Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism

‘This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy. It is the one religion which impresses on mankind the closeness of God to us and embraces in its compass all the possible means by which man can approach God. It is the one religion which insists every moment upon the truth which all religions acknowledge that He is in all men and things and that in Him we move and have our beings. It is the one religion which enables us not only to understand and believe this truth but to realize it with every part of our being. It is the one religion which shows the world what the world is, that is the sport of God. It is the one religion which shows us how we can best play our part in that sport, its subtlest laws and its noblest rules. It is the one religion which does not separate life in any smallest detail from religion , which knows what immortality is and has utterly removed from us the reality of death.’’ – Yogi Aurobindo on Santana Dharma

The Origin of the Word Hindu

The word Hindu has been coined by the ancient Persians in their desire to designate the people living in the land across the river Sindhu. Vivekananda says, ‘this name was murdered into Hindu by the ancient Persians who used to apply the name Hindu to the rive sindhu. Whenever in Sanskrit, there is an ‘S’; it changes in ancient Persian into the letter H. Thus the river Sindhu became Hindu. ‘The word Hindu itself is the corruption of the Persian word of Sindhu. It only refers to a river and nothing else., not the least any religion but only the boundary part of the land of people on the other shore of the river.

Hindu is a word of recent origin. It has not at all been mentioned in the Vedas or other authoritative scriptures. The word is not even Indian in origin.

However it becomes clear that the term Hindu is used for the people living beside Sindhu river. It came into being out of geographical and physical considerations. It is used for a territory named India. The ancient word for the land is Brahmavarta or Aryavarta. It was called BrahmaDesh. The Dharma Sutra says, The country of the Aryans lies to the east of the region where the river Saraswati disappears, to the west of the Black forest, to the north of Paripata mountains, to the south of the Himalayas and also that some declare the country of Aryans to be situated between the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. Others declare that the spiritual eminence is found as far as black-antelope grazes.

The question is that how the people became bracketed as Hindu in relation to their age-old Aryan culture. How the word Hindu came to be used in terms of religion, culture, ceremonies and way of life of the land?

It seems it was about some hundred years ago when the Islam ruled over this territory and declared Persian as the official language of India and levied Jazia and made non-Muslims as Jimmies, they bracketed all non-Muslims as Hindus and thus gave them a religious and cultural denomination of Hindu. Earlier when the Greek came to India, they found it hard to pronounce the letter H and thus dropped it. Thus Hindu became Indu and later India and the people were called Indian. During British rule in the 19th century, the term Hindu religion began to envelop both people and Sanatana Dharma of the Aryans even though the ancient term was Dharma and not religion; both differ in attributes.

Aryans  – What happened to the term?

How unfortunate it is that a people with a philosophy of world view were bracketed into a word of foreign origin called Hindu or India into a boundary by the westerners who also tried to call Aryans as a race. The Indians are unaware of the fact that Aryans were never a race. In 1853, Max Mueller introduced the word Aryan into English and European usage, applying it to be a racial and linguistic group. When challenged, he refuted his own theory in 1888, and wrote that Aryans simply means those who speak in Aryan language ands that there is nothing like Aryan blood, Aryan race, Aryan eyes and hair. The word Aryan has never been used in context of race or language. It only refers to a gentleman, a good-natured religious man, a noble man. As an adjective, it is used for Sri before a name as Arya Kanya or Arya Putr or simply Arya. Arya is the one who believes in righteousness, and in fair play.

The Lord in Geeta, reprimanding Arjun, says, 'this is an Anarya-like act.’  Etymologically according to Max Mueller, the word Arya is derived from ‘ar’ which means to plough, cultivate. He speaks Aryans as agriculturists. How come then he speaks of these agriculturists as nomads or wanderers. Agriculturists are stable and civilized lot. And lover of nature unlike nomads or hunters. It is clear that Max Mueller deliberately tried to confuse and befool people in his vested interest. 

Sanskrit English Dictionary of VS Apte treats the root of the word Arya as r-(y-) to which prefix “a;” has been appended. As noun, it means master, teacher or Arya like Gautama Buddha. The constitution of Nepal accepts this meaning.

It should be very clear to us that Arya never stood for a race or language. It was used as a word denoting religious people of Sanatana Dharma.

Sanatana Dharma

The question arises as to what is Santana Dharma? It can safely be said that it is the Hindu religion as we find today, not only because the Hindus have kept it and because in this peninsula, it grew and developed in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred land, it was given as a charge to the Aryans to preserve it through the ages, but because the Hindu was born with Santana Dharma; and with it, it moves and with it, it grows.

Santana Dharma is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country. It does not belong, peculiarly and for ever, to a bounded part of the world. It is a universal religion which embraces all other religions as it is eternal and everlasting. A narrow scheme of sectarian or exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and for a set purpose. At last it has to go away one day but not so with the Santana Dharma.

Santana Dharma has no beginning. No body can say when it started. It is without a beginning and so without an end. It is eternal and everlasting. That which has a beginning, has also an end, as all beginnings have an end also.

Sanatana Dharma has no founder. All religions are known by their founders or prophets but this is not the case with Sanatana Dharma. It neither has any prophet to begin it nor any book or authorized scripture told by the prophet who got revelation.

We see that the religions with books have got the largest number of followers and those without books are rare and scarce. In both these class of religions, we find that the truth is the result of experience of a particular person – Jesus, Mohammed sahib or Buddha and Hindu seers. All of them experienced truth and that they preached. All religions are built upon direct experience of this experience. But there is a difference. Others have the founders of this experience known as the first founder of the religion and after their name the religion is known. The other difference is that they now claim that the experience ,the prophets had, is now no longer possible. So we have to rely on "Belief”. The experience of the scientists says that if one experience is possible, it will be repeated eternally. This is the Law of Nature. What once takes place, takes place often and always. Sanatana Dharma differs with other religions on this point.

Sanatana Dharma is not based on spiritual experience of any single individual or any such revelation. It is based on realization, on intuition, and experience of a number of seers, sages and mystics who realized the Infinite and were illuminated. It does not owe its origin to any one person or prophet nor does it adhere to any papal authority or dogma. It does not built around one man as its centre though it is not opposed to philosophies build around personalities and prophets. It believes in scientific precision and experiments to arrive at truth any time and many times So it believes in free expression of thoughts and enquiry into the fundamentals even. It is therefore a tolerant religion, granting freedom of Enquiry and Expression, seeking evidence.

Oldest Living Religion today

Sanatana Dharma is the oldest living religion of the world today. It is in fact an eternal and everlasting humanitarian religion of all mankind. It is not limited to the teaching of any particular people or class of people or any form of worship. It is a comprehensive way, a law of Being ever praying to be with the Absolute. In this respect, it absorbs all religions, faiths, forms of worship and even diverse kind of rituals and customs into its fold. It makes unity in diversity or solidarity in diversity. 

Sanskrit is the oldest language of mankind. It is older than Hebrew and Latin We find the oldest spiritual writing known to mankind in the Vedas about 6000 BC, orally transmitted for most of history and written down in Sanskrit. It makes them the world’s longest and most ancient revealed scripture of Sanatana Dharma. Vedas are concerned with wisdom; what is life about; what does death means, what the human being is, what is the nature of the Absolute that sustains us, and the cosmos and its rta.

Dr RB Sharma in Paschim Asia and Rg Veda, as an authority on Rg Veda and linguistics, says that the Rg Veda is very ancient, even earlier than the origin of Sumer and Egyptian cultures. He argues on the linguistic grounds and on the first origin of and development of deities that the concept of God first originated in Rg Veda. and Rg Veda only is the foundation, of origin and development of all mythological wisdom.

Sanatana Dharma believes that there is nothing that is not God. The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all. God permeates every thing and nothing permeates Him. The famous peace invocation of Isopanishad says,

Om Purna- madah, purna-midam purnat-purnam-udacyate
Purnaysa purna-madaya purna-meva-vasisyate

All this is full /from fullness, fullness comes 
When fullness is taken from fullness/ fullness still remains.

This belief is all- comprehensive and all- absorbing. There is nothing that is not God. 

This truth has been told by the seers. This is the only truth but is described by the people differently. The message of Sanatana Dharma goes that Akem Satya; Vipraha vividha Vadanti i.e. Truth is one but the people describe it in different ways. Those on journey to Eternity may differ but once reached there, all the differences sink into oneness. All the religions of the world have to arrive at this eternal truth one day.

Sanatana Dharma aims at making the whole world full of Aryas. It is not confined to the need of self-salvation alone. It has a missionary message too. It says, ’Kranvanto Viswam Aryam’ let the people of the world be made Arya i.e. gentle, righteous, and religious minded. The central point of Isa Upanishad is -- Renounce and enjoy. This has to be our aim of life.

Sanatana Dharma is a cosmopolitan religion. It wishes the happiness of the world. Man is essentially divine. There is divinity in every man. He has to realize it. Then alone the world can become a place to live in. Sanatana Dharma says that

Sarve Bhavanti Sukhinah/ Sarve santu Niramayah
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyanti, Ma Kashchid Dukh Bhag Bhaveta.

Let every one without distinction be happy. Let every one be without any ailment. Let every one look like Arya, noble and righteous. Let there be no one to have any share of sorrow or grief.

This is the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma -- a religion of all religions and all mankind.

Sanatana Dharma stresses upon action. It believes in theory of Karma. The Upanishad says, ’you are what your driving desire is, as your desire is, so is your will, as your will is, so is your deed.  As your deed is, so is your destiny.’  Thus we create our own destiny through thought and action. So the message goes that there is no joy in the finite, there is joy only in the Infinite. Nothing can satisfy us but reunion with our real Self which in fact is attainment of Sat-Chit-Anand. Self-realization is in becoming immortal.  It does not mean an everlasting life but it stands for a state that is beyond death and life alike.

Sanatana Dharma .believes in the immortality of soul. It inhabits one body after another according to Karma in previous life, during its eternal journey to the Absolute till it is one with God. This is called belief in Reincarnation. It is not a fact that the individual dies with the death of the visible body. At death, the soul leaves the physical body and does not die. It gets into a subtle body called Astral on non-physical dimension. The forces which brought the body and personality into existence continue shaping its destiny after death and would do so till unison with the Absolute  when one becomes free from the circle of birth and death.

The brief address of Yogi Aurobindo on Sanatana Dharma has already been quoted above for the sake of our readers.

Hindu – Who?

Hindus are the followers of Sanatana Dharma. In reality Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma and nothing else.

The greatness of Hindu religious attribute has not found its proper place in media and among historians. In Hinduism, there has been no such obsession to accept any such metaphysical philosophy of other religions that a particular religion is necessary for salvation and non-acceptance is heinous sin which may result in eternal punishment in hell. The Hindus never were for conversion, rather, their mission was to make the world Arya-like, which means that the individual, what ever his creed or religion be, should lead a life of righteousness and be gentle and religious minded.

The Hindu belief is that God is one and the ways to God are many. It grants freedom to individuals and does not command It simply tries to lead them from darkness to light. It reveals that there is one Truth and one true religion. Ekam Satya, Viprah vividhah vadanti – The truth is one and wise men describe it in various ways. It is the eternal truth within the Self. Direct knowledge of Self can be acquired by one through the Self while realizing the Self. Self- realization is the essence of human existence. Hindu knows that where there is unity, one with out a second; there is world of Brahmana Seek it as it is the supreme goal of life.

Hindu believes that God pervades all and nothing pervades Him. Katha says,’ So does the oneself take the shape of every creature in whom He is present. ’The Hindu with the tranquil thought organ sees-‘ Himself as in all beings / and all beings in himself/ sees he whose self is disciplined in discipline /who sees the same in all things.’ There is no duality. He knows that the Self is Brahmana. Tat Twam Asi –Thou Art That. Renunciation of real self is Sat-Chit-Anand.  He knows that man is essentially divine and there is divinity in every man. There is nothing like original sin. Happiness is the real nature of man. He has to attain it.

Hinduism is in fact a away of life. What is preached, is brought out in practice. The philosophy is linked with life and worldly affairs. It is full of social and ethical values and gives us a vivid idea of human relationship with its various spheres. Thus life and philosophy both are guided by spiritual considerations. Material welfare could not get the upper hand. The whole journey to eternity is based on reason and scientific precision with full freedom of enquiry and expression.

Hindu believes in universal values.  He believes in the Law of Karma and in Reincarnation till final salvation.  In short, the purpose of Hindu life can be summarized in the following prayer –

Lead me from the unreal to the Real
Lead me from the darkness to Light 
Lead me from the death to Immortality.


More by :  Dr. R. K. Lahri

Top | Hinduism

Views: 3680      Comments: 5

Comment Fredrick Max Mueller did injustice to misinterpret Vedas translation in English. He was not very objective when he criticized Sanatan Dharm. According to his letters to his wife in Germany he wanted to destoy Sanatan Dharm (Hinduism) so that India will become a Christian nation.

I believe Indian Theological Scholars should critically evaluate Max Mueller's interpretation (misinterpretation) of Vedas and Sanatan Dharmt so that the truth will prevail and be known to whole world.

Professor (Dr.) Ashok Rathore

Prof Ashok Rathore
12-Dec-2013 17:36 PM

Comment Hindus/Hinduism (if you choose those words) have a huge problem. They/it have been abused and the religion distorted. It is the fault of the Hindus. They cannot even agree on the name of their religion and even on the use of "religion." What difference does one letter make? We are (H)indus and our religion is (H)induism a.k.a. Rta, Dharma, Hindu Dharma, Sanatan Dharma, Vedic Dharma, Yoga Dharma and Brahmanism.

Hinduism/Sanatan Dharma is a religion and not the universal religion and is certainly not the oldest. What about the aboriginals and other native peoples? Are we to disrespect their ancient beliefs?

Hindus need to unite, for, so much has been given up due to a lack of unity. Because of this lack of unity, Hindus have basically lost the following: Swastika, Arya, Yoga, Guru, Mantra, Chakras and Kundalini, to name a few. Most people have no clue that these scared concepts have anything to do with Hindu Dharma.

Dharma Yoga Ashram

Swami Param
25-Jul-2013 11:27 AM

Comment If Ramayana and Mahabharata were stories...
In 1980's NASA while scanning earth from a satellite discovered Ram Setu. The bridge that is under water now. Connecting from India to Sri Lanka or known as Lanka then. The bridge is made of some rare stones which is not found anywhere else.
Can anyone tell me what else have they heard on this discovery??

Ash Sharma
03-Mar-2012 13:18 PM

I have read your essay ' Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism' with great interest. Thanks for this beautiful and informative essay. As student of History, I have certain questions on hinduism. Kindly answer in detail.

1-which HINDU SCRIPTURE speaks and uses on the term Sanatana Dharma for the first time? Kindly give reference.
2-who and when or which sacred text first time declared Hinduism as a way of life? Kindly give reference.
3-which Hindu Scripture speaks about the origin of Adivasis? (As Rig Veda speaks about Shudras)
4-. What is date for the oldest Vedic manuscripts available today? Where can someone find it? How the dates fixed by scholars? How they translated ?

I have asked to many but nobody answered. i hope I will get it from you..
Thanking you sir.
Yours sincerely


sanjeeve kumar gontha
14-Nov-2011 19:47 PM

Comment Max Muller and other Europeans gained a little knowledge of Sanskrit and coined the theory of Aryan Invasion,specially at that time when INDIA was ruled by Britishers,gave air to this theory which was suiting them at that time. By this theory Ramayana,Mahabharata and others were leveled as mere stories. They forgot that River Saraswati which is mentioned Vedas disappeared about 5000 years back. Dwarka a city mentioned in Mahabharata is now under water, it took more than 5000 years for Dwarka to submerge under water. In Horoscopy we do corrections for ascendants etc. simply tell this corrections for more than 4500 years as polar star take about 25000 years to its original position
. Yes in the of his visit to India Max Muller said if Aryans not come about 4500 years back then they might have come twenty thousands years back, a loose argument. No where mentioned in religious books of neighboring country like Nepal or Sri Lanka about this Aryans migration

Pran Soni
25-Jul-2011 20:08 PM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.