Hindu sects: Hinduism as a federation of various sects – Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta

  • Hinduism is a complex religion. It is an artificial collection of several traditions that originated in India in the last few millenniums.
  • Since, the Muslim and British rulers and scholars alike were ignorant of the native traditions, they grouped everything under the generic name Hinduism to contrast them with their own beliefs and practices.
  • Thus the name, Hinduism, came to say. But a close examination of Hinduism reveals that it has many sects and teacher traditions, with large following, which can be treated as religions themselves.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • In Vaishnavism Lord Vishnu is considered as the supreme being.
  • The cause, sustainer and destroyer of all worlds. Vishnu is considered both in the form and as the formless infinite one. Vaishnava sect is the largest among hindu sects

Sub-sects in Vaishnava tradition

  1. Lakshmi sampradaya
  2. Brahma sampradaya
  3. Rudra sampradaya
  4. Kumara sampradaya


  • 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.
  • Shaiva tradition is probably the oldest among Hindu sects. In Shaiva sect Lord Shiva is the main deity, he is considered as the form of the supreme being.
  • Ishwara which is another name for Shiva is used in the ancient scriptures to mean the absolute god.
  • The sub-sects within the Shaiva tradition worship different forms of Shiva and attribute different qualities to Shiva.

Sub-sects in Shaiva tradition

  1. Pashupata Shaivism
  2. Shaiva Siddhanta
  3. Kashmir Shaivism
  4. Siddha Siddhanta
  5. Lingayata
  6. Shiva Advaita


  • 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 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.

Popular religion

  • A vast majority of Hindus do not belong to any sect.
  • They worship numerous gods and goddesses and make them offerings.
  • They may have personal gods of their choice, but worship other deities also with equal fervor, and celebrate all important festivals.
  • Other important cults of Hinduism are the Ganapatya cult, whose principal deity is Ganesha and Saura Cult which is centered around the worship of Surya, the sun god.
  • Each of the sect has a history of two or three thousand years and vast body of literature in the form of Puranas, Sutras and Upanishads supporting their beliefs and practices.
  • Within each of the sects there are several teacher traditions and schools of philosophy, which can be divided principally into three categories: Advaita, Dvaita and Vishistadvaita.
  • Followers of Advaita believe that duality is a delusion and God alone is true and real. There is no second.
  • Dvaita schools believes that God and His creation are distinct and different in every aspect. On liberation souls continue to exist as independent entities.
  • Vishistadvaita, holds the middle ground. They believe that God and souls are almost identical and there is no duality between them except notionally.
  • The sects and subsets of Hinduism enjoy wider following than some world religions with a history that is equally ancient and eventful.

Philosophical Sects

Theistic sects

  1. Samkhya: A logic oriented tradition where enquiry into consciousness and mind are of importance
  2. Yoga: Unification with the consciousness is achieved through Meditation, contemplation and other body mind controlling practices
  3. Nyaya: In this tradition primary importance is given to Logical thinking
  4. Vaisheshika: Vaisheshika is based on understanding the nature of objects, i.e all objects can be further divided into atoms
  5. Mimāṃsā: Enquiry into the nature of Dharma
  6. Vedanta: Knowledge is given primary importance

Atheistic Sects

  1. Cārvāka
  2. Jainism: Practice of Non-violence along with other practices is considered the way to liberation
  3. Buddhism: enquiring into the nature of suffering and the way out of suffering form the basic principles of Buddhism

Other sects

Shrautism –word Shrauti comes from Shruti, Shrauti means the tradition of Shrutis. Shrauti tradition gives higher importance to practices from the earlier portion of Vedas.

Saurism –In Saurism, Surya (sun god) is worshipped as the form of supreme being. This sect comes from the vedic traditions

Ganapatism –The supreme being is worshipped through the form of Lord Ganesha.

Kabir panthi –Teachings of Guru Kabir form the basic structure of Kabir Panthi, It has wide variety of Practices and wide variety of followers.

Aghor panth –It is a branch of Shaivism, an usual adherent of this sect is a wandering monk whose main purpose in life is to attain god through simple living

Tantrik panth – Practice of Tantras is advocated for one’s development on the path of self realization

New Hindu movements

Some of these new Hindu movements were/ are intended for social reforms, some of these movements are aimed at uniting the sects through common spiritual concepts.

  1. Arya Samaj
  2. Brahmo Samaj
  3. Prarthana Samaj
  4. Ramakrishna Mission
  5. Sathya Sai Organization
  6. Siradi SaiBaba
  7. Shyama charan Lahiri Mahasaya mission
  8. Chinmaya Mission



  • God’s cosmic law of karma governs all our experiences through cause and effect. Through karma, our thoughts, emotions and deeds—whether good, bad or mixed—return to us.
  • Karma is not fate. We have free will.
  • No God or external force is controlling our life. By applying the wisdom of the sages to the experiences encountered in life, we resolve our karma rather than create new karma.
  • To be responsible for our karma is strength. To blame others is weakness.
  • Therefore, remember God’s great law of karma and act wisely. Life is the classroom. Karma is the teacher. God GaneSa is the Lord of karma


  • Reincarnation is the natural cycle of birth, death and re birth. We are not the body in which we live, but the immortal soul which inhabits one body after another on the Earth during its evolutionary journey.
  • Like the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, physical death is a most natural transition for the soul, never to be feared. We are now the sum total of all our past lives.
  • The actions and re actions we set in mo tion in our last life form the tendencies in the next.
  • Reincarnation ceases when all karmas have been resolved, dharma has been well performed and God fully realized. This is known as mok sha, or liberation from rebirth


  • God is a one Being, yet we un derstand Him in three perfections. Parasiva, Ab sol ute Reality, timeless, formless, spaceless, is His unmanifest first perfection.
  • His second perfection, Pure Consciousness, is all-pervasive, infinite, and is found in every action and particle of His creation. His third perfection, Primal Soul, Paramesvara, is our personal Lord and Ruler of all three worlds.
  • Pûjâ, bhajana, prayer and meditation are all worshipful means of communion with God and the Gods, who are real beings dwelling in the inner worlds.
  • They can and want to help us in every aspect of our life.
  • The Gods have established many temples to allow us to communicate with them.


  • Dharma is God’s di vine law prevailing on every level of existence, from the sustaining cosmic order to religious and moral laws which bind us in harmony with that order. It is piety and ethical practice, duty and obligation.
  • Dharma is to the individual what its normal development is to a seed—the orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature and destiny.
  • Hindu dharma is embodied in the ten yamas (restraints) and ten niyamas (observances).
  • The yamas are noninjury, truthfulness, nonstealing, sexual purity, patience, steadfastness, compassion, straightforwardness and moderate appetite.
  • The niyamas are purity, remorse, contentment, giving, faith, worship, scriptural study, cognition, vows, recitation and austerity.
  • Noninjury, ahisâ, is the cardinal virtue, the mahâvrata.


  • Our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions.
  • By our actions, we create our destiny. Beliefs about sacred matters—God, soul and cosmos—are essential to one’s approach to life.
  • Hindus believe many diverse things, but there are a few bedrock concepts on which most Hindus concur. The following nine beliefs, though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality.
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