In our quest for our roots, most of us have an interest in knowing about the Smarta religion. But there is very little research material on the subject. Another major problem is that though the tenets of the Smarta religion are followed all over India, only in South India we call ourselves Smarta.
The basic tenet of the Smarta religion is non-Sectarianism. It is eclectic in belief. We believe in all Gods/Goddesses. It is this Smarta belief which is Hinduism to most of the Hindus all over the world. Again Smarta are not Vedantins. They believe in all the six Dharshanas or the systems of philosophy.
I would like to start with the evolution of Smarta religion.
Hinduism has been plagued by sectarianism for a long time. This sectarianism made Hinduism weak. We all know about the fight between the Shaivites and the Vaishnavites in Tamil Nadu. That is history. To look at some sectarian beliefs you have to only visit any of the sectarian web site. Shiva and all other Gods/Goddesses are not even Gods. They are only demi-Gods. Frequent rants against Adi Sankara forgetting the historical fact that but for him, there might not have been any Hinduism at the time of founding of many of these sects.
You can very well imagine how it must have been in the middle ages when sectarianism ruled the roost.
There was another problem also with sectarianism in the middle ages. Saivism and Vaishnavism in those days were both Agamic. The Pancharatra Vaishnavism and Kalamukha and other brands of Saivism. These did not lay emphasis on the Vedas or Vaidic practices.
So it was felt that a non sectarian religion was required to unify Hinduism, and also to revive Vaidic practices. And it was also felt necessary to bring the different warring philosophies together since different sects followed different philosophies.
Now this bringing about the unity has been attributed to Adi Sankaracharya. But scholars have questioned whether Adi Sankaracharya the exponent of pure Advaita could have been the founder of a religion which emphasized on all the six Dharshanas. Whether it was one or many Sankaracharyas does not matter for us. The fact is that it is the Sankaracharyas and the mutts established by him which played a major role in this unification.
Now I expect some of the Smartas to object to my classifying the Smartas as following all the six Dharshanas or systems of philosophy. This may seem contrary to the widespread belief that they are Advaita Vedanta followers.
[To be continued]