Meaning of the Word ‘Hindu’
In the present study we have used the expression ‘Hindu temples’ to cover Brahmanical as well as Buddhist Jain, and Sikh temples. This sounds contrary to current usage in the world of scholarship as well as politics. But the history of the word ‘Hindu’ supports our case. It was only in the nineteenth century that Western Indologists and Christian missionaries separated the Buddhists, the Jains, and the Sikhs from the Hindus who, in their turn, were defined as only those subscribing to Brahmanical sects. The missionaries invented another category, the Animists, which they employed in order to separate the tribals from the Hindus of their definition. It will, therefore, be worthwhile to survey the history of the word ‘Hindu’, and see what it has meant, at what stage, and to whom.
A close study of literary and epigraphic sources shows that the word ‘Hindu’ has appeared in our indigenous languages and popular parlance in a comparatively recent period, keeping in view the long span of our history. We do not find this word in any indigenous language prior to the establishment of Islamic rule in the thirteenth century. Even after that, the word was used rather sparsely in the local literature. Monier-Williams who compiled his famous dictionary from a large range of Sanskrit literature, could not find any indigenous root for this word. He says explicitly that the word is derived ‘from the Persian Hindu’. Dictionaries of all indigenous languages say the same. So also the dictionaries of European languages.
The word Hinduism’ has been added to our vocabulary at a still more recent stage. It has been contributed by the discipline of Indology in die modern West. And the word gained wide currency in this country simply because the leaders of our national reawakening in the second half of the nineteenth century, espoused it as expressive of our national identity as well as our spiritual and cultural greatness. These leaders, down to Mahatma Gandhi, were not prepared to concede that Hinduism did not include Buddhism, or Jainism, or, for that matter, Sikhism.
Of course, some scholars of Hindutva have tried to trace the word ‘Hindu’ to Saptasindhu which is mentioned in the Rigveda on several occasions. They want this word to have an indigenous as well as an ancient ring. The intention is understandable. But the excercise has remained forced, if nor far-fetched. Firstly, it does not notice that the expression used in the Rigveda is not Saptasindhu but Saptasaindhvah. Secondly, it ignores the fact that the Rigveda is not quite clear whether the expression stands for a country, or for a people, or simply for seven rivers in the Punjab. The expression seems to mean different things in different contexts. Thirdly, it does not explain why the change from ‘Sindhu’ to ‘Hindu’ took such a long time to surface in our indigenous languages. Lastly, and more significantly, it has not taken into account the fact that our countrymen were never known as Hindus in Southeast Asia in the pre-Islamic period, although they had a large presence there since centuries before the birth of Christ.
Going back to the pre-Islamic period in our own country, we find that our ancestors shared in common a name for their homeland. That was Bharatavarśa, which comprised at that time the present-day Seistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. They also shared in common a name for the spiritual-cultural complex to which they subscribed. That was Sanatana Dharma, which covered Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism, and also what is now known as Animism or tribal religion. But there is no evidence, literary or epigraphic, that they shared in common a name for themselves as a people. Some PuraNas say that Bharatavarśa is the land of the bharati santatih. The expression, however, is found nowhere else in the vast literature which has come to us from those times. In any case, this much is quite certain that our ancestors in those times did not use the word ‘Hindu’ for describing themselves collectively. Hiuen Tsang who visited this country between AD 630 and 645 says that while the word ‘Shin-tu’ (Chine-se for ‘Hindu’) could be heard outside our borders, it was unknown within the country.
Nor do we have a record of how our people identified themselves when they travelled abroad. It is not at all in doubt that they travelled a lot, and all the time. They were frequent visitors to far-off places in all directions, by land as well as sea. They went out individually as well as in groups. They adventured as sailors, as merchants, as princes, as monks, as priests, as scholars, as craftsmen, and in several other capacities. They had established many flourishing settlements in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and Central and South America towards the east, and in Iran, West Asia, East and North Africa, and Europe towards the west. Central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan were as familiar to them as their own homeland. But the literature which describes their voyages, or the epigraphs which testify to their presence abroad, do not yield any generic or national name by which they were known or made themselves known to the local people in foreign countries.
There is, therefore, no running away from the fact that the word ‘Hindu’ occurs for the first time in the Avesta of the ancient Iranians who used this word for designating this country as well as its people. They did not have to coin this word out of thin air. It was simply their way of pronouncing the word ‘Sindhu’, the name of the mighty river which has always been a major landmark for travellers to this country from the north and the west. To start with, the word seems to have been used for provinces and the people in the vicinity of the Sindhu. But in due course, it was extended to cover all parts of this country and all its people. The word also spread to countries to the north and west of Iran. The ancient Greeks were quite familiar with the words ‘Indus’ and ‘Indoi’ - their way of pronouncing ‘Sindhu’ and ‘Sindhis’. The ancient Arabs, Turks (Śakas, KuSaNas, etc.), Mongolian (HuNas, Kiratas, etc.) and the Chinese were also familiar with the word, sometimes in their own variations on it such as ‘Shin-tu’. It may thus be said that the word ‘Hindu’ had acquired a national connotation, since the days of the Avesta, although in the eyes of only the foreigners. At the same time, it may be noted that the word was oblivious of the fact that ‘Hindus’ were organized in numerous castes, and subscribed to many religious sects.
There is also evidence that at some stage in their history the ancient Iranians started using the word ‘Hindu’ in more than a purely descriptive sense. The word seems to have acquired for them a derogatory meaning as well. Scholars are not quite certain, nor in complete agreement, about the nature of differences that developed between the Vedics of this country and the Avestans of Iran. The two people had had much in common, and for a long time, in the realm of language, religion, rituals, and ethical norms. It is surmised that the rift appeared with the rise of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) as a religious reformer in the region round Bahlika (Balkh), and became bitter by the time the Archaeminid Dynasty rose to power in Iran. Zorastrianism became the state religion of Iran, and the Iranians started looking down upon the Hindus as worshippers of ‘dev’ (Skt. deva), their word for demon. They were using the word ‘Ahura’ (Skt. Asura) for their own Deity.
The Iranians are known to have become more hostile to the Hindus as Buddhism spread in Khorasan and Central Asia, and the temples dedicated to dev were overshadowed by those dedicated to ‘budd’ or ‘but’ - their name for the Buddha statues. By the time the Ishmized Arabs appeared on the scene, the ‘black-faced Hindu’ had become known to the Iranians as the but-prast (worshipper of the budd or but) par excellence. In fact, the word ‘Hindu’ had become synonymous with the word ‘but-prast’ in the Persian language which had developed out of ancient Pehlevi. Every Hindu place of worship was now being described as well despised as a but-khana, house of budd. There were several other pejoratives which went with the word ‘Hindu’ in Persian parlance. They have lived in Persian lexicons down to our own times. What is relevant in the present context is that the word ‘Hindu’ had acquired a religious connotation also prior to the Islamic invasions, although in the language of only the Iranians. It may be noted again that the Iranians were oblivious of the fact that the worshippers of dev and but were divided in many religious denominations.
Of course, the Arab soldiers of Allah and his Prophet did not have to depend on the Iranians for defining the Hindu as an idolater. They had their own patent word, ‘mushrik’, which the Qur’an had applied to the idolaters of Arabia. They also continued to use their own word in serious works on history and theology. But as the Islamized Arabs and Turks came to borrow heavily from Persian language and culture, they picked up the word ‘but-prast’, and used it more and more frequently for the hated Hindu. In due course, this word came to predominate in the Islamic parlance vis-a-vis the people of this country. And what must have sounded painfully surprising as well as supremely profane to Iranian ears, the Muslims started using the word ‘atish-prast’ (fire-worshipper) also for the worshippers of the dev and the but. Thus the Hindu stood defined and despised as the ‘crow-faced kafir, the ‘wicked mushrik’, the ‘blind but-prast’, and the ‘accussed atish-prast’, in the lexicons of Islam.
The story of how the armies of Islam advanced in different stages in different parts of this country, and what they did to the Hindus and their places of worship, has been documented in detail by many medieval Muslim chroniclers. They tell us that the soldiers of Allah were rather fast in reaching for their swords and spears whenever and wherever they heard the word ‘budd’ or ‘but’. Buddhist temples, monasteries, and monks thus became their prime targets, as is witnessed by the Buddhist ruins and Muslim monuments built with Buddhist temple materials, all along the trail of Islamic invasions. The pertinent point in the present context, however, is that nowhere in the voluminous Muslim chronicles do we find the natives of this country known by a name other than Hindu. There were some Jews, and Christians, and Zoroastrians settled here and there, particularly along the West Coast. More people belonging to these communities continued to come from time to time throughout the period covered by the Muslim chronicles. We find that people belonging to these communities are always identified as such - ahl-i-Yahud or Banu Israil, ahl-i-NaSara or Isai, and ahl-i-Majus or Ãtish-prast. The chronicles distinguish these communities from the Muslims on the one hand, and from the natives of this country on the other. It is only when they come to the natives that no more distinctions are noticed; all natives are identified as ahl-i-Hunud-Hindu!
We know from numerous indigenous sources that at the time the Islamic invaders appeared on the scene, the natives of this country subscribed to numerous ways of worship. They knew and made themselves known as belonging to this or that religious sect or sub-sect. But the Muslim chronicles notice no Buddhists, no Jains, no Śaivites, no Śaktas, no VaiSNavas, nor members of any other sect or sub-sect-neither at the beginning of Islamic conquests, nor during the period of Muslim rule, nor yet when Muslim domination draws towards its end. In all their narratives, all natives are attacked as Hindus, massacred as Hindus, plundered as Hindus, converted forcibly as Hindus, captured and sold in slave markets as Hindus, and subjected to all sorts of malice and molestation as Hindus.
The Muslims never came to know, nor cared to know, as to which temple housed what idol. For them all temples were Hindu but-khanas, to be desecrated or destroyed as such. They never bothered to distinguish the idol of one God or Goddess from that of another. All idols were broken or burnt by them as so many buts, or deposited in the royal treasury if made of precious metals, or strewn at the door-steps of the mosques if fashion from inferior stuff. In like manner, all priests and monks, no matter to what school or order they belonged, were for the Muslims so many ‘wicked Brahmans’ to be slaughtered or molested as such. In short, the word ‘Hindu’ acquired a religious connotation for the first time within the frontiers of this country. The credit for this turn-out goes to the Muslim conquerors. With the coming of Islam to this country all schools and sects of Sanatana Dharma acquired a common denominator - Hindu!
We also know that at the time of Islamic invasions, the natives of this country stood organised in an hierarchy of many classes, castes, and sub-castes. But the invaders noticed no KSatriyas, no Vaiśyas, no Śudras, nor any other class or caste distinctions. The only people they singled out for special mention were the Brahmans. But it was not because they knew or recognized them as a distinct caste; it was simply because the Brahmans were for them the ‘mine of kufr (infidelism) and shirk (idolatry)’, the ‘misleaders of mankind’, the ‘greatest enemies of Allah and his Prophet’, and the ‘magicians who ensured that Hindus burn for ever in the blazing fire of hell’. Nor did the Muslims distinguish between high-caste and low-caste kafirs while killing them, or converting them by force, or plundering their properties, or capturing them as well as their women and children for enslavement, or reducing them to the status of zimmis for imposing harsh disabilities and discriminatory taxes on them. In Muslim eyes, all natives constituted an undifferentiated society, a solid mass in which no constituent was distinct from another. Once again, it goes to the credit of the Muslim conquerors that the word ‘Hindu’ acquired a national connotation within the borders of this country. The only natives who stood out of the ken were those who had converted to Islam, willingly or unwillingly.
The next thing that happened during the period of Muslim conquest and rule, was far more significant and fraught with far-reaching consequences. I am not in a position to determine more precisely the period during which the natives of this country espoused the word ‘Hindu’ for themselves, and invested it with pride; that needs a study of contemporary Indian literature which I have not undertaken. All I can say at present is that by the time the Islamic sword swept over the South, and the Vijayanagara Empire took shape, the word ‘Hindu’ was no more a hated word for the natives as it was for the foreign invaders.
A Kanarese inscription discovered in the Fort of Penugonda (now in Andhra Pradesh) and dated in Śaka saMvat 1276 (AD 1354) describes Bukka I of Vijayanagars as hinduraya-suratraNa purva-paśchima-samudradhipati, that is, the Sultan among the Hindu kings, and lord of the eastern and western seas.1 Next, we have the Satyamangalam (North Arcot District, Tamil Nadu) Copper Plate inscription of Devaraya II dated Śaka saMvat 1346 (AD 1424) in which verse 8 says that ‘Through the wind (which was produced) by the flapping of the ears of the elephants on the field of battle, the Tulushka (ie Musalman) horsemen experienced the fate of cotton (ie were blown away)’. Then follows the verse which applauds the king as ‘the Sultan among the Hindu kings as described by the bards’.2 Two more inscriptions of Devaraya, dated AD 1427 and 1428, award him the same honorific.3 The fact that bards were using the word ‘Hindu’ as a word of praise, leaves little doubt that the word was pulsating with great pride. A Jain inscription found at Sadri in Jodhpur District of Rajasthan, and dated Vikrama saMvat 1496 (AD 1441) is still more specific. It says that KumbhakarNa of Mewar ‘received the title HiMdu-suratraNa by defeating the (Muslim) Sultans of Dhilli and Gurjaratra’.4
Some more inscriptions are worth citing in this context. They are being taken up in a chronological order. The Somalpuram Grant of Vijayanagara king VirupakSa dated Śaka saMvat 1389 (AD 1467). It describes the king (‘in the glowing fire of whose valour, the Turushkas were scorched up’) as ‘elevated by the titles such as hinduraya-suratraNa’.5 In the Hempe inscription of Krishnadevaraya, dated Śaka saMvat 1430 (AD 1508), the hinduraya-suratraNa is described as ‘the destroyer of rogue tigers’.6 The hint is more than clear: rogue tigers are the Muslim invaders. The same description of him is found in his Udayambakam Grant dated Śaka saMvat 1450 (AD 1528)7 two years before he died. In an inscription found at the holy city of Gaya in Bihar, the Vijayanagara king Acyutadevaraya is eulogised as ‘hinduraya-suratraNa, the firm establisher of the Hindu kingdom’.8 His Unamanjeri Plate issued in Śaka saMvat 1462 (AD 1540) calls him not only hinduraya-suratraNa but also induvaMśa-śikhamaNi (the jewel in the crown of the lunar dynasty).9 The same applause is reserved for Sadaśivaraya in his Kanuma Grant dated Śaka saMvat 1470 (AD 1548), and the British Museum Plates dated Śaka saMvat 1478 (AD 1556).10
Thus by the middle of the fourteenth century, the word ‘Hindu’ had dropped the derogatory associations imposed on it by the ancient Iranians and the Islamic invaders, and acquired a lot of lustre in the eyes of our own countrymen. Native heroes such as MaharaNa Kumbha, and Krishnadevaraya, who defeated the Islamic onslaught, were hailed as Hindu heroes in subsequent centuries. Padmanabha uses the word ‘Hindu’ for glorification of the Chauhan harm of Jalor in his epic poem, KanhaDade Prabandha, which he composed in AD 1455. It will not be long before MaharaNa Pratapa SiMha of Mewar becomes renowned as hindu-kula-kamala-divakara, the Sun which brings bloom to the lotus that is the Hindu nation. Chhatrapati Shivaji, who turned back the tide of Islamic invasion and inaugurated the war of liberation from Islamic imperialism, will be hailed all over Bharatavarśa as the saviour of Hindu Dharma and protector of its significant symbols - gaubrahmaNa, śikha-sutra, devamurti-devalaya, and so on. So also Guru Gobind Singh, and Maharaja Chhatrasal.
And the word ‘Hindu’ stood sanctified when Sanatan Dharma became known as Hindu Dharma. Numerous saint-poets arose in all parts of Bharatavarśa, sang hymns in praise of Hindu Dharma, and reminded their co-religionists that they were inheritors of a great and vast spiritual vision. The ‘law’ of Islam threatened death to those who said that a religion other than Islam could also be true. But that did not deter Sant Kabir and Guru Nanak from proclaiming that Hindu Dharma was as good as any other. Guru Teg Bahadur defied the ‘law’ of Islam at the very seat of its might, and offered his head in defence of his tilaka (religious mark on the forehead) and janeu (sacred thread).
Islamic imperialism had inflicted deep wounds on Hindu religion, culture, society, polity, economy, and environment. The wounds needed time to heel. All the same, Hindus had survived the Islamic onslaught, and come out of it with renewed pride in their spiritual and cultural traditions. The word ‘Hindu’ had become an honoured word, and denoted, nationally as well as religiously, the natives of this country as a whole except those who had been forced or lured into the fold of Islam.
The gravest injury which Hindus had suffered at the hands of Islam was the destruction of their temples and monasteries, and the slaughter of BrahmaNas and Buddhist monks. Temples and monasteries were not mere places of worship and meditation; they were seats of higher learning as well. BrahmaNas and Buddhist monks were not only priests and spiritual practitioners; they were also leaders of larger Hindu thought. Thus Hindus had been hit in the solar plexus. They were still capable of marshalling plenty of heroism (kSatra); but their capacity for a broader vision (brahmaNya) had suffered a steep decline. Even so, Islamic imperialism had failed to disarm the Hindus ideologically.
Islam has been, and remains till today, not much more than a system of glorified terrorism in spite of all its tom-tom about Allah and the Book from high heaven. The only way it has ever known, either of breaking resistance to its onward march or of imposing its own cock-and-bull stories on a conquered people, has been that of brute force. It has never learnt the art of legitimizing itself in the eyes of the conquered people by selling to them some high-sounding scholarship. In fact, its own stock of ideas has remained less than limited, and its scholarship has been sterile and hide-bound. Nor has it ever tried to understand how other societies and cultures function and flourish. Forcible conversion is the only method it has known for pulling the conquered people out of their cultural moorings. In this country, it had remained incapable of searching for the sources of Hindu inspiration, or acquiring any worthwhile knowledge of how Hindu Society and culture had functioned down the ages. It could never earn even a semblance of legitimacy in the eyes of Hindus at large, or shake any significant section of Hindus out of their ancestral moorings.
It is difficult to say how Hindus would have fared if a new imperialism from the West had not arrived on the scene at the very time when Islamic imperialism was on its last legs. The new imperialism had three faces - Christian, British, and Communist. It was far more competent than Islamic imperialism in terms of both means and methods. But the deadliest weapon it wielded was a new type of scholarship which it used in progressive stages for disarming the Hindus ideologically.
This scholarship was a many-splendoured mansion - Anthropology, Sociology, Historiography, Linguistics, Comparative Religion, Indology, German Idealism, French Positivism, British Utilitarianism, Soviet Marxism-Leninism, and the rest. It had some fascinating facets. Its essential theme, however, was only a variation on the Christian missionary lore in as much as it believed and had proved to its own satisfaction that the white man’s world was the centre of the universe, that the white man’s civilization was the highest achievement in human history, and that the white man had to shoulder the heavy burden of civilizing the rest of mankind which was seen as wallowing in varying stages of barbarism. But simply because this scholarship had surfaced in the same area and at the same time as Modern Science, it had come to pretend that it also shared the scientific spirit. Marxism-Leninism was the culmination of this masquerade.
This is not the occasion to go into details of how the latter-day imperialism mobilized this scholarship for mounting an unprecedented assault on the Hindu intellectual elite. What we are concerned with in the present context is the portrait of Hindus and Hinduism which this scholarship proceeded to paint. The salient features of the portrait which emerged at the end of the operation were as follows:
The old and the most sacred scripture of the Hindus, the Rigveda, provides impeccable evidence that a race of blood-thirsty barbarians, who worshipped equally blood-thirsty gods and who styled themselves as Aryans, invaded this country in the second millenium BC, slaughtered or enslaved all those natives who could not escape to the far South or forests and mountain fastnesses in the North, and settled down to live on the fat of this fertile land for all time to come.
With a view to perpetuate their stranglehold on the country and its native people, the Aryans created a caste system in which they themselves constituted the higher castes - BrahmaNas, KSatriyas, and Vaiśyas- while they reduced the conquered populace to the status of Śudras and outcaste untouchables.
At the same time, the Aryans concoted a priestcraft, presided over by the wily Brahmins and couched in the complex Sanskrit literature, in order to legitimize and safeguard the caste system.
Whatever veneer of culture the Aryans managed to acquire, was borrowed by them from the native people whom the Sanskrit literature had shamelessly described as Dasas, Dasyus, Asuras, Nagas, RakSasas, and the rest.
That veneer of culture also took no time to come off when, at a subsequent stage, the custodians of Brahminism destroyed the shrines and slaughtered the saints of Buddhism and Jainism, simply because these rationalist and humanitarian religions questioned the iniquities and cruelties of the caste system and pleaded for a just and equalitarian social order.
But as the people’s protest against the primitive superstitions, the puerile priestcraft, and the cruel caste system of Brahminism continued to grow, Brahminism disguised itself in a number of new-sounding cults- Śaivism, Śaktism, VaiSNavism, etc.-and concocted a new series of Sanskrit literature - the PuraNas and the Dharmaśastras - in order to hoodwink the people and ensure the continuity of the caste system, with the crafty Brahmins sitting at its top and cornering unequal privileges as well as rich profits.
Thus the essence of Brahminism alias Hinduism has been, and remains, the economically exploitative, socially oppressive, and culturally moribund caste system, no matter how many heaven-tearing philosophies it stocks in its shop in order to hide the fraud.
Hinduism alias Brahminism has continued, and will continue, to suppress, or sidetrack, or subvert by means of its sly syncretism, every single idea, religious or secular, which threatens the caste system and the domination of the deceitful Brahmins.
Speaking scientifically and in a historical perspective, Hindus proper are only the high castes in the present-day ‘Hindu society’, and describing the rest of the people as Hindus is a dirty swindle.
Hindus alias the high caste descendants of the Aryan invaders have joined, and will continue to join, hands with any and every reactionary ideology and force - feudalism, capitalism, colonialism, American imperialism, etc. - in order to safeguared the caste system and its own stranglehold on the toiling masses of India.
We have presented in simple and straight language the lore which Christian, British and Communist imperialists came to sell with varying degrees of sophistication, in a large number of tomes, treatises, and articles in learned journals published by prestigious publishing houses such as the Oxford University Press. In any case, by now the so-called Dalit Movement is retailing this lore in the way we have summarized it, without being questioned by any of its highbrow hawkers.
The word ‘Hindu’ was thus not only robbed of all the pride and prestige it had acquired over the past several centuries, but also made synonymous with foreign invaders who had committed no end to crimes against the native people. The word no more designated the vast majority of this country’s population; on the contrary, it became the hallmark of a small minority which had conspired to masquerade as the majority. The Buddhists, the Jains, the Sikhs, and the Animists (new name for those subscribing to tribal religions) were taken out of the fold of Hinduism at one fell sweep. Finally, the ‘Dravidian South’ was given a call to revolt against everything associated with the word ‘Hindu’ - religion, culture, language, etc.
This was the lore which was taught in school and college textbooks of an educational system which had been designed and was being controlled by the British establishment and the Christian missions. This was the lore which was given the pride of place in Communist pamphlets and periodicals which started to proliferate from the ‘twenties of this century onwards. And this was the lore by mouthing which a section in the Indian National Congress started strutting around as ‘progressive’, ‘radical’, ‘revolutionary’, “socialist”, and the rest. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the leader of this section after a brief visit to the Soviet Union in 1927. And he started fancying himself as a great historian when his Glimpses of World History and Discovery of India, which revelled in this lore, were hailed as classics by the prestigious press in this country and abroad.
Meanwhile, Muslim historians of the Marxist schools had polished up a subsidiary thesis. Their main purpose was to salvage Islam from its blood-soaked history, and present the medieval Muslim rule in India as a native dispensation. Mohammad Habib of the Aligarh Muslim University came out with the thesis that the Islamic invaders had destroyed Hindu temples not in obedience to the tenets of Islam but out of their lust for loot. This thesis was lapped up immediately by Pandit Nehru and his progressive host in the Congress. Pandit Sunderlal picked up the hint and painted Islam and the medieval Muslim rule in glorious colours. The finishing touches were given by M.N. Roy who propounded that Islam had come to India for completing the social revolution which Buddhism had started but failed to accomplish because Brahminism had responded with fire and sword.
But the word ‘Hindu’ had not yet become a dirty word. It still covered the Buddhists, the Jains, and the Sikhs except for some separatist fringes which had imbibed the monothestic theology of the Muslim-Christian combine or the Leftist lore. Stalwarts of Hindu re-awakening - Swami Dayananda, Bankim Chandra, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo - had seen through the Christian and the British game and given a strong lead which had not yet been exhausted. Mahatma Gandhi was still alive and was saying that ‘if Brahmanism does not revive, Hinduism must perish’, that the caste system had provided strength to Hindu society during difficult times, and that ‘I will not like to live in an India which has ceased to be Hindu’.
The word ‘Hindu’ started being brought into contempt on some scale in the truncated Hindu homeland with the rise of Pandit Nehru to supreme power in the post-independence period. He was a combined spokesman of all imperialist ideologies which had visited this country in the past - Islamic, Christian, British, and Communist. Small wonder that he placed the Ministry of Education in the hands of a Muslim-Marxist combine headed by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Christian missions were given full facilities to educate the Hindus, and convert as many of them as they could manage. The missionary apparatus started building itself anew, after a period of panic experienced by it when the British Raj was drawing to its end. Meanwhile, Mohammad Habib had come out with another thesis (1954), namely, that the so-called Muslim conquest of India was really a ‘turn of public opinion’ or an ‘urban revolution’ in which the Indian ‘working class’ had preferred the shariat in place of the smiriti, and the Turks in place of the Thukuris. Nehru approved the thesis in a Preface. At the same time, he patronized the Communist Party of India, so that it very soon became a formidable force. All this was being done by him in the name of Secularism, which concept he had picked up from the modern West and perverted to mean the opposite of what it meant there.
Nehru’s daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, carried her father’s game much farther. In her fight for a monopoly of power, she split the Congress Party, and made a common cause with the Communists. Well-known Communists and fellow-travellers were given positions of power in the ruling Congress Party, in the Government at the Centre as well in the States, and in prestigious institutions all over the country. The Muslim-Marxist combine of ‘historians’ had already captured the Indian History Congress during the days of Pandit Nehru, and many honest historians had been hounded out of it. Now this combine was placed in control of the Indian Council of Historical Research and entrusted with extensive patronage. The combine took over the National Council of Educational Research and Training also, and laid down the guidelines for producing school textbooks on various subjects. The Jawaharlal Nehru University was created and financed on a fabulous scale in order to collect Communist professors from all over the country, and form them into a frontline brigade for launching all sorts of anti-Hindu campaigns.
The smokescreen for this Stalinist operation was provided by the slogan of Secularism which nobody was supposed to question, or examine as to what it had come to mean. Its meaning had to be accepted ex-cathedra, and as laid down by the Muslim-Marxist combine. In the new political parlance that emerged, Hinduism and the nationalism it inspired, became blackned as ‘Communalism’. Small wonder that the word ‘Hindu’ started becoming a dirty word in the academia as well as the media. The Sikhs had already opted out of the Hindu fold. The Jains started saying more and more loudly that they were not Hindus. The climax came when the Ramakrishna Mission and the Arya Samaj petitioned the High Courts for obtaining the status of non-Hindu religions. An article in the Constitution which gave certain concessions to non-Hindu educational institutions was being cited in defence of this volte-face. But that was only an excuse. The real reason was that nobody who thought he was somebody was prepared to be known as a Hindu any more.
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh had been launched by some Hindus who were already shying away from the word ‘Hindu’, and opting for the word ‘Bharatiya’. It was taken over in due course by a pompous Nehruvian, and whoever objected to the coup was hounded out, or silenced. The party was now trying frantically to prove its Secular credentials. It was mortally afraid of being called a Hindu party, and frequently displayed its Muslim membership. Its tragedy was that the authentic Secularists were not prepared to accept its claims, although it had invited every stalwart of Secularism to use its platforms for delivering lectures on the sanctified subject. Again, the climax came when, under pressure from the newly-formed Janata Party of which the Bharatiya Jana Sangh had became a constituent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also got ready to consider dropping of the word ‘Hindu’ from its constitution. One wonders how things would have turned out if the Janata Party government had not fallen before the critical session of the RSS could be held. In any case, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the reincarnation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, could be heard saying till recently that they could no more afford to be known as Hindus (ab apne apko Hindu kahne se kam nahiñ chalega)!
That is the history of the word ‘Hindu’, down to our own times. In the present work we have disregarded that part of its history which tells how imperialist ideologies have manipulated its meaning, and retained that part which tells how it came to signify everything dust is native and natural to this country - the people, the social fabric, the cultural complex, and the vast spiritual vision. So far as honest historians are concerned, the word ‘Hindu’ has covered, and continues to cover, all religions which took birth in this country, and the expression ‘Hindu temples’ stands for temples where people subscribing to these indigenous religions worship.
Epigraphia Indica, Vol. VI (1900-01), p. 327, footnote 2. A pun on the Muslim title ‘sultan’ can also be detected. The word has been Sanskritized to ‘suratraNa’ which may mean ‘defender of the Gods’ as well as ‘defended by the Gods’. ↩
Ibid., Vol. III (1894–95), p. 40. ↩
Ibid., Vol. XIII (1915-16), p. 5, and Vol. XVII (1923-24), p. 111. ↩
Appendix volume to Vols. XIX-XXIII, pp. 109-10. ↩
Ibid., Vol. XVII (1920-21), p. 203. ↩
Ibid., Vol. I (1892), p. 365. ↩
Ibid., Vol. XIV (1917-18), p. 173. ↩
Ibid., Vol. XXXIII (1959-60), pp. 114-15. ↩
Ibid., Vol. III (1894-95), p. 148. ↩
Ibid., Vol. XIV (1917-18), p. 345. and Vol. IV (1896-97), p. 2. ↩