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The main denominations of Hinduism are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. These four denominations may share rituals, beliefs, and traditions, but each denomination has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal, Atma Jnana (self-realization). There are also smaller denominations, and newer movements.
Cross-denominational influences are the Bhakti-movement, and the six orthodox schools of thought.
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The presence of different denominations and schools within Hinduism should not be viewed as a schism, as there was no original unity. On the contrary, there is at present no great animosity between the different "religions" which constitute Hinduism, and among Hindu followers as a whole, there is a strong belief that there are many paths leading to the One God or the Source, whatever one chooses to call that ultimate Truth.
Instead, there is a healthy cross-pollination of ideas and logical debate that serves to refine each school's philosophy. It is not uncommon, or disallowed, for an individual to follow one school but take the point of view of another school for a certain issue.
In Hinduism, a sampradaya (IAST sampradāya) can be translated as ‘tradition’ or a ‘religious system’. It is a body of practice, views and attitudes, which are transmitted, redefined and reviewed by each successive generation of followers. A particular guru lineage is called parampara. By receiving diksha (initiation) into the parampara of a living guru, one belongs to its proper sampradaya. Membership in a sampradaya not only lends a level of authority to one’s claims on truth in the Hindu traditional context, but also allows one to make those claims in the first place.
According to the Padma Purāṇa, one of the eighteen main Purāṇas, there are four Vaishnava sampradayas, which preserve the fruitfull mantras:[note 1]
Each of them are understood to have been inaugurated by a deity, who appointed heads to these four lineages:
Other Vaishnava schools and the principal teachers connected with them are:
Shaivas or Shaivites are those who primarily worship Shiva as the supreme god, both immanent and transcendent. Shaivism embraces at the same time monism (specifically nondualism) and dualism. To Shaivites, Shiva is both with and without form; he is the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja; and is linga, without beginning or end.
The major schools of Śaivism include:
Shaktism is one of the oldest forms of the Hindu religion (records date back to the Indus valley civilization). The passage of thousands of years has yielded variations in doctrine, and a plurality of Hindu philosophies has emerged. The Shaivism and Shakta forms are in fact inseparable, as is the description of Shiva from that of Shakti/Sati/Parvati. Vaishanvism also has a connection with Shakta philosophy because Goddess Durga is called Narayani.
Smartas have free rein to choose whichever deity they wish to worship. They usually worship five deities (Pancopasana) or Panchadevata as personal formful manifestations of the impersonal Absolute, Brahman. Smartas accept and worship the six manifestations of God (Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya, and Skanda) and the choice of the nature of God is up to the individual worshiper since different manifestations of God are held to be equivalent. It is nonsectarian.
It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West as Smarta belief includes Advaita belief (Advaita was revived by Adi Sankara in India) and the first Hindu saint, who significantly brought Hinduism to the west was Swami Vivekananda, an adherent of Advaita. Not till much later, gurus, such as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and others, brought a Vaishnavite perspective to the West.
Prominent Smarta communities:
Shrauta communities are very rare in India, the most well known being the ultra-orthodox Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala. They follow the "Purva-Mimamsa" (earlier portion of Vedas) in contrast to Vedanta followed by other Brahmins. They place importance on the performance of Vedic Sacrifice (Yajna). The Nambudiri Brahmins are famous for their preservation of the ancient Somayaagam, Agnicayana rituals which have vanished in other parts of India.
The Suryaites or Sauras are followers of a Hindu denomination that started in Vedic tradition, and worship Surya as the main visible form of the Saguna Brahman. The Saura religion was influential in times of old but declined between the 12th and 13th century CE and today remains as a very small movement.
Ganapatism is a Hindu denomination in which Lord Ganesha is worshipped as the main form of the Saguna Brahman. This sect was widespread and influential in the past and has remained important in Maharashtra.
Kaumaram is a sect of Hindus, especially found in South India and Sri Lanka where Lord Muruga Karttikeya is the Supreme Godhead.Lord Muruga is considered superior to the Trimurti. The worshippers of Lord Muruga are called Kaumaras.
Hinduism flourished on the island of Java and Sumatra until the late 16th century, when a vast majority of the population converted by will or force to Islam. Only the Balinese people who by Islamic religious attacks formed majority on the island of Bali and retained this form of Hinduism over the centuries. Theologically, Balinese or Indonesian Hinduism is closer to Shaivism than to other major sects of Hinduism. The adherents consider Acintya the supreme god, and all other gods as his manifestations.
The term "Agama Hindu Dharma", the endonymous Indonesian name for "Indonesian Hinduism" can also refer to the traditional practices in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi and other places in Indonesia, where people have started to identify and accept their agamas as Hinduism or Hindu worship has been revived. The revival of Hinduism in Indonesia has given rise to a national organisation, the Parisada Hindu Dharma.
19th to 20th century Hindu revivalist organizations include:
Slavic Vedism, Slavic Hinduism, or Neo-Vedism or simply Vedism are terms used to describe the contemporary indigenous development of Vedic forms of religion in Russia, Siberia, other Slavic countries, the Commonwealth of Independent States' members and generally all the post-Soviet states.
Slavic Vedism involves the use of Vedic rituals and worship of ancient Vedic deities, distinguishing from other groups which have maintained a stronger bond with modern Indian Hinduism, although Krishnaite groups often identify themselves as "Vedic" too. Also some syncretic groups within Rodnovery (Slavic Neopaganism) use the term "Vedism" and worship Vedic gods, but mainstream Rodnovery is characterised by its use of indigenous Slavic rituals and Slavic names for the gods.
Jñāna is a Sanskrit word that means knowledge. In Vedas it means true knowledge, that (atman) is identical with Brahman. It is also referred to as Atma Jnana which is frequently translated as self-realization.
The medieval Bhakti movement has had a significant impact on the traditional denominations of Pauranic Hinduism, especially on Vaishnavism. The Alvars were Tamil poet saints of south India who lived between sixth and ninth centuries and espoused "emotional devotion" or bhakti to Visnu/Krishna in their songs of longing, ecstasy and service. Usually twelve Vaishnava saints, who, during the early medieval period of Tamil history, helped revive devotional Hinduism bhakti through their hymns of worship to Vishnu and his Avatars. The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabhandham. The Bhakti literature that sprang from these Alvars has contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation. In addition, they helped to make the Tamil religious life independent of knowledge of Sanskrit. As part of the legacy of the Alvars, five Vaishnava philosophical traditions (sampradayas) has developed at the later stages.
Hindu philosophy is traditionally divided into six āstika (Sanskrit: आस्तिक "orthodox") schools of thought, or darśanam (दर्शनम्, "view"), which accept the Vedas as the supreme revealed scriptures. The schools are:
The nāstika schools are (in chronological order):
However, medieval philosophers like Vidyāraṇya classified Indian philosophy into sixteen schools, where schools belonging to Saiva, Pāṇini and Raseśvara thought are included with others, and the three Vedantic schools Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita (which had emerged as distinct schools by then) are classified separately.
In Hindu history, the distinction of the six orthodox schools was current in the Gupta period "golden age" of Hinduism. With the disappearance of Vaisheshika and Mimamsa, it was obsolete by the later Middle Ages, when the various sub-schools of Vedanta (Dvaita "dualism", Advaita Vedanta "non-dualism" and others) began to rise to prominence as the main divisions of religious philosophy. Nyaya survived into the 17th century as Navya Nyaya "Neo-Nyaya", while Samkhya gradually lost its status as an independent school, its tenets absorbed into Yoga and Vedanta.