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- An author with the name Sānātanī is mentioned by Udayana.
Sanātanī (सनातनी) is a term used to describe Hindu movements that includes the ideas from the Vedas and the Upanishads while also incorporating the teachings of sacred hindu texts such as Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita which itself is often being described as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and a practical, self-contained guide to life.
Sanatana Dharma denotes duties (righteousness) performed according to one's spiritual (constitutional) identity as Ātman (Hinduism). Sanatana Dharma is presently a large facet of the collective synthesis of beliefs known as Hinduism. It often rejects previously long-established socio-religious systems based on interpretations of sectarian followers of an individual sant (saint or pontiff). The term was used by Gandhi in 1921 while describing his own religious beliefs.
Dharma is often approximated by Western spiritual faiths as "duty/purpose/calling", however the concept of Dharma has a deeper meaning. The word comes from the Sanskrit root "dhri" which means "to sustain" or "that which is integral to something" or " that without which a self existence will cease" (e.g. dharma of sugar is to be sweet, fire to be hot). Dharma encompasses the natural, innate behavior of things, duty, law, ethics, virtue, etc. Every entity in the cosmos has its particular dharma — from the electron, which has the dharma to move in a certain manner, to the clouds, galaxies, plants, insects, and of course, man. Man’s understanding of the dharma of inanimate things is what we now call physics. A person's dharma consists of duties that sustain him according to his innate characteristics which are both spiritual and material, generating two corresponding types:
- Sanatana-dharma – duties performed according to one's spiritual (constitutional) identity as atman (approximated as soul, but with the understanding that there is a universal soul/higher consciousness where everyone is interlinked); and
- Varnashrama-dharma – duties performed according to one's material (conditional) nature and are specific to the individual at that particular time.
According to the notion of sanatana-dharma, the eternal and intrinsic inclination of the living entity (atman) is to perform seva (service). Sanatana-dharma, being transcendental, refers to universal and axiomatic laws that are beyond our temporary belief systems.
Today, Sanatana Dharma is associated only with Hinduism. The term was used during the Hindu revivalism movement in order to avoid having to use the term "Hindu" which is of non-native (Persian) origin.
Sanatana Dharma was designed as a way of life designed to best ensure the continuity of humanity on this earth and provide the entire population with spiritual sustenance. In current-day usage, the term sanatana dharma is diminished and used to emphasize a "traditional” or sanatani ("eternalist") outlook in contrast to the socio-political Hinduism embraced by movements such as the Arya Samaj. In sharp contrast to the efforts by Lahore Sanatana Dharma Sabha to preserve the Hindu tradition against the onslaught of reform, now it is being stressed that Sanatan Dharma cannot be rigid, it has to be inclusive without excluding the best and totality of knowledge to guide the karmic process, especially as Sanatan has no beginning and no end.
Sanatanis as a denomination
Since many reformist groups had the word Samaj (meaning society) or were led by a sant (meaning saint), Sanatanis are often held to be in contrast with Samajists and Santpanthis (meaning those who walk on the panth/path shown by their sant/saint). Unlike South India, where religious traditions such as Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism form the principal Hindu denominations, "they were effectively subsumed under the Sanatani identity" in many regions of North India, and the Samajs and Santpanths became the other distinct Hindu denominations.
Reformist denominations such as the Arya Samaj are often fundamentalist in their approach. The Arya Samaj regards the Vedas as infallible scripture, and rejects what it regards as non-Vedic innovations in Sanatani Hinduism. These non-Vedic additions included inherited caste, the position of Brahmins as a revered group, idol-worship, and the addition of thousands of deities to the Sanatani Hindu pantheon.
These differences are often apparent in social practices. Arya Samaji weddings, for instance, are based on Vedic practice and tend to be simpler and shorter with a qualified individual of any caste-heritage conducting the wedding, whereas Sanatani weddings are longer, with more complex rituals and always involve an officiating Brahmin priest.
Competition with other denominations
Sanatanis and reformists (such as the Arya Samaj, the Radha Soamis and the Ramakrishna Mission) have competed for adherents for more than a century, sometimes creating deep schisms in Hindu society, as in the case of South African Hindus who were split between the Arya Samaj and Sanatanis. While the reformist groups were better organized initially, by the 1860s, a process of internal counter-reform was underway in Sanatani groups as well, and societies to propagate orthodox beliefs along modern lines emerged, such as Sanatan Dharm Rakshini Sabha in 1873. Some religious commentators have compared the Sanatani-Samaji dichotomy within Hinduism as similar to the Catholic-Protestant division in Christianity.
- Neo-Sanskrit sanātanin-- "eternalist", from sanātana "eternal" plus the possessive -in suffix
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; On The Bhagavad Gita; A New Translation and Commentary With Sanskrit Text Chapters 1 to 6, Preface p.9
- Roger W. Stump, Boundaries of faith: geographical perspectives on religious fundamentalism, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, ISBN 978-0-8476-9320-7,
... Specific beliefs of the Arya Samaj also displayed a distinctly fundamentalist character. The group placed special emphasis on the authority of the Vedas, the original sacred texts of Hinduism. Its members rejected elements of Hinduism that were based on sources other than the Vedas or that were inconsistent with Vedic teachings, such as the caste system, image worship and polytheism ...
- Lynn Teskey Denton, Steven Collins, Female ascetics in Hinduism, SUNY Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-7914-6179-2,
... The Sanatani-Santapanthi distinction ... ascetics recognize a sharp distinction between the sects that are snatani, orthodox or traditional ... and those that are not ... unorthodox sectarians are called santa or santapanthi, "those who follow the creed or path (panth) of a sant ...
- "I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and all that goes by the name of Hindu scripture, and therefore in avataras and rebirth; I believe in the varnashrama dharma in a sense, in my opinion strictly Vedic but not in its presently popular and distorted crude sense; I believe in the protection of cow. I do not disbelieve in murti puja." (Young India: June 10, 1921)
- "Sanatana Dharma". The Heart of Hinduism. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
Dharma is often translated as “duty,” “religion” or “religious duty” and yet its meaning is more profound, defying concise English translation. The word itself comes from the Sanskrit root “dhri,” which means “to sustain.” Another related meaning is “that which is integral to something.” For example, the dharma of sugar is to be sweet and the dharma of fire to be hot. Therefore, a person’s dharma consists of duties that sustain him, according to his innate characteristics. Such characteristics are both material and spiritual, generating two corresponding types of dharma:
(a) Sanatana-dharma – duties which take into account the person’s spiritual (constitutional) identity as atman and are thus the same for everyone.
(b) Varnashrama-dharma – duties performed according to one’s material (conditional) nature and specific to the individual at that particular time (see Varnashrama Dharma).
According to the notion of sanatana-dharma, the eternal and intrinsic inclination of the living entity (atman) is to perform seva (service). Sanatana-dharma, being transcendental, refers to universal and axiomatic laws that are beyond our temporary belief systems. ...
- Lester R. Kurtz (2007), Gods in the global village: the world's religions in sociological perspective, Pine Forge Press, 2007, ISBN 9781412927154,
... Hinduism — or Sanatana Dharma, as some believers prefer to call it — is askewed now in religious tradition and the remenants of the Truth of it is what is being talked about here. It now encompass layers of complex deposits from many different cultures over the centuries. Its remarkable diversity and doctrinal tolerance ...
- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Ed. John Bowker. Oxford University Press, 2000
- J. Zavos, Defending Hindu Tradition: Sanatana Dharma as a Symbol of Orthodoxy in Colonial India, Religion (Academic Press), Volume 31, Number 2, April 2001, pp. 109-123; see also R. D. Baird, "Swami Bhaktivedanta and the Encounter with Religions", Modern Indian Responses to Religious Pluralism, edited by Harold Coward, State University of New York Press, 1987)
- Dansk etnografisk forening (1995), Folk, Volumes 36-37, Dansk etnografisk forening, 1995,
... The Arya Samaj and their activities can be understood as representing a cultural revivalist movement ... the orthodox Hindus, the Sanatanis, who supported and protected Sanatan Dharm (eternal religion) ...
- Anupama Arya (2001), Religion and politics in India: a study of the role of Arya Samaj, K.K. Publications, 2001,
... the Samaj is opposed to idol worship which is practised in the traditional Sanatan Dharma of Hindu ... difference between the Arya Samaj and those movements was that the former was a revivalist and a fundamentalist movement ...
- Robin Rinehart (1999), One lifetime, many lives: the experience of modern Hindu hagiography, Oxford University Press US, 1999, ISBN 9780788505553,
... the Lahore Sanatana Dharma Sabha [society for the eternal dharma], which was an organization dedicated to preserving what it considered the true Hindu tradition against the onslaught of reform and revival groups ...
- "Sanatan Mission". Sanatan Mission. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
- Manusmriti (4-138),
... "Satyam bruyatpriyam bruyanna bruyatsatyamapriyam. Priyam cha nanrtam bruyadesa dharmah sanatanah." (Translation: "Speak the truth, speak the truth that is pleasant. Do not speak the truth to manipulate. Do not speak falsely to please or flatter someone. This is the quality of the eternal dharma") ...
- Bhagvata Purana, pp. 8.14.4,
At the end of every four yugas, the great saintly persons, upon seeing that the eternal [sanātanaḥ] occupational duties [dharmaḥ] of mankind have been misused, reestablish the principles of religion.
- Authority, Anxiety, and Canon By Laurie L. Patton, P. 103.
- Thillayvel Naidoo (1992), The Arya Samaj movement in South Africa, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1992, ISBN 978-81-208-0769-3,
... The reception accorded the Arya Samaj ... The Hindu community ... was split into two camps, one supportive and the other antagonistic ... attitudes of intransigence which characterised dialogue between the two groups ... the two terms "Samajists" and "Sanatanis" came into vogue ...
- Sudha Pai, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Centre for Political Studies (2007), Political process in Uttar Pradesh: identity, economic reforms, and governance, Pearson Education India, 2007, ISBN 978-81-317-0797-5,
... Being Vaishnava, Shaiva or Shakta didn't matter for the Dwijas since they were effectively subsumed under the Sanatani identity. Multi-point religious fragmentation has become limited to the internal debates between the Sanatanis and the Arya Samajis ...
- A.R. Desai (2005), Social background of Indian nationalism, Popular Prakashan, 2005, ISBN 978-81-7154-667-1,
... It declared the Vedas infallible and further, an inexhaustible reservoir of all knowledge, past, present and future ...
- Dansk etnografisk forening (1995), Folk, Volumes 36-37, Dansk etnografisk forening, 1995,
... As a religious sect, the Arya Samaj came to contest the religious authority of the dominant orthodox Hindus (Sanatanis), thereby creating a dispute over the content of Indian and in particular Hindu ethnic identity, caste hierarchy and ...
- Pahlad Ramsurrun (2001), Glimpses of the Arya Samaj in Mauritius, Sarvadeshik Prakashan Ltd., 2001,
... Sanatani families may have an Aryan (Vedic) marriage ceremony and then revert to Sanatani practices. ... is far less expensive, not so strict as to caste, simpler, and shorter ...
- Philip Lutgendorf (1991), The life of a text: performing the Rāmcaritmānas of Tulsidas, University of California Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0-520-06690-8,
... Perhaps the most significant impact of the Arya Samaj, the most reformist ... came from the organizational model it presented, which increasingly came to be emulated by orthodox groups ... the Sanatan Dharm Rakshini Sabha ... formed in Calcutta in 1873 ...
- Tika Ram Sharma, D. M. Gupta (1987), Essays on Rabindranath Tagore, Vimal Prakashan, 1987,
... The aftermath of the bitter and violent attack of Aryasamaj on idol-worship and an equally enthusiastic rebuttal by Sanatanis in the first three decades of this century presented as alarming a scene as a clash between Hindu and Muslim ...
- Agehananda Bharati (Swami) (1972), The Asians in East Africa: Jayhind and UhuruProfessional-technical series, Nelson-Hall Co., 1972, ISBN 978-0-911012-49-1,
... If we regard the Arya Samaj as a Protestant movement— and it is that on all counts— and the sanatanis as the traditionalists, the Hindu "Catholics," so to speak ...