Smartism: Principles and Deities of this Tradition•
Posted on July 12 2021
Smartism is a tradition followed by the Smarta sub-sect of Hindus. This tradition was founded by Adi Shankaracharya between 3 century BCE and 3 century CE with the intention of abolishing practices such as animal sacrifices followed by Hindus.
Smartas adopt the principles listed in the Shastras and Vedantas. They also believe that the ultimate way to bond or be one with god is to follow a meditative and philosophical path as well as through understanding.
Let’s now look at some interesting facts about Smartism.
Smartism is centred around four philosophies comprising Advaita Vedanta, Mimasa, yoga and theism.
The main Advaita Vedanta philosophy emphasises on the fact that Brahman was the only real entity. This philosophy relies on the Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads as its key texts. It stresses on jivanmukthi, a concept that highlights the fact that moksha or liberation is possible during a person’s lifetime rather than after his/her death.
The other key philosophy is Mimasa that means the study of knowledge. This philosophy offers rules how to understand the Vedas and practise the Vedic rituals. It aims at providing an in-depth explanation on dharma.
Deities Worshipped: Choice and Liberality
The shrines of the Smartas are called temples and monasteries. Smartism does not stress on worshipping a single deity. Smartas give equal importance to five deities whom they collectively refer to as pancha devata. These deities are Shiva, Vishnu, Shakthi, Surya, and Ganesha. Their temples have all the five deities and they are given equal respect.
A person can worship all the five deities or even just one or a few of them based on his/her preference. For instance, a Smarta who is a devout follower of lord Vishnu can chant Vishnu chalisa just as much an ardent devotee of Shakti has the freedom to recite Durga chalisa. However, the religious practices followed by a believer must not be against the principles listed in the Smritis and other religious texts formulated from Vedic scriptures.
Smartism does not insist that its followers pray to only the deities mentioned above. A Smarta is free to choose an ishta devata from any other god/goddess and pay obeisance to the beloved deity. As a result, Smartas are considered liberal.
Moreover, they identify god as both Saguna and Nirguna. As Saguna, the god is associated with multiple traits such as justice, compassion, and love. On the other hand, when the lord is characterised as Nirguna, or formless, he represents pure consciousness.
This is a puja that is unique to Smartism. Followers place the five deities in a circular metal plate in a quincunx pattern (a kind of geometric pattern) with the preferred deity in the middle. In some cases, the key deity is placed in the centre and the other four deities are placed such that one deity is positioned at each corner of a square.
The Panchayatana representation arrangement can also been in Smarta temples. Smartas usually do this puja in the morning. The essence of this puja is to remove the discrimination among the various deities of different sects.
Today, Smartism is a key denomination just as other leading sub-sects followed across the country. Most of the Smarta shrines are located in south and west India compared to other parts of the country. They can be found in places such as Puri, Dwarka, Kanchipuram, Sringeri, and Badrinath. The establishments set up by Adi Shankaracharya exist even today and continue to imbibe and spread his teachings.
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