Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

7 What Are the Main Hindu Denominations?§


Four hands are locked in mutual support. They represent Hinduism’s four main denominations. Different, but alike in many ways, they work together for dharma: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism.§


Hinduism’s primary denominations are Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. For two centuries Western scholars have struggled to understand India’s faith. They found it so vast and varied in its beliefs, practices and ways of worship that they could not comprehend or describe it. What they didn’t realize is that India’s Sanatana Dharma, or eternal faith, is a family of religions with four principal denominations. For example, seeing so many Deities, scholars wrote incorrectly that Hindus have no Supreme God. In fact, Hindus all worship a one Supreme Being, though by different names. For Vaishnavites, Lord Vishnu is God. For Saivites, God is Siva. For Shaktas, Goddess Shakti is supreme. For Smartas, who are the most liberal Hindus, the choice of Deity is left to the devotee. These strains arose in different geographical and linguistic regions. Each has its own beliefs, scriptures, religious leaders and monastic traditions. Each has its own temples, festivals and ways of worship. Some are more focused on devotion and temple worship. Others stress yoga, mantra and scriptural study. Each has hundreds of millions of followers. All four accept the authority of the Vedas and the basic beliefs of karma, dharma and reincarnation. Much of their culture and tradition is the same. Most Hindus follow the same lineage as their parents and grandparents. As Saivites, we respect all Hindu paths and we may occasionally visit the temples of other Hindu groups. We join in their festivals and honor their religious leaders, but we hold firmly to our Saiva path.§


GURUDEVA: Whatever our background, we can and we must maintain our sectarian roots and heritage, cultivate our differences and become strong within them.§