Hindu, in general is a term used for a person that follows the religion of Hinduism, which was founded in India some 5000 years ago. Hinduism contains set of faiths made by different people of their time, which have common roots. Hinduism is based on Shastras, Smritis, Puranas, Vedas and other holy scriptures or Granth's, and is considered as ancient and complicated faitj system.
Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of belief systems, practices and scriptures. It has its origin in the ancient Indo-European Vedic culture at least as far back as 2000 BC. It is the third largest religion with approximately 940 million followers worldwide, 96% of whom live in the Indian subcontinent. In the US alone, 3 million people follow some form of Hinduism. After including Yoga followers, Hinduism has around 1.05 billion followers worldwide.
Perhaps the Hindu spirit, inspired by no one man or woman in particular, is best captured in a line from the ancient Rig Veda:
Essentially, any kind of spiritual practice followed with faith, love and persistence will lead to the same ultimate state of self-realization. Thus, Hindu thought distinguishes itself by strongly encouraging tolerance for different beliefs since temporal systems cannot claim sole understanding of the one transcendental Truth.
Hindu, the word
Apparently, the word "Hindu" is not present in Vedas, Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharta. It appears that this name was given to the indigenous people of India by the Muslim invaders. They referred to the people living near the Sindhu River, as Hindus and they consider them as slaves, subservient and blind. The name given to the religion which preceded the modern term "Hindu" was "Sanatan" religion and before that it was known as "Ad-Dharm". Hindu is not a Sanskrit term.
Furthermore, a Persian dictionary titled Lughet-e-Kishwari, published in Lucknow in 1964, gives the meaning of the word Hindu as “chor [thief], dakoo [dacoit], raahzan [waylayer], and ghulam [slave].”
In another dictionary, Urdu-Feroze-ul-Laghat (Part One, p. 615) the Persian meaning of the word Hindu is further described as barda (obedient servant), sia faam (black color) and kaalaa (black).
So these are all derogatory expressions for the translation of the term hindu in the Persian label of the people of India.
Major Hindu Scriptures
According to Sir Monier Williams, the Sanskrit lexicographer, you cannot find an indigenous root for the words Hindu or India. Neither of these words are found in any Buddhist or Jain texts; nor 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. This was when Alexander invaded India around 325 B.C.
His Macedonian forces thereafter called the land east of the Indus as India, a name used especially during the British regime. Before this, the Vedic name for the area was "Bharath Varsha", which many people still prefer to call by this name.
Later, when the Muslim invaders arrived from such places as Afghanistan and Persia, they called the Sindhu River the Hindu River. Thereafter, the name “Hindu” was used to describe the inhabitants from that tract of land in the north-western provinces of India where the Sindhu River is located, and the region itself was called “Hindustan.”
Because the Sanskrit sound of “S” converts to “H” in the Parsee language, the Muslims pronounced the Sindhu as “hindu,” even though at the time the people of the area did not use the name “hindu” themselves. This word was used by the Muslim foreigners to identify the people and the religion of those who lived in that area.
Thereafter, even the Indians conformed to these standards as set by those in power and used the names Hindu and Hindustan. Otherwise, the word has no meaning except for those who place value on it or now use it out of convenience.
Another view of the source of the name Hindu is based on a derogatory meaning. It is said that, “Moreover, it is correct that this name [Hindu] has been given to the original Aryan race of the region by Muslim invaders to humiliate them. In Persian, says our author, the word means slave, and according to Islam, all those who did not embrace Islam were termed as slaves.” (Maharishi Shri Dayanand Saraswati Aur Unka Kaam, edited by Lala Lajpat Rai, published in Lahore, 1898, in the Introduction)
Why Sikhs are not Hindus?
Though Sikhs also originate from India and lived with the people whom Muslim invaders termed as Hindus, Sikhs believe that their belief system is fundamentally different from that followed by the inhabitants of India at the time of the creation of Sikhism. Further, the meaning of the word Hindu, in their dictionary, is in sharp contract to what they learned from their spiritual leaders, the Sikh Gurus.
Moreover, many of the belief and practices which Hindus were actually following were abandoned by the Sikhs. There is no dispute that many of the original Sikhs were previously Hindus(as they were following their way), but if we go by the actual Hindu practises then Sikhs are very much different from Hindus in their beliefs and practises.
- Hum Hindu Nahin. Kahn Singh Nabha
- Lughet-e-Kishwari, published in Lucknow in 1964,
- See Wikipedia article on Hindu for more information