Loss of Our Religious Identity (How the Term “Hindu” has Hijacked Our Vedic and Upanishadic Region)

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About the Book

 

This book challenges centuries old description of us of our religion as "Hindu". Our Aryan ancestors living on both sides of the river Indus came to acquire this description at the hands of the Persian invaders and conquerors of the North-West Indian in 519 BC. By that time we were already known as the followers of the Brahmana, Arya of Bharatiya Dharma-an identity born out of our orally composed religious scriptures consisting of the four Vedas, Brahmans, Arnyaks and Upanishads by our sages. As a reaction to the Persian occupation of the North-west India, the sages now began to put our religious, scriptures into Sutras from 400 BC onwards to save our religion from oblivion. The themes of these Sutras based on our religious scriptures composed earlier as well as the later commentaries written on them by our sages do not have either any relevance or reference to the term "Hindu". In the North-West India, the "Hindu" term was obliterated by the Greek who replaced the Persians in 326 BC and soon came to be completely forgotten in the success ding centuries under the domination of the imperial powers like the Mauryas, the Guptas and the Maukharis till it came to be revived in the middle ages from 1206 onwards by the Muslim invaders and conquerors in the process of the Persianisation of their extensive empire from Kashmir to Kanyakumarika and from Bengal to Gujarat. The British who replaced the Muslim rulers fully by 1857 saw in continuing the use of the term with a religious connotation an instrument of an administrative expediency and our political leaders after independence have also accepted the term, "Hindu", along with the British legacies of ideas and institution, as a mark of our national and religious identity. And so our "Dharma" continues to be known by a term embossed on us by a pre-Islamic Persia, which has nothing to do with our religion and religious scriptures, and thereby, keep us in a perpetual state of loss of our religious identity.

 

About the Author

 

Born in 1937 at Chandernagore the author studied history at the Calcutta Presidency College, London School of Oriental and African Studies and did a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh. Until recently a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Paedagogica Historica, Belgium and a former member of the various committees of the UGC and the Rehabilitation Council of India, he is the author of fifteen research monographs including two published at Leiden and Frankfurt and nineteen research papers mostly published abroad. He has travelled abroad widely as a Visiting Fellow at London, Edinburgh, Paris, North Carolina, Indiana, London (Western Ontario) and Toronto. He was a Guest Professor for one year at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Jena, Known for its association with Goethe, Hegel and Karl Marx. A contributor to the NCERT's Encyclopedia of Indian Education, he retired from the Chair of History at the Zakir Husain Centre for educational Studies, JNU, in August 2002.

 

Preface

 

India is a land of varied regions and places, people and religions, cultures and manners, social norms and practices. I belong to the group of people who are known as "Hindus." Why? Is it because I belong to the group of people who form the majority group among the people of the country, most of whom come from an area known as the Hindi belt and speak a language known as Hindi? The answer to my query is a firm "no". Obviously people and place corne first before the language is born and so we can safely assert that our "Hindu" name has not been derived from the vast majority among us who speak Hindi.

 

Most European scholars I have corne across and spoken to them on the subject believe that the term "Hindu" has been coined by the officials of the East India Company in the early nineteenth century. This is far from the truth. And on a further and deeper investigation into the subject I have found that the "Hindu" term has corne into existence nearly two and a half thousand years ago when the civilization and culture among the Aryan immigrants from the Central Europe was taking shape in the North-West part of the sub-continent which is now mostly in Pakistan since 1947.

 

The term has actually been coined by the Persians, the followers of Zoroaster whose religion recognizes the existence of both good and evil. The Persians came to the North- West India around 519 BC and settled down to rule this part of our sub-continent till 326 BC when they were replaced by the Greek under Alexander, the Great. The Persian conquerors bestowed the term on the conquered Indians living on the both sides of the river "Sindu" which they pronounced as "Hindu" as they had difficulty in the pronunciation of "S". They pronounced "S" as "H". With the replacement of the Persians by the Greek and the latter by the Mauryas in the succeeding centuries, the term which had earlier remained confined to the North-West, along with the Persian Satrap and Kharoshthi script, came to be gradually almost forgotten and revived only after the coming of the Muslim invaders and conquerors who ruled India for more than 650 years from 1206 to 1857 when they were finally and officially replaced by the British Crown.

 

The Muslim rulers introduced Persian language and literature, customs and manners, law and jurisprudence and along with these also revived the use of the term "Hindu" to refer to the conquered subjects known as Kaffers, infidels or unbelievers all over their extensive empire and called their conquered land from Kashmir to Kanya Kumarika and from Gujarat to Bengal as "Hindustan" or the land of the "Hindus". Both the East India Company and the Christian missionaries who came in the seventeenth century picked up these two terms from their contact with the Muslim rulers and used them in their home despatches, memoirs and travelogues. Thus both the terms were very much in use long before the time indicated by the European scholars about the coining of the term "Hindu" and "Hindustan".