by Jayaram V
Hinduism is a complex religion. It is an artificial collection
of several traditions that originated in India in the last few
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
The following is a list of major religious sects and teacher
traditions in Hinduism.
1. Saivism: Probably the oldest of all sects
with its roots in prehistoric traditions of the subcontinent.
Followers of Saivism worship Lord Siva as their chief deity and
regard him as Isvara, or Brahman. They wear a mark of three
horizontal stripes on their foreheads. There are several
sub-sects within Saivism such as Adisaiva, Pasupatha, Kashmiri,
Vira and Gorakanatha sub sects. They all acknowledge Siva as the
Supreme Self, but prescribe different beliefs, methods and
practices for liberation.
2. Vaishnavism: Currently the most popular sect
of Hinduism with largest following. They consider Vishnu,
Narayana and Krishna as the Supreme Self and worship their
numerous aspects. As in case of Saivism, there are many sects
within Vaishnavism also such as Vaikhasana, Pancaratra. They
also differ in their beliefs and methods of worship. Followers
of Vaishnavism worship Lord Vishnu as the Supreme Creator and
wear a U shaped mark on the forehead with a long stripe between
the two arms of U. Swami Narayana and Hare Krishna are the most
important teacher traditions of Vaishnavism.
3. Shaktism: Followers of the sect worship Mother
Goddess or Shakti and her numerous aspects as the highest
supreme Deity. They believe that Shakti is supreme, eternal and
independent, who is both material and instrumental causes of
creation, with the Self or Isvara acting as passive witness in
the background. Shakti is worshipped throughout India and there
are numerous devi temples and Shakti Pithas in the country.
However her worship is more popular in eastern India.
4. Tantrism: Followers of Tantra may worship
either Siva or Vishnu or Vishnu or their aspects. They however
follow unconventional methods of worship, even very
controversial ones, known as left-hand methods (vamacara) to
achieve liberation. Most of the practices are kept as closely
guarded secrets from general public because of their
5. 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.
This article scratches the surface of the subject. Volumes
can be written about each of the sects and their sub sects. The
sects and subsets of Hinduism enjoy wider following than some
world religions with a history that is equally ancient and
Suggested Further Reading