Hinduism once dominated
Indochina wherein the Ankor Wat temple complex abounds with Hindu
temples. Vietnam was a Hindu country up into the seventeenth
century. Afghanistan was dominated by Hinduism into the tenth
century. Hindu influence existed in Persia, Central Asia and the
Middle East, not only by Hindu traders but with Hindu converts. Even
a number of ancient Greeks became Hindus.
The name Hinduism is a
misnomer and a foreign invention. It goes back to the ancient
Persians who called the land of India, the land of the Hindus as
they contacted India through the Indus river, the western most large
river of India. The Sanskrit name of the Indus, Sindhu, gave rise to
both Indus (and India) and Hindu (the Persians pronounced Sindhu as
Hindu). Hinduism is thus a geographical term. It does not define the
Hindu religion but simply identifies the region from which Western
cultures have contacted it.
The term Hindu cannot be
found in any of the classical texts of Hinduism. It is nowhere in
the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, or the classical books on
Yoga. Hindu texts do not contain the idea of different religious
identities but only of a common human religious aspiration. As
Sanatana Dharma or the universal tradition, Hinduism does not need
to represent itself as one religious identity as opposed to others.
If we live in the ocean, for example, do we have to give water a
name? It is only those who live on different rivers that must give
their water a special name. Hinduism has never separated itself off
from the universal truth and formulated itself as one point of view
regarded as exclusively true.