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.

Left: 19th century roundel of four-headed Brahma as a red-complexioned aged man, holding manuscript (Vedas), a ladle and a lotus; Right: 6th century Brahma in Badami cave temples holding a writing equipment, ladle, and mala.

Left: 19th century roundel of four-headed Brahma as a red-complexioned aged man, holding manuscript (Vedas), a ladle and a lotus; Right: 6th century Brahma in Badami cave temples holding a writing equipment, ladle, and mala.

Sanatana dharma

Sanātana dharma (सनातन धर्म meaning “eternal dharma” or “eternal order”) is another name for Hinduism.

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

The phrase dharma sanātana does occur in classical Sanskrit literature, e.g. in the Manusmrti (4-138) and in the Bhagavata Purana, in a sense akin to “cosmic order”.

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.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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