Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

I, a child of the Maha Sapta Sindhu

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The Maha Sapta Sindhu has told his tale. I who have walked along his banks in the far north where he is too young to father great civilisations have also seen him in his full glory three thousand kilometres lower down. Then in the fullness of his middle reach he oversaw the birth and growth of the greatest civilisation the world has known, the Sindhu Valley Civilisation.

The most lasting impression of this great river left in the minds of the Indo-Aryan new comers was one of a far-spreading, rushing stream of unrestrained strength and so they called him Sindhu – ocean or great river. Indeed, as recently as the 1820s when Alexander Burnes, the Scottish explorer, made his way up by boat from Thatta, he was amazed by the breadth of the river. It was high summer and the Sindhu, so he tells us, was spread across no less than thirty kilometres in the region between Sukkur and Shikarpur. For such a river, the name Sindhu was as apt as it could get.

What then of the word Indus? How did we ever arrive at it?

Now, Sanskrit, the mother lode of all Indo-European languages, gives us the word Sindhu. When this word was transferred to Avestan (ancient Persian), a closely related language, the initial s was dropped and replaced by an h for the Sindhu to become Hindu. This is a common mechanism in the exchange of words from Sanskrit to Persian and we have countless words similarly transmogrified. To name just one: sapt (seven) in Sanskrit becomes haft in Persian.

The asthan (home) where this great river flowed was thus Hindu Asthan or Hindustan. In the pre-classical period the Persians were in close contact with the Greeks and it was only natural for knowledge of and the name of the Hindu River and his land to transfer to that country. But after their own fashion, the Greeks dropped the initial h and append an s ending to call our river Indu or Indus. As the Persians had named this wonderful land Hindustan, so followed the Greeks to call it India after the Indus, the father of our civilisation.

It is believed, incorrectly of course, that Alexander and his followers were the first Europeans to use the words Indus or India. Herodotus (born 484 BCE), known as the Father of History, who wrote his treatise a hundred years before the birth of Alexander, mentions the Indus. He tells us of its exploration and mapping in the last years of the 6th century by the Greek sea captain Scylax on the bidding of Darius the Great. The Greeks even then knew the river as the Indus and its country as India.

In the 8th century CE, the Arabs used the term Sindh and Hind for the trans-Sindhu lands while the river itself was Mehran for them. No history explains where and how they got this name, but they did not refer to the people of this land as Hindus. By a most peculiar and unlearned twist of usage, the name of the Maha Sapta Sindhu in its Persian incarnation of Hindu came to describe the followers of the Sanatana Dharma. This was in the 11th century with the beginning of the predatory raids of the uncultured Turks. It became the norm forever after – its origin and real meaning forgotten.

Now, the Sindhu flows through what is Pakistan. And so the land that was its asthan really was what we today call Pakistan. That is, we are the real India, the land of the Sindhu. If anything, the country that we so erroneously know by that name should be Bharat, as it was called after the heroic prince of the Mahabharata. One could say that they across our eastern border have usurped upon our name. But they haven’t. Only the founding fathers of Pakistan, not having been grounded in classical history and geography, went amiss. The result: that even today we drift across a wilderness of a soul-destroying identity crisis seeking illegitimate Arab, Central Asiatic, Persian and Turkish fathers for ourselves.

Whatever the case, as time passed we began to hold in spite the people called by the Persian pronunciation of the name of our river. As a young man I was told that the meaning of Hindu in Persian is ‘a mean, deceptive, dark-skinned person.’ This was a falsehood for no Persian dictionary holds this meaning of the word.

The bottom line is that we who live upon the wide breast of the Sindhu, the father of a civilisation that goes far back into the mists of time, the river that feeds us today and lights up our homes, are the real Hindus.

I, a child of the Maha Sapta Sindhu, should rightfully be called a Hindu.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 29 June 2013 at 16:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Hindu is a pure "geographical term" then why those living in present India are called Hindu?

At 30 June 2013 at 12:55, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Misconception, my dear Anonymous. Historical error.

At 8 May 2017 at 11:31, Blogger Unknown said...

interesting read...can you please provide references to the historical claims?

At 8 May 2017 at 16:53, Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting as always...

At 25 October 2017 at 11:37, Blogger Sheikh Chillih said...

In fact, Vedas do not have a single mention of the word Hindu! Still, the followers of Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Principles) are identified by the word 'Hindu'!
Sanatana Dharma as explained in Vedas is nothing but a treatise on The Principles of Nature manifesting via Universe and it's constituents including Humans, Non-human creatures and non-life creatures.

At 25 October 2017 at 11:47, Blogger Sheikh Chillih said...

In Vedic Texts and sub-texts, there is not a single mention of the word 'Hindu'. Followers of Sanatana Dharma are still identified by than very word 'Hindu'.
And Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Principles) is nothing but The Laws of Nature as encoded in Vedas (Sanskrit Shlokas), Upanishads (explanations) and Puranas (Storified explanations for easier understanding by anthropomorphisation). Itihaasa (Ramayana/Mahbharata) is explanation using Human form of existence.
Hindu texts encode nothing but Laws of Existence and their manifestation via Universe (galaxies/planets), Humans, Non-human living creatures, non-living forms of existence etc.
It's unfortunate that their is so much ignorance about what Sanatana Dharma (aka Hinduism) is all about!

At 27 October 2017 at 09:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All true and very interesting. Except the land was named for Emperor Bharata, son of Dushyant and Shakuntala. He was of course the founder of the clan into which the Pandavas and Kauravas were born.

At 27 October 2017 at 09:40, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

No argument on the origin of the name Bharat, good sir. You are true in pointing that out.

At 18 January 2018 at 01:36, Blogger Unknown said...

I am your fan and read many of your articles in past. But for some reference I remembered this article and read it Nth time.
My only regret is that people like you and us are separated from our great common proud heritage.

At 18 January 2018 at 10:40, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

Indeed, Mr Jha. Unfortunate that even 70 years after Partition we should be kept away from each other. Good will has been subverted.

At 20 November 2018 at 16:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes you are Hindu

At 15 July 2019 at 16:49, Blogger xopio said...

استاذ محترم اردو میں بھی لکھا کریں۔


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days