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Explained: What Is Sanatan Dharma?

Sanatan Dharma is a Sanskrit term that can be translated variously as 'eternal religion' or 'eternal law', 'unshakeable, venerable order', or 'ancient and continuing guideline'. 

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Protests over Udhayanidhi Stalin remarks
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The controversy over DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin's remarks on ‘Sanatan Dharma’ refuses to die down with more and more leaders from the ruling party at the Centre getting embroiled in the war of words in a bid to safeguard their religion. Stalin had compared Sanatan Dharma to “mosquitoes, dengue, malaria, and corona”. It may be noted that Sanatan Dharma is often seen as synonymous with Hinduism.


Sanatan Dharma is a Sanskrit term that can be translated variously as “eternal religion” or “eternal law”, “unshakeable, venerable order”, or “ancient and continuing guideline”.

Elucidating what the Dharma stands for, mythologist and author Devdutt Pattanaik in a recent video on X, said that the word Sanatan refers to what is eternal and has no end. “One can say that Sanatan Dharma refers to eternal religions which believe in soul and rebirth,” he said, adding that Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, all refer to Sanatan Dharma because they believe in the concept of re-birth.

The earliest use of the term ‘Sanatan Dharma’ was found in the Bhagavad Gita by Arjuna, when he told Krishna that “when the clan is vitiated, the Sanatan-dharmas of the clan are destroyed”. The written evidence of this has been quoted in the book, ‘Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (1994)', by Julius J Lipner, Emeritus Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of Cambridge.

According to a report by the Indian Express, in his book, Lipner noted: “Many Hindus call themselves Sanatanists, that is, those who follow the eternal dharma. But…it is far from clear what this eternal dharma is.” He wrote, “I have yet to discover a Hindu sanatan-dharma in the sense of some universally recognised philosophy.”

Pattanaik also pointed out in his video how the term has been given a political colour since the 19th century while other scholars have argued that it is being increasingly used by the Hindutva groups to kind of homogenise Hinduism.

There is also another side to the origin of the term. Some scholars argue that 'sanatan' in Sanskrit was derived from the Pali word 'sanantana', which also means "eternal". Pali is the language of the Tripitaka - the sacred book of Theravada Buddhists.

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