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For many, the terms ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Sanātana Dharma’ are used interchangeably to refer to one of the world’s most ancient and complex religions. However, there’s a nuanced difference between them that’s crucial for a deeper understanding. In this post, we will delve into the distinctions between Hinduism and Sanātana Dharma, exploring their origins, meanings, and implications.

What is Sanātana Dharma?

The term ‘Sanātana Dharma’ is derived from Sanskrit, where ‘Sanātana’ means ‘eternal’ or ‘ageless’, and ‘Dharma’ can be translated to ‘duty’, ‘religion’, or ‘righteousness’. Thus, Sanātana Dharma essentially refers to the ‘eternal law’ or the ‘eternal order’. It represents the cosmic laws and order that have always been, and will always be, irrespective of time and space.

What is Hinduism?

Hinduism, as a term, has a more recent origin when compared to Sanātana Dharma. The term ‘Hindu’ was used by ancient Persians to describe the people living beyond the Indus River. Eventually, the practices, beliefs, and philosophies of these people were grouped under the umbrella term ‘Hinduism’. This term became more prominent during colonial times when the British sought to classify the diverse spiritual practices of the Indian subcontinent.

Distinguishing the two:

  1. Origins and Evolution: Sanātana Dharma is an indigenous concept rooted in the spiritual and philosophical traditions of ancient India. It encompasses the eternal principles that the universe operates upon. Hinduism, on the other hand, is a classification born out of geographical, cultural, and later, colonial contexts, to describe the diverse religious practices of the Indian subcontinent.
  2. Scope: Sanātana Dharma is a broader concept that denotes the timeless cosmic laws and principles, while Hinduism refers to the varied religious, cultural, and philosophical practices that originated or evolved in the Indian subcontinent. While all of Hinduism’s teachings can be said to align with Sanātana Dharma, not everything under Sanātana Dharma is strictly ‘Hindu’.
  3. Inclusivity: Sanātana Dharma does not identify with any particular deity, scripture, or ritual. It’s the overarching cosmic order. Hinduism, however, has myriad deities, scriptures, practices, and rituals. It’s a diverse religion with various sects and schools of thought.
  4. Cultural Vs Cosmic: While Sanātana Dharma is about the eternal truths and orders of the cosmos, Hinduism is as much cultural as it is spiritual. It’s entwined with the history, art, and traditions of the Indian subcontinent.

Is Hinduism the same as Sanātana Dharma? – A conclusion:

In essence, Hinduism can be viewed as a manifestation or interpretation of Sanātana Dharma suited to the historical, cultural, and spiritual context of the Indian subcontinent. While they are closely related and often used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the depth and breadth of each term to appreciate the richness of the spiritual and cultural tapestry they represent.