Hindu ( pronunciation ) has historically been used as a geographical, cultural or religious identifier for people indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. In contemporary use, Hindu refers to anyone who regards himself or herself as culturally, ethnically or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism.
The historical meaning of the term Hindu has evolved with time. Starting with the Persian and Greek references to India in the 1st millennium BCE through the texts of the medieval era, the term Hindu implied a geographic, ethnic or cultural identifier for people living in Indian subcontinent around or beyond Sindhu (Indus) river. By the 16th-century, the term began to refer to residents of India who were not Turks or Muslims.
The historical development of Hindu self-identity within the 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 developed post-8th century CE after the Islamic invasion 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 regional languages. 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 religious context in 1649. In the 18th-century, the European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus, in contrast to Mohamedans for Mughals and Arabs following Islam. By 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.