WHAT IS HINDU?
Although it would be hazardous at the present state of oriental research to state definitely the period when the foremost band of the intrepid Aryans made it their home and lighted their first sacrificial fire on the banks of the Sindhu, the Indus, yet certain it is that long before the ancient Egyptians, and Babylonians had built their magnificent civilization, the holy waters of the Indus were daily witnessing the lucid and curling columns of the scented sacrificial smokes and the valleys resounding the chants of Vedic hymns- the spiritual fervor that animated their souls. The adventurous valour that propelled their intrepid enterprises, the sublime heights to which their thoughts rose- all these had marked them out as a people destined to lay the foundation of a great and enduring civilization. By the time they had definitely cut themselves aloof from their cognate and neighbouring people especially the Persians, the Aryans, had spread out to the farthest of the seven rivers, “सप्तसिन्धु”, and not only had they developed a sense of nationality but had already succeeded in giving it ‘a local habitation and a name!’ Out of their gratitude to the genial and perennial network of waterways that run through the land like a system of nerve-threads and wove them into a Being, they very naturally took to themselves the name of “सप्तसिन्धु”, an epithet that was applied to the whole of Vedic India in the oldest records of the world, the Rig-Veda itself. Aryans or the cultivators as they essentially were, we can well understand the divine love and homage they bore to these seven rivers presided over by ‘the River’, ‘the Sindhu’, which to them were but a visible symbol of the common nationality and culture:
इमा आप शिवतमा इमा राष्ट्रस्य भेषजीः।
इमा राष्ट्रस्य वर्धनीरिमा राष्ट्रमृतोपमः।।
The Indians in their forward march had to meet many a river as genial and as fertilizing as these but, never could they forget the attachment they felt and the homage they paid to the सप्तसिन्धु which had welded them into a nation and furnished the name which enabled their forefathers to voice forth their sense of national and cultural unity. Down to this day a सिन्धु- a हिन्दु- wherever he may happen to be, will gratefully remember and symbolically invoke the presence of these rivers that they may refresh and purify his soul.
इमं में गंगे यमुने सरस्वति शुतुद्रि स्तोमै सचता परूष्ण्या।
असिवक्न्या मरूद्वृधे वितस्तयार्जीकीये श्रणुह्या सुषोमया।।
गंगे च यमुने चैव गोदावरि सरस्वति।
नर्मदे सिन्धु कावेरि जलेस्मिन् सन्निधिं कुरु॥
Not only had these people been known to themselves as “सिन्धु” but we have definite records to show that they were known to their surrounding nations- at any rate to one of them- by that very name- “सप्तसिन्धु”. The syllable ‘स’ (s) in Sanskrit is at times changed into ह् (h) in some of the Prakrit languages, both Indian and non-Indian. For example, the word सप्त has become हप्त not only in Indian Prakrits but also in the European languages too: we have हप्ता i.e., a week, in India and ‘Heptarchy’ in Europe, केसरी in Sanskrit becomes केहरी in old Hindi. सरस्वति becomes हरहवती in Persian and असुर becomes अहुर. And then we actually find that the Vedic name of our nation सप्तसिन्धु had been mentioned as हप्तहिन्दु in the Avesta by the ancient Persian people. Thus in the very dawn of history we find ourselves belonging to the nation of the सिन्धु or हिन्दु and this fact was well known to our learned men even in the Puranic period. In expounding the doctrine that many of the म्लेच्छ tongues had been but the mere off-shoots of the
संस्कृतस्यैव वाणी तु भारतं वर्ष मुह्य्ताम्।
अन्ये खंडे गता सैव मलेच्छा ह्यनन्दिनोsभवत्।।
पितृ पैतरभ्राता च बार: पतिरेव च।
सेति सा यावनी भाषा ह्यश्वश्चास्यस्तथा पुनः॥
हप्तहिन्दुर्यविना च पुनर्ज्ञेया गुरुण्डिका।। (प्रतिसर्गपर्व अ. ५)
Thus knowing for certain that the Persians used to designate the Vedic Aryans as Hindus and knowing also the fact that we generally call a foreign and unknown people by the term by which they are known to those through whom we come to know them, we can safely conclude that most of the remoter nations that flourished then must have applied the same epithet ‘Hindu’ to our land and people as the ancient Persians did. Not only that but even in the very region of the सप्तसिन्धु the thinly scattered native tribes too, must have known the Aryans as Hindus in the local dialects in accordance with the same linguistic law. Further on, as the Vedic Sanskrit began to give birth to the Indian Prakrits which became the spoken tongues of the majority of the descendants of these very सिन्धु as well as the assimilated and the cross-born castes, these too might have called themselves as Hindus without any influence for the foreign people. For, the Sanskrit स changes into ह् as often in Indian Prakrits as in the non-Indian ones. Therefore, so far as definite records are concerned it is indisputably clear that the first and almost the cradle name chosen by the patriarchs of our race to designate our nation and our people, is सप्तसिन्धु or हप्तहिन्दु and that almost all nations of the then known world seemed to have known us by this very epithet, सिन्धु or हिन्दु.
HINDUS, A NATION:
The activities of so intrepid a people as the सिन्धु or हिन्दु could no longer be kept cooped or cabined within the narrow compass of the पन्चनद or the Punjab. The vast and fertile plains farther off stood out inviting the efforts of some strong and vigorous race. Tribe after tribe of the Hindus issued forth from the land of their Nursery and led by the consciousness of a great mission and their Sacrificial Fire that was the symbol thereof, they soon reclaimed the vast, wasted and but very thinly populated lands. Forests were felled, agriculture flourished, cities rose, kingdoms thrived, – the touch of the human hand changed the whole face of the wild and unkempt nature. But while these great deeds were being achieved the Aryans had developed to suit their individualistic tendencies and the demands of their new environments a policy that was but loosely centralized. As time passed on, the distances of their new colonies increased, and different peoples of other highly developed types began to be incorporated into their culture, the different settlements began to lead life politically very much centered in themselves. The new attachments thus formed, though they could not efface the old ones, grew more and more pronounced and powerful until the ancient generalizations and names gave way to the new. Some called themselves कुरु, others काशी or विदेह or मगध while the old generic name of the सिन्धु or हिन्दु was first overshadowed and then almost forgotten. Not that the conception of a national and cultural unity vanished, but it assumed other names and other forms, the politically most important of them being the institution of a चक्रवर्तिन. At last the great mission which the सिन्धु had undertaken of founding a nation, a country, found and reached its geographical limit when the valorous Prince of Ayodhya made a triumphant entry in Ceylon and actually brought the whole land from the Himalayas to the Seas under one sovereign sway. The day when the Horse of Victory returned to Ayodhya unchallenged and unchallengeable, the great white Umbrella of Sovereignty was unfurled over that Imperial throne of Ramachandra, the brave, Ramachandra the good, and a loving allegiance to him was sworn, not only by the Princes of Aryan blood but Hanuman, Sugriva, Bibhishana from the south-that day was the real birth-day of our Hindu people. It was truly our national day: for Aryans and Anaryans knitting themselves into a people were born as a nation. It summed up and politically crowned the efforts of all the generations that preceded it and it handed down a new and common mission, a common banner, a common cause which all the generations after it had consciously or unconsciously fought and died to defend.
A synthetic conception gains in strength if it finds a term comprehensive enough to give it an eloquent expression. The terms आर्यावर्त or ब्रह्मवर्त were not so suitable as to express the vast synthesis that embraced the whole continent from the Indus to the sea and aimed to weld it into a nation. आर्यावर्त as defined by the ancient writers was the land that lay between the Himalayas and the Vindhya. आर्यावर्त पुण्यभुमिर्मध्यम् विन्ध्यहिमालयो || And although it was best suited to the circumstances which gave it birth, yet and therefore, it could not serve as a common name to a people that had welded Aryans and non-Aryans into a common race and had carried their culture-empire far beyond the bending summits of Vindhyadri. This necessity of finding a suitable term to express the expansive thought of an Indian Nation was more or less effectively met when the house of Bharat came to exercise its sway over the entire world. Without entering into speculation as to who this Bharat was- the Vedic Bharat or the Jain one- or what was the exact period at which he ruled, it is here enough for us to know that his name had been not only the accepted but the cherished epithet by which the people of आर्यावर्त and दक्षिणापथ delighted to call their common motherland and their common cultural empire. Thus as the horizon opened out to the South we find that the centre of gravity had very naturally shifted from the सप्तसिन्धु to the Gangetic Delta and the name सप्तसिन्धु or आर्यावर्त or दक्षिणापथ gave way to the politically grander expression भरतखण्ड which included in its sweep all that lay between the Himalayas and the Seas. This is most clearly indicated by the definition of our Nation attempted at a period when the vast conception must have been dawning over the minds of our great thinkers. We have met with no better attempt to define our position as a people when the vast conception must have been drawning over the minds of our great thinkers. We have met with no better attempt to define our position as a people than the terse little couplet in the विष्णुपुराण:
उत्तरं यत् समुद्रस्य, हिमाद्रश्चैव दक्षिणम्।
वर्ष तद् भारतं नाम, भारती यत्र संतति।।
‘The land which is to the north of the sea and to the south of the Himalaya Mountain is named Bharata inhabited by the descendants of are Bharata.”
HOW NAMES ARE GIVEN:
But this new word भारतवर्ष could not altogether suppress our cradle name सिन्धु or हिन्दु nor could it make us forget the love we bore to that River of rivers – the सिन्धु at whose breast our Patriarchs and people had drunk the milk of life. Our frontier provinces which bordered the course of Indus still clung to their ancient name सिन्धुराष्ट्र. And throughout the Sanskrit literature we find सिन्धुसौवीर recognized as an integral and an important part of our body politic. In the great Mahabharata war the king of सिन्धुसौवीर figures prominently and is said to have been closely related to the Bharatas. Although the limits of the सिन्धुराष्ट्र shifted from time to time, yet the language that the people speak did then and does even now mark them out as a people by themselves from Multan to the sea, and the name सिन्धी which it bears is an emphatic reminder that all those who speak it are सिन्धु and are entitled to be recognized as a geographical and political unit in the commonwealth of our Indian people. Although the epithet भरतखण्ड succeeded in almost overshadowing the cradle name of our nation in India, yet the foreign nations seem to have cared little for it and as our frontier provinces continued to be known by their ancient name, so even our immediate neighbours – the Avestic Persians, the Jews, the Greeks and others clung to our ancient name सिन्धु or हिन्दु. They did not merely indicate the borderland of Indus by this term as in days gone by, but the whole nation into which the ancient सिन्धु by expansion and assimilation had grown. The Avestic Persians know us as Hindus, the Greeks dropping the harsh accent as Indos and through the Greeks almost all Europe and later on America as Hindus or Indians. Even Hsüan Tsang who lived so long with us persists in calling us शिन्तु or हिन्तु. Barring a few examples as that of Afghanistan being called as श्वेतभरत by the Parthians, very rarely indeed had the foreigners forgotten our cradle name or preferred the new one भारत to it. Down to this day the whole world knows us as ‘Hindus’ and our land as ‘Hindustan’ as if in fulfillment of the wishes of our Vedic fathers who were the first to make that choice.
But a name by its nature is determined not so much by what one likes to call oneself but generally by what others like to do. In fact a name is called into existence for this very purpose. Self is known to itself immutable and without a name or even without a form. But when it comes in contact or conflict with a non-self then alone it stands in need of a name if it wants to communicate with others or if others persist in communicating with it. It is a game that requires two to play at. If the world insists that a teacher or a wit must be handed down as an अष्टावक्र or a मुल्ला दोप्याजा well then he, in spite of his liking, is very likely to be remembered as such. If the name chosen by the world for us is not directly against our liking then it is yet more likely to shadow all other names. We might bear witness पागे, मजुमदार, पेशवे. But if the world hits upon the word by which they would know us as one redolent of our glory or our early love then that word is certain not only to shadow but to survive every other name we may have. This fact added to the circumstances which brought us first into contact and then into a fierce conflict with the world at large, soon enabled the epithet Hindu to assert itself once more and so vigorously as to push into the background even the well beloved name of भरतखण्ड itself.
DISCLAIMER: This work belongs to Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. It has been reproduced as a blog to convey his message to the readers of this blog in order to fight out the day in and day out abuse of Hindutva, the powerful philosophy, propounded by Savarkar himself.