Of all the words that has been misused the most in Indian polity are “Hinduism” & “Hindutva”.  Even great literature laureates like Mr Shashi Tharoor have murdered the basis of language to suffocate the truth of the two terms. There is long list of people who have followed the same track. And I must mind you that most of them come from elite self proclaimed guardians of language, literature and culture.

Where did term “Hindu” Come from?

Through this essay I look forward to dislodge various myths around terms “Hinduism” and “Hindutva” using empirical evidences. The difference between the two terms is primarily about suffix added to the word “Hindu”. Hence, to understand the two we must first understand the term “Hindu” itself. Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, which means “a large body of water”, covering “river, ocean”. It was used as the name of the Indus river and also referred to its tributaries. The actual term ‘Hindu’ first occurs as “a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)”. It was found in the 6th-century BC inscription of Darius I. It mentions the province of Hi[n]dush, referring to northwestern India. The people of India were referred to as Hinduvān (Hindus) and hindavī has been used as the adjective for Indian in the 8th century text Chachnama.

The term ‘Hindu’ in these ancient records is an ethno-geographical term & didn’t refer to religion.

Hindustān, Hinduism and Hindutva by Arvind Sharma & Numen Vol. 49, No. 1 (2002), pg 2-5


Now let us talk about suffix of first term “Hindu+ism”. What does -ism stand for? The first recorded usage of the suffix -ism as a separate word in its own right was in 1680. By the 19th century it was being used by Thomas Carlyle to signify a pre-packaged ideology. The use of phrase “the isms” as a collective derogatory term to lump together the radical social reform movements of the day (such as slavery abolitionism, feminism, alcohol prohibitionism, Fourierism, pacifism, early socialism, etc) was common in USA of the 19th Century. It was also added for various spiritual or religious movements considered non-mainstream by the standards of the time (such as Transcendentalism, spiritualism or “spirit rapping”, Mormonism, the Oneida movement often accused of “free love”, etc.).

I don’t know how people even believe that “Hindu” idea is non-mainstream or just a radical social reform so how justified is addition of “-ism” to “Hindu”? The -isms have always been about “unilateral philosophy” or “idea”. But isn’t Hindu practice all about plurality? Let me make it even simpler by taking example of three very common -isms depicted in respective images below:

Example of Surrealism
Example of Expressionism
Example of Cubism

Can you notice, that they come with completely distinct appearance. It’s because of the unique philosophy embedded within each of them. And that’s where the problem comes when you add “-ism” to “Hindu”. You can’t limit it to singular idea hence in reality “Hinduism” is an oxymoron. Like how we can’t ever say “Architecturism” though “Deconstructivism” is a type of architecture. You can have “Shaivism”, “Vaishnavism” but not “Hinduism”. Despite that we accepted this oxymoron with the time as it became popular. Britishers never understood the pluralistic Hindu idea & ended up adding “-ism” as they thought it to be on par of “rigid” Abrahmic ideas which they were only aware of .

How many of you ever wondered that why “Islam” isn’t “Islamism” or “Christianity” not “Christianism”, but we have “Judaism” & “Hinduism” etc? Ism was always added to practice which seemed inferior or not-mainstream. If one understands -ism & believes in plurality of “Hindus” then Hinduism can never be “Hindu Dharma”, rather Sanātana Dharma. Plainly speaking “Sanātana dharma” means eternal order: like “the flow of water”. It’s nature of water to flow, wind to blow & every such order is Sanātana.

Religion is institutions while Dharma is the way to “strive to be right”. Dharma tells to reject institution which shows wrong path.

#Modi Again: An Ex-Communist’s Manifesto, ch-5

Dharma signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accord with Ṛta, the order that makes life and universe possible.It includes duties, rights,laws, conduct, virtues and “right way of living”. Eg, ‘Rajadharma’ means King’s Duty not Religion.

For Bhartiya understanding, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism, Sikhism etc are various Panth which means denominations. Most fail to get it. We mustn’t confuse “dharma” with”religion.”

So to sum up the points derived out of above discussion following becomes clear:

  1. “Hindu”is an ethno-geographic connotation & not religious at all.
  2. Hinduism is an oxymoron though we use it for popularity.Often addition of-ism degrades the great “values”.

Hindutva: for Beginners

Now let’s come to another sensational term, “Hindutva”. It is formed by adding -tva suffix to Hindu. What do we understand by -tva? In plain language adding -tva (-ness) to a noun means :in state of being that noun. Eg. Naritva. This imgage would further clarify -tva:

So can any of the critics of “Hindutva” explain that how the ‘state of being “Hindu(Indian)”’be wrong at all? Who are we to interpret “Hindu” as per our comfort if Darius-I,the first one to use word had defined it completely other way around?

That was the period when Islam was spreading on the power of “sword” & “qital fi sabilillah” was common. The Parsis had to take refuge in Hindu Rashtra “Bhāratá”. They were persecuted the worst as Islam was set to conquer Persia. Hindus came to their refuge and, that’s exactly “Hindutva” ie “state of being Hindu” for you from that period.

One may like to read pages 147-50 from book “Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices” by Mary Boyce ” to know the underlying truth in detail.

Many even want to declare particular age when Hindu+Ism (Sanātana dharma) but as someone can’t trace from when water got the trait to flow, it is impossible to claim if it originated few thousands years ago. As per historical records “-ism” was first time added to “Hindu” around 1830 and “Hindutva” was coined in 1892 by Chandranath Basu. So people should come out of this myth even that Veer Savarkar coined the term.

I also observed an interesting point raised in this debate. They say that ‘“Hinduism” has many central texts while “Hindutva” has none’. Nothing can be more to call self-humiliation than this statement. A logical person will tell you that: Centre is always one, you don’t have multiple centers.

Things evolve with time and so has “Hindutva”. Once it was only savior of others but the condition demanded it to add new feature: Resist. Now ”Hindutva” is the “Hinduism” that resists. When the whole cabal came against “asato mā sadgamaya…” being sung in Kendriya Vidyalayas, it needed a force to preserve the echo of heritage. And the force that stood to resist was “Hindutva” for you. Hence, It will need to exist in present form to preserve the ethos of Bhāratá till attacks keep occurring.

As, “Hindutva” is the state of being Hindu, so how can one not follow Hinduism (I have used it multiple times for popularity) if he is “in state of being Hindu?”

It’s like saying water is not in “state of being water” though it’s flowing.

How many oxymoron?

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.