Section 2.01 Sanatana Dharma – A Narrow Version of Hinduism

In 2007 and 2008, FOIL and its affiliates like the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), Sabrang Communications Pvt. Ltd. and many others, attacked the US based Hindu youth organization called Hindu Students Council (HSC) in a libelous campaign that they claimed was based on ‘meticulous research’ from HSC’s own documents and statements from ‘Hindutva’ organizations.  The group’s claim was that the organization is hiding its extremist agenda and puts on a public façade of Hindu spirituality and pluralism.[1]  CSFH takes exception with HSC’s ‘definition’ Hinduism.

[HSC’s] promotion of Sanatana Dharma, with no mention that the deities being worshipped and the form of Hinduism being extolled is a narrow, version of Hinduism practiced by upper-caste Hindus who constitute less than a fifth of all Hindus, is one element that should set the alarm bells ringing for anyone who knows something about India and Hinduism, and so mars the otherwise liberal public image that HSC is attempting to project.[2]

Sanatana Dharma, as most Hindus know, is another name given to Hinduism.  Mahatma Gandhi, writing in Young India, on June 20, 1921, defines himself thus:

I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and all that goes by the name of Hindu scripture, and therefore in avataras and rebirth; I believe in the varnashrama dharma in a sense, in my opinion strictly Vedic but not in its presently popular crude sense; I believe in the protection of cow … I do not disbelieve in murti puja.[3]

Thus, Gandhi’s definition of a Hindu certainly included the concept of ‘Sanatana Dharma’ and that as a Hindu his practice was based on concepts of the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and all the Hindu scriptures.

Chinmaya Mission shares the following thoughts on the meaning of Hinduism:

Hinduism, more accurately referred to as Sanatana…The term Hindu was a misnomer used for the people who lived beyond the Sindhu River, and eventually the term Hinduism was coined to denote the Hindu residents of the Indian sub-continent.[4]

Swami Sivananda, the renowned founder of the The Divine Life Society, in his book All About Hinduism says Sanatana Dharma is “…the Eternal Religion, the Ancient Law….Hinduism is known as Sanatana Dharma”[5].  Swami Chidananda, the head of Parmarth Niketan and the force behind The Encyclopedia of Hinduism, puts the definition of Hinduism quite beautifully.  According to him, “Hinduism is a great tree of life…That tree is Sanatan Dharma.”[6]

The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Sanatana Dharma, as “the term used to denote the ‘eternal’ or absolute set of duties or religiously ordained practices incumbent upon all Hindus, regardless of class, caste, or sect”.[7]  Similarly Wikipedia mentions that “Hinduism is often referred to as Sanātana Dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning ‘the eternal law’) by its adherents.”[8]

Similarly, a cursory search of words “Sanatana Dharma” on Google and on popular online marketplaces like Amazon lead you to numerous website, articles and books that basically use the words “Sanatana Dharma” and “Hinduism” interchangeably.

One can’t help but wonder what FOIL and its affiliates know about India and Hinduism that others don’t.  Where are they getting their definition of Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism from?  Can all these experts, spiritual teachers, great personalities and sources of reference be wrong or portraying some ‘upper caste hegemonic view’?  The report on HSC doesn’t provide any references.


[1] Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, “Lying Religiously: The Hindu Students Council And The Politics Of Deception”, April 15, 2007, Page 7.  Accessed June 21, 2011

[2] Ibid., 10

[3] Subhamoy Das, “Gandhi on God & Religion”, About.com, http://hinduism.about.com/od/history/a/gandhiquotes.htm.  Accessed June 21, 2011

[4] Rupali Gupta, “Sanatana Dharma…a.k.a Hinduism”, Page 2, http://www.chinmayasaaket.org/articles/others/Sanatana_Dharma_aka_Hinduism.pdf.  Accessed June 21, 2011

[5] Sri Swami Sivananda, “ALL ABOUT HINDUISM”, The Divine Life Trust Society, 1999, World Wide Web Edition, http://www.dlshq.org/download/hinduismbk.htm, accessed June 21, 2011

[6] H.H. Swami Chidananda Saraswati, “UNITED WE STAND,
SURVIVE AND FLOURISH”, page 2, http://ihrf.com/bookSection/publications/unity.pdf, accessed June 21, 2011

[7] See definition of Sanatana Dharma on Britannica’s Online Edition at http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/665848/sanatana-dharma, accessed June 22, 2011

[8] See entry on Hinduism on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism, accessed June 22, 2011

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