Smarta Tradition

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The five prime deities of Smartas in a Ganesha-centric Panchayatana: Ganesha (centre) with Shiva (top left), Devi or Durga (top right), Vishnu (bottom left) and Surya (bottom right).
Smartha Brahmins in western India (c. 1855-1862).

Smarta tradition refers to a movement in Hinduism that developed and expanded with the Puranas genre of literature.[1] This Puranic religion is notable for the domestic worship of five shrines with five deities, all treated as equal – Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Surya and Devi (Shakti).[1][2] The Smarta tradition contrasted with the Shrauta tradition, the latter based on elaborate rituals and rites.[1][3] There has been considerable overlap in the ideas and practices of the Smarta tradition with other significant historic movements within Hinduism, namely Shaivism, Vasihnavism and Shaktism.[4][5][6]

The Smarta tradition is traditionally credited to nondualism philosophy and attributed to Adi Shankara of the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.[2][7] Shankara championed the ultimate reality is impersonal and Nirguna (attributeless) and any symbolic god serves the same equivalent purpose.[2][8] Inspired by this belief, the Smarta tradition followers, along with the five Hindu gods include a sixth impersonal god in their practice.[8] The tradition has been called by William Jackson as "advaitin, monistic in its outlook".[9]

The term also refers to Brahmins who specialize in the Smriti corpus of texts named the Grihya Sutras, in contrast to Shrauta Sutras.[10][11]


Smarta has several meanings:[12][13]

  • Relating to memory
  • Recorded in or based on the Smriti
  • based on tradition, prescribed or sanctioned by traditional law (Dharma)
  • Orthodox Brahman versed in or guided by traditional law and Vedanta doctrine

Smarta is derived from Smriti (Sanskritस्मृति, SmṛtiIPA: [s̪mr̩.t̪i] ?).[13] The smriti are a specific body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down but constantly revised, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed.[14][15]

In Smarta tradition context, the term Smarta means "follower of Smriti".[16]


See also Late Middle Kingdoms - The Late-Classical Age and Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BC - AD 1100)

According to,

[A]ll Brahmins who specialized in the Karma Kanda (Samhita and Brahmana, the ritual parts of the Vedas) of the Vedas, and who followed the Vedas and Shastras (both Smriti and Shruti) came to be known as Smartas.[17]

Both Alf Hiltebeitel and Flood locate the origins of the Smarta Tradition in the (early) Classical Period of Hinduism, when Hinduism emerged from the interaction between Brahmanism and local traditions.[18][19]

The "Hindu Synthesis"[edit]

Hiltebeitel situates the origins of the Smarta tradition in the ongoing interaction between the Vedic-Brahmanic tradition and non-Vedic traditions. According to him, a period of consolidation in the development of Hinduism took place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishad (c. 500 BC) and the period of the rise of the Guptas (c. 320-467), which he calls the "Hindus synthesis", "Brahmanic synthesis", or "orthodox synthesis".[20] It develops in interaction with other religions and peoples:

The emerging self-definitions of Hinduism were forged in the context of continuous interaction with heterodox religions (Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas) throughout this whole period, and with foreign people (Yavanas, or Greeks; Sakas, or Scythians; Pahlavas, or Parthians; and Kusanas, or Kushans) from the third phase on [between the Mauryan empire and the rise of the Guptas].[21]

The smriti texts of the period between 200 BC- AD100 proclaim the authority of the Vedas, and "nonrejection of the Vedas comes to be one of the most important touchstones for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas."[22] Of the six Hindu darsanas, the Mimamsa and the Vedanta "are rooted primarily in the Vedic sruti tradition and are sometimes called smarta schools in the sense that they develop smarta orthodox current of thoughts that are based, like smriti, directly on sruti."[23] According to Hiltebeitel, "the consolidation of Hinduism takes place under the sign of bhakti."[24] It is the Bhagavadgita that seals this achievement. The result is a universal achievement that may be called smarta. It views Shiva and Vishnu as "complementary in their functions but ontologically identical".[24]

Puranic Hinduism[edit]

According to Flood, the Smarta tradition originated with the development of the Puranas.[1] The Puranic corpus is a complex body of materials that advance the views of various competing cults. Flood connects the rise of the written Purana historically with the rise of devotional cults centring upon a particular deity in the Gupta era.[25][note 1]

After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, power became decentralised in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states". The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms.[27] With the breakdown of the Gupta empire, gifts of virgin waste-land were heaped on brahmanas,[28][29] to ensure profitable agrarian exploitation of land owned by the kings, but also to provide status to the new ruling classes. Brahmanas spread further over India, interacting with local clans with different religions and ideologies.[28]

The early medieval Puranas were composed to disseminate religious mainstream ideology among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation.[30] The Brahmanas used the Puranas to incorporate those clans into the agrarian society and its accompanying religion and ideology.[28] Local chiefs and peasants were absorbed into the castesystem, which was used to keep "control over the new kshatriyas and shudras.[31]

The Brahmanism of the Dharmashastras and the smritis underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of Puranic Hinduism,[30] "which like a colossus striding across the religious firmament soon came to overshadow all existing religions". Puranic Hinduism was a "multiplex belief-system which grew and expanded as it absorbed and synthesized polaristic ideas and cultic traditions". It was distinguished from its Vedic Smarta roots by its popular base, its theological and sectarian pluralism, its Tantric veneer, and the central place of bhakti.[32]

Many local religions and traditions were assimilated into puranic Hinduism. Vishnu and Shiva emerged as the main deities, together with Sakti/Deva, subsuming local cults, popular totem symbols and creation myths. Rama and Krsna became the focus of a strong bhakti tradition, which found expression particularly in the Bhagavata Purana. The Krsna tradition subsumed numerous Naga, yaksa and hill and tree based cults. Siva absorbed local cults by the suffixing of Isa or Isvara to the name of the local deity, for example Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara.[33]

Shankara and Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Traditionally, Sri Adi Shankaracharya(8th century) is regarded as the greatest teacher and reformer of the Smarta.[15][34][35][note 3]

According to Hiltebeitel, Adi Shankara Acharya established the nondualist interpretation of the Upanishads as the touchstone of a revived smarta tradition:

Practically, Adi Shankara Acharya fostered a rapprochement between Advaita and smarta orthodoxy, which by his time had not only continued to defend the varnasramadharma theory as defining the path of karman, but had developed the practice of pancayatanapuja ("five-shrine worship") as a solution to varied and conflicting devotional practices. Thus one could worship any one of five deities (Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Surya, Ganesa) as one's istadevata ("deity of choice").[18]

The Sringeri Sharada monastery founded by Jagatguru Sri Adi Shankaracharya in Karnataka is still the centre of the Smarta sect.[15][35]

Modern Hinduism[edit]

In recent times bhakti cults have increasingly become popular with the smartas.[46]

Vaitheespara notes the adherence of the Smarta Brahmans to "the pan-Indian Sanskrit-brahmanical tradition":

The emerging pan-Indian nationalism was clearly founded upon a number of cultural movements that, for the most part, reimagined an 'Aryo-centric', neo-brahmanical vision of India, which provided the 'ideology' for this hegemonic project. In the Tamil region, such a vision and ideology was closely associated with the Tamil Brahmans and, especially, the Smarta Brahmans who were considered the strongest adherents of the pan-Indian Sanskrit-Brahmanical tradition.[47]



Smartas believe in the essential oneness of five (panchadeva) or six (Shanmata[17][note 4]) deities as personifications of the Supreme.

God is Saguna and Nirguna[edit]

According to Smartism, supreme reality, Brahman, transcends all of the various forms of personal deity.[49][note 5] God is both Saguna and Nirguna:[50]

As Saguna, God exhibits qualities such as an infinite nature and a number of characteristics such as compassion, love, and justice. As Nirguna, God is understood as pure consciousness that is not connected with matter as experienced by humanity. Because of the holistic nature of God, these are simply two forms or names that are expressions of Nirguna Brahman, or the Ultimate Reality.[50]


The Smartas are an orthodox[35] and traditional Hindu denomination, which is very strict about rules and regulations.[51] The Smartas worship five deities, Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Ganesh, and Surya[51] as manifestations of the One transcendental reality.

Panchayatana Puja[edit]

The Smartas evolved a kind of worship which is known as Panchayatana puja. In this Puja, the five principal Brahmanical Hindu Deities (Surya, Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha and Devi or Shakti) are the objects of veneration.[15] The five symbols of the major Gods are placed on a round open metal dish called Panchayatana, the symbol of the deity preferred by the worshiper being in the center. A similar arrangement is also seen in the medieval temples, in which the central shrine housing the principal Deity is surrounded by four smaller shrines containing the figures of the other deities.[52] Some of the Smartas of South India add a sixth god Kartikeya (See Shanmata). According to Basham, "[m]any upper-class Hindus still prefer the way of the Smartas to Saiva and Vaisnava forms of worship".[53]

There are different sets of rules for each Ashrama (stage of an individual's life). The stages of life prescribed in the Vedic scriptures are Brahmacharya Ashrama, Grihastha Ashrama, Vanaprastha Ashrama and Sannyasa Ashrama. These four orders normally proceed one after the other, depending upon one's age, maturity, mental disposition and qualification. Each stage has its own set of rules within which it is conducted.[citation needed]

Daily routine[edit]

The daily routine of a Smarta brahmin[54] includes performing

The last two named Yajnas are performed in only a few households today. Brahmacharis perform Agnikaryam instead of Agnihotra or Aupasana. The other rituals followed include Amavasya tarpanam and Shraddha.

Other practices[edit]

All Smarta s who take up the Brahmacharya Ashrama by undergoing Upanayana are expected to adhere to a sattvic diet and adhere to other rules of the Smriti tradition of their respective families. In modern days, the Smarta s contend with learning at least the select portions (called Suktas) and other portions from the Aranyaka of the Veda.

Smarta s are recommended to follow the Brahma form of Vedic marriage (a type of arranged marriage). The marriage ceremony is derived from Vedic prescriptions. Women acquire the traditions of her husband's family upon marriage.

Lineage is an important continuity for the Smarta s. It is called the Gotra. Each Smarta family belongs to a particular Gotra which is the progeny of an identified Rishi. People belonging to the same Gotra are deemed brothers & sisters and hence cannot marry each other.


See also: Shastras

Smarta s follow the Hindu scriptures. These include the Shruti,[note 6] but most markedly the smriti literature. The smriti literature incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences[55] of the period from about 200 BC to about AD 300 [55][56] and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold.[57][55] According to Larson,

[M]ost of the basic ideas and practices of classical Hinduism derive from the new smriti literature. In other words, Hindus for the most part pay little more than lip service to the Vedic scriptures. The most important dimensions of being Hindu derive, instead, from the smriti texts. The point can also be made in terms of the emerging social reality. Whereas the shruti is taken seriously by a small number of Brahmins, the smriti are taken seriously by the overwhelming majority of Hindus, regardless of class or caste identity.[55]

  • The major Smriti texts are:[58]
    • The two epics Ramayana of Valmiki and the Mahabharata, which have been commented by many Smarta philosophers and scholars. Harikathas, Pravachanams, Upanyasams, Kalakshepams on these texts are still very popular. The Ramayana is the text of choice for daily devotional reading or Nitya Parayanam for many Smarta s and it has pervaded and guided Hindu conscience for centuries.
    • The Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata, and commentaries on it by Adi Shankaracharya, Madhusudhana Saraswati and Sridhara Swami. The Bhagavad Gita exemplifies the "Hindu synthesis" of Brahmanic orthodoxy with the emerging bhakti traditions[57] and the use of the shramanic and Yogic terminology to spread the Brahmanic idea of living according to one's duty or dharma, in contrast to the yogic ideal of liberation from the workings of karma.[59]
    • The Puranas, a collection of mythological storiesof the various Hindu gods, especially Shiva and Vishnu. The Srimad Bhagavatham and Vishnu Purana are treated with the same reverence as the major epics, as also being the chosen texts for daily devotional reading (Parayana grantham). "Sridhariyam" on the Bhagavatham, and "Bhavartha-Dipika" on the Vishnu Purana are well known commentaries, both by Sridhara Swami.
    • Common religious law books or dharma literature, namely the Manu Smriti, the Apastamba Smriti and the Bodhyayana Smriti.
    • In addition to the above scriptures, Smarta s also recite various hymns or Shlokas and Stotras composed by Hindu saints and poets.[17]

The afore mentioned scriptures are also the texts of choice for daily reading by the Acharyas of the Shankara mutts.



Only a few communities still call themselves Smartas. These communities are mostly in South India. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica:

The Smartas of the North differ somewhat from their counterparts in the South and in Gujarat, in that the nomenclature does not necessarily connote followers of Shankara. Also the number of pure Smarta temples are fewer in the North.[60]

Smarta communities:

See:Kannada brahmins

Religious institutions[edit]

Traditional Smarta religious institutions:

and other Sankara Maths spread all over India.

The other Hindu missions with Advaita traditions closely linked with the Smarta philosophy are:

Prominent Smarta teachers[edit]

Some of the prominent Smarta teachers:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wendy Doniger, based on her study of indologists, assigns approximate dates to the various Puranas:[26]
  2. ^ The term "mayavada" is still being used, in a critical way, by the Hare Krshnas.[42][43][44][45]
  3. ^ Shankara himself, and his grand-teacher Gaudapada, were influenced by Buddhism.[36][37][38][39] Gaudapda took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[40] and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".[40] Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara".[37] Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy.[38][39] Adi Shankara Acharya succeeded in reading Gaudapada's mayavada[41][note 2] into Badarayana's Brahma Sutras, "and give it a locus classicus", against the realistic strain of the Brahma Sutras.[41]
  4. ^ Tamil Hindus add Skanda.[48]
  5. ^ By contrast, a Vaishnavite considers Vishnu or Krishna to be the true God who is worthy of worship and other forms as his subordinates. Accordingly, Vaishnavites, for example, believe that only Vishnu or Krishna can grant the ultimate salvation for mankind, moksha. Similarly, many Shaivites also hold the same beliefs about Shiva. Notably, many Shaivites believe that Shakti is worshiped to reach Shiva, whom for Saktas is the impersonal Absolute. In Saktism, emphasis is given to the feminine manifest through which the male unmanifested, Lord Shiva, is realized.
  6. ^ The Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda). These are considered primary spiritual resources; every Brahmin family is affiliated to one or more of the Vedas. And the Upanishads, which are part of the Vedas, are often mentioned separately, given their especial importance as products of past intellectual ferment.


  1. ^ a b c d Flood 1996, p. 113.
  2. ^ a b c Rosen 2006, pp. 165-166.
  3. ^ Knipe 2015, pp. 36-37.
  4. ^ Flood 1996, p. 113, 134, 155-161, 167-168.
  5. ^ Sanderson, Alexis. "The Saiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Saivism during the Early Medieval Period." In: Genesis and Development of Tantrism,edited by Shingo Einoo. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009. Institute of Oriental Culture Special Series, 23, pp. 276-277.
  6. ^ John Shephard (2009), Ninian Smart on World Religions, Ashgate, ISBN 978-0754666387, page 186
  7. ^ U Murthy (1979), Samskara, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195610796, page 150
  8. ^ a b L Williamson (2010), Transcendent in America: Hindu-inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion, New York University Press, ISBN 978-0814794500, page 89
  9. ^ William Jackson (1994), Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120811461, page 218
  10. ^ Knipe 2015, p. 36.
  11. ^ Buhnemann, Gudrun, Puja: A Study in Smarta Ritual, Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, Gerold & Co., Vienna, 1988. pg. 32-33.
  12. ^ Monier Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Article on Smarta
  13. ^ a b Spoken Sanskrit Dictionary, smArta
  14. ^ Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-1867-6, pages 2-3
  15. ^ a b c d Doniger 1999, p. 1017.
  16. ^ Dermot Killingley (2007), Encylopedia of Hinduism (Editors: Denise Cush et al), Routledge, ISBN 978-0700712670, page 456
  17. ^ a b c, Hinduism: Details about "Smarta"
  18. ^ a b Hiltebeitel 2013.
  19. ^ Flood 1996.
  20. ^ Hiltebeitel 2013, p. 12.
  21. ^ Hiltebeitel 2013, p. 13.
  22. ^ Hiltebeitel 2013, p. 14.
  23. ^ Hiltebeitel 2013, p. 18.
  24. ^ a b Hiltebeitel 2013, p. 20.
  25. ^ Flood 1996, p. 359.
  26. ^ Collins 1988, p. 36.
  27. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 41.
  28. ^ a b c Nath 2001.
  29. ^ Thapar 2003, p. 325, 487.
  30. ^ a b Nath 2001, p. 19.
  31. ^ Thapar 2003, p. 487.
  32. ^ Nath 2001, p. 20.
  33. ^ Nath 2001, pp. 31-32.
  34. ^ Rosen 2006, p. 166.
  35. ^ a b c Popular Prakashan 2000, p. 52.
  36. ^ Sharma 2000, p. 60-64.
  37. ^ a b Raju 1992, p. 177-178.
  38. ^ a b Renard 2010, p. 157.
  39. ^ a b Comans 2000, p. 35-36.
  40. ^ a b Raju 1992, p. 177.
  41. ^ a b Sharma 2000, p. 64.
  42. ^ Swami B.V. Giri, Gaudya Touchstone, Mayavada and Buddhism – Are They One and the Same?
  43. ^, Mayavada Philosophy
  44. ^, The Mayavada School
  45. ^ Gaura Gopala Dasa, The Self-Defeating Philosophy of Mayavada
  46. ^ Morris 2006, p. 135.
  47. ^ Vaitheespara 2010, p. 91.
  48. ^ Hindu Way of Life
  49. ^ Espin & Nickoloff 2007, p. 563.
  50. ^ a b WiseGeek, What is Smartism?
  51. ^ a b, Heart of Hinduism: The Smarta Tradition
  52. ^ Goyal 1984.
  53. ^ Basham 1991, p. 109.
  54. ^ A day in the life of a Brahmin
  55. ^ a b c d Larson 2009, p. 185.
  56. ^ Cousins 2010.
  57. ^ a b Hiltebeitel 2002.
  58. ^ Lochtefeld 2002, p. 656.
  59. ^ Scheepers 2000.
  60. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, Smarta sect
  61. ^
  62. ^ Karki math
  63. ^, Hinduism
  64. ^ Fort 1998, p. 179.
  65. ^ Minor 1987, p. 3.


Published sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Advaita Vedanta[edit]