A Hindu wedding ritual in India
The word Hindu is derived from the
Sanskrit word Sindhu, which means "a large body of water", covering "river, ocean".
[note 1] It was used as the name of the
Indus river and also referred to its tributaries. The actual term 'hindu' first occurs, states Gavin Flood, as "a
Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)", more specifically in the 6th-century BCE inscription of
Punjab region, called
Sapta Sindhava in the Vedas, is called Hapta Hindu in
Zend Avesta. The 6th-century BCE inscription of Darius I mentions the province of Hi[n]dush, referring to northwestern India.
 The people of India were referred to as Hinduvān (Hindus) and hindavī was used as the adjective for Indian in the 8th century text
Chachnama. The term 'Hindu' in these ancient records is an ethno-geographical term and did not refer to a religion. The Arabic equivalent Al-Hind likewise referred to the country of India.
Hindu culture in Bali,
. The Krishna-Arjuna sculpture inspired by the
(top), and Hindu dancers in traditional dress.
Among the earliest known records of 'Hindu' with connotations of religion may be in the 7th-century CE Chinese text Record of the Western Regions by the Buddhist scholar
Xuanzang. Xuanzang uses the transliterated term In-tu whose "connotation overflows in the religious" according to
 While Xuanzang suggested that the term refers to the country named after the moon, another Buddhist scholar
I-tsing contradicted the conclusion saying that In-tu was not a common name for the country.
Al-Biruni's 11th-century text Tarikh Al-Hind, and the texts of the Delhi Sultanate period use the term 'Hindu', where it includes all non-Islamic people such as Buddhists, and retains the ambiguity of being "a region or a religion".
 The 'Hindu' community occurs as the amorphous 'Other' of the Muslim community in the court chronicles, according to
Wilfred Cantwell Smith notes that 'Hindu' retained its geographical reference initially: 'Indian', 'indigenous, local', virtually 'native'. Slowly, the Indian groups themselves started using the term, differentiating themselves and their "traditional ways" from those of the invaders.
Prithviraj Raso, by Chanda Baradai, about the 1192 CE defeat of
Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of
Muhammad Ghori, is full of references to "Hindus" and "Turks", and at one stage, says "both the religions have drawn their curved swords;" however, the date of this text is unclear and considered by most scholars to be more recent. In Islamic literature,
'Abd al-Malik Isami's Persian work, Futuhu's-salatin, composed in the Deccan in 1350, uses the word 'hindi' to mean Indian in the ethno-geographical sense and the word 'hindu' to mean 'Hindu' in the sense of a follower of the Hindu religion". The poet
Vidyapati's poem Kirtilata contrasts the cultures of Hindus and Turks (Muslims) in a city and concludes "The Hindus and the Turks live close together; Each makes fun of the other's religion (dhamme)." One of the earliest uses of word 'Hindu' in religious context in a European language (Spanish), was the publication in 1649 by Sebastiao Manrique.
Other prominent mentions of 'Hindu' include the epigraphical inscriptions from Andhra Pradesh kingdoms who battled military expansion of Muslim dynasties in the 14th century, where the word 'Hindu' partly implies a religious identity in contrast to 'Turks' or Islamic religious identity. The term Hindu was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later
Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century
Gaudiya Vaishnava texts, including
Chaitanya Charitamrita and
Chaitanya Bhagavata. These texts used it to contrast Hindus from Muslims who are called
Yavanas (foreigners) or
Mlecchas (barbarians), with the 16th-century Chaitanya Charitamrita text and the 17th-century Bhakta Mala text using the phrase "Hindu