Q1. What does “Hindu” mean?
A. The word Hindu is not very old as it does not appear in Hindu scriptures. There are many interesting stories about its origin. Many historians believe that the early Hindu civilization developed along the banks of the river Sindhu in India (now in Pakistan). The most popular theory is that the word Hindu is a distorted version of the word Sindhu. It is believed that the ancient Persians, who lived on the other side of the river Sindhu, pronounced the letter `S’ as `H’. Hence, the word Sindhu became Hindu, and the Persians referred to the ancient Indians living on the opposite side of the Sindhu River as Hindus. However, a Sanskrit verse in the ancient Hindu writings, Birhanaradi Purana, contradicts the Persian origin theory. According to this verse, the word Hindu is a combination of the first letter “Hi” of Himalayas and the last compound letter “ndu” of the word Bindu. It refers to India as Hindusthan, a country lying between the Himalayan mountains and Bindu Sarover (Cape Commorin Sea).
Q2. What was the original name of Hinduism?
A. Hinduism was originally known as Dharma. It is also called Sanatan Dharma; the word Sanatan means eternal.
Q3. What is the meaning of “Dharma”?
A. In the English language, there is no single word which describes the true and complete meaning of Dharma, although it is usually translated as religion. Dharma comes from the Sanskrit word “Dhr” which literally means to hold or to sustain. Virtues, beliefs, moral obligations, ethical laws, codes of behaviour, traditions and righteous actions that sustain human life in peace and harmony are all aspects of Dharma.
Q4. How old is Hinduism?
A. Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion. It predates recorded history. Hinduism is the first religion of humankind.
Q5. Who founded Hinduism?
A. Hinduism has no founder. It does not owe its existence to a specific prophet. It is based on divine revelations experienced by a series of sages, called Rishis, while they were in intense meditation. The divine knowledge received by the Rishis is contained in the four sacred books called the Vedas. The word Veda means knowledge, as the Vedas are the root and fountainhead of all knowledge. That is why Hinduism is also known as Vedic Dharma.
Q6. If Hinduism was not founded by a particular prophet, who were Rama and Krishna?
A. A large majority of Hindus believe in the concept of Avtara, which means one who descends or comes down. They believe that God comes down to earth in human form, whenever righteousness declines and wickedness is rampant, thus threatening the existence of God-loving, virtuous, people. Hindus consider Rama and Krishna as Avatars (the incarnation of God) who destroyed wickedness, and re-established righteousness by exemplifying ideal human behaviour. Hinduism pre-existed Rama and Krishna. Some sects of Hinduism do not believe that God does or has to take human form. Instead, God sends special messengers with superhuman powers to re-establish righteousness. Rama, Krishna, Moses, Christ, Buddha and Mohammed are regarded as such messengers of God.