In Shastri Yagnapurushdasji v. Muldas Bhundardas Vaishya, AIR 1966 SC 1119 a Constitution Bench of this Court was required to consider the question whether the Bombay High Court was right in holding that Swaminarayan Sampradaya sect to which the appellants before the Court belonged is not a religion distinct and separate from the Hindu religion. In that context, Gajendragadkar, C. J.who spoke for the Bench considered the questions eleborately as to who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, thus:
“(27) Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our enquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of the word ‘Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst Indologists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word ‘Hindu’ is derived from the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. ‘That part of great Aryan race’, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia, through the mountain passes into India, settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called the Indus). The Perisian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brethren Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persian, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus ‘Indoi’.
(28) The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described ‘Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p. 686). As Dr. Radhakrishnan has observed:’The Hindu civilization is so-called, since its original founders or earliest followers occupies the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab. This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p. 12]. That is the genesis of the word ‘Hindu’.
(29) When we think of the Hindu religion, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it. Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performance; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.
(30) Confronted by this difficulty, Dr. Radhakrishnan realised that to many Hinduism seems to be a name without any content. Is it a museum of beliefs, a medley or rites, or a mere map, a geographical expression (The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p. 11)?. Having posed these questions which disturbed foreigners when they think of Hinduism , Dr. Radhakrishnan has explained how Hinduism has steadily absorbed the customs and ideas of peoples with whom it has come into contact and has thus been able to maintain its supremacy and its youth. The term ‘Hindu’, according to Dr. Radhakrishnan, had originally a territorial and not a credal significance. It implies residence in a well defined geographical area. Aboriginal tribes, savage and half-civilized people, the cultured Dravidians and the Vedic Aryans were all Hindus as they were the sons of the same mother. The Hindu thinkers reckoned it the striking fact that the men and women dwelling in India belonged to different communities, worshiped different gods, and practiced different rites (The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p. 12) (Kurma Purana).
(31) Monier Williams has observed that it must be borne in mind that Hinduism is far more than a mere form of theism resting on Brahmanism. It presents for our investigation a complex congeries of creeds and doctrines which in its gradual accumulation may be compared to the gathering together of the mighty volume of the Ganges, swollen by a continual influx of tributary rivers and rivulets, spreading itself over an ever-increasing area of country, and finally resolving itself into an intricate Delta of tortuous streams and jungly marshes… The Hindu religion is a reflection of the composite character of the Hindus, who are not one people but many. It is based on the idea of universal receptivity. It has ever aimed at accommodating itself to circumstances, and has carried on the process of adaptation through more than three thousand years. It has first borne with and then, so to speak, swallowed, digested, and assimilated something from all creeds (Religious Thought and Life in India by Monier Williams, p. 57).’…”
Dealing with broad sweep of the Hindu philosophic concept, it has been stated thus:
(33) The monistic idealism which can be said to be the general distinguishing feature of Hindu Philosophy has been expressed in four different forms:(1) Non-dualism or Advaitism; (2) Pure monism, (3) Modified monism; and (4) Implicit monism. It is remarkable that these different forms of monistic idealism purport to derive support from the same Vedic and Upanishadic texts. Shankar, Ramanuja, Vallabha and Madhva all based their philosophic concepts on what they regarded to be the synthesis between the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagvad Gita. Though philosophic concepts and principles evolved by different Hindu thinkers and philosophers varied in many ways and even appeared to conflict with each other in some particulars, they all had reverence for the past and accepted the Vedas as sole foundation of the Hindu philosophy. Naturally enough, it was realised by Hindu religion from the very beginning of its career that truth was many-sided and different views contained different aspects of truth which on one could fully express. This knowledge inevitably bred a spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view. That is how the several views set forth in India are considered to be the branches of the self-same tree. The short cuts and blind alleys are somehow reconciled with the main road of advance to the truth (ibid, p. 48).’ When we consider this broad sweep of the Hindu philosophic concepts, it would be realised that under Hindu philosophy, there is no scope for ex-communicating any notion or principle as heritable and rejecting it as such.”
Thereafter, the basic concepts of Hindu religion, are stated thus:
(35) …The first amongst these basic concepts is the acceptance of the Veda as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters. This concept necessarily implies that all the systems claim to have drawn their principles from a common reservoir of thought enshrined in the Veda. The Hindu teachers were thus obliged to use the heritage they received from the past in order to make their views readily understood. The other basic concept which is common to the six system of Hindu philosophy is that all of them accept the view of the great world rhythm. Vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession. This theory is not inconsistent with belief in progress:for it is not a question of the movement of the world reaching its goal times without number, and being again forced back to its starting-point. ….it means that the race of man enters up and retravels its ascending path of realization. This interminable succession of world ages has no beginning (Indian Philosophy by Dr. Radhakrishnan, Vol. II, p.26).’ It may also be said that all the systems of Hindu philosophy belief in rebirth and pre-existence. ‘Our life is a step on a road, the direction and goal of which are lost in the infinite. On this road, death is never an end or an obstacle but at most the beginning of new steps (Indian Philosophy by Dr. Radhakrishnan, Vol. II, p. 27).’ Thus, it is clear that unlike other religious and religious creeds, Hindu religion is not tied to any definite set of philosophic concepts as such.”
- Adverting to the question whether Hindus worship at their temples the same set or number of gods, it has been observed thus:
“(36) …Indeed, there are certain sections of the Hindu community which do not believe in the worship of idols; and as regards those sections of the Hindu community which believe in the worship of idols, their idols differ from community to community and it cannot be said that one definite idol or a definite number of idols are worshiped by all the Hindus in general. in the Hindu Pantheon the first gods that they worshipped in Vedic times were mainly Indra, Varuna, Vayu and Agni. Later, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh came to be worshipped. In course of time, Rama and Krishna secured a place of pride in the Hindu Pantheon, and gradually as different philosophic concepts held sway in different sects and in different sections of gods were added, with the result that today the Hindu Pantheon presents the spectacle of a very large number of gods who are worshipped by different sections of the Hindu.”
However, dealing with the development of the Hindu religion and philosophy from time to time, it is observed thus:
“(37) The development of Hindu religion and philosophy shows that from time to time saints and religious reformers attempted to remove from the Hindu thought and practices elements or corruption and superstition and that led to the formation of different sects. Buddha started Buddhism; Mahavir founded Jainism; Basava became the founder of Lingayat religion, Dhyaneshwar and Tukaram initiated the Varakari cult; Guru Nanak inspired Sikhism, Dayananda founded Arya Samaj, and Chaitanaya became Bhakti cult; and as a result of the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, Hindu religion flowered into its most attractive progressive and dynamic form. If we study the teachings of these saints and religious reformers, we would notice an amount of divergence in their respective views; but underneath that divergence,there is a kind of subtle indescribable unity which keeps them within the sweep of the broad and progressive Hindu religion.”
Ultimately, reference is made to the working formula evolved by Tilak and is found to be adequate and satisfactory formula. That working formula is quoted thus:
“Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and realisation of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion. (B. G. Tilak’s Gitarahasya).”
N.B-The above definition is a judicial construction and may not properly describe the Hindu Religion, which is different from the connotation of ‘Sanatan Dharma’