Sanatan in Sanskrit and many other Indian languages mean permanent and eternal. Hindu religion has no fixed beginning. It was not started by any single person and its scriptures have not been written by any single individual. In fact Hinduism does not have a single comparable holy book like Bible, Koran or Guru Granth Sahib. The religion has evolved over many millenniums and its scripture have been written over the similar period. Hindu religion is said to have started with the first civilisation itself. The Hinduism today is different from say at the time of great epic of Mahabharat, however, its guiding principle are still the same. It is changing, adapting to modern times without radically different from the ancient times. Hinduism is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary religion. We will examine its main scriptures and lawgivers at a later stage.
Hinduism is a relatively new term. In its ancient scriptures, the religion is never mentioned as Hinduism. Many theories abound of its origin. The Vedic religion was practised in the plains of Indus river valley. There is the mention of this river in ancient scriptures. The name mentioned in scriptures is Sindhu. Indus is the western mispronunciation of Sindhu. The civilisation around the Indus valley basin became known as the Hindu civilisation. Even today the province of Sindh exists in modern Pakistan.
The scripture also mentions oceans as Sindhu. The land spread between Himalayas and Indian Ocean became known as Hindustan. And its residents became known as Hindus by the British, although at that time Islam has spread widely in India. Another theory is that the ancient Hindu civilisation developed between Hindukush mountains (now in Afghanistan) and Sindhu river valley before spreading eastwards on the gigantic plains of modern day India. Combination of two words may have resulted in one word, Hindu.
Hindu civilisation has spread from Afghanistan in the west to the Vietnam in the east, Himalayas on the north to Indonesia in the south. Today, Hindus are spread and settled in every corner and every country of the world.
What is Dharma? Is it religion? Not according to the ancient scriptures. In Sanskrit, Dharma is defined as the good and acceptable behaviour. One that is accepted. Over the centuries, the good part remains the same but the acceptable part changes. Polygamy was acceptable in the time of Lord Ram and Lord Krishna and is now unacceptable. But the good has stood the test of the time and remained the same. We will see the guiding principle of Hinduism at later stage. Lord Shree Krishna describes Dharma as virtuous behaviour of the great and pious sages (Gita; Ch. 3; Vs 22-23). Lord Swaminarayan describes Dharma as virtuous behaviour attested by the holy scriptures (Shikshapatri; V 104). According to Hinduism the Dharma is not just observing some rituals, but conducting one’s behaviour that is not detrimental to others and the society at the large. Religion has grown around Dharma and not the other way round. From the ancient to the modern times, Hinduism has always emphasised virtues over the rituals (Gita; Ch.12; Vs 13-15). Even austerity or charity performed to inflict harm on others is called demonic in Gita (Ch. 17; Vs 19 & 22).