--> Skip to main content

What does Sanatana Dharma mean?

Sanatana Dharma is the true and original name of Hinduism. So, what is the meaning of Sanatana Dharma? Sanatana means that which cannot be destroyed by fire, water, air, weapons and is present in all living and non living being. The nearest apt English word for Sanatana is ‘Eternal.’ Now for Dharma, there is no apt English word. The nearest explanation for dharma is duty, responsibility of an individual or code of life or law. Roughly, Sanathana Dharma means the ‘Eternal Law.’

Essentially Sanatana Dharma is the sum total of all attempts made by living beings (individual soul) to merge with the Supreme Soul. The experiences of all those who made the attempt before is found in the scriptures.

Sanatana Dharma is an eternally flowing river. The only aim of the river is merge with the Supreme Truth.

The words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ is a later incorrect designation. The above meaning of
Sanatana can be found in the Bhagavad Gita.

It must be noted here that none of the major scriptures of Sanatana Dharma mentions the term ‘Hindu’ or ‘Hinduism.’ We will never find the term ‘Hindu’ or ‘Hinduism’ in Bhagavad Gita or other important scriptures.

Thanks to the early Muslim traders and invaders and the imperial Britishers, even many Hindus have forgotten the name Sanatana Dharma.

Why is Hinduism Referred as Sanatana Dharma?

The terms ‘Hindu/Hinduism’ are not self-referential terms that the practitioners of the Vedic world-view chose for themselves or called themselves. One will not find the term “Hindu” used to describe the Vedic religion in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, or anywhere else in the Vedic scriptures.

The actual term that the Vedic tradition uses to refer to itself is ‘Dharma’. The word Dharma is found repeatedly throughout the entire corpus of the Vedic scriptures, from the Rig Veda to the Bhagavad Gita. 

There is almost no scripture in the entirety of Hinduism where one will not come across the word Dharma as the preeminent name of the religion in question. Sometimes the word Dharma is used by itself; at other times it is used in conjunction with other qualifying words, such as ‘Vaidika Dharma’ (Vedic Dharma), ‘Vishva Dharma’ (Global Dharma), or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ (the Eternal Dharma). The diversity of adjectival emphasis will vary in accordance with the precise context in which the word is used.

Of these terms, the name ‘Sanatana Dharma’ has been the most widely used name of this ancient religion, and is used as far back as the Rig Veda, the very earliest scripture of Hinduism, and the earliest written text known to humanity. It is also the most philosophically profound and conceptually beautiful name for our religion.

Dr. Frank Morales
(Source: Word As Weapon: The Misuse of Terminology in the Study of Hinduism by Dr. Frank Morales)

You might also want to look at these articles on a similar topic
Meaning of Term Dharma
Symbolism and meaning of vrat in Sanatana Dharma