Hinduism is one of the oldest and one of the most popular religions in the world. There are almost 800 million Hindus in India alone and several millions more reside in countries all over the world. In spite of the large number of followers, Hinduism is not well understood by the non-Hindu population of the world. One reason for this is that the existing literature on Hinduism presents a complicated and sometimes apparently inconsistent picture of the religion.
The word Hindu is relatively modern and is derived from the word Sindhu which means red. The Arabs called the Sindhu river the Indus river since they could not pronounce the S-sound. Thus, the people west of the Sindhu river came to be known as the Hindus and the country got its name India. The original name for the country was Bharata Varsha – the land of Bharata, the king who ruled the country in ancient times. The true name of the religion is Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana means ancient and eternal. Dharma means moral duty. The word Sanatana Dharma connotes a Universal Way of Life for all living entities.
Hinduism is unique because it is not founded by a messiah or a guru. Hindus believe that the Creator created both the Universe and the Knowledge about it simultaneously. The seers, called Rishis, obtained this Knowledge of Divine Law directly from God. Another characteristic of Hinduism is that it is not formally organized under any human’s authority. The religious authority has to be earned by one’s own piety and spiritual dedication.