Etymology of Hindu and Hindu nature

aklujkar at aklujkar at
Wed Jun 30 20:38:50 UTC 1993

        As Dominik Wujastyk points out, the etymology of Hindu from hin
etc. is a folk etymology (and I would add, not a folk etymology going back
to Vedic times but one stemming from quite a recent period of Indian
history), not different in scientific value, or absence thereof, from the
etymology of arhan/arhant etc. from ari + han etc. One need not doubt
either that the particular etymology was manufactured when propaganda was
felt to be the need. 
        Equally widely it should be recognized that the etymology of
Hindukush as 'Hindu-killer(s)' is most probably a folk etymology produced
in the days of aggressive Islam. 
        What I find unacceptable and unfortunate is the following part of 
Dominik's communication of  26 Jun 93: "As the history of "Hindus" from
Rigvedic warriors fighting the D[a]asas under Indra's banner through the
medieval fighting aakhaa.da[a]s to the Ayodhya mosque episode and the
current plans of the RSS and the BJP show, Hindus can be far from
"harmless".  Anyway, the idea of "harmlessness" and ahi.msaa arose and was
probably chiefly fostered amongst Buddhists and Jains. ...    
        First of all, how a people actually behave or have behaved
(assuming, for a moment, that Dominik is correct in his details and right
in being so trustful of the reconstructions given by historians and
political scientists) is not relevant at all in the context of the present
discussion.  What matters in the context of even the psuedo-etymology is
only how a certain section of the Hindus that coined the etymology has
perceived itself.  
        (I feel compelled to make this point because sometime last year
Dominik had, over this network, reproduced in its entirety  a newspaper
article on Hindu fundamentalism.  I think it is unfair to single out
Hinduism in this way for negative publicity, especially by recourse to an
article written by a non-specialist and without first creating the context
of scholarly discussion of fundamentalism etc. as a phenomenon (I may add, 
taking place, periodically, in all religions).  I would certainly be
unhappy if this becomes a common occurrence on the Indology network with
respect to any religion.) 
        Secondly, the obvious truth is that all religious groups have been
guilty of hi.msaa.  Dominik s remark can easily be (mis?)construed as
suggesting that somehow Hindus have a long or especially unquestionable
history of hi.msaa and thus less of a right to associate themselves with
absence of hi.msaa. This suggestion is not justified.  In fact, as
practically any objective specialist of Hinduism will attest,we cannot even
be sure if we should use the term Hindu in speaking of the earlier periods.
 Also, the possible suggestion in Dominik's remark runs counter to what is
suggested by a massive body of specialized scholarly writing on Hinduism,
whetherthis writing is done in the context of fundamentalism or outside of
it -- that Hinduism is still a relatively tolerant, non-violent, and,
largely or essentially a secular religion.  (This last (apparently)
contradictory phrase is not mine.  As far as I know, it comes from no less
an authority than Louis Renou). 
        Thirdly, while it is true that there is greater or more explicit
emphasis on ahi.msaa in Jainism and Buddhism, the notion that ahi.msaa was
a concept invented by those two religions is a product of earlier
simplistic historical reconstructions made by Indologists.  Such
reconstructions were inevitable in their periods (given the limited extent
of texts, linguistic expertise, and first-hand of knowledge of how Indian
religions are actually lived or practised). However, a time has certainly
arrived to  modify them or give them up.


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