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Hinduism is also referred as Vaidika Dharma, meaning "religion of the Vedas," in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Hinduism is not strictly a religion. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The original name of Hindu Dharma is Sanatana Dharma, or "universal religion." The underlying tenets of Hinduism cannot be easily defined. Unlike other religions, Hindu Dharma did not originate from a single person, a single book, or at a single point in time. The foundations of this oldest surviving religion were laid by ancient rishis (sages), who taught their disciples the eternal principles of life they had discovered through their meditations. Hindu Dharma is essentially a religion of principles rather than persons. Since Hinduism has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu. Statistically, there are over 800 million Hindus, concentrated mainly in India and Nepal.

Birth of Word 'Hindu'

Hindustan (Bharat / India) was the land that existed beyond the river Indus, and those that lived there were referred as Hindus. We can see clearly that the word Hindu was originally a secular word meant to define and distinguish people of the Indian subcontinent, rather than those practicing a particular religion.If we go by these ancient traditions, there is hardly any difference between a Hindu and an Indian. Both the words were corrupt forms of the original Sanskrit word 'Sindhu' meaning river in general and the Indus river in particular. The Greeks referred to those living in the subcontinent as 'Indos' while the Muslim scholars called them 'Hindus'.
There was however one particular difference. The Greek historians who called the subcontinent as 'Indos' hardly knew much about the religious activity of the region, while the Muslim scholars had some knowledge of the native traditions though not in complete detail.But they chose to describe the natives as Hindus to contrast them with the Muslims. The Europeans who came to India from the sixteenth century onwards followed the same tradition and referred the natives as Hindus to distinguish them from the non-Muslims. More than tradition perhaps it was convenience which prompted them to use the word 'Hindu' to describe the vast majority of the non-Muslim population of India.

The 'Hindoos' of British Raj

It is interesting to note that the Hindus never referred themselves as Hindus until modern times. The earliest reference to the word 'Hindu' is said to be found in the Gaudiya Vaishnava texts of the 16th century A.D. It was only during the 18th and 19th centuries that Hindus started accepting the word to describe their religious faith which stood in stark contrast to Christianity and Islam. The British, who were till then referring the natives variously as natives, baniyans, heathens, gentoos, etc, now started referring all the non-Muslim natives as 'Hindoos'.For the educated modern Hindu of that period the word was a very convenient way to establish his identity against the British as well as the native Muslims. For some time the word 'Hinduism' was used in a restricted sense, to designate the Vedic religion or Brahminism. But with the emergence of new reform movements, which played a very crucial role in restructuring and redefining the social and religious traditions of the country, the word came to encompass the entire religious tradition that originated from the Vedas and continued through centuries.

The Hindus may come from different regions, speak different languages, belong to different economic and social strata, may oppose each other politically, may not even like each other personally due to ideological or ethical or ethnic reasons, but they do not fail to experience the bond of a religious tradition that is common to them. They know clearly that the tradition that binds them together was before them and would remain forever after them.
This in essence what Hinduism is. It is a living tradition which communicates through the hearts, minds and spirits of its millions of adherents. The word 'Hindu' is very much secular in its origin and a typical Hindu is very much secular in his out look and attitude towards all religious faiths and living traditions.Hinduism incorporates an extraordinarily diverse range of beliefs and practices which aim to deliver salvation (moksha) to its devotees.

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