We are often told that Bharatiyas never used the term Hindu in reference to themselves. However, our ancestors had been using the word Hindu to identify themselves with respect and pride devoid of doubts and any kind of inferiority complex that came to scar the Hindu psyche after the advent of the Abrahamics in general and Islamists in particular. One of the earliest references to a Hindu king so far discovered comes from a Vijayanagara inscription.
A report by ToI in this regard says:
An inscription lying in the ruins of the fort area of Harihar town, Davanagere, has been dated to July 1, 1387 CE – during the reign of Harihara Raya II, the third king of the Vijayanagara Empire.
The inscription calls Harihara II the ‘Hindu Raya Suratrana,’ (the protector of Hindu rulers). This is one of the earliest references to kings ascribed to as ‘Hindu,’ predating the arrival of Mughals by a century-and-a-half and Shivaji Maharaj by three centuries.
This inscription was first documented by HM Shankaranarayana in his book Sri Harihara Devalaya in the 1970s. However, there was no certainty about its date. Dr. Ravikumar K Navalagunda, a historian, re-read the inscription, and the date mentioned on it was found to be the first Monday of Karthika of Prabhava Samvatsara in the Saka era year 1309, which corresponds to July 1, 1387 CE. The inscription records the king’s grant of various gifts to Ekanathi and Harihara temples.
“Many kings of Karnataka Samrajya (Vijayanagara Empire) assumed the title ‘Hindu Raya’, which is among the first instances of kings calling themselves Hindus. Harihara II’s predecessors Harihara I and Bukkaraya I also had this title. The significance lies in the fact that this was used much before the arrival of Mughals in India and the birth of Shivaji, which is usually assumed to be the time when Hindu identity was asserted,” Navalagunda said.
Historian Dr. Parashiva Murhty, an authority on the Vijayanagara Empire and one of those establishing the date of the empire’s birth on April 18, 1336, said ‘Hindu Raya Suratrana’ was a title that came into vogue during the rule of Vijayanagara kings.
“In the 28th line of the copper plate inscription dated March 23, 1344 CE found in Mudiyanur village of Mulbagal taluk in Kolar, the same title can be used for Bukka Raya I. He was the immediate predecessor of Harihara II. The northern boundaries of the empire had the Bahamani rulers and further north there were other Muslim rulers. So, it was obvious that Vijayanagara kings were asserting their Hindu identity,” he said.
The inscription of Harihara II itself is in a sorry state today. The fort area of Harihar has private settlements and the inscription is currently in the dump yard of one of the private homes. Navalagunda had written to local Archaeological Survey of India officials about the need to protect the inscription and possibly shift it to the temple premises. Responding to his correspondence, ASI officials visited the spot and promised action.
Karnataka Samrajya, spread over the current Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, gave the name ‘Carnatic’ to the lands across Andhra and Tamil Nadu which continued to be used well into the British colonial era.
It has been undisputedly accepted by several scholars that the word Hindu has its origin in Vedic Sanskrit literature’s Sindhu word. Sindhu has been regularly used in the Vedas. The change from Sindhu to Hindu occurs on account of the change of Sa-kar to Ha-kar padadi. Bharatiya language tradition indicates that this change occurs a lot of times and in many places although there are no fixed rules for the same.
Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang who visited pre-Islamic Bharat used the word Hindu to refer to Bharatiyas. In this regard, Thomas Watters, who translated Hiuen Tsang’s Chinese memoirs into English, writes “We find that different counsels have confused the designations of T’ien-chu(India); the old names were Shen-tu and Sien (or Hien)-tou; now we must conform to the correct pronunciation and call it Yin-tu”.
“The names of India (T’ien Chu) are various and perplexing as to their authority. It was anciently called Shintu, also Hien-tu; but now, according to the right pronunciation, it is called In-tu. In Chinese, the name signifies the Moon so it is called In-tu”, notes Samuel Beal, another translator of Hiuen Tsang’s works.
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