|It should be pointed out that the word "Hindu" is not found in any of the classical writings of India. Nor can it be traced to the classical Indian languages, such as Sanskrit or Tamil. In fact, the word "Hinduism" has absolutely no origins within India itself. Still, it persists, and traditions as diverse as Shaivism and Jainism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism, have been described as "Hinduism." This may work as a matter of convenience, but ultimately it is inaccurate.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual preceptor of the present-day Hare Krishna movement, saw the word as a misnomer:
"Sometimes Indians both inside and outside India think that we are preaching the Hindu religion, but actually we are not. One will not find the word 'Hindu' in the Bhagavad-gita. Indeed, there is no such word as 'Hindu' in the entire Vedic literature. This word has been introduced by the Muslims from provinces next to India, such as Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and Persia. There is a river called Sindhu bordering the northwestern provinces of India, and since the Muslims there could not pronounce Sindhu properly, they instead called the river 'Hindu,' and the inhabitants of this tract of land tehy called, 'Hindus.'"
Prabhupada’s explanation of the word “Hindu” is not his own construction. Such explanations are well-known among scholars of the Indian tradition. In Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy, for example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait writes along similar lines:
“…The current popular usage of the term Hinduism does not correspond to its original meaning. When Alexander the Great invaded the subcontinent around 325 B.C.E., he crossed the river Sindhu and renamed it Indus, which was easier for the Greek tongue to pronounce. Alexander’s Macedonian forces subsequently called the land to the east of this river India. Later, the Moslem invaders called the Sindhu River the Hindu River because in their language, Parsee, the Sanskrit sound s converts to h. Thus, for the invaders, Sindhu became Hindu, and the land east of that river became known as Hindustan.”
The concept is also articulated by historian C.J. Fuller, who underscores the fact that the word "Hindu" originally meant something geographical, not cultural or religious. In addition, he points out the convenient usage of the term in separating Muslims from other peoples in India:
"The Persian word 'Hindu' derives from Sindhu, the Sanskrit name of the river Indus (in modern Pakistan). It originally meant a native of India, the land around and beyond the Indus. When 'Hindu' (or 'Hindoo') entered the English language in the seventeenth century, it was similarly used to denote any native of Hindustan (India), but gradually came to mean someone who retained the indigenous religion and had not converted to Islam. 'Hinduism,' as a term for that indigenous religion, became current in English in the early nineteenth century and was coined to label an 'ism' that was itself partly a product of western orientalist thought, which (mis)constructed Hinduism on the model of occidental religions, particularly Christianity. Hinduism, in other words, came to be seen as a single system of doctrines, beliefs, and practices properly equivalent to those that make up Christianity, and 'Hindu' now clearly specified an Indian's religions affiliation."
Using the overarching term "Hinduism" for the many religions of India is comparable to ignoring the different religious orientations within each of the Western traditions, arbitrarily merging them under a single banner—"Semitism" (which, like "Hinduism," merely denotes geographical location). Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other constitute the diverse religious traditions of the Western world. Just as the term Semitism is too broad and reductionistic to represent properly the unique religious manifestation of the great Western traditions, and just as it would be inappropriate to refer to all these traditions as one religion, the term Hinduism falls short.
Thus, "Hinduism" is more problematic than "Hindu," since it implies a unified form of Indian religion that can comfortably fit under one banner. Considering the varieties of religion that currently exist in India, such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism, a single term is hardly appropriate.