Understanding Hindutva—Who is Hindu?

Hinduism and Hindutva are the terms that have been consistently debated for decades. The debate remained merely an academic discourse upto the advent of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) rule in 1998.

The topic now requires serious understanding as it has ramifications for day to day life of contemporary India in general and its minorities in particular.

How Hindutva was born?

India was suffering from an acute identity crisis says Subramanian Swamy in his book Hindutva and Hindu Renaissance.

This was because Hinduism was bereft of a single authoritative religious text, one God, a church and uniformity of doctrine. Unlike the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic tradition a Hindu nation had to be founded on racial and doctrinal unity. Hindus had to be bound together with help of one book, one ‘church’ and one ‘gospel’ mentions Jyotirmaya Sharma in his bookHindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism on (pp. 6, 9).

India was in desperate need to be ‘recovered’ with stress on ‘Hinduness’. But, weakness in the passage was its diminution of thought power, and foreign conquests that engulfed India for centuries. Sharma pointed out,

Hindus lacked all those things that made nations great. “The conviction of the power of goodness, absence of jealously and suspicion and helping those who are trying to be and do good. It was in fact, “Muslims who taught Hindus to wear tailor-made clothes.” (Jyotirmaya Sharma pp. 97, 113)

It was during this period a staunch atheist, Vinayak Domadar Savarkar, in his early 1920s patriotic writings coined a new word Hindutva. He deliberately used words ‘Hindutva’, ‘Pan Hindu’, ‘Hinduness’ and ‘Hindudom’ to indicate distinctiveness of Pan-Hindu nationalism from Hinduism as a religion.

Savarkar’s Hindutva definition

In his Bible of essay on Essentials of Hindutva Vinayak Damodar Savarkar defines Hindutva as the way of life (which) is different from Hinduism. Hindutva, he said “is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism.”(V.D. Savarkar, Hindutva, 1999, pp. 3, 4)

In brief Savarkar’s essay Hindutva represents the exemplary expression of militant Hindu nationalism be a descriptive epithet that encompasses an entire ideology as well as a movement.

As Savarkar explains the idea of Hindutva was merely an English synonym for the Hindu Nation. Names like Hindus, Hindusthan, and India means one and the same thing. He said “we are Indians because we are Hindus and vice versa.” (Jyotirmaya Sharma, p. 168)

In the estimation of Savarkar Hindutva included every aspect and every breed of religiosity apart from Abrahamic religions that is (Islam, Christianity and Judaism).

“Hindutva is the life of a great race it signifies the religious, cultural identity of the Hindus,” Savarkar willingly included Sikhs, Jains and the Buddhists in his quest to define who is a Hindu. But was reluctant to take Bohras and Khojas as Hindus; because, they loved and worshipped the ten incarnations of Vishnu, only, and added Prophet Mohammad as the eleventh (Jyotirmaya Sharma, pp. 4, 5, 165).

Savarkar said Hinduism was merely a component of Hindutva. In contrast, Hinduism was only a derivative, a fraction and a part of Hindutva. Without defining Hindutva, Hinduism was bound to remain intelligible.

One must remember explains Savarkar: “Hindutva was not a turban worn in a particular style, nor was it to be located in the pages of Brahmasutra, or in the symbolism of a priest’s tuft of hair, and least of all in cow-piss ‘gomutra’. ”(Jyotirmaya Sharma, p.157)

Muslim adherence to mosques impressed Savarkar but he was scared of Islamic ‘theology’ and ‘theocratic’ politics more than any other religion, Savarkar throughout his life argued that Muslims can never be part of Hindutva.

“They did not own up and identify with the Hindu sanskriti as a whole. They belonged to an alien cultural matrix. Their heroes of worship and their fairs and festivals had little in common with the Hindus. They would never be loyal to India for them Hindusthan is Dar-ul-Harb, the enemy land. Territorial nationalism was unknown to them.”(Jyotirmaya Sharma, pp. 142, 164, 170)

Adding that, India must be a Hindu land, a ‘reserve for Hindus’ where “minority community will have rights according to the proportion of population and merit.” (Jyotirmaya Sharma, p.168)

Meanwhile the concept of Hindutva now is a concoction of modern day Hindu revivalist. They felt that there was no unifying bond among Hindus and it was absence of this bond that has led them to become vulnerable to foreign domination.

For having a first-hand understanding of the concept of Hindutva, Savarkar’s write up Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? is an indispensable reading. It was first published for the first time in 1923 and remains the bedrock of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideology.

Other perspectives

Apart from Savarkar several other Hindu thinkers have also contributed to development of the Hindutva philosophy. These include: Aurobindo Goshe, Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati, and Swami Vivekananda. But, several Hindutva critiques claims that contemporary Hindu revivalist and writers theory of using these Hindu (faces) scholars with a pretext of giving realistic dynamism to the concept. It is however yet to be ascertained, whether they are right or not. As using these perspectives with the Savarkar’s Hindutva provides a narrative which finds its roots in primitive India.

II) Aurobindo Ghoshe defines nationalism was a religion; or rather religion was the only politics of the nation. His vision comprehended that, ‘Indianshad to be made more ‘manly’, and kshatriyahood*—had to be rediscovered (Jyotirmaya Sharma, pp. 58, 68).

In his writings On Nationalism (p. 351) Aurobindo desired that it can be achieved only through an all-encompassing ideology. Understanding war was inevitable to human existence, he wrote: “Violence, is man’s debt to Rudra*. Without this, the law of Vishnu—peace and well being—is devoid of meaning and substance, (Sri Aurobindo, India’s Rebirth , 2000, pp. 144).”

Interestingly, the concepts like pan-Islamism attracted Aurobindo’s attention, initially. But soon he resorted to formulating a parallel idea of this concept. To him it was first step towards nation building process and involved invoking self-consciousness among its adherents. He however retroacted and started to highlight negative aspects of pan-Islamism in context of nation building in India. On Nationalism (p.484), he mentions: “The mahomedans* base their separateness and their refusal to regard themselves as Indian first and mahomedan*afterwards on the existence of great mahomedan* nations to which they feel themselves more akin, in spite of our common birth and blood, than to us.”

Muslims could only be accommodated within Indian nationhood through de-Islamisation, he noted: “The only way to make Muslims ‘harmless’ was to make them lose their fanatical attachment to their religion, (Sri Aurobindo, India’s Rebirth, 2000, pp. 164).”

Adherence to Indian nationhood, Aurobindo demanded of its followers was a body made in the womb of an Indian-mother, a heart that felt for India, a brain that thought ideas to bring about her greatness, a tongue that adored her name and hands that could quarrel on her behalf.

III) The founder of Arya Samaj Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati on other side saw unified, monochromatic and aggressive Hinduism differently.

A strict Vedic follower, Dayananda as a reformist used the advancement of Europeans as a tool to inspire Indians towards Indian nationalism.

In this pursuit, he demanded Hindus to follow Europeans as they sacrifice everything, their wealth, their hearts, their very lives, for the good of the nation.“Indians too should worship heroes and brave men, instead of worshipping stones, if they have to save themselves from the Muslim invasions (Jyotirmaya Sharma, pp. 29, 33).

IV) Swami Vivekananda’s vision of the united Hindus was unity: “Within Hinduism sects that needed to be woven together into a single tapestry (Jyotirmaya Sharma, p. 106).”

Many BJP leaders including Narendra Modi, A.B. Vajpayee and Advani repeatedly used his teachings for indoctrinating Hindus. Yet he is not perceived to be among the core thinkers of Hindutva. Probably, because he didn’t subscribe to the notion of Sanatan dharma.

Along with Savarkar, Aurobindo and Dayananda, Swami Vivekananda too is projected by Hindutva leaders as one of the contributors of the Hindutva thought. Vivekananda has made similar remarks against Muslims.

Once Vivekananda saw the Muslims hated Hindus more than Jews and the Christians he went on claiming: “The shrine of a Mohammedan saint which is at the present day neglected and forgotten by Mohammedans, is worshipped by Hindus!” (Jyotirmaya Sharma, pp. 83, 88)

He wanted Muslims get absorbed in his concept of the perfect ‘future’ India (Hindu nation) because his vision was to utilize faiths potential differently. The way he hoped, “India will rise out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, only with –“Vedanta-brain” and “Islam-body”. (Jyotirmaya Sharma, p.113)

Vivekananda demanded Hindus to build churches and mosque in India.“Despite the hatred, brutality, cruelty, tyranny and the vile language of the Muslims and Christians, such proactive love from Hindus would ultimately win”(Jyotirmaya Sharma,p.89).

What if Muslims still deny accepting such favours and continue imposing things ‘this is only way’ approach upon Indians. “For them to talk of love is absurd,” Vivekananda mentions.

India should be made a Hindu state, said Vivekananda. For him, Hinduism is the only religion that not only ‘tolerates’ but also accepts every religion. Whole of India is Aryan— Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vishya, and nothing else (Jyotirmaya Sharma, p.92).’

Vision of Hindutva

Savarkar is the exemplary figure of a deracinated and diseased secularism. – Ashis Nandy 

Savarkar’s Hindutva vision as Jyotirmaya Sharma explores in his book Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism is:

(a) Hinduism has to be transformed into a rigid, codified, monochromatic entity. (b) Hinduism as a masculine, aggressive and violent faith. (c)Hindus had to learn to live and die for an ideal. They had to fight wars, if need be, kill, ‘destroy and plunder’ in order to preserve the core of national life. ‘The sword of swarajya* must always be ready to defend swadharma*’(d)Hinduism had to guard against foes of all time. Enemies of the faith could come in guises and disguises e.g. pan-Islamism, Westernization, Buddhism etc.(e) Those who did not fall in line had be marginalized, ignored, harassed, and if the need arose, even eliminated means the end of theology. (f) Every faith must, inevitably, define its relationship with other faiths. However Savarkar reduced this encounter of Hinduism into a story of confrontation and misfortune.(g)Introduction of invective, abuse and contempt as legitimate tools of writing, conversation and public discourse.

In India today, all these explicit narratives of the concept Hindutva is an inspiration to its votaries.

Court verdict on Hindutva

Eighteen years ago, on December 11, 1995, Justice J. S. Verma Bench first time asserted the judgment in favour of Hindutva. The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), who has a large chunk of erstwhile Jan Sangh members of a viable political wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh admirably used the verdict in its 1996 election manifesto, stating: “the Supreme Court too ‘finally’ endorsed the meaning and content of Hindutva being consistent with the true meaning and the definition of secularism.”

Apparently the judgment by Justice J. S. Verma Bench had mentioned Hindutva as ‘something different from outward practices and some of the following professed by followers of Hindu religion.’

In his judiciary report, “Supreme Court and Hindutva” on Frontline in February 2014, the constitutional expert and historian A. G. Noorani however rejects the judgment terming it: “palpable wrong ruling” and “controversial.”

The report explains that judgment has refused Savarkar’s Hindutva explanations where the author painstakingly emphasized that is Hindutva is not ‘synonymous’ with Hinduism, it pointed out. “Hinduism is an ancient and tolerant faith, and, ‘Hindutva represents political ideology of modern hate.”


Savarkar lived in independent India for nineteen years. Before he would die he knew history will see him with two names. That was the reason of his saying to his followers:

“If you wish, O Hindus, to prosper as a great and glorious Hindu Nation under the sun, and you well have a claim on it, that State must be established under the Hindu Flag.  This dream would be realized during this or coming generation. If it is not realized, I may be styled a daydreamer, but if it comes true, I would stand forth its prophet (Jyotirmaya Sharma,p. 172).

In contemporary India, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s political wing Jan Sangh and its auxiliaries: Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal (born on 1925), and Mr Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party formulation in 1980s— follows the same Hindutva dream.

“All of them continue to further Savarkar’s legacy of Hindu ‘jihad’— among its followers(Jyotirmaya Sharma, p. 172).”

Such protocols of Savarkar echoes in subconscious of each follower who support and quest for his ‘rhetorical’ vision which compares the ‘Story of India’ with “Story of Hindu Nation— the Hindu Rashtra”.

As Savarkar wrote, Hindus are going to be the ‘bedrock’ on which independent India could be built. ‘Hindus had to be ‘masters in their own house’ (Hindu Rashtra Darshan, 1937 address, pp. 16, 22).”


*mahomedans:  is Indianised version of a Muslim.

*kshatriyahood:  sankrit term defined in Vedic society refers to strengthening the third class of warrior people.

*rudra:  is a Rigvedic deity, associated with wind or storm, and the hunt.

*swarajya:  comes from the word sawaraj meaning self-rule.

*swadharma:  is that action which is in accordance with ones nature.

*sanatan dharma: is the ancient name which is now popularly called Hinduism