History of Sects within Hinduism



Hindus sects are mainly divided into three camps - Vaishnav, Shiva, Shakta philosophies.

A large number of Hindu sects combine these three main philosophies and comprise of Dattatreya / Nath, Tantra, Ganesh, Smmart etc.



Vaishnavas worship Vishnu and his various incarnations.  Shri Rama and Shri Krushna are Vishnu’s most popular incarnations at present.  At one time Varaha and Narshimha were equally popular.  Vaishnavs often worship Rama and Krishna as a small baby or a toddler, crawling on the floor with a butter in his right hand. 


Shri Rama is often worshiped as a handsome young king, armed with his trusty long bow and is accompanied by his beautiful wife Sita, brother Lakshman and faithful devotee – Hanuman. 


Shri Krushna is often worshiped as a charming flute player, wielder of chakra (his discus like weapon), holding aloft mount Govardhan or as the gracious ruler of Mathura and Dwarika.


Lord Vishnu is often worshiped as the four armed deity, armed with a chakra, mace, conch and a lotus.  Vishu is sometimes depicted standing tall, sitting on a throne or reclining on the coils of the cosmic serpent Shesha.  Vishnu is often accompanied by his wife Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.



Sada Shiva is variously worshiped in his beautiful, benign or terrifying forms.  In his anthromorphic form, he worshiped as Linga.  He is also the cosmic dancer – NataRaja, great teacher – Dakshina-murti, Shiva the family man with his wife and sons or, in his fierce form as the destroyer of the universe, wander of the charnel grounds etc.



Shaktas worship the goddess in her various forms.  She too is the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.  As Devi (goddess), she is the eternally beautiful maiden ; the auspicious wife and consort of God ; compassionate mother of the universe, and all that is within it ; she is the powerful warrior-maiden, armed to the teeth and capable of conquering the most menacing of demons ; and she is also the old hag who brings death and destruction to all those around her. 


Shakti – literally translated as “power”, is the kinetic energy that suffuses the universe with her dynamic power to act.  She is worshiped as Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and the beautiful wife of Vishnu ; Parvati / Sati / Uma the gracious wife of Shiva ; Sarasvati, goddess of knowledge and wife of Bhrahma ; Durga / Amba / Mahishasur-mardani,, the warrior par-excellence ; Kali the crusher of evil ; Shitala / Dhumra-masta / Chhina-masta / Smashan-Tara etc/b> as the negative side of feminine energy.  Various rivers – such as Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada etc are also worshiped as goddesses of great power, energy and auspiciousness.



Ganesh, Kartik-kyeya, Hanuman etc are the various sons and relations of the Gods listed above and worshiped with equal vigour.



Agni, Surya, Soma, Marutas, Indra etc are the Vedic Gods no longer find favour with the masses and are often worshiped as demi-Gods, subservient in importance to the Great-Gods listed above.



Ardha-Nari-Ishvar cult was formed to reconcile the sects that worshiped Shiva and Shakti. 



Hari-Hara images and ideas were spread to bring together the Shiva and Vaishnav sects.  Famous shrines such as Chidambaram even shared the main temple complex between Shiva, Vishnu and Devi to forge unity between the major sects.



Worship of Lord Jaggan-Nath was an early attempt to try and bring Hindu and tribal communities together, unifying their Gods, religious lore and everyday lives.  For this reason, a tribal deity with tribal idea of preserving ancestral bones in a tree trunk, was identified as the Hindu god Krushna and given a Hindu wife – Lakshmi.  Tribals are given charge of the kitchen – most sacred and sacrosanct part of Hindu home.  Brahmins are given the task of performing the duties normally performed by hand-maidens, grooms and pages of kings – washing, clothing and dressing the deity.  Thus, reversing the norms of society to remind the laity that in the presence of God, we are all equal.  However, this wonderful arrangement is so wonderfully crystallised and preserved, it has become a fossil.  The real intention – that of co-habiting peacefully, has become co-existing in mutually exclusive realms – that of tribals and Brahmins – never mixing !  It is sad, social taboos have overridden social reform, attempted so early in our history.


By the 8th Century AD, spiritual leaders of India realised that Hindu sects, fighting amongst themselves, would expose their adherents to conversion and external manipulation by others.  So they devised a way of unifying Hindus – by introducing puja of several Gods – at least five (Panchayatan) – to make sure the person would have pan-Hindu allegiance and fight as a united front for all Hindus as a whole.



Panchayatan worship was introduced by Adi Shankara as an attempt to bring together various Hindu Gods in to one fold – with some Vedic and some Puranic gods.  Panchayatan puja is usually offered to Surya, Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti and Ganesh.  Sometimes, these are replaced by one or other avatras of these Gods / Goddesses.  The devotee usually worships them by keeping their personal favourite in the middle of the arrangement of the five Gods. 


In some places, temples were built for “Divine families” in a single shrine complex – like Shiva with his family or Vishnu and his family + avatars.



For Hindus, this is a continuous action, trying to bridge and reconcile different ideas, sects, even religions.


With Buddhists they reached a reconciling position by adopting Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu.  As a result, all the Buddhists were automatically declared to Vaishnavites !  Over the centuries, the process was through, Buddhism ceased to exist as a separate religion within India.  In late 19th century, the British reintroduced and segregated Buddhism from Hinduism to leverage it as a political tool in running the Raj.


Recently, the Sai-baba cult is trying to bridge the Hindu and Muslim divined.  Sai-baba is introduced as an Indian divinity and a muslim fakir / pir in an ultimate effort to appeal to both communities. 


Christians are fairly new to India, but Hindus have already accepted Christ as a saintly figure with divine qualities.  In general, Hindus feel comfortable visiting churches and I am sure in time to come, they will add Christ to the Hindu pantheon of Gods too.



© Bhagwat
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