Inevitably online when I refer to myself as a Hindu someone is ready to tell me that that word is incorrect.
“Hinduism” they say is a word invented by the British. “Hinduism” others say refers to people who live along the Indus river and cannot refer to me. You should be using Sanatana Dharma they tell me.
If it comes up in conversation I may tell people that the real word for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma but in my day to day life I identify with the word “Hindu” and that’s what I call myself.
Because the people around me have at least heard of it and are able to remember the word. For a while before I identified as Hindu I told people I was an Advaita Vedantist if asked my religion. The problem with that was I then had to spend an hour explaining what Advaita is to people who only had a passing curiosity about my religious affiliation. Plus the people I was talking to couldn’t say the words and so could never remember what it was I had called myself.
Things got a whole lot simpler when I stared using the word “Hindu” instead.
People may not have an in-depth knowledge of what that means, but they knew it came from India and they had some context they could place it in.
My collegue here at Patheos, Padma Kuppa, has also addressed this issue with a lovely post: Call Me Hindu. Her last paragraph sums up another great reason not to be afraid to use the word “Hindu”:
As Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet . . .”—whatever phrase you choose to call it or the person whose beliefs are derived from it, it has some pretty amazing things to offer such as pluralism, yoga, and Vedanta. Maybe those who are uncomfortable with the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” will realize that the only way to dispel these misunderstandings and foster an awareness of its value is by accepting the terms and explaining them correctly.
There’s a saying that the horse has already left the stable. It’s too late now to go back and prevent the words “Hindu” and “Hinduism” from being the ones associated with our religion. Those are the words, like it or not, that refer to what we are. So, as Ms. Kuppa says, it is time to take hold of those words and teach people what they really mean.