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- They are high caste hindus. An (otherwise unknown) author with the name Sānātanī is mentioned by Udayana (10th century).
Indians often use the term Sanātanī with reference either:
- to denominations that adhere to Sanatana Dharma
- to what is sometimes misunderstood to be Orthodox Hinduism
The term Sanatani contrasts with Hindu reform movements, which often reject previously long-established socioreligious systems based on fundamentalist interpretations of specific scriptures or were led by reformist sants (saints).
Sanātana Dharma (Devanagari: सनातन धर्म meaning "eternal dharma" or "eternal order") has been proposed as an alternative, indigenous name. Today it is erroneously 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.
In current-day usage, the term Sanatana Dharma is used to emphasize an "orthodox" or sanatani ("eternalist") outlook in contrast to the socio-political Hinduism embraced by movements such as the Arya Samaj.
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, revealed 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 close to two centuries, 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. The early part of the twentieth century saw heated debates and clashes between Sanatanis and reformist denominations, presenting "as alarming a scene as a clash between Hindu and Muslim" groups. Some religious commentators have compared the Sanatani-Samaji dichotomy within Hinduism as similar to the Catholic-Protestant division in Christianity. Mahatma Gandhi popularized the term in 1921.
- Mohammad Abdur Rauf, Indian village in Guyana: a study of cultural change and ethnic identity, BRILL, 1974, ISBN 978-90-04-03864-6,
... Sanatani Hindus follow the orthodox prescriptions, dogmas, rituals ...
- 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 ...
- Lester R. Kurtz, 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, 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, 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, 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 ...
- 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,
... "At the end of each cycle of four yugas, the rishis, through their asceticism, saw the collections of srutis swallowed up by time, after which the eternal dharma (was re-established)."[clarification needed]<!..indicate verse--> ...
- Authority, Anxiety, and Canon By Laurie L. Patton, P. 103.
- Thillayvel Naidoo, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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), 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 ...
- "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." (Murti Puja means Idol Worship) (Young India: June 10, 1921)