Major Traditions in Hinduism

Major Traditions in Hinduism

By Unnathi

SHAIVISM – Unnathi.V

Shaivism is the second largest religious community in contemporary India. It has several distinct and important branches and is commonly associated with asceticism. Lord Shiva himself is often depicted as a yogi sitting in meditation in the Himalayas. Shaivism includes the principle of avatar, but the  concept is less developed than in Vaishnavism. Shiva has important forms as Rudra (in a fierce and angry mood), Nataraja (the King of Dance), and the Linga. Shiva’s followers often consider him the Supreme deity, above all others.

It is one of the oldest and one of the four major sects in Hinduism. It is popular in most of the south Asian countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Indonesia. It is the most prominent in India.

Concepts of Shaivism

  • Pati- Pati means the husband or the lord of this entire creation. He performs the five important functions as the creator, destroyer, concealer, revealer and preserver. He is responsible for casting the net of Ma or illusion upon the occupants of the world he has created.
  • Pasu- Pasu means animals. It includes every animal and life form including humans that live in this world. These beings or Jivas are subject to three kinds of impurities that are egoism, delusion and attachments. These beings are bound to the world they liv in by their desires and attachments.
  • Pasa- Pasa signifies or refers to the attachments formed by living beings to other objects. These attachments are formed through inner desire and repeated contact with the objects. This bounds the living being to their world and is the reason for their suffering. In order to attain liberation and true freedom, one must detach themselves from worldly desires and attachments.
  • Prakriti– Prakriti or nature is considered to be a part of Shiva as well as an independent deity called Shakti. It is responsible for manifesting parts of itself into this world to create and change it. It is considered to be the cause of creation.

The Main Sects in Shaivism


Perhaps the oldest school within Shaivism. The school of Shaiva Siddhanta  is a continuation of this tradition.

Shaiva Siddhanta

Followed by many intellectuals. It has a personal doctrine, stressing the plurality of souls (as opposed to the advaita idea that all souls and God are ultimately one).

Kashmiri Shaivism

Almost defunct today. Its most prolific writer is Abhinavagupta (c. 960 – 1020). The goal of this movement is to “become Shiva “and regain one’s universal nature. It is also called Shiva-advaita.

Virashaivism (the Lingayats)

Closely associated with the twelfth-century reformer, Basava. It opposed caste differences. Followers wear a small Shiva-linga round the neck. The present community is centered round Karnataka.

Shaiva Asceticism

Shaiva has long been connected with rigorous asceticism. Well known are the naked Nagas. Many yogis are Shaivites. Prominent are the Nathapatnis, followers of Gorakhnatha, and the Aghori who deliberately contravene moral norms.

Important Places

  • Benares
  • Kedarnath
  • Somnath
  • Rameswaram
  • Chidambaram
  • Amarnath

Important Stories

  • Shiva drinks poison
  • Shiva destroys the three cities of the demons
  • Killing Andhaka and other demons
  • Daksha’s sacrifice

Vaishnavism– Unnathi. V

(** Image /Content – reference from articles from Internet)

Vaishnavism, also called Vishnuism, one of the major forms of modern Hinduism, characterized by devotion to the god Vishnu and his incarnations (avatars). A devotee of Vishnu is called a Vaishnava.

Vaishnavas worship Lord Vishnu, Lord Rama, and Lord Krishna as different manifestations of the same Supreme Lord or one supreme divinity, although the styles of worship and emphasis differ.


Vaishnavism claims to go back millions of years (in keeping with its own historical worldview). Worship of Krishna dates back at least 5,000 years, though Western scholars suggest it emerged more recently. Between the 6th and 9th centuries, the twelve Alvars (poet-mystics) laid the foundations for the Shri Vaishnavas based in Shri Rangam, South India.

Their founder-theologian is Ramanuja (1017–1137). After him emerged three other sampradayas headed by Nimbarka (1125–1162), Vishnuswami (1200–1250) and Madhva (1238–1317).

The various sects and groups within Vaishnavism differ in their worship of Vishnu. For some, the goal of bhakti (religious devotion) is moksha (liberation from the life-death cycle, or samsara). For others, the goal is prosperity and health.

Beliefs :

Most Vaishnavas believe in the concept of a life of eternity with Vishnu after death. Some sects believe that the phenomenal world is not real. Others believe that Vishnu and the soul are separate entities. But one group, the Gaudiya sect, asserts that the relationship between Vishnu and the world is completely beyond comprehension.

Vaishnavas’ beliefs in the concepts of bhakti and Bhakti yoga are founded largely on the sacred writings in the Upanishads. Bhakti yoga requires practicing devotion to the Supreme deity that’s based on a sincere desire to please, rather than the hope of reward or the fear of punishment. This form of yoga is a path to spiritual liberation, or oneness with Vishnu


Avatars of Vishnu :

From Innumerable incarnations of Vishnu, Rishis or Sages selected ten Avatars as a representative of rest; these ten incarnations are known in Sanskrit as “Dashavatar.”

The most popular ten avatars based on many Puranas are Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki


Main Writings




Bhagavat Purana

Vishnu Purana

Hymns of the Alvars (Tamil poet-mystics)

Vedanta Sutras

Important Stories

Those of Krishna

The Ramayan

The Ten Incarnations


Important Places







Pandhapur (Maharastra)