Hindu denominations 

Hinduism comprises numerous sects or denominations. The main divisions in current Hinduism are Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartha. These four denominations share rituals, beliefs, and traditions, but each denomination has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal (moksa, liberation).

An established philosophical school within a denomination is called a sampradaya and a traditional lineage of teachers from any sampradaya is a parampara.

The presence of different denominations and schools within Hinduism should not be viewed as a schism. On the contrary, there is no animosity between the schools, 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.

Shaivism Shaktism Vaishnavism Smartha Newer Denominations

Śaivites are those who primarily worship God Śiva as Supreme God, both Immanent and Transcendent. There are approx. 220 million followers of Śaivism.

Śaivism embraces at the same time Monism (specifically Nondualism) and Dualism. It focuses on yoga, meditation and love for all beings.

Major theological schools of Śaivism include Kashmir Śaivism, Śaiva Siddhanta and Virasaivism.

To Śaivites God Śiva is both with and without form; He is the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja; He is the linga, without beginning or end.

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Shaktas worship Shakti, the divine Mother, in her many forms like (Kali, Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati etc.).

Shakta form was one of the oldest forms of Hindu religion (evidences even from Indus valley civilization), but with evolution of civilization and emergence of various doctrines, various other forms of Hindu philosophy emerged. Shaivism and Shakta forms are really inseparable, as is the description of Shiva and Shakti/Sati/Parvati. Vaishanvism has also its connections with Shakta philosophy as Goddess Durga herself is called Narayani.


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Vaishnavism is the monotheistic tradition worshiping Vishnu (or his forms of Krishna and Rama) as the supreme or svayam bhagavan. This is the largest denomination, with approx. 580 million followers.

The different Vaishnava schools (sampradayas) and the principle teachers (acharyas) connected with them are as follows:

Rudra Sampradaya : In Hinduism, the Rudra Sampradaya is one of four Vaishnava sampradayas, a tradition of disciplic succession in the religion. Vaishnavism is distinguished from other schools of Hinduism by its primary worship of deities Vishnu and/or Krishna and their avatars as the Supreme forms of God. The ascetic Vishnuswami formed the Rudra-Sampradaya,[1][2] though the sampradaya is believed to have traced its origins to the Hindu deity Shiva, also known as Rudra, who passed on the knowledge imparted to him by Vishnu (or Krishna), on mankind. According to Vaishnavism, Shiva, who has the Shaivism school dedicated to his worship as the Supreme God, is the first and foremost Vaishnava, or follower of Vishnu. According to the tradition, Vishnuswami was fifthteenth in the line of passing of the knowledge from teacher to student. The date of formation of the sampradaya is disputed. While James Hastings dates Vishnuswami to the early 15th century,[3] and Carl Olson dates him to the 13th century, followers of the sampradaya says that Vishnuswami was born 4500 years earlier.[4] Not much about the historical Vishnuswami is known and all his works are thought to have been lost in time. The earliest converts were from Gujarat in western India. The beliefs of the sampradaya was further propagated by Vallabha Acharya (1479 1531).

Rudra sampradaya has two main sects: Vishnuswamis, that is, followers of Vishnuswami and the Vallabhas or Pushtimarg sect, founded by Vallabha
The philosophy of the sampradaya is Shuddhadvaita, pure monism to Krishna.[6] The sampradaya worship the youthful Krishna, alone or with his consort Radha. Another form of Krishna, the Bala Gopala or infant Krishna is also worshipped by the sampradaya.[7]

Unlike other sampradayas in Hinduism, which insist on the clergy to lead an ascetic's life; the clergy in most Rudra sampradaya sects, are expected to marry and live a worldly life with their family

The Brahma Sampradaya: associated with Vishnu, who is the para-brahma ( Universal Creator ), not to be confused with the other Brahma, who is the four-faced god in hindu religion(Brahma-sampradāya) refers to the disciplic succession (sampradaya) of gurus starting with Brahma in Hinduism. The term is most often used to refer to the beliefs and teachings of Madhvacharya and his Dvaita philosophy. It may also refer to the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his Gaudiya theology. A number of worldwide religious movements belong to this line, including ISKCON, a derivative of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Followers of this tradition believe that Vedic knowledge descends from Brahma. In the Vedic conception, these sampradayas began at the creation of the universe and endure to the present moment in the person of the student's own guru. Due to the consistency of the transmission of knowledge, all the previous gurus are present in the teachings of the present spiritual master. The Vedic process assures that the transmission remains pure by assuring the qualifications of the transmitter.

Sri Sampradaya associated with Laksmi: Sri Sampradaya or Sri Vaishnavism is a Vaishnava sect within Hinduism. Its origin may date back to around 10th century and its formation is associated with a collection of the devotional hymns and songs by Alvars being organized by Nathamuni, who is considered to be the first guru of the sect. Nathamuni appeared as the pioneer who wrote Sanskrit works systematizing the Sri Vaishnava theology, largely in debate with Gauttama philosophy of Buddhism. He was followed by Yamunacharya a celebrated grand-teacher of Ramanujacharya. In this tradition Vishnuis believed to be the source of all avatars. Vishnu is the name of God in the whole Vaishnavism and he is also known as Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna and behind each of those names is a devine figure with attributed supremacy in Vaishnavism and each associated tradition believed to be distinct historically. Name of the tradition is originating from Sri being the name of Lakshmi. Two different tilaka or pundra makings are worn by the representative of two different sect within the Sri Sampradaya following Ramanujacharya: Ten-galais and Vada-galais, both ascribing the markings to the footprint of Vishnu on the forehead. Some leaders or acharyas are strict Iyengar brahmanas and will only take renunciation of sannyasa at a very late age, while others live in a monastery, Matha .

The associated movement is sometimes called Sri Vaishnavism and is a Vaishnava sect of Hinduism centered around a temple at Srirangam, and a philosophical system of thought culminating in the philosophy of Visishtadvaita espoused by Ramanujacharya.

Followers of Sri Vaishnavism, as Vaishnavas, generally worship Vishnu as the supreme God.  The prefix Sri is used for this sect because they give special importance to the worship of the Goddess Lakshmi,the consort of Vishnu, who they believe to act as a mediator between God and man.  A major portion of Sri Vaishnava theology is based upon this tenet. Iyengars, a subcaste of Tamil Brahmins, follow this tradition.

Kumara Sampradaya is the tradition associated with Four Kumaras:  The Nimbarka Sampradaya (Nimbārka Sampradāya,), also known as the Hamsa Sampradāya, Kumāra Sampradāya, Catuh Sana Sampradāya and Sanakādi Sampradāya, is one of the four authorised Vaisnava Sampradāyas (philosophical schools characterised by leaders in disciplic succession) as according to the Padma Purana, one of the eighteen main Puranas

Four Kumaras

The Four Kumaras namely: Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, and Sanat Kumāra are traditionally the four mind-born sons of Lord Brahmā. Famous throughout the Puranic literature, they are found also in the Upanishads[5]. They are renowned yogis, who requested their father for the boon of remaining perpetually five years old. They were created by their father in order to advance creation, however, they chose to undertake lifelong vows of celibacy (brahmacarya). After obtaining initiation into the Śrī Gopāla Mantra, these four brothers then left meditations into an impersonal God, and realised the truth lies beyond the impersonal, in the Highest Person, the Supreme Lord Śrī Krishna. Having obtained his grace and being initiated into Vaishnava tradition, they began to spread the teachings of the path of renounciation. During initiation into this Vaishnava tradition, they received the Śrī Śāligrāma Śilā known as Śrī Śarveśvara Bhagavān, which has been passed on from each Guru to disciple since their time.

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Smarthas 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 worshipper since different manifestations of God are held to be equivalent. It is a liberal and eclectic sect

It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West as Smarta belief includes Advaita belief 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. By contrast with Smarta/Advaita belief, Vaishnavism and Shaivism follows a singular concept of God, or panentheistic monotheism or panentheistic monism.

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Newer denominations of Hindu's

Influential 19th to 20th century Hindu revivalist organizations include Arya Samaj, Tilak Mission Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Brahmo Samaj, Parisada Hindu Dharma, Prarthana Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana, Swadhyay Movement, Swaminarayan Sampraday, Sathya Sai Organisation