The term Hindu or any reference to it has never been found in any ancient epic literature, be it religious like Vedas, mythological like Purana, Ramayana, or Mahabharata, and philosophical like Gita. Even the greatest Sanskrit scholar, poet, and dramatist Kalidasa has never used the term in any of his writings. The term Hindu was coined probably by someone in the army of Alexander the great, to refer to the people living on the southern side of the river Shindhu (Indus). Before that India or Hindustan as it geographically was then called Aryabart. During the 17th century British colonial rule in India, people of India came to be known as Hindus, and Hinduism as the main religion of India. The terms Hinduism and Hindutva both, though find their root in Hindu, they have very fundamental and practical differences between themselves. In some contexts they are even opposed to each other. Here we attempt to highlight the major differences between the two in respect of concept, application and consequences.
Concept: Hinduism is the dominant religion of India or Hindustan (land of Hindus) and Nepal and is also practiced by many people of Indonesia, Cambodia, Srilanka, Philippines, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and some caribbean island states. Hinduism has a number of sects, sub-sects, traditions, beliefs. This is the oldest religion and is followed by about 1250 million people all over the world. There is a wide spectrum of social laws and ethical norms prescribed to regulate moral lives of people based on Karma (deeds), Dharma (spiritual and intellectual possession), and Gyana (wisdom). Hinduism is rooted in the idea of Sanatana dharma, as envisaged by Indian Rishis (saints) during the time of Vedas and Puranas (about 2500 BC). Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is a highly intellectual, spiritual, as well as philosophical explanation of life and death with deep emphasis on leading a meaning-full life, and union with Paramatma (God) in the after-life. One of the distinct features of Hinduism is that there has never been any attempt by any individual or any organization to spread the religion or establish it as an element of identity of people. As a consequence, the philosophy of Hinduism and the prescriptions of moral living as criteria of choosing good over evil as stated in the ancient Indian religious scriptures are applicable to anybody irrespective of the religious belief the person might subscribe to. This is not without reason that Muslims, Christians, and people from other religious denominations in India are referred to as Hindus by people living in other parts of the world.
The term Hindutva, on the other hand, was coined by Hindu nationalist leader and champion of Hindu causes, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, in his famous 1923 pamphlet ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’. Hindutva, as it is understood, is an ideology that is identified with Indian culture in the light of Hindu values. The term Hindutva has been nursed and popularized by the largest Hindu nationalistic conglomerate Sangh Parivar and its numerous affiliates. Sangh Parivar recognizes Hindutva as a broad term encompassing everything that is indigenously Indian, and must exclude any thing that is imported to India with spread of other religions from across the geographical border of ancient India.
Connotation: The term Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is the inner dimension of Hindu religion. Thus it is religious in meaning, connotation, and emphasis. The core of Hinduism lies in purity of the soul as the stepping stone to union with the divine power. This purity can be achieved by any of the three means, namely Vakti or devotion, Gyana or knowledge, and Karma or good deeds. Power of Hinduism is derived from unquestioned faith in what is written in Vedas (chants of worship), Puranas (mythological stories of Gods and Goddesses), Shastras (theories on ethics, politics, economics, and sociology), and Slokas (praising Gods, Goddesses, and Saints).
With 81 percent Hindu population, the pro-Hindu agenda of the Sangh Parivar are very effectively transmitted to the electorate through massive propaganda of Hindutva which very precisely means that anything attached to Hindu belief or practice is pious and must visibly prevail in the society. Political appeal of Hindutva is so tense that every political party be it secular, leftist, or nationalist, resort to soft Hindutva, and restrain from saying anything that hurts Hindu sentiment. It is not an irony that corporate houses and business tycoons of India spend exorbitantly in building state-of-the-art Hindu temples and voluntarily donate huge sums of money to encourage and promote Hindu religious festivals.
Objective: Objective of Hinduism is to guide human beings to live meaning-full lives and know God through the alternative means as postulated in the ancient religious literatures. Knowing God is called Moksha in Sanskrit. On the other hand the protagonists of Hindutva aim at capturing political power through constitutional means and simultaneously establishing a social system with Hindu-only practices and customs. According to the votaries of Hindutva, Indian nationalism must be allied with Hindu pride. They view being Hindu as a precondition to being a nationalist.
Attitude towards Other Religions: Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma, to be precise, is the oldest religion, and arrived much before the other main-stream religions. As such, there is no reference of any other religion in the Hindu religious scriptures. Hinduism is meant for anybody and everybody. Love for human beings and for that matter any living creature is a core lesson of Hinduism. Whereas Hindutva has no place for anybody who is not a Hindu or who does not accept hegemony of Hindus.
Idea of Society: Hinduism is democratic in attitude and suggests a pluralistic and diversified society with due respect to opposing views. Hindutva, on the other hand, believes in a monolithic society with clear domination of Hindu religious practices, customs, and traditions.
Followings: Approximately 82% of Indian population follow and practice Hinduism. But this whole 82% or about .92 billion Hindus do not follow or support Hindutva, rather a microscopic minority do. Thus Hinduism has mass following, Hindutva does not have.
Deity-Icon: Hinduism has a number of sects and sub-sects and different traditional religious practices. Different Gods and Goddesses are worshiped by followers of different sects. All such Gods and Goddesses are worshiped in Hinduism. But Hindutva, though believes in such diversity, propagates Lord Rama as the icon of Hindutva.