Evolving Meanings of Sanatana Dharma: A Call for Profundity and Reflection

Evolving Meanings of Sanatana Dharma: A Call for Profundity and Reflection

Evolving Meanings of Sanatana Dharma: A Call for Profundity and Reflection


This article delves into the complexities surrounding the term “Sanatana Dharma” and its association with Hinduism. It discusses how the usage and interpretation of this term have evolved over time and its implications in contemporary society, particularly in relation to casteism and discrimination.


GS-04 (Contribution of Moral Thinkers)


Schools of Philosophy

Main Question:

How has the term “Sanatana Dharma” been manipulated and weaponized, and what responsibilities do caste-privileged Hindus have in addressing caste discrimination within the framework of Hinduism? (250 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Critique of Hinduism and Ambedkar’s Perspective
  • Interpretations of Caste and Hinduism
  • Ambedkar’s Own Stand
  • Changing Meanings of ‘Sanatana Dharma’
  • Failure to Address Caste Discrimination
  • The Need for Change

Critique of Hinduism and Ambedkar’s Perspective:

  • Babasaheb Ambedkar, in his work “Annihilation of Caste,” offered scathing critiques of Hinduism, advocating for its transformation.
  • He urged for the destruction of a version of Hinduism that perpetuated casteism and discrimination. However, his call was not to eliminate Hinduism entirely but to reform it from within.

Interpretations of Caste and Hinduism:

  • Many from Brahminical castes perceive caste as a natural social order linked to occupation, integral to Hinduism.
  • Progressive individuals from these castes call for ending violence associated with caste but not necessarily the caste system itself. They often grapple with distinctions between varna, jati, and caste, while sidelining historical and present realities. To them, Ambedkar’s criticisms of Hinduism, when viewed alongside his other critiques, can be offensive.

Ambedkar’s Own Stand:

  • Ambedkar’s statement, “I will not die as a person who calls himself a Hindu,” doesn’t imply his belief in Hinduism but rather his association with Hinduism’s deeply entrenched social hierarchy due to his birth. He later disassociated himself from this membership.

Changing Meanings of ‘Sanatana Dharma’:

  • The term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ is now synonymous with Hinduism, encompassing its rituals, philosophy, and ancient spiritual traditions. However, this broad usage is relatively recent and has been promoted mainly by Brahminical sections of society.
  • Meanings of words evolve over time, influenced by place, context, and reason. While growing up in a Brahmin household, the author knew it as Hinduism, while some might label it as Brahminism.

Failure to Address Caste Discrimination:

  • Even though some spiritual leaders address caste privilege, they rarely force individuals to confront their bigotry. There is a lack of critical examination of texts and practices that propagate caste discrimination.
  • The responsibility for the actions of casteist individuals is often not accepted by those distancing themselves from caste violence.

The Need for Change:

  • To protect ‘Sanatana Dharma,’ those within the Hindu faith must engage in deep introspection and transformation.
  • Ambedkar’s call for recognizing the impermanence and ever-changing nature of life applies to Hinduism as well. Cosmetic changes won’t suffice; a philosophical reevaluation is imperative.

Way Forward and Conclusion:

  • The article underscores the evolving meanings and manipulations of the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ within the context of Hinduism.
  • It emphasizes the responsibility of caste-privileged Hindus to address and eradicate caste discrimination.
  • To protect the essence of ‘Sanatana Dharma,’ there is a need for profound introspection and a commitment to meaningful change, as advocated by Babasaheb Ambedkar.