Sanātana Dharma

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Sanātana Dharma (Devanagari: सनातन धर्म, meaning "eternal dharma", or "eternal order")[1] is an alternative term used by some Hindus to refer to Hinduism instead of the mainstream term Hindu Dharm. The term is found in Sanskrit and other Indian languages.[2][3] It is generally used to signify a more traditional, pre-reform outlook of Hinduism. It was revived recently by Hindutva politics.

The term denotes the "eternal" or absolute set of duties or religiously ordained practices incumbent upon all Hindus, regardless of class, caste, or sect.[1]


In Sanskrit, Sanātana Dharma translates approximately to "eternal law" or, less literally, "eternal way."[4] In Pali, the equivalent term is Dhammo Sanātano (धम्मो सनन्तनो).[4] In Hindi, the Sanskrit tatsama dharma (धर्म) is being used as "religion".[5][verification needed] Sanātana Dharma (सनातन धर्म) roughly translates to "eternal religion".[citation needed]

Dharma is often translated as "duty", "religion" or "religious duty", but has a deeper meaning. The word comes from the Sanskrit root "dhṛ" (धृ) which means "to sustain" or "that which is integral to something" (e.g., dharma of sugar is to be sweet, fire to be hot). A person's dharma consists of duties that sustain them according to their innate characteristics which are both spiritual and material, generating two corresponding types:[6]

  1. Sanatana-dharma – duties performed according to one's spiritual (constitutional) identity as atman (Self) and are thus the same for everyone. General duties include virtues such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism.[1]
  2. Varnashrama-dharma (a.k.a. Svadharma) – duties performed according to one's material (conditional) nature and are specific to the individual at that particular time. One's "own duty" according to his or her class or varna and stage of life should win when in conflict with Sanatana-dharma (e.g., A warrior injuring others as explained in Bhagavad Gita).[1]

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.[6]


The phrase dharma sanātana occurs in classical Sanskrit literature, for example, in the Manusmrti (4-138)[7] (c. 1st – 3rd century CE) and in the Bhagavata Purana[8][9] (c. 8th – 10th century CE).

In the late 19th century, the term was revived during the Hindu revivalism movement as a name for Hinduism as a religion in order to avoid having to use the term "Hindu" which is of non-native Persian origin.[10][11]

Today, Sanatana Dharma is associated only with Hinduism.[3] 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.[12][13][14] 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 Sanatana Dharma cannot be rigid, it has to be inclusive without excluding the best and totality of knowledge to guide the karmic process, especially as Sanatana has no beginning and no end.[15]

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.[16] 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 Sanatana Dharma Rakshini Sabha in 1873.[17][18] Some religious commentators have compared the Sanatani-Samaji dichotomy within Hinduism as similar to the Catholic-Protestant division in Christianity.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Sanatana dharma | Hinduism". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  2. ^ Rajarajan, R. K. K. (January 2020). "Drāviḍian/Tamil Concept of Religion is sanātanadharma a Religion?". Into the Nuances of Culture. Essays on Culture Studies.
  3. ^ a b Lester R. Kurtz (2007), Gods in the global village: the world's religions in sociological perspective, Pine Forge Press, 2007, p. 49, 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 ...
  4. ^ a b so Harvey, Andrew (2001). Teachings of the Hindu Mystics. Boulder: Shambhala. pp. xiii. ISBN 1-57062-449-6.). See also René Guénon, Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines (1921 ed.), Sophia Perennis, ISBN 0-900588-74-8, part III, chapter 5 "The Law of Manu", p. 146. On the meaning of the word "Dharma", see also René Guénon, Studies in Hinduism, Sophia Perennis, ISBN 0-900588-69-3, chapter 5, p. 45
  5. ^ its Sanskrit meaning has the sense of "law", or more literally "that which supports; what is firmly established", from an original meaning of "wooden post used as support".
  6. ^ a b "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 them, according to their 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. ...
  7. ^ 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") ...
  8. ^ Swami Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanda, "Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) (8.14.4)", Bhaktivedanda Vedabase, ... "catur-yugānte kālena grastāñ chruti-gaṇān yathā । tapasā ṛṣayo 'paśyan yato dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ" (Translation: "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.") .... Other shlokas are 3.16.18 (sanātano dharmo); 7.11.2 (dharmaṁ sanātanam); 7.11.5 (sanātanaṁ dharmaṁ); 8.8.39, 8.14.4, 10.4.39 (dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ).
  9. ^ Authority, Anxiety, and Canon By Laurie L. Patton, P. 103.
  10. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Ed. John Bowker. Oxford University Press, 2000
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ 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 Sanatana Dharm (eternal religion) ...
  13. ^ 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 Sanatana Dharma of Hindu ... difference between the Arya Samaj and those movements was that the former was a revivalist and a fundamentalist movement ...
  14. ^ Robin Rinehart (1999), One lifetime, many lives: the experience of modern Hindu hagiography, Oxford University Press US, 1999, p. 20, 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 ...
  15. ^ "Sanatana Mission". Sanatana Mission. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  16. ^ 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 ...
  17. ^ 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 ...
  18. ^ 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 ...
  19. ^ 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 ...

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