Hinduism: Details about 'Smarta'
Smartism is a denomination of the Hindu religion. This term is usually used to denote a certain category of Brahmins. Smartas consider the Vedas supreme. The majority of members of Smarta community are followers of Advaita. In practicality, Smarta and Advaita have become almost synonymous because of the prevalence of Advaita philosophy among Smarta Brahmins. But not all believers in Advaita are Smartas. In ancient times, all Brahmins who specialized in the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, and who followed the Vedas and Shastras (both Smriti and Shruti) came to be known as Smartas. They therefore should not be confused with followers of Advaita philosophy who may not or need not come from this family tradition.
In Sanskrit smarta means "one who remembers, a teacher, (etc)", and smārta means "relating to memory, recorded in or based on the smrti, based on tradition, prescribed or sanctioned by traditional law or usage, (etc)", from the root smr ("remember").
Distinction from others
The Smartas consider themselves followers and propagators of Smriti or religious texts derived from Vedic scriptures. It is from this that the name is derived. This term is used with respect to a certain specialized category of Brahmins. Not all Brahmins specialized in this Smriti tradition. Some were influenced by Buddhism, Jainism or Charvaka tradition and philosophy. This did not mean that all these people rejected the authority of Vedas, but only that their tradition of worship and philosophy was based not on smriti texts. In time, Shankaracharya brought all the Vedic communities together. He tried to remove the non-smriti aspects that had crept into the Hindu communities. He also endeavoured to unite them by arguing that any of the different Hindu gods could be worshipped, according to the prescriptions given in the smriti texts. He established that worship of various deities are compatible with Vedas and is not contradictory, since all are different manifestations of one nirguna Brahman. Shankaracharya was instrumental in reviving interest in the smritis, and the entire Vedic community rallied around him and are known as Smartas. Also,his philosophy of Advaita was also followed by all the smartas. And even those smartas who did not follow the Advaita philosophy considered Shankaracharya as a guiding light for reviving the smriti texts and tradition.
Thus, a bedrock of Smartas who also follow Advaita philosophy, is their belief in the essential sameness of all deities, the unity of Godhead, and their conceptualization of the myriad deities of India as various manifestations of the one divine power. 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. Thus, it is false to say that Hinduism has 330 million gods, which are more correctly devas or celestial beings; even the liberal Smarta denomination only considers six forms of God to be objects of worship and consider it to be derived from one nirguna Brahman; where as other denominations of Hinduism, such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism follows worship of a single manifestation of God, but both are ultimately panentheistic monotheistic.
However a few centuries later, the Smartas who followed Advaita philosophy divided again. New sects were formed which considered themselves not to follow the Advaita philosophy. The philosophy of the new sects was directed against the teachings of Advaita philosophy. The new sects distinguished themselves and separated from Smartas. These new groups followed different philosophies like Dvaita (dualist) and Vishistadvita (qualified monist) and also changed their rituals. However, old Smartas continued to follow smarta rituals and Advaita (monist) philosophy. Thus, truly speaking, a Smarta need not be a follower of Advaita but need to follow smarta ritual and
smriti texts. For example, Adi Shankara's own community, the Namboothiris are also Smartas, yet they follow 'Purva Mimamsa' philosophy. The decision to follow a particular school of philosophy is thus left to individual members. As another example, Appaiah Deekshita, an Iyer followed Sreekanta's Sivadvaita philosophy in his early days. This philosophy was similar to Vishishtadvaita of the Sri Vaishnavas. Siva Advaita, however, considers Shiva to be the supreme God.
The Smarta worldview is influenced by Advaita philosophy, as most Smarta Gurus believe in Advaita. But in order to be a Smarta one need not follow Advaita philosophy. Also, a follower of Advaita philosophy need not be a Smarta. However, Advaita itself was firmly established and propagated by Adi Shankaracharya, who was born in a smarta family tradition.
However, it was most essential for smarta Brahmins to specialize in the Karma Kanda of Vedas and associated rituals diligently and teach to the subsequent generations. This is the only reason that these families continue to be called Smartas. This family Vedic tradition is what distinguishes them from other non-smarta Brahmins; and not the school of philosophy an individual adheres to.
God, according to Smartas who also happen to follow Advaita philosophy, is both Saguna and Nirguna. As a Nirguna he is pure consciousness dissociated from matter. He (the gender itself is meaningless here) has no attributes, and has no form. As a saguna, there is quality that can be attributed. He is infinite and thus can have a multitude of attributes. Accordingly, the scriptures hold that Vishnu and Shiva are ultimately the same. Ayya Vazhi also hold this view. The Smarta theologians have cited many references to support this point. For example, they interpret verses in both the Shri Rudram, the most sacred mantra in Shaivism, and the Vishnu Sahasranama, one of the most sacred prayers in Vaishnavism, to show this unity. Vishnu Purana carries a story about how Maha Vishnu becomes Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In other words, these forms and names are just different manifestations of Nirguna Brahman- the Ultimate Reality. This is how the advaitins would like to interpret the scriptures.
By contrast, a Vaishnavite considers Vishnu to be the true God who is worthy of worship and other forms as his subordinates. See for example, an illustration of the Vaishnavite view of Vishnu as the one true God, . Accordingly, Vaishnavites, for example, believe that only Vishnu can grant the ultimate salvation for mankind, moksha. See for example, . Similarly, many Shaivites also hold similar beliefs about Lord Shiva, as illustrated at and .
Notably, Shakti is worshipped to reach Shiva, whom for Shaktas is the impersonal Absolute. In Shaktism, emphasis is given to the feminine manifest through which the male unmanifested , Lord Shiva, is realized. Additionally, Shaivites and Vaishnavites often regard Surya as an aspect of Shiva and Vishnu, respectively. For example, the sun is called Surya Narayana by Vaishnavites. In Saivite theology, the sun is said to be one of eight forms of Shiva, the Astamurti. Additionally, Ganesh and Skanda for them, would be aspects of Shiva and Shakti. According to smartism, most Hindus worship Saguna Brahman as Vishnu or Shiva.
Adi Shankaracharya recommended the Smartas to follow Panchayatana worship. This puja or worship included the worship of the first five deities mentioned above. (This was later extended to include the sixth God, Skanda). In this form of worship, the favorite family deity is placed in the center. All other Gods were placed around this central God and worshipped.
This is not always followed and some families worship only certain individual deities. In those periods when worship through rituals were considered to be superior, some families preferred and considered the practice of rituals as very important than worship of God through prayer. That is they gave more stress to Karma Yoga than to Bhakti Yoga.
Basically the smartas were distinguished by their strict adherence to the sacred laws of Smritis and rituals. However, since Advaita has become the dominant philosophy for smartas, the smartas started to worship all of the Hindu Gods since
all are different manifestations of one nirguna Brahman.
In fact even smarta advaitic theologians do not discourage smartas who understands the nature of Ultimate Reality in a dual(dvaita) sense. This is because they believe that, dual experience is part of growing up. They say that it is a stage in an individual's spiritual growth and ultimately the individual would realize the Advaitic Truth. Thus, as long as there is open mindedness, people could follow their own philosophy that would define their experience.
Many smartas today, are very much men of the world. Besides the advaitic textbooks that are read, their worship is limited to a few of the basic rituals. Though they continue to preserve their open minded outlook, there is very little time to practice elaborate rituals. Worship is limited to an hour of prayers and the ancient practices of elaborate rituals are no longer common. Today only a very small number of smartas learn the Vedas and scriptures.
There are different sets of rules for each stage of an individual's life. The stages of life prescribed in the Vedic scriptures are Brahmacharya Ashrama, Grihastha Ashrama, Vanaprashta Ashrama and Sanyasa Ashrama.
There is hardly anyone in modern times who follows the Vanaprastha Ashrama. But all who undergoes the Brahmacharya Ashrama are expected to learn Vedas and scriptures besides leading a celibate Life. They are expected to eat satvik food.
Besides some of the rules specific to the ashrama, all smartas are expected to perform rituals without any compromise. Some of the daily rituals include Sandhya Vandana, Agni Homa etc. The other rituals followed include Amavasya and Shraddha.
Smartas are recommended to follow the Brahma form of Vedic marriage (a type of arranged marriage). The marriage ceremony is based on Vedic prescriptions. Women acquire the traditions of her husband's family.
Contributions to advaita
Smartas have been instrumental in providing theoretical foundation for Advaita philosophy. Advaita is today the dominant philosophy of Hinduism in India. The Smarta theorists have written innumerable works on Advaita. One of the Greatest Advaita scholars and saints, Adi Shankaracharya, had born into a family of Smarta tradition. There were other great Smarta Scholars like Appaiah Dikshitar who have strengthened and laid solid foundation to Advaita.
Contributions to other philosophies
Sreekanta was the founder of Siva Advaita.
Tyagaraja was a Bhakti Saint and musical genius who inspired Hindus of many different sects. Deeply immersed in Bhakti, this devotee of Lord Rama, was acceptable to even non Smartas. In his compositions, the Saint is a simple and humble Bhakta. In one of his compositions he asks which one is better "Dvaita or Advaita?". He leaves the question open. He belonged to that category of saints who believe in Bhakti as the path to God. In this sense his teachings were suitable to people of all the three major south Indian sects-Advaitas, Sri Vaishanavas and madhvas. His music was so enchanting that even people of other castes flocked to listen to him.
Tulsidas, a Bhakti saint of the north, may have been a Smarta.
The modern philosopher J. Krishnamurthy refused to be tied down even by his own tradition. Initially influenced by theosophy, he later moved away from even this. He believed in independently evaluating all spiritual questions and refusing to be tied down by any sect or tradition.
Besides these there were a number of other Non Advaitic Scholars among Smartas prior to Shankaracharya.
Smartas who split away from their group
The main Hindu scriptures are the main religious books followed by the Smartas. These include:
1.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. The Vedas are considered divine revelation, which only an advanced spiritual student can grasp.
3.The "Smrithis" are religious books based on Vedas and are written by important Sages/Rishis of the past. Each of them contains recommendations and practices unique to itself. The Book an individual followed depended on his family. Thus, ritual practices sometimes varied from family to family, depending on family tradition. Some of the more common religious law books were the Manu Smriti, the Apastamba Smriti and the Bodhyayana Smriti.
4.The Puranas were optional texts in the ancient times. They are basically a collection of sacred historical events that were passed from one generation to the next in the form of mythological stories. Smarta philosophers used the puranas to get a better understanding of Vedas, but do not consider them as completely authentic texts. However, the eighteen Puranas are revered by Smartas, just like any other Hindus. Today the Puranas are the main inspiration for Smartas, who are not conversant with higher spiritual literature.
Prominent Smarta communities of South India include Sirinadu community who have their origins from Mysore in Karnataka, the Iyer community of Tamil Nadu, the Namboothiri community of Kerala, and the vaidiki Mulukanadu, Vaidiki Velanadu and Veginadu of Andhra Pradesh, vaidiki Badaganadu, Vaidiki Telanganya, Babboor Kamme, Sankethi, Hoysala Kannada, Kota, Arvel Niyogi and Gaud Saraswat communities of Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, among many others.
Communities like the Sri Vaishnavas, Madhwas and Veera Saivas are some of the other Hindu sects which have branched/broken away from the Smarta stream. A distinctive feature of these communities is the fact that none of them subscribe to Advaita. Some of these sects have also accepted people who came from outside the Smarta Brahmin fold; indeed, the Veera Saiva community includes non-Brahmins. Another feature of these sects is that they follow rituals recommended by their lineage of Gurus, which are different from the rituals of the Smartas.
Swaminarayana sect view similar to Smarta view
In another example cited by Swaminarayan Vaishnavites, Swaminarayan, founder of the Hindu Swaminarayan sect, according to this site,], said in verse 115 of their scripture, Shikshapatri said, "Shree Krishna Bhagwan and Shree Krishna Bhagwan's incarnations alone are worthy of meditation. Similarly, Shree Krishna Bhagwan's images are worthy. And men or devas, even if they are devotees of Shree Krishna Bhagwan or brahmavettaa (knower of divinity), they are still not worthy of meditation - and thus one should not meditate upon them."
But he also recognized a Smarta view, in verses 47, 84, ] "And the oneness of Narayana and Shiva should be understood, as the Vedas have described both to be brahmaroopa, or form of Brahman, i.e., Saguna Brahman, indicating that Vishnu and Shiva are different forms of the one and same God. He concludes in verse 108, "And that Ishvara is Shree Krishna Bhagwan (Shree Swaminarayan Bhagwan), who is supreme Parabrahm Purushottam, our Ishta-deva (principal deity), worthy of worship, and the cause of all incarnations."Topics in Hinduism