mark Tully’s observation, “( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational-…”
Hinduism IS a religion, so there is nothing wrong in this. But it need not give the impression of being Any religion CAN be taught without making it seem irrational.
7. < Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in Indian philosophy, History and culture?>
It seems to me that in the modern world (i.e. if the young are subjected to courses on science and mathematics, history and literature), this can only be done if and when culture, history, and philosophy are secularized, i.e. decoupled from religion. This is not to say that we should neglect or abandon our religion. But religion (as most Hindu sages knew) is an experiential aspect of being fully human. It is not for analytical inquiry and rational dissection. Meditation is different from metaphysics. Reciting the Gita is different from analyzing it. Engrossed in divine music (bhajans) is different from taking the puranas literally.
Unless we study the Vedas as poetry, the Upanishads as philosophy, and grand epics as literature, we cannot make them relevant, meaningful, and enriching to modern minds.
This is the challenge.
V. V. Raman
July 21, 2007
Great remark.at the end of your comment. It is a shame philosophy
departments do not hold Hindu texts…I was one of the few able and
willing to teach in the Philosophy Department at Stony Brook and my
many books are philosophical. Very different from what is offered in
Religious studies. Prof, Raman, bring the discourse through
Antonio de Nicolas
Thank you for your response .As you mentioned, tagging or assigning a name to this religion or the way of life is an elusive exercise. The name Hinduism coined as an operative term points at a much larger entity but does not exactly stand for it. The earlier names “Brahmanism” or “Vedic religion” might have served a similar purpose. Megastenese though mentions Brahmins and Sramanas does not mention the name of any religion.
I sometimes wonder whether even in the distant past it ever had a specific name or did it needed one, perhaps because of the absence of a rival .It is also plausible that “Vedic religion” was a branch of a “ mother religion” , if there was one.
Buddha does not name, refer to or attack the religion of the day though he criticizes the Brahmanic attitude, the rituals and discourages ungainly speculations.
He sometimes refers to his disciples by their sect as Brahmins or Kshatrias. He addresses some of them by their Gotra like Vaccha (Vatsa), Kaashyapa, and Maudgalya etc. Some of the disciples address the Buddha by his Gotra-Gautama.
Buddhism did not start as a religion. The Buddha intended to offer true interpretations of the Dharma. (That perhaps was how the religion of the day was named.) It started as a free-thinkers- moment that attracted the seekers and the lay intellectuals, in much the same way as the Ramakrishna moment did at a much later time. During the Buddha’s time it was not a religion yet; the rituals related to births, deaths and weddings were presided over by the Brahmin priests. The Buddhist rituals and practices (vinaya) were collated from the teachings and the incidents in the Buddha’s life at a much later time, after his death.
What set apart the Buddhism and other school of thought (like Charukavas et al) from the main stream of the day was their stand on the relevance and on the authority of the Vedas.
It was this factor, again, that largely guided the Supreme Court of India in listing some criteria for Hinduism while handing down the ruling in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case, which I reffered to in my earlier mail.While drawing up the criteria for indetifyong Hinduism the Court relied heavily on the views of Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan that stressed tolerance, universality and a search for a fundamental unity as the virtues of Hinduism. It also reliedon B.G. Tilak’s view: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.”Even in the earlier case (Yagnapurushdasji)the “acceptance of the Vedas” was a key element in the court’s decision.
Incidentally the Seventh in the list pf criteria leaves me a little perplexed. It reads ”Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such”. This in a way sums up the position but at the same time appears to knock down the earlier six criteria.
Perhaps it is because of this view ( of not being tied down to any definite set of concepts) that many say “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’”
In any case Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of Indiaand the suffix is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting “Hinduism”.
The criteria drawn up in the Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengalcase is a working rule evolved for a limited purpose. It cannot be construed as thedefinetion of Hinduism . Because Hinduism is described on variious occations depending on the context.Each time a “ context- sensitive” interpretation has been put forth. For instance:
In the Indian Constitution, Explanation II appended to Article 25 says that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”
The Hindu Code Bill (which comprises four different Acts), too, takes an undifferentiated view of Hinduism: it includes anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew under ‘Hindu’ as a legal category.
Any reform movements, including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, were seen as merely different sects within Hinduism.
There are legal pronouncements 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 considered Hindus.
Here, the term somehow traveled a full circle and came back to Radhakrishnan’s view” ‘Hindu’ had originally a territorial and not creedal significance. It implies residence in a well-defined geographical area.”
All definitions so far have been “context -sensitive” (Ramanujan).
Coming back to the Buddha and Sri Ramakrishna, before I end, there is a remarkable similarity between the two greatest of men. Both spoke from experience. Both placed ones experience above scriptural authority and other modes of cognition. Both had a remarkably sane and expansive view of the religious experience. Both interpreted the existing Dharma in its true light and both did not intend to start a new religion or an Order. In both cases the disciples came to them in search of enlightenment and it was at their initiative the Sangha or the Missioncame into being. The life and teachings of both were recorded and propagated by their disciples in a remarkably similar manner. Neither master authored a book or a treatise.
The reason Buddhism gained a wider reach and appeal was because of the Royal patronage it received in its formative years and the manner it spread among the populace. The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna largely came from the urban educated middle class. Their Missions were located in cities and the Master’s message was conveyed mainly through books addressed to the educated. The Ramakrishna Mission somehow came to be associated with the elite, at least out side of Bengal, though Sri Ramakrishna was a simple, lovable person accessible to all and came from a rural background. It took a while for the Sri Ramakrishna to become known in the rural parts out side Bengal.
Buddha directed his disciples to teach “for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world,” and this his disciples did. Early Buddhist evangelism usually consisted of a pair of monks entering a village, going from house to house with their begging bowls until they had enough for the one meal they ate for the day. The monks would then return to the outskirts of the town, where they would often be followed by those who had been impressed by their demeanor and wished to talk with them. The monks would share what they knew, then move on to the next village. Most of the monks hailed from far flung rural areas. The rapid growth of Buddhism probably had much to do with the way the monks closely lived with the people and tended to their spiritual needs.
It is a privilege conversing with you.
Thank you for the response