Origin of words, ‘Hindu’, ‘Hinduism’ & ‘Hindustan’

13 Jun

Origin of the word ‘Hindu’

Hindu is the Persian name for the Indus River, first encountered in the Old Persian word Hindu, corresponding to Vedic Sanskrit Sindhu, the Indus River.

The term was used for those who lived in the Indian subcontinent on or beyond the “Sindhu” river. In Arabic, the term al-Hind (the Hind) also refers to ‘the land of the people of modern day India’.

The term Hindu is not a Sanskrit word. It is neither religious nor found in any Buddhist or Jain texts or any of the official 23 languages of India. Some sources report that it was Alexander the Great who first renamed the River Sindhu as the Indu, dropping the beginning  S , thus making it easier for the Greeks to pronounce. This became known as the Indus.

Thereafter, the Muslim and Persian visitors pronounced the Sindhu (or Indu) as  Hindu,  even though at the time the people of the area did not use the name  Hindu  themselves. Thus the people dwelling around river Sindhu were ‘Hindu’ and the place was referred to as ‘Hind’ or ‘Al Hind’ and later which became ‘Hindustan’.

In Farsi and Arabic, the term “Hind” denotes the Indian subcontinent. No religion ever existed that was called  Hinduism  and hence the term was a mere foreign innovation, a continuation of a Muslim term that became popular through the decades.


Origin of the word ‘Hinduism’

When light-skinned, nomadic “Aryan” Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India from Russia and Central Asia, they brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian native beliefs, often called the “Indus valley culture.”

The British referred these cultural practices and beleives of the local inhabitants as  Hinduism . Hinduism is used in the sense of “Indian pagan” in English from the 17th century.


Origin of the word ‘Stan’, as in ‘Hindustan’

The suffix ‘STAN’ is Persian for “place of”, a cognate to Pashto -tun, and derived from the Indo-Aryan equivalent, -sthana. In Indo-Aryan languages, sthana means “place”, and is cognate to the Latin terms, state and status (meaning “to stand”). Hindustan is the Muslim name of the Indian subcontinent.

Example: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan etc.

The term is also used more generally, as in Persian ‘Rigestan’, place of sand or desert and ‘Golestan’, place of roses or rose garden’, Hindi/Sanskrit ‘Devasthan’, place of Devas/Gods or the Hindu Temple etc.


Is Hinduism Really a Religion?

Hinduism differs from other religions as it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious body. It is actually made up of thousands of different religious groups and sects that have evolved in India over the last 5000 years or more.

Hinduism is actually not a religion at all. It is simply a way of life that exsited amongst the people who inhibited around the river ‘Sindhu’ in the ancient time. It does not have a single God concept and it has no rules laid down.

The Hindu priest is merely the go between, connecting a man to his faith, blind or otherwise. He merely chants the required mantras (Sanskrit connotations to the forces of Nature that are ultimately what Gods are in Hinduism). They do not guide the Hindus to the path of righteousness, that job is left to swamis and Gurus. The priests merely collect money and disperse blessings on behalf of God.
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