Define “Hindu”: A Judicial Definition

Posted on February 27, 2007

In trying to understand what makes a Hindu a Hindu, I have come across various explanations of the defining characteristics of hindus and Hinduism. Unlike Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or any of the “modern” religions, there is no one list of commandments, or basic tenets, or “pillars”, or even “rules of living” that one has to follow, that defines what makes a Hindu a Hindu. In this respect, Hinduism is not an “organized” religion – speaking very literally. I intend to examine what being a Hindu is all about in a series of articles, written whenever I have time to organize my thoughts. When I done with the series, I will create a list that links to all the articles in the series, and write a summary. This is part of the series, “Define Hinduism”.

Today we look at the judicial definition of “Hindu”.

The Supreme Court of India defines the qualities of a Hindu in the ruling of the case, “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal“. The full text of the ruling is available here. The case was regarding declaring Ramakrishna Mission as a non-Hindu, minority religion, under the Indian constitution. So without further ado, here is the relavant portion of the proceedings, which defines the characteristics of a “Hindu”:

The Court Identifies Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism and by extension Hindus:

  1. Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.
  2. Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that
    truth was many-sided.
  3. Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless
    succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.
  4. Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.
  5. Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.
  6. Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.
  7. Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as
    such.

Read that last one again. I was left wondering if that did not annul the first six :) Hinduism is really difficult to define. So then, how do you convey a whole picture of what it is to be a Hindu? You present all the facts and thoughts, you provide access to history, and you let the other person form a picture for himself. Given the vast streams of thought in Hinduism – his picture will fit into what Hinduism is. I consider my idea of Hinduism conveyed if the recipient understands that there is no one definition, and also understands the spirit of Hinduism. I think Hinduism is the longest surviving “natural” or “pagan” religion.

Commentary is cheap, and I shall contribute no more cheap junk to this post. In the coming articles in this series, I will try to define Hinduism from various different angles, hoping to let you gain the perspective and 3-dimensional depth that viewing it from different angles will provide!

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35 Comments so far
  1. ST February 28, 2007 6:29 am

    You have the potential to make this a good blog – focus on the human aspect, and tell me what it feels like for you – being a hindu. I am fascinated by this religion that defies definition.

    Good luck.

  2. Karma Margi February 28, 2007 8:30 am

    Thank you, ST. I hope I don’t let you down…

  3. Abhi February 28, 2007 10:46 pm

    People may define the religion Hinduism. But is Santana Dharma (Hinduism) a religion in the conventional sense. Words fail to capture the true essence of certain aspects and such aspects are to be experienced. The true essence of Hinduism is to be experienced and not to be captured in words – which in reality is a futile effort.

  4. moughera December 11, 2008 11:54 am

    well as far as i believe that the word “hindu” is a geographic term, defined as a person, a citizen residing inside the boundries of “hindustan”, regardles of the fact of having any cast or any religion. the actual term used for a person having belief in vedas, puranas, and the hindu philosophy should be the “vedantist” the beliver of the vedas. the term “hindu” was actually used for the very first time by the arabs when they came here in india, and also by the greeks the called this land the hindustan after the name of the indus river, when the alexander the great came here and was told about the river “indus” he could not pronounce the word correctly so instead the word indus the word came out of his mouth was “hindoos”. the words used by the greeks and the arabs could be some what similar.

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  6. Manik Ghoshal July 30, 2010 1:02 pm

    I believe all the religions of India can be collectively called Hinduism. The word Hindu is from the name Sindhu, and Sindhu Sabhyata (Indus civilisation) where the Vedic religion is believed to have been born and spread all over the world along with the Indo-European languages mnore than 5000 years ago. One of the earliest mention of the name of India in Western History was Megasthenes (350-290 BCE), a renowned Greek intellectual and a close friend of the Emperor Seleucus Nicator, who was sent him as an Ambassador to the court of Chandragupta (Ashoka’s grandfather) around 305 BCE. He wrote a book on Indian History and religion which was entitled ‘ta Indika’. From his work we also learn a great deal about Alexander’s invasion of India around 350 BCE. Therefore the name India is more than 1000 years before even the birth of Islam and Muhammad, leave aside the Persian-Mughals. So let us not even imagine that the Mughals named our great country. Before the Greeks came India may have been referred to as Sind, from Sindhu (Indus) River.

    In the Old Testament (1500 BCE) there are names like Tharshish and Ophir which are believed to be regions of India, around the river Indus. The whole of India was united as early as 250 BCE, which is 250 years before Christ was born, by Ashoka the Great, from Assam to Afghanistan, Kashmir to Tamil-Nadu, as one country. It was probably called Bharat then.

    As for the definition of a Hindu, I would define him as someone who is proud of India, Indian culture, Indian arts, Indian ancient history, Indian ancient Kings and Kingdoms, philosophy, Epics (Ramayana & Mahabharata), languages, literatures, customs and traditions etc, and overtly proud of and supporter of Foreign invaders who conquered India from the Western frontier, causing untold sufferings and bloodshed, and tried to impose a Middle-Eastern or Western culture in our lands.

  7. Manik Ghoshal July 30, 2010 1:07 pm

    I believe all the religions of India can be collectively called Hinduism. The word Hindu is from the name Sindhu, and Sindhu Sabhyata (Indus civilisation) where the Vedic religion is believed to have been born and spread all over the world along with the Indo-European languages mnore than 5000 years ago. One of the earliest mention of the name of India in Western History was by Megasthenes (350-290 BCE), a renowned Greek intellectual and a close friend of the Emperor Seleucus Nicator, who sent him as an Ambassador to the court of Chandragupta (Ashoka’s grandfather) around 305 BCE. He wrote a book on Indian History and religion which was entitled ‘ta Indika’. From his work we also learn a great deal about Alexander’s invasion of India around 350 BCE. Therefore the name India is more than 1000 years before even the birth of Islam and Muhammad, leave aside the Persian-Mughals. So let us not even imagine that the Mughals named our great country. Before the Greeks came India may have been referred to as Sind, from Sindhu (Indus) River.

    In the Old Testament (1500 BCE) there are names like Tharshish and Ophir which are believed to be regions of India, around the river Indus. The whole of India was united as early as 250 BCE, which is 250 years before Christ was born, by Ashoka the Great, from Assam to Afghanistan, Kashmir to Tamil-Nadu, as one country. It was probably called Bharat then.

    As for the definition of a Hindu, I would define him as someone who is proud of India, Indian culture, Indian arts, Indian ancient history, Indian ancient Kings and Kingdoms, philosophy, Epics (Ramayana & Mahabharata), languages, literatures, customs and traditions etc, and not overtly proud or supporter of Foreign invaders who conquered India from the Western frontier, causing untold sufferings and bloodshed, and tried to impose a Middle-Eastern or Western culture in our lands.

  8. Nitto April 8, 2011 11:06 pm

    Who belive vedic Philosophy either within Indian boundary or not he/she is Hindu( even Hindu word been derived from geological location but now its already used for specific relijion” hindu”).Any kind of Indian phillosophy beliver will be treated as of Hindu such as you follow Indian Yoga, you will be treat as of Hindu, you like Indian meditation you are hindu.

    Though Hindu word devired from Location but now its not limited within its boundary.So anyone who belive any part of Indian philosophy he /she is hindu

  9. nikhil pitale April 29, 2012 3:30 am

    Hindus, according to Veer Savarkar, are those who consider India to be the land in which their ancestors lived, as well as the land in which their religion originated. He advocates the creation of a Hindu state in that sense.Hinduism is not a religion but its a way of life.Savarkar defines a ‘Hindu’ thus:

    ?????? ????? ???????? ???? ?????????? ?
    ??????: ???????????? ? ?? ????????? ?????: ?

    “Everyone who regards and claims this Bharatbhumi from the Indus to the Seas as his Fatherland and Holyland is a Hindu”

  10. j n vats September 4, 2012 4:12 am

    The definition as mentioned is in the nature of Characterstics describing the Hindu . According to me the Hindu means a person who believes in the nature God, something which governs this whole universe, is not cruel in nature, respect the elders,live like a good citizen,believes in five GURUS i e MAA,FATHER,TEACHER, KUL GURU AND PARAMBRAHAM .
    A Hindu should believe in Bhagawat Gita, Karam Yog,this is immaterial whether he worship which God or Idol. If a person cannot respect his parents, teachers, eleders he cannot be a Hindu.

  11. Raj December 23, 2012 7:22 am

    Item 7 allows non-believers or agnostics and atheists. I think it is called charvaka belief in 16+ darsanas of hindu philasophy, We need item 7 to accommodate those with no belief but born in Hindu land.

    It is nice to know that court has provided this definition.

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