Are you a Hindu?

Did you know that the word ‘Hindu’ is not found in any of the scriptures of the said Hindu scriptures?

In the 4th Century BCE, Megasthanes epitomizes the name ‘Indos’ in his work ‘Indica’.  In the 13th century the Persians and Arabs used the term Al-Hind and Hindustan to refer to all those people who lived on the east banks of the Sapta Sindhu (Rivers Indus, Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab, Jhelum and Saraswati).  Thus the word ‘Hindu’ was a geographical reference which was popularized in the 17th century to refer to all the cultural and religious practices of the native of the Indian subcontinent by the Britishers.  Thus the term ‘Hindu’ refers more to the cultural and religious practices of the native Indians and this is a term that is imposed on the natives by the Mughals and the Britishers.

So, is there a name for the religion that was practiced by the natives in the Indian subcontinent? Is there a name mentioned in the native Indian scriptures for the geography, culture and religion that is practiced by the native Indians?

The name that is used by the native scriptures to refer to the religion is ‘Sanatana Dharma’ meaning the ‘Eternal Law’ – eternal both in space and time – applicable across geographies and times. A person who follows the ‘Sanatana Dharma’ is called a ‘Santani’.

India’s official name is ‘Bharat’.  In Sanskrit, ‘Bha‘ means ‘light and wisdom‘ and ‘rata’ means ‘Devoted to‘.  Thus, Bharata means ‘place where people are devoted to light and wisdom‘.

According to ‘Puranas’ (scriptures that document history) and ‘Itihasas’ (scriptures that documents event as they happen), this country is known as ‘Bharata Varsha’.  Following verses from Book II and Book III of the Vishnu Purana documents the history of ‘Bharata’.

ऋषभो मरुदेव्याश्च ऋषभात भरतो भवेत्
भरताद भारतं वर्षं, भरतात सुमतिस्त्वभूत्
Rishabha was born to Marudevi, Bharata was born to Rishabh,
Bharatvarsha (India) arose from Bharata, and Sumati arose from Bharata
ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयते

भरताय यत: पित्रा दत्तं प्रतिष्ठिता वनम

This country is known as Bharatavarsha since the times the father entrusted the kingdom to the son Bharata and he himself went to the forest for ascetic practices

उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।

वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।

uttaraṃ yatsamudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇam
varṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ

The country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata.

According to Mahabharata as well as the numerous puranas and diverse Indian history, Bharat Empire included the whole territory of the Indian subcontinent, including parts of present day Pakistan, Afghanistan,China, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, North-west Tibet, Nepal and Bangladesh.  Given below is a map of ‘Bharata’ with the different, kingdoms as mentioned, in the Puranas and Itihasas:

India during Mahabharata
Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia

So are you a ‘Hindu’ or a ‘Sanatani’?