Smartism is a denomination of Hinduism that emphasizes the worship of five deities – Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Devi and Surya. The term ‘Smarta’ comes from ‘smriti’ which means traditions in Sanskrit. Smartas follow scriptural and philosophical texts of Hinduism such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. They are considered orthodox Hindus as they adhere to the ancient traditions of Hinduism.
Some key beliefs and practices of Smartism include:
Belief in multiple gods/goddesses – Smartas are polytheistic and believe in worshipping multiple deities. The five major deities they worship are Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Devi and Surya. Each of these gods represent important cosmic functions in Hindu philosophy.
Emphasis on unity of God – While they worship multiple deities, Smartas believe these gods are different manifestations of the same Divine Reality called Brahman. The gods help devotees relate to different aspects of the Divine but the Ultimate Reality is one.
Worship of Ista-devata – Smartas believe that a devotee is drawn to connect with one specific deity, known as Ista-devata. Choosing an Ista-devata is based on the spiritual and temperamental connection the devotee feels with that particular god/goddess.
Focus on spiritual knowledge – Smartism emphasizes study of scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. It focuses on the pursuit of self-realization through acquiring spiritual knowledge vs religious rituals.
Caste System – Smarta Brahmins strictly follow and advocate the Vedic caste system or varnashrama dharma. They see preservation of Vedic rituals and caste purity as an important duty.
Icon worship – Smartas engage in elaborate worship before icons of gods placed in a separate shrine or temple room. The icon is seen as a representation of the divine which is invoked during worship.
Yajnas/Homas – Regular fire rituals and homas (ritual offerings into fire) are common. Certain purification rituals are also emphasized by the Smarta tradition.
Vegetarianism – Most Smartas follow a vegetarian diet, abstaining from meat, fish and eggs, based on the concept of ahimsa (non-harm).
Samskaras – Smartas place emphasis on traditional rites of passage or samskaras. These include important sacraments like baby shower, sacred thread ceremony, marriage, funeral rites, etc.
Festivals – Smartas celebrate major Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali, Navratri, etc with devotion to the five major deities. Different regions have additional local festivals.
Sacred texts – In addition to the Vedas and Upanishads, texts like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas and texts by philosophers like Adi Shankaracharya are considered important by Smartas.
Guru’s role – Having a personal Guru and getting initiated into spiritual practice through him is given utmost importance in the Smarta tradition.
Yoga & meditation – For Self-realization, practices like asanas, pranayama, japa, meditation and study of scriptures are emphasized more than elaborate rituals.
Rejection of idolatry – Smartas reject idolatry of Hindu deities and consider elaborate rituals less important than understanding the deeper spiritual truths.
Rejection of animal sacrifices – Smartas also reject practices of animal sacrifices to gods which are done in certain other Hindu sects like Tantrism and Shaktism.
The Smarta tradition originated during the post-Vedic period, around the 5th century CE and became prominent in the 10th century during the revival of Hinduism. The philosopher Adi Shankara is considered to be the greatest exponent of Smarta philosophy whose teachings defined the tradition.
According to folklore, once the five major Hindu deities – Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Ganesha and Surya got into an argument over who was supreme. They went to Lord Shiva to resolve this question of supremacy. To demonstrate the unity of all gods, Shiva appeared in the five forms and forms of Vishnu, Brahma and Surya. This illustrated the underlying oneness of the deities. Thus Smartas worship all major deities seeing them as different manifestations of the same Divine.
In Smartism, Krishna is considered to be one of ten Avatars of Vishnu, not the Supreme God. Similarly, Surya is one of the five deities, not the only important god. Thus it differs significantly from the sects of Vaishnavism where Krishna/Vishnu is considered Supreme and Saura sect which considers Surya as the most important deity.
Philosophically, Smartism emphasizes that moksha or liberation results from true spiritual knowledge – knowing the oneness of Atman (Self) and Brahman (God) as opposed to karma (actions) or bhakti (devotion). However, regular religious practices are also given importance.
There are two main denominations within Smartism – Vaidiki and Avaidiki Smartas.
Vaidiki Smartas place greater emphasis on Vedic ritualism, focus on purity, caste practices, vegetarianism, etc. They strictly adhere to all the Vedic rituals and rites. Brahmins are the primary followers of this orthodox denomination because they perform the Vedic rituals.
Avaidiki Smartas focus more on worship of five deities with devotion, temple rituals, yoga, meditation, practice of values and spiritual knowledge. They give lesser importance to Veda and caste-centric rituals. This denomination is more liberal in approach but still follows the core Smarta philosophy and traditions.
In terms of demographics, Smartas are estimated to be about 16% of the total Hindu population in India. They are concentrated mainly in the Southern states of India especially Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
In these states, Brahmins are predominantly Smartas. Various sub-sects have emerged among Smarta Brahmins owing to their philosophical differences and the regional deities they emphasize. For example:
– Smartha Brahmins – Popular in Tamil Nadu who follow Advaita philosophy of Adi Shankaracharya.
– Vadama Brahmins – belonging to Kerala who place importance on Tantric worship and Pancayatana puja.
– Vaidiki Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh – stress on Vedic rituals and purity.
– Chitpavan Brahmins of Maharashtra – believed to integrate practices of local folk worship.
– Tyagaraja cult – sect of Smartas in Tamil Nadu dedicated specifically to worshiping the deity Tyagaraja.
Despite regional variations, there are certain common religious practices, festivals and spiritual ideals that define Smartas across India and even abroad.
Here is a look at some major Hindu festivals celebrated by Smarta practitioners:
Mahashivaratri – Night dedicated to worship of Lord Shiva done by fasting, chanting and meditation.
Navaratri – Nine nights festival dedicated to worship of Goddess Durga in her various forms, celebrated across India.
Ganesha Chaturthi – Festival marking birth of Lord Ganesha, celebrated with installation of Ganesha idols.
Vijayadashami – Celebrates victory of good over evil and is symbolized by worship of Goddess Durga.
Deepavali – Festival of Lights celebrated as victory of Lord Krishna over Narakasura.
Makar Sankranti – Marks beginning of Uttarayana and auspicious phase of the year.
Ratha Saptami – Dedicated to God Surya and his worship through elaborated rituals.
Holi – Ancient festival of colors symbolizing triumph of good over evil.
In addition to major gods, Smartas also worship other Hindu deities like Sita, Radha, Saraswati, Laxmi, Rama, Hanuman, Rama, etc but the five major forms receive prime importance.
In summary, Smartism is an orthodox denomination of Hinduism focused on worship of the five major deities – Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha and Surya. They emphasize spiritual knowledge and see these different gods as form of the ultimate Brahman. Their practices reflect adherence to ancient Vedic traditions, rites of passage, festivals and guru worship. Philosophy of non-duality and their liberal, inclusive approach makes Smartas unique. Regional variations exist across India but their common beliefs unite Smartas as a major Hindu denomination.