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Hindu ( pronunciation (help·info)) can refer to either a religious or cultural identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. In common use today, it refers to an adherent of Hinduism. However, in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" has been used in places to denote persons professing any religion originated in India (i.e. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism or Sikhism). Further, the terms Hindu or Hindi are also used as a cultural identity to denote people living on the other side of the Indus river, thus poets like Iqbal, ministers like M.C.Chagla and organisations like the RSS used the terms Hindu and Hindi to represent any person living on the other side of the Indus river, irrespective of religion.
The word Hindu is derived (through Persian) from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan and Northern India).[a] According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term Hindu first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)". The term Hindu then was a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.[b]
The term Hindu was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450). The Hindu religion (dharma) was set in apposition with Islam (turaka dharma) by poets such as Vidyapati, Kabir and Eknath. 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata also made similar comparisons. Towards the end of the 18th century, the European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus. The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.
With more than a billion adherents, Hinduism is the world's third largest religion after Christianity and Islam. The vast majority of Hindus, approximately 940 million, live in India. Other countries with large Hindu populations include Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, United States, Fiji, United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada and the island of Bali in Indonesia.
In origin, Hinduš was Old Persian name of the Indus River, cognate with Sanskrit word Sindhu. By about 2nd - 1st century BCE, the term "Hein-tu" was used by Chinese, for referring to North Indian people. The Persian term was loaned into Arabic as al-Hind referring to the land of the people who live across river Indus, and into Greek as Indos, whence ultimately English India.
The notion of grouping the indigenous religions of India under a single umbrella term Hindu emerges as a result of various invasions in India bringing forth non-indigenous religions such as Islam to the Indian Subcontinent Numerous Muslim invaders, such as Nader Shah, Mahmud of Ghazni, Ahmad Shāh Abdālī, Muhammad Ghori, Babur and Aurangzeb, destroyed Hindu temples and persecuted Hindus; some, such as Akbar, were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva and Chaitanya. Followers of the Bhakti Movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards what they believed as the more accessible Avatars, especially Krishna and Rama.
Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 18th century by Sir William Jones and 19th century, by scholars such as Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. At the same time, societies such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society attempted to reconcile and fuse Abrahamic and Dharmic philosophies, endeavouring to institute societal reform. This period saw the emergence of movements which, while highly innovative, were rooted in indigenous tradition. They were based on the personalities and teachings of individuals, as with Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Prominent Hindu philosophers, including Aurobindo and Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, attracting followers and attention in India and abroad.
Others, such as Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Chinmoy, B.K.S. Iyengar and Swami Rama, have also been instrumental in raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West. Today modern movements, such as ISKCON and the Swaminarayan Faith, attract a large amount of followers across the world.
The diverse set of religious beliefs, traditions and philosophies of the Hindus are the product of an amalgamation process that began with the decline of Buddhism in India (5th-8th Century), where traditions of Vedic Brahmanism and the mystical schools of Vedanta were combined with Shramana traditions and regional cults to give rise to the socio-religious and cultural sphere later described as "Hinduism".
Adi Shankara's commentaries on the Upanishads led to the rise of Advaita Vedanta, the most influential sub-school of Vedanta. Hinduism continues to be divided in numerous sects and denominations, of which Vaishnavism and Shaivism are by far the most popular. Other aspects include folk and conservative Vedic Hinduism. Since the 18th century, Hinduism has accommodated a host of new religious and reform movements, with Arya Samaj being one of the most notable Hindu revivalist organizations.
Due to the wide diversity in the beliefs, practices and traditions encompassed by Hinduism, there is no universally accepted definition on who a Hindu is, or even agreement on whether the term Hinduism represents a religious, cultural or socio-political entity. In 1995, Chief Justice P. B. Gajendragadkar was quoted in an Indian Supreme Court ruling:
Thus some scholars argue that the Hinduism is not a religion per se but rather a reification of a diverse set of traditions and practices by scholars who constituted a unified system and arbitrarily labeled it Hinduism. The usage may also have been necessitated by the desire to distinguish between "Hindus" and followers of other religions during the periodic census undertaken by the colonial British government in India. Other scholars, while seeing Hinduism as a 19th-century construct, view Hinduism as a response to British colonialism by Indian nationalists who forged a unified tradition centered on oral and written Sanskrit texts adopted as scriptures.
While Hinduism contains both "uniting and dispersing tendencies", it also has a common central thread of philosophical concepts (including dharma, moksha and samsara), practices (puja, bhakti etc.) and cultural traditions. These common elements originated (or were codified within) the Vedic, Upanishad and Puranic scriptures and epics. Thus a Hindu could:
The Republic of India is in the peculiar situation that the Supreme Court of India has repeatedly been called upon to define "Hinduism" because the Constitution of India, while it prohibits "discrimination of any citizen" on grounds of religion in article 15, article 30 foresees special rights for "All minorities, whether based on religion or language". As a consequence, religious groups have an interest in being recognized as distinct from the Hindu majority in order to qualify as a "religious minority". Thus, the Supreme Court was forced to consider the question whether Jainism is part of Hinduism in 2005 and 2006. In the 2006 verdict, the Supreme Court found that the "Jain Religion is indisputably not a part of the Hindu Religion".
In 1995, while considering the question "who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion", the Supreme Court of India highlighted Bal Gangadhar Tilak's formulation of seven defining features of Hinduism:
Some thinkers have attempted to distinguish between the concept of Hinduism as a religion, and a Hindu as a member of a nationalist or socio-political class. In Hindu nationalism, the term "Hindu" combines notions of geographical unity, common culture and common race. Thus, Veer Savarkar in his influential pamphlet "Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?" defined a Hindu as a person who sees India "as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land, that is, the cradle land of his religion". This conceptualization of Hinduism, has led to establishment of Hindutva as the dominant force in Hindu nationalism over the last century.
Hinduism, its religious doctrines, traditions and observances are very typical and inextricably linked to the culture and demographics of India. Hinduism has one of the most ethnically diverse bodies of adherents in the world. It is hard to classify Hinduism as a religion because the framework, symbols, leaders and books of reference that make up some of the world's other religions are not uniquely identified in the case of Hinduism. As one of the oldest religions in the world, it is not clearly known exactly when it originated; some estimates put it around 5000 years old. Most commonly it can be seen as a "way of life" which gives rise to many other forms of religions.
Large tribes and communities indigenous to India are closely linked to the synthesis and formation of Hindu civilization. People of East Asian roots living in the states of north eastern India and Nepal were also a part of the earliest Hindu civilization. Immigration and settlement of people from Central Asia and people of Indo-Greek heritage have brought their own influence on Hindu society.
The roots of Hinduism in southern India, and among tribal and indigenous communities is just as ancient and fundamentally contributive to the foundations of the religious and philosophical system.
Ancient Hindu kingdoms arose and spread the religion and traditions across Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Nepal, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, and what is now central Vietnam. A form of Hinduism particularly different from Indian roots and traditions is practiced in Bali, Indonesia, where Hindus form 90% of the population. Indian migrants have taken Hinduism and Hindu culture to South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other countries in and around the Indian Ocean, and in the nations of the West Indies and the Caribbean.