Major Sects in Hinduism

Academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism. The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that god.

Vaishnavas worship Vishnu as the supreme God; Shaivites worship Shiva as the supreme; Shaktas worship Shakti (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while Smartas believe in the essential oneness of five (panchadeva) or six (Shanmata, as Tamil Hindus add Skanda) deities as personifications of the Supreme.

Vaishnavism

  • It is focused on worshiping of Vishnu. Vaishnavites lead a way of life promoting differentiated monotheism, which gives importance to Lord Vishnu and His ten incarnations.
  • Its beliefs and practices, especially the concepts of Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga, are based largely on the Upanishads, and associated with the Vedas and Puranic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, and the Padma, Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas.
  • Awareness, recognition, and growth of the belief have significantly increased outside of India in recent years. The Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of the tradition has significantly increased the awareness of Vaishnavism internationally, since the mid-1900s, largely through the activities and geographical expansion of the Hare Krishna movement founded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City in 1966.

Shaivism

  • Shaivism reveres the god Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is.
  • Devotees of Shiva wear Sacred ash as a sectarian mark on their foreheads and other parts of their bodies with reverence. The Sanskrit words bhasma and vibhuti can both be translated as “sacred ash”.
  • Shaivism has a vast literature that includes texts representing multiple philosophical schools, including non-dualist (abheda), dualist (bheda), and non-dual-with-dualism (bhedābheda) perspectives.

Shaktism

  • Shaktism focuses focuses worship upon Shakti or Devi – the Hindu Divine Mother – as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. Shaktism regards Devī as the Supreme Brahman itself, with all other forms of divinity, female or male, considered being merely her diverse manifestations.
  • In the details of its philosophy and practice, Shaktism resembles Shaivism. However, Shaktas focus most or all worship on Shakti, as the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine.
  • Shaktism is practiced throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond, in numerous forms, both Tantric and non-Tantric; however, its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (lit., family of Sri), strongest in South India, and the Kalikula (family of Kali), which prevails in northern and eastern India.

Smartism

  • Smartism is a liberal or nonsectarian denomination of the Vedic Hindu religion which accepts all the major Hindu deities as forms of the one Brahman.
  • The term Smarta refers to adherents who follow the Vedas and Shastras. Only a section of south Indian brahmins call themselves Smartas now.
  • Smartas are followers and propagators of Smriti or religious texts derived from Vedic scriptures. Smarta religion was practiced by people who believed in the authority of the Vedas as well as the basic premise of puranas. As a consequence usually only a brahmin preferred to use this term to refer to his family tradition.
  • It is most essential for Smarta Brahmins to specialize in the Karma Kanda of the Vedas and associated rituals diligently, and to teach the subsequent generations.

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