There are words in some languages which are difficult to translate to other languages like gestalt in German.

There are words which get lost in translation without sufficient context.

It is possible that words from Hindu scriptures written in Sanskrit got mistranslated to English.

The word 'brahmacarya' got translated as celibacy. But it literally means 'to dwell on the divine'. The word 'varna' got translated as 'caste' - which has racial connotations - when it should have been 'class' or 'group'.

What is worse is that most Hindus learned from the incorrect translations to the extent that today even Hindus have misconceptions about what they are. I believe that a lot of misconceptions about Hinduism stems from these incorrect translations.

What according to you would be a significant mistranslated word/concept? A mistranslation that has caused the most damage or misconception to Hinduism.

  • It seems like you're asking for a really large list of terms, and that your criteria for them is pretty subjective (everyone has a different idea of what constitutes "a significant mistranslated word or concept"). Since some of these concepts can be pretty nuanced and have a lot of complex, subtle meanings, it might be better to ask individual questions about one specific term at a time. (Defining brahmacarya, and how it's different or similar to celibacy, would be a good question by itself, for example.) – Laura Jun 26 '14 at 15:06
  • Kinjal, thank you for the question, but Vedic hermeneutics and similar analyses are a huge area of study, and it isn't really practical to do it justice in space of this post. If you have specific question about the interpretation or misinterpretation a word or passage, that would actually be a great question for this site; but I am going to close this first attempt as too broad for this format. I hope you will try again. Good luck! – Robert Cartaino Jun 26 '14 at 16:54

There are tons of words which got corrupted in translation into English. This is especially important because it were British who first tried to translate Hindu scriptures into current languages and helped in the wider recognition. I'll list a few notable ones which I remember -

  1. Brahman : The most best way to describe Brahman in English is God, but it fails miserably because of the different concept of God in West and Hinduism. Brahman is not a scornful, judgmental father sitting atop cloud. Rather Brahman is a all-pervasive entity, more of whom you can read at wiki. In Hinduism, the pronoun for Brahman is 'tat' which is 'it' in English not 'he'.
  2. Karma : In Hindu scripture Karma is a very complex word with hidden connotations and meaning which means 'ones deeds' in short. In popular culture, the meaning has degraded to such an extent that even 'Karma is a bitch' is a valid sentence.
  3. Dharma : From scripture, it means 'ones duty', it has no relation to religion or tradition. A sample sentence would be, The Dharma of Sun is to glow and radiate light. But the mistranslation into Hindi and other language lead it to mean something related to religion.
  4. Tantra : From a western connotation, Tantra mean Sex. There's no ifs and buts to it. But scriptures tell you a different story. Tantra essentially mean awakening of Kundalini with sexual energy, which is considered of highest potency.
  5. Kama : Popular connotation is Sex, but the actual meaning of Kama is desire. So, Kamadeva is not the eastern equivalent Cupid, rather the reign of Kamadeva is much more broad.

I'll add to this list as I find more such words..


A few notable points : For more refer veda.wikidot

Hinduism: A Modern Term

Words like Hindu or Hinduism are anachronisms. They do not exist in the Indian cultural lexicon. People have coined them to suit their needs in different points of history. Nowhere in the scriptures is there any reference to the term "Hinduism". The very name “Hinduism” is a regional/people group descriptive name. It is the name for the inhabitants and the religion of the Indus River region. The inhabitants were called Hindus and their religion was called Hinduism.

The common name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma.

A Civilization more than a Religion

Hinduism does not have any one founder, and it does not have a Bible or a Koran to which controversies can be referred for resolution. Consequently, it does not require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus cultural, not creedal, with a history contemporaneous with the peoples with which it is associated.

Much More than Spirituality

Writings we now categorize as Hindu scriptures include not just books relating to spirituality but also secular pursuits like science, medicine and engineering. This is another reason why it defies classification as a religion. Further, it cannot be claimed to be essentially a school of metaphysics. Nor can it be described as 'other worldly'. In fact, one can almost identify Hinduism with a civilization that is flourishing even now.

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