• 04 Dec, 2022

Hinduism is not a religion; the word is derived from the sacred Sindhu river

Hinduism is not a religion; the word is derived from the sacred Sindhu river

Hinduism is not a religion; the word is derived from the sacred Sindhu river

I refer to the letter by Mr. Sherwin Browne (SN l0.5.98) under the caption “Indianness is not synonymous with Hinduness”. I write with some trepidation knowing that these are contentious times of sharp divisions.

Sindhu, Hindu, and Indus, India. It is common knowledge that the word Hindu is derived from Sindhu, the name of the sacred river already referred to in the Rig-Veda, 4000 BCE. It was the ancient Persian invaders who first applied the term Hindu to the people whom they found living along the banks of the Sindhu. Centuries later they were followed by the Greeks who, also attempting to enter the sub-continent from the north-west, gave to posterity Indus, which in later European sources became India, Inde and so on. From this brief historical misadventure and linguistic peculiarity, both of which contrived to give us Hindu, Indus and India, it can be seen how the connection between “Indianness and Hinduness” goes beyond mere synonymy. It is a connection that grows out of the soil itself.

Hinduism is not a religion. Much of the confusion regarding what constitutes the essence of Indianness and how this is related to Hinduness lies in conceiving of Hinduism as a religion in the narrow western sense of the word. When sociologists and anthropologists like Weber, Durkheim, and much later, Clifford Geertz launched their classic definitions of religion, the essential model they had before them, though they were aware of eastern spiritual traditions, was European Christianity.

Many Hindu converts cease to be culturally Indians

By this time Christianity was cleansed and purified of the autochthonous paganism that was indeed the way of life and culture of the people before the imposition of Christianity. Doxology was superimposed on and sought to displace, though it never completely succeeded in doing so, the indigenous culture of the people. If one follows this definition of religion, inherent in which is a disjunctive between culture and faith, one must agree with Mr Browne that Indianness and Hinduness are not synonymous.

When in this case, by conversion or otherwise, the Hindu abandons culture for Christian doctrine the two cease to be synonymous. But, of course, this is the danger of conversion in the normally accepted sense of the term. One is forced to give up faith and culture. Precisely for this reason many Hindu converts (doctrinal converts that is) to Christianity literally cease to be culturally speaking Hindus/Indians.

However, now western scholars and their Indian disciples are becoming more aware of the complexity of Hinduism and to appreciate that it is not a mere religion, in the above sense, divorced from the way of life of the people. If Hinduism is understood in this context, as Dharma, as it should, then Indianness and Hinduness would not be seen as disparate phenomena and this is how it appears that Mr Khemraj is using the terms. In this sense, the convert may be doctrinally a Christian or a Marxist or even an atheist, and culturally a Hindu.

Indianness and the legacy of Hinduness: What do we mean when we speak of Indian metaphysics? Is there an Indian metaphysics without the Hindu Upanishads, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Brahma Sutras? Indian metaphysics is Hindu metaphysics.

Can we conceive of Indian philosophy without the Hindu Shankara? Indian philosophy is Hindu philosophy. And though there is an effort to secularise yoga, in order to merchandise it, can there be yoga unadulterated yoga without Patanjali, Hindu Yoga Sutra? Yoga is Hindu Yoga. What is meant where we speak of Indian epics? Do we not mean the Hindu Ramayana and the Mahabharat? Indian epics are Hindu epics. Can we have Indian music, Indian dance and Indian drama without Bharat Muni, Hindu Natya Shastra? Indian music is Hindu music. Is it not the same rasa, the same bhava, the same raga and tala whether the singer is the Christian Yesudas, the Muslim Nasrat Fateh Ali Khan or the Vaishnava (Hindu) Bhimsen Joshi?

Hinduness is embedded in the very landscape. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu places of pilgrimage spring out of the land as is the case of Ganga among rivers and Mount Kailash among mountains.

Every nation has its defining characteristic by which that nation is known or identified and deprived of which that nation ceases to be. What is Indianness? What is that core of Indianness without which there is no Indianness? It is Hinduness. Take Hinduness out of India and what is left excepting a mere carcass. All else goes, but Hinduness abides and the heart and soul of Indianness remains intact. It is this Hinduness that permits a person to be doctrinally a Christian and culturally a Hindu, doctrinally a Muslim and culturally a Hindu, a position analagous to Palestianian experience where a doctrinal Christian is a Palestianian as much as a doctrinal Muslim is a Palestianian.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Swami Aksharananda received his Ph.D. in Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA , and is the Founder and Principal of the prestigious Saraswati Vidya Niketan (Private Hindu College) in Guyana. swami_aksharananda@hotmail.com

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Swami Aksharananda

Swami Aksharananda received his Ph.D. in Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA, and is the Founder and Principal of the prestigious Saraswati Vidya Niketan (Private Hindu College) in Guyana.