“What‟s in a name?” asks an old saying, but the notion that a name is not necessarily synonymous with an identity has not stopped the western scholars of India initially from engaging in lengthy debates regarding the names given to particular peoples or religious practices. While naming “races” of peoples of India, and connecting the races to languages of India, occupied much of the early discourse on Indian ethnic identity, the current academic discourse centers on the use of the term “Hindu,” an umbrella term meant to identify and group the peoples associated with the indigenous religious and cultural systems of India. The conversation about the use of this term and what the term represents takes up more space in post- colonial studies than any other issue related to India or Indian history, culture, and identity.
The debate about how to classify the religion(s) of India is currently discussed without much agreement among scholars, leading to a rift; there are those who argue that “Hinduism” appropriately identifies an indigenous Indian socio-religious and cultural sphere, and there are those who argue that the purported “Hindu” identity is nothing more than a construct, existing only in the imagination of the West, conveniently but erroneously grouping a wide diversity of beliefs, practices, and traditions into a single, supposed entity. The subject of whether or not the term Hinduism legitimately refers to a religion has raged in Western academia for the last decade and continues to inspire publications.
Several scholars had demonstrated the use of the term Hinduism historically in India to denote religion of India, as well as contradicted superfluous arguments by several scholars of Hinduism, who argue Hinduism is a colonial construct. Scholars argue that Hinduism was known by that name as early as fifth century, which was used consistently to refer to the religious practice consistently until twelfth century. Then it is not hard to imagine what may have happened since twelfth century, and how regional traditions of Hindu religious practice become the norm, although distinct, but not different from Hinduism of earlier centuries. The next five hundred years is a period of religious discrimination and persecution in India. Temples were destroyed, festivals were banned, large gatherings such as Kumbhmela, and pilgrimages were also banned. So the practice of pan Indian Hinduism gives way to local and regional practices, due to lack of facility to connect widely. It was no surprise that by the time British arrived in India in the seventeenth century, Hinduism, might have looked like Hinduisms, with distinct practices in each region of India. It was no wonder the colonial views of Hinduism attempted understanding the many practices distinct in some aspects and similar in other aspects, and also the textual background of Hinduism.
Ancient sources of India, especially classical texts refer to religion as Dharma, and Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal faith. However, Hinduism is consistently referred by the name 'Hinduism,' since the early fourth century. However that did not stop scholars from suggesting that Sanatana Dharma was different from Hinduism without any substantial evidence, and recently a new field of study evolved in the western academia based on the argument that Hinduism is not a religion, but a colonial construct. All this because Hinduism is not referred in the classical texts by that name, but only as Sanatana Dharma. Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma, name is only secondary matter in India. The religion is eternal and its practice is established.
Indeed, the issue of name does not seem to be a central issue in India. Some children are not given a name until they are admitted into school, and even after that, they are referred to by numerous names. The child is then called by his or her given name in school and in other official settings but continues to be called by his/her various nicknames in familiar and informal environments. This does in fact cause some confusion but does not do great damage to either the child or those that refer to the child by these many names. In fact, the more popular one is the more names one acquires, which is also true of gods, goddesses, and religions in India. The exercise in this book seems to me to be one such confusion of names rather than any major issue with regard to Hinduism and its practice in India.
India's own indifference to its historical tradition is partly to blame for this state of things. Academic study of Hinduism in India is limited to a handful of universities which is also cited as one of the reasons by the Hinduism deniers as evidence of its non-existence as a religion in India. Under the garb of secularism successive governments in India since 1947 ignored Hinduism, while supporting traditions labeled as minority faiths such as Islam, and others with funds as well as permitting academic study in the universities. It might seem strange that universities would offer academic study of several faiths, but not Hinduism. It could only be hoped that academic study of Hinduism would be offered in the Universities in India soon.