Of Hindu, Hindustan, Hindi

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Our  problem is that we look at these words from a non-Indic perspective,  says Sanjeev Nayyar.

Hindu,  Hindustan and Hindi. Realms of paper written on these words! Our  problem is that we look at these words from a non-Indic perspective.  This article seeks to throw light on the subject.


Scholar  and ex-President Dr S Radhakrishnan wrote: “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 pg  12). The term ‘Hindu’ according to Dr Radhakrishnan had  originally a territorial and not a creedal significance. It implies  residence in a well defined geographical area”. (Bramchari  Siddheswar Shai v State of West Bengal, 1995 AIR Supreme Court 2089).

As  per this definition all those living in India are Hindus. This  definition was apt till the Muslim invasion. Later the invaders used  the term Hindu to refer to original residents and became a label to  distinguish the locals from the invaders i.e. Muslims.

‘As  part of their divide and rule policy the British used the words Hindu  and Hinduism, emphasising the religious and political overtones of  these words. Western writers then adopted these terms for the sake of  convenience, and Eastern writers conformed to the norms set by those  in power.’ Seven  Systems of Indian Philosophy by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait.

Having  said that it would be appropriate to say that atleast 96 per cent of  Indians today have Hindu ancestry. I am told that in the Gulf, Arab  Muslims refer to all Indians as Hindus.

Note  that in no Indian scripture is the word Hindu mentioned. The word  Hindu originates from the Arabic word ‘Hind’.

In  the 1920’s Veer Savarkar defined a Hindu ‘as one who regarded  India from the Indus to the Seas as his fatherland and holyland’  (Veer Savarkar by Dhanajay  Keer).  Times had changed so Savarkar’s definition reflected a cultural and  nationalist perspective.

The  Urdu English dictionary (Standard 20th century Dictionary by  Educational Publishing House, Delhi) defines a Hindu ‘as slave,  thief, and black’. The Urdu Hindi Shabdkosh (Uttar Pradesh Hindi  Sansthan Lucknow) defines Hindu as ‘one who believes in Murthi Puja  and follows the Vedas’.

Being  aware of the English meaning a few Sikh friends refused to be called  Hindus. Murthi  Puja was started by the followers of Buddha so the second definition is  not entirely correct.

During  British rule the word Hindu became Hinduism just like socialism,  Marxism. The word Hinduism is not representative of the original word  ‘Sanatana  Dharma’  which means ‘the Eternal or Universal Dharma’. Dharma means  universal law, the fundamental principles behind this marvelous  universe like the Law of Karma. Sanatana means perennial, referring  to eternal truths that manifests in ever-new names and forms.’  Because of its intrinsic nature Sanatana  Dharma cannot be straight jacketed into a definition.


The  Constitution uses two words for our country, India in English and  Bharat in Hindi.

The  word Bharata i.e. Bha means light and knowledge and rata means  devoted. Bharata means devoted to light as against darkness. In a  spiritual sense it means knowledge of inner self attained by removing  ignorance. Thousands of years later India is still known for  spirituality. Bharata is also the name of an ancient King whose name  means ‘one who is capable of nourishing and protecting’.

The  word 'Bharat' is also used in the Holy Gita and refers to Arjuna as  the best, foremost among the Bharata dynasty. Refer chapter  number/slokh 3.41, 7.11, 7.16, 8.23, 14.12 and 18.36.

Hindustan  actually means ‘Urdu speaking areas of the Indian sub-continent’.  Most Indians who use the word to describe India are probably unaware  that it excludes a substantial part of modern day India.

Hindi  and Hindustani

From  the beginning of the 20th century the people have accepted a form of  western Hindi, actually the Khariboli speech of Delhi, as their  language of education, literature and public life. It became the  national language while Maithili, Magahi, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Bagheli,  Brajabhasa, Chattisgarhi with other central and western Himalayan  dialects being described as dialects of Hindi.

Effective  literary development of Hindi started only after 1850. Prior to 1850,  when we said Hindi literature it meant Brajbhasa the most important  form of western Hindi.

With  the death of Mughal emperor Auranzeb, the decline in Muslim power and  emerging supremacy of the Marathas, Muslim morale declined. It was  sought to be enhanced by marrying local dialect Hindi with  Persian/Arabic. An Urdu translation of the Koran was done in 1791  which increased Urdu’s popularity. Persian ceased to be official  language of India in 1837.

With  the advent of British rule in Punjab, Urdu became the dominant  language in administration and education. (could be a reason why post  80 Punjabis love the language). Meanwhile Arya Samaj (founded by  Gujarati Swami Dayanand Saraswati) led a successful a Hindi  revivalist movement in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

So  Urdu was the language of the Muslims and Hindi of the Hindus.  Gradually the language issue got caught in the Hindu-Muslim  cross-fire prior to Partition. A compromise gave birth to the birth  of Hindustani which contains both Hindi and Urdu words.

Most  people speak Hindustani but think they are speaking Hindi. Language  spoken in Bollywood movies is Hindustani and is mostly Urdu.

Another  source of confusion is the word philosophy.

Darsana  and Philosophy

Philosophy  is a western word which mainly relies on intellectual pursuit. The  corresponding Indian word is Darsana which relies on direct vision of truths (experienced by ancient sages  all over Bharat) and pure Buddhi (reasoning).

India  has nine schools of darsanas meaning nine ways to achieve self-realisation. These are Nyaya,  Vaisheshik, Sakhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta, Carvaka, Jaina and  Buddha. Others are a mixture of the ideas of these systems. The more  prevalent schools today are Yoga, Vedanta, Jaina and Buddha. Note  there is no Hindu school of philosophy.

What  unites these schools is direct experience, acceptance of authority,  harmony amongst schools, parallel growth and co-existence of so many  schools, open mindedness, support of logic and reasoning, belief of  eternity, law of karma,  moral and ethical teachings, acknowledgement of suffering,  thoroughness, practicality and being inward looking.

Today  some schools of darsana have become synonymous with religion. For e.g. there is a book by  Munisri Nyayavijayaji titled ‘Jaina  Darsana’  in Gujarati (meaning Jaina way to self-realisation); in English it  became Jaina  Philosophy and Religion.

Just  like Sanatana  Dharma became Hinduism, Jaina  Dharma became Jainisn. But what does the term ‘Jaina’ mean. “The term  ‘Jaina’  is derived from the term ‘Jina’. And the term ‘Jina’ is the  common name for the supreme souls who are totally free from all the  feelings of attachment, etc that defile the soul. It is a noun from  Sanskrit verbal rcot ‘ji’  meaning ‘to conquer. And devotees of Jina care called Jaina’.  (Jaina  Darsana).

So  also the word Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shishya’  means student. Starting the late 19th century Sikh became Sikhism. In  terms of darsana it is nothing but distilled Vedanta said the late author/editor  Khushwant Singh.

The  point is how use of English language and western concepts confuse the aam  aadmi.  This does not imply that all in the west or use of English language  is bad.

Hope  we will overcome colonial and Nehruvian mindsets to start thinking desi.  We have a son of the soil pradhan  mantri now!

Note: Concept  of ‘Darsana’ taken from ‘Seven Schools of Indian Philosophy’  by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait.

Sanjeev  Nayyar is founder of www.esamskriti.com and a columnist.

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