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Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is considered to be one of the oldest religions. (Christianity came after Christ 2017 years ago or Islam came mostly after Paigambar).

What could be the reason that being so old religion, it got only limited to India, Nepal, Indonesia, Cambodia and few countries (considering the fact the Islam spread due to forced conversion and bloodshed)? What was the reason it did not grow or spread exponentially. At least it could have spread to other countries?

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    Ganesha is popular and worshiped literally all over the world. Vedas , Upanishads ,Gita , Ramayan and Mahabharata is known to the world .Since from long people migrated to other counties from India and took Hindu thoughts and deities over there.So Hinduism does propagated in the world.Only thing is Hindu's never used force to convert people to Hinduism.But in the modern times its clear that Hinduism & Hindu thoughts reached in entire world.Swami Vivekananda is excellent example. – SwiftPushkar Apr 22 '17 at 6:01
  • And if you mean why all people of the world haven't converted to Hindu's or Hinduism then that's because other religions were also simultaneously spreading.And spreading of religion means spreading of principles thoughts and believes of the religion rather than the deities or gods. – SwiftPushkar Apr 22 '17 at 6:07
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    Christianity and Islam are aggressive proselytizing religions whose aim is to bring the entire world into their fold. Hinduism does not have any such aims. Hence the difference in spread. Buddhism in its young days was an aggressive proselytizing dharma but has lost its zeal in recent times. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Apr 22 '17 at 12:13
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    There are large number of hindus in other countries too like Indonesia, Malaysia,SIngapore, Sri Lanka. Nepal had been a hindu state before ut changed to secualr state.very recently. But abrahamic religions spread due to some reasons. We can't say there are no hindus or no hinduism in other countries besides India. – Sarvabhouma Apr 23 '17 at 6:27
  • Because hinduism does not believe in converting people. – Rakesh Joshi Jul 6 '17 at 18:51
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Hinduism does not have a start date.
In olden days, there was no religion called 'Hinduism', it was just Veda (vaidika) or Sanatana Dharma, and it was prevalent all over the world.
But only people in Bharata desh followed it strictly. Other tribes who followed it a little bit or not at all were the Mlecchas, Yavanas (Greeks), Turushkas (Turks) etc.

In past few hundred years, Western explorers called people who live across Sindh river (now in Pakistan) as Sindhus, which over time became Hindus.

Let's look at the 2 core concepts in the 2 most prevalent religions today - Surrender in Christianity and Namaz in Islam.

  1. Surrender is equivalent to Sharanagathi in Hinduism. Even etymologically, it sounds the same.

  2. Namaz is equivalent to Namaste in Hinduism. Again etymologically, the word was derived from it.

If you look at ancient texts in any religion, they have words and concepts which ultimately derive from Sanskrit/Vedas.
e.g. The word 'Brahma' is related to word 'Abraham' and Judaism/Islam/Christianity are all Abrahamic religions.

When some Christians say the earth is 6000 years old, they probably unknowingly refer to the fact that the present Yuga - Kali Yuga, started around 5000 years back. Their story of Noah's ark is the same as Manu's during great flood of Matsya avatara.

There are Hindu temples in Burma & Indonesia.
Kandahar in Afghanistan was the Gandhara desh in Mahabharata where Gandhari & Sakuni came from.
Kazhakistan was probably Kaikeya desham because in Ramayana, Bharata's wife was from Russia.
California in USA was probably originally called 'Kapilaranyam' - which was Kapila muni's ashram which Sagara kumaras found when searching for the sacrificial horse. The path they dug is now covered with water, hence it's called Sagar (or sea).

There are many more examples to show Sanatana Dharma was prevalent all over the world. Over time, in Kali Yuga, religion deteriorates, so new religions have to pop up to cater to the needs and characteristics of those who are unable/unwilling to follow tenets of Vedas.

ANSWER - Hinduism/Sanatana Dharma used to be prevalent all over world once. It is not prevalent nowadays, because people's minds have deteriorated and they're unable to follow its rules, while other religions have lesser/easier rules.

Source - http://www.kamakoti.org/hindudharma/part2/chap2.htm

  • While your all the part of answer looks good, But this => "while other religions have lesser/easier rules." this is not 100% correct. Check Islam's rules.For example, They've brutal punishment in case of Blasphemy. – TheLittleNaruto Nov 14 '18 at 12:01
  • @TheLittleNaruto, that is punishment, not rules. for e.g. one of our rules is that you must wash your organ, feet, hands and mouth after nature's call. – ram Nov 14 '18 at 18:29
  • "Hinduism/Sanatana Dharma used to be prevalent all over world once." This flies in the face of academic research and your source is a blog post. (Though it is true that the Mitanni believed in Vedic deities, this isn't good evidence for the claim.) – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 1 at 19:55
  • "When some Christians say the earth is 6000 years old, they probably unknowingly refer to the fact that the present Yuga - Kali Yuga, started around 5000 years back. Their story of Noah's ark is the same as Manu's during great flood of Matsya avatara." There is zero proof for this. – Wikash_ Jun 1 at 21:41
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The desire to convert people from outside one's own culture is the exception rather than the norm.


Nomads & Hunter-gatherers

Nomadic & hunter-gatherer societies bring their religion with them, but do not desire to spread their culture to others. Civilized cultures (where civilized in this answer means "settled, agricultural cultures with higher relative population density"), seeing the prosperity that comes with civilization, have no desire to adopt the customs or beliefs of hunter-gatherers or nomads. They are often considered "barbaric," "savage," or otherwise less than civilized peoples. This is why exile was such a harsh punishment in ancient times. That is to say, city dwellers have biases toward city life. This can still be observed today.


The Ancient West & Near-East

Nile, Eastern Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia civilizations had many connecting trade routes.
Map spanning the Eastern Mediterranean to Eastern India
(Note: color here represents altitude, not climate or soil fertility.) As you can see mountains hindered early trade, but seas supported it. By the Bronze Age these regions had become largely interdependent. As proof, the collapse of the tin trade (among other factors such as climate change and the infamous "Sea Peoples") caused a catastrophic collapse in the 11th century BCE.

The cultures of these regions held in common a few important beliefs: immortality of the soul, a single worldly incarnation for each human, and henotheism or monolatrism. This meant that they tolerated the existence of other deities, but only served one. So, from prehistory on through early antiquity, there was no proselytizing among the region. For example, the Ancient Athenians did not think that the Ancient Thebans were wrong for worshiping Amun instead of Athena.

There were shifts within a society. For example Akhenaten outlawing the worship of anyone but Aten in the Nile Valley. There were also cultures which shared the same deities, for example the Akkadians and Sumerians. In their case, the Akkadians had conquered their Sumerian neighbours first. Religion diffused over time. This is the difference between proselytizing & conquest. Another example of diffusion of religious ideas is the several regional influences on Judaism. Again, this happened because of military conquest and the (disputed) slave trade.

Later, the shift from henotheism/monolatrism to monotheism coupled with the aforementioned assumptions of single incarnation and immortality in the afterlife implied that non-believers would be doomed to eternal suffering. Thus, there was a growing desire to save nonbelievers from eternal torment by changing their beliefs and thus their practices.


Western & South Asia

The Avestan faith on the other hand didn't spread significantly beyond the Persian Plateau during the growth of the Persian Empires (as far as we can tell, though it of course had influences on Western peoples' concept of good and evil).

In ancient India the Vedic faith blended with the traditional religion of the Indus Valley Civilization and later with indigenous animistic concepts (e.g., yakṣas). This didn't happen very far westward because the Avestan and Vedic faiths were diametrically opposed. For example the Vedic asuras (ásura) and Avestan Ahura Mazda (ahura mazdā) share the same linguistic root yet diverge in alignment. This is also the case for the Vedic Devas (daivá) and the Avestan daevas (daēuua). Map showing the extent of the Vedic faith by the Late Vedic Period This shows the spread of the Vedic faith by the Late Vedic Period. It later spread to the rest of the subcontinent.

It wasn't until after 500 BCE that the śramaṇa movement birthed Jainism & Buddhism due to increased urbanization. Buddhism in particular spread widely due to the Edicts of Ashoka. Among other things these described Ashoka's desire to spread dharma to the rest of the world. While Western proselytizers focused on saving people's afterlives, Ashoka wanted Buddhism to improve the conditions of people in their lifetimes. He also wanted people to have greater respect for and kindness to animals. Ashoka did this despite Buddha teaching respect for other religions and their way of life.

The popularity of śramaṇa practices resulted in decreased prestige of Vedic Brahmins. But, around 200 BCE the Vedic faith shifted closer to the Hinduism we see today. Mīmāṃsā came as a response to śramaṇa ideology and worked to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Vedic texts. This gave āstika traditions a resurgence in popularity within India.

Still, there was no promotion of proselytizing. Hinduism spread to Southeast Asia incidentally via merchants who traveled there. It became more widespread under the Indonesian Hindu Majapahit Empire.


Conclusion

Hopefully this history demonstrates that there is a false premise in the question. Rather than asking "Why doesn't such-and-such religion proselytize?" we can only look at why a particular religion does. Of the religions around today, the only ones who do are the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Islam, Bahai'i, and to a lesser extent Judaism) and post-19th century "new religions." They do so because it is seen as virtuous.

Secondarily there are a few aspects of Hinduism that make proselytizing less likely. In the Vedic tradition all are understood to be one. How could I "save" you without first "saving" myself. However, in my attaining mokṣa, all can be understood to be liberated. As either a yogi or ascetic I could only refine myself, not others. In the bhakti tradition there are better reasons to gain converts, but this did not happen until after India had experienced proselytizers from the west.

The other major factor is that Hinduism accepts many beliefs. You can find monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, panentheism, pandeism, monism, and atheism among those who call themselves Hindu. As described above, the proselytizing Abrahamic faiths are all monotheistic. In theory, the single deity of those religions could be incorporated into Hinduism, but Abrahamic believers cannot accept Hindu deities (of course there are a few exceptions). Personally, I believe this is largely due to the mistaken belief that differently named "omni deities" are different deities.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • Quite interesting facts, would love to read more on this . Please write more on it. – dildeepak Jul 6 '17 at 0:11
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    Some of what you say is true, some not true. Buddhism was the first proselytizing religion and it came from India; spread to Japan and Alexandria and Greece - so blows up your theory of geographical barriers. Hinduism initially also spread throughout Asia, SE Asia was Hindu before it was Buddhist. Bali remains Hindu to this day. You should cite sources in an answer rather than what you think are facts. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 6 '17 at 4:31
  • @RubelliteYakṣī... Hey ,, Wondering if you write up something from archaeological & anthropological perspective, as May 18th has been passed. Thanks a lot – dildeepak Jul 2 '18 at 20:03
  • Please add some sources. Currently, it looks like commentary/personal opinion. – sv. Nov 14 '18 at 23:25
  • I have completely rewritten this because the first edition was unclear. This information is from dozens of sources over years of education. All of it can be verified, but after spending a couple hours on the rewrite, I can't be bothered to trace back all of it. This isn't an academic journal after all and I only spend time answering questions as a service to others. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 1 at 19:50

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