When you ask an Indian what the word Hindu means, you will get many different answers, because the term doesn’t have a universally-accepted definition. Most Indians define it as a religious term, but in truth, it is more of a geographical reference. Its meaning is further confused by the fact that it is not mentioned anywhere in the most ancient of Hindu scriptures. For example, the country of India was called “Sapta Sindhu” in the scriptures, meaning “the Country of the Seven Rivers”. In this context, Sindhu was used to define all rivers in general, not just the Indus River ( the greatest river on the western side of Southeast Asia,)
Over time, many peoples passed through this fertile land. Some moved on, some settled and intermingled with the existing inhabitants, and some occupied it and established themselves as its new rulers.
When the Persians arrived, they mispronounced the name of this great country, because they couldn’t pronounce the sound S. As a result, Sapta Sindhu became known as Hapta Hindu. Then, when the great Macedonian (Greek) ruler, King Alexander, entered India with an eye to conquer, he shortened the name from Hapta Hindu to Hindu.
The word Hindu went through more altercations before it settled on the word we use today: India. Hindu became the term used to describe the people who lived in the Country of the Seven Rivers.
- By Neelam Wadhwani