Hindus are a people that regard themselves as culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism. Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent.
The term “Hindu” trace back to Old Persian which derived these names from the Sanskrit name Sindhu (सिन्धु ), referring to the river Indus. The Greek cognates of the same terms are “Indus” (for the river) and “India” (for the land of the river). The term “Hindu” also implied a geographic, ethnic or cultural identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent around or beyond the Sindhu (Indus) River. By the 16th century CE, the term began to refer to residents of the subcontinent who were not Turkic or Muslims. In DN Jha’s essay “Looking for a Hindu identity”, he writes: “No Indians described themselves as Hindus before the fourteenth century” and “Hinduism was a creation of the colonial period and cannot lay claim to any great antiquity”. He further wrote “The British borrowed the word ‘Hindu’ from India, gave it a new meaning and significance, [and] reimported it into India as a reified phenomenon called Hinduism.” In the 18th century, the European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus. Hindoo is an archaic spelling variant, whose use today may be considered derogatory.
The historical development of Hindu self-identity within the local Indian population, in a religious or cultural sense, is unclear. Competing theories state that Hindu identity developed in the British colonial era, or that it may have developed post-8th century CE after the Muslim invasions and medieval Hindu–Muslim wars. A sense of Hindu identity and the term Hindu appears in some texts dated between the 13th and 18th century in Sanskrit and Bengali. The 14th- and 18th-century Indian poets such as Vidyapati, Kabir and Eknath used the phrase Hindu dharma (Hinduism) and contrasted it with Turaka dharma (Islam). The Christian friar Sebastiao Manrique used the term ‘Hindu’ in a religious context in 1649. In the 18th century, European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus, in contrast to Mohamedans for groups such as Turks, Mughals and Arabs, who were adherents of Islam. By the mid-19th century, colonial orientalist texts further distinguished Hindus from Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, but the colonial laws continued to consider all of them to be within the scope of the term Hindu until about mid-20th century. Scholars state that the custom of distinguishing between Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs is a modern phenomenon.
At more than 1.2 billion, Hindus are the world’s third-largest religious group after Christians and Muslims. The vast majority of Hindus, approximately 966 million (94.3% of the global Hindu population), live in India, according to the 2011 Indian census. After India, the next nine countries with the largest Hindu populations are, in decreasing order: Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the United States, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. These together accounted for 99% of the world’s Hindu population, and the remaining nations of the world combined had about 6 million Hindus as of 2010.