Every major religion has several different belief systems (sects) that have the same general core belief, but have a significant enough different to have be separated from each other.

What are the major (3-10) sects of Hinduism? How are they different from each other?

  • @vedicd I seldom mark an answer as accepted earlier than a week after it is posted, while this is a very good answer, it is in everyone's best interest to encourage the best possible answer to questions. By not accepting it yet, others are encouraged to attempt a better answer. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 10:19
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    – Pandya
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 16:45

3 Answers 3


Hinduism has many sects. It depends upon what perspective you are considering it from.

It all starts from the Vedas. However, Vedas being not consistent in their philosophies, different schools of thought emerged in India either by accepting or rejecting the authority of the Vedas. Those schools of thought which accept its authority are part of Hinduism and known as sad darshana (six philosophies) and the others became separate religion like Buddhism, Jainism, etc. or lost prominence like Charvak and Ajivika.

Now among the six schools of thought, not all accepted the existence of a personal God (Ishwara).

Nyāya System
Deals with: Logical methods for verifying the truth value of an information
God Exists?: Yes

Vaiśesika System
Deals with: Fundamental constitution of matter
God Exists?: No

Sāṃkhya System
Deals with: Cause and nature of the existence
God Exists?: No

Mīmāṃsā System (pūrva mīmāṃsā)
Deals with: interpretation of karma kānḍa (ritualistic) portion of the vedas
God Exists?: No

Yoga System
Deals with: Physical well being and cessation of mental tendencies
God Exists?: Yes

Vedānta System (uttara mīmāṃsā)
Deals with: interpretation of jñāna kānḍa portion of the vedas
God Exists?: Yes

In course of time the Vedanta school of thought, which says God exists, become prominent due to contribution of many scholars (acharyas) and philosophers. But then, it also got divided into two primary sects or schools of thought:

1. God is without form, attribute and qualities:

Under this the prominent school of thought goes the Advaita Vada philosophy of which Sankaracharya is the well known proponent. As per them, God alone is real, the world is an illusion. There is no difference between the individual soul (jiva) and supreme soul (Brahman). Both are one and identical.

2. God is with form, attribute and qualities:

Under this go the other remaining vedanta schools of thought:


  • Śrī Rāmānujāccārya was its founding proponent.
  • Brahma has attributes and qualities. It is quality less only in the sense that, it doesn’t have any negative qualities.
  • Jiva (the individual soul) and Brahman (God) are related like part and whole.


  • Śrī Nimbārkācārya was the founding acharya of this school of thought.
  • Shri Krishna is the Brahman (God).
  • Jiva and Brahma have both similarities and differences.


  • Śrī Mādhvācārya was the founding acharya of this school of thought.
  • Brahma is personal. He has attributes, qualities and form. He is Vishnu.
  • The individual soul is different and separate from Brahman (God). They are not identical.


  • Śrī Vallabhācārya was the founding acharya of this school of thought.
  • Brahma and jiva are essentially the same just like fire and the spark produced from it. And just like the spark, jiva is different from Brahma and just a part of it.
  • Krishna is the supreme God and devotion to Him is the way for salvation.

Now apart from these there is also Achintya Bhedabheda school of thought by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It also considers Shri Krishna as God Himself. So basically these Vedanta school of thought that say God has a form consider Vishnu or Krishna as the God Himself and say this world is real.

However, considering God has a form, there are also other sects depending upon who the God is. There are minimum five primary sects, some of which also have many sub-sects:

  1. Vishnu Worshippers
    • Has many sub-sects like Laxmi-sampradaya (tradition), Rudra-sampradaya, etc. Please see Vaishnavism.
  2. Shiva Worshippers
    • Has many sub-sects like pashupata, kapalika, etc. Please see Shaivasim.
  3. Shakti Worshippers
    • Has many sub-sects like srikula, kalikula, etc. Please see Shaktisim.
  4. Ganpati Worshippers
    • Worship Lord Ganesh.
  5. Surya Worshippers
    • Worship Sun.

Apart from these there are many other sects and sub-sects throughout India taking into account various local gods, goddesses and teachers. Those belonging to Smarta tradation chose whatever God they like to worship. So a Hinduism has so many sects that a complete list will become too huge. But above stated are the primary and major sects found in Hinduism.


In the philosophical (Vedanta) side, Hinduism has two divisions: Dvaitha and Advaitha. Dvaita philosophy was founded by Shri Madhavacharya. It says that jivatma (individual souls) are different from the paramatma (the Supreme Soul). The Advaitha philosophy is thought to be proposed by Shri Gaudapadacharya. Advaitha literally means 'not-two' in Sanskrit. It argues that jivatma is a part of paramatma itself. Sri Aadi Shankara, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda were some of the notable persons who advocated Advaitha Vedanta.

There are also many branch philosophies like Dvaitadvaitha, Vishishtadvaitha, Shuddhadvaita, etc. which have evolved from either of the two main philosophies.

Based on worship, there are six divisions: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Ganapatyam, Kaumaram and Sauram. Out of these, Saivism and Vaishnavism are the two important divisions. The Saivites worship Lord Shiva and the Vaishnavites worship Lord Vishnu (or one of his avatars). There are many sub-sects within Saivism and Vaishnavism.

The sub-sects of Saivism includes Pashupata Saivism, Saiva Siddhanta, Kashmir Saivism, Siddha Siddhanta, Lingayatism, Kalamukham and Kapalikam. Though there are some differences between these sub-sects, all of them centre around Lord Shiva.

The sub-sects of Vaishnavism includes Kumara-sampradaya, Brahma-sampradaya, Rudra-sampradaya, Sri-sampradaya, Ayyavazhi and Swaminarayan sect. All these sub-sects centre around Lord Vishnu (or his avatars like Krishna). The Kumara-sampradaya, founded by Nimbarka, is based on Dvaitadvaitha philosophy.

Shaktism is based on the worship of Shakti and is still famous among the Hindu women of India. Ganapatyam is based on the worship of Lord Ganesha. Kaumaram is based on the worship of Karthikeya (Muruga). It is popular in South India, especially in Tamilnadu. Lord Muruga himself is considered to be a Tamil God. Sauram is based on the worship of Surya.

There is also an atheistic school of thought called Caravaka. It is also called Lokayata and is mainly associated with materialistic philosophies. Another materialistic philosophy is Samkhya, which advocates Dualism. Sage Kapila is regarded as the founder of Samkhya school of thought. Purva Mīmāṃsā philosophy contains both theistic and atheistic doctrines. It is more concerned about Dharma rather than God.

  • Nice answer. You could include Sankhya & Purva Mimamsa too, which are non-theistic schools. Through they don't have many followers these days, I've seen a few people who claim they are Sankhyavaadis.
    – Bharat
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:17
  • @RBK Thanks for the suggestion. I have added them. :) Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 17:24
  • hi..nice answer. Just update the answer regarding Advaita to "jivatma is paramatma itself", not part of paramatma; becoz their tenet is jivobrahmaiva na parah and Samkhya is not a materialistic philosophy like charvak. That's all. :)
    – Be Happy
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 11:12
  • @Bharat Can you give any examples of modern-day adherents of the atheistic Samkhya system? The people you're referring to might be members of the Yoga school, which is basically Samkhya + the existence of a supreme being. By the way, you may be interested in a short dialogue I wrote, concerning why the Samkhya school did not accept the existence of a supreme being despite being founded by Vishnu's incarnation Kapila: docs.google.com/document/d/… Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 22:13
  • @KeshavSrinivasan I only know of individuals who claim to be following Samkhya. For example the person who runs this blog: kalchiron.blogspot.com/p/about-me_24.html. Bihar School of Yoga says Samkhya is theory and Yoga is the practice. So whatever exists of Samkhya today seems to be related to Yoga only. Btw that dialogue is your own imagination or is it from some source ?
    – Bharat
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 18:30

There are generally 5 major sects in Hinduism based on chief deity of worship. Unfortunately, Saura and Ganapatya is close to extinction now. They generally employ the process of worship based on their resective Agama.


Vishnu is treated as the Supreme Godhead. He is said to be the sthiti-karaka, the eternal and the cause of all states of existence and the pervader. Vishnu is a Vedic deity. Vaishnavas are almost purely smartas, and the agamas they regard are Vaikhanasa and Pancaratras. The Vaishnava concept of bhakti is most famous. They describe five kinds of devotee-God relations, or five forms of devotion to God. They are santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya and madhura. In order, they are calm devotion, being a servant to God, being a friend of God, treating God as a child and treating God as husband. Though these in varying degrees are practiced by all religions they are explicitly categorized by the Vaishnavas. There are also five different forms in which the Godhead manifests according to Vaishnavas - Para, Arca, Vibhava, Vyuha and Antaryami.

There are many different schools in Vishnu-worship or Vaishnava: Smarta (Bhagavata mata) Sri Vaishnava (followers of Ramanujacarya - Visistadvaitins) Sad-Vaishnava (followers of Madhvacarya - Dvaita) Gaudiya Vaishnava (Bhedabheda) Vallabha Sampradaya (Shuddhadvaita) Nimbarka Sampradaya (Dvaitadvaita)


Siva is treated as the Supreme Godhead. He is said to be the eternal, and the first cause of existence. Siva is a Vedic deity. There are many forms of Siva-worship, in smarta as well as Tantra. The smartas who are worshippers of Siva are usually advaitins. There are dvaita versions of Saiva too. There are many sects in Saiva, such as Bhairavas, Kapalikas, Veera Saivas. These are worship modes and worships of different forms of Siva and not different spiritual philosophies. The Saiva Agamas are twenty eight in number. There are two kinds of Saiva Agamas, Kashmira and Siddhanta. The former are followed in north and latter in south India.


Sakti, the Mother-Godess is treated as the Supreme Godhead. She is said to be the primal rhythmic energy, and the cause of all manifestation and action. Sakti could be found in multiple forms in the Veda, like Durga, Gauri, Saraswati, Dakshina, Bharati and Sri. There are both smarta and Tantric forms of Sakti-worship. The Sakti worshippers are usually advaitins.

There are ten forms in which Sakti is worshipped, Ganga, Bhavani, Gayatri Kali, Laksmi, Sarasvati, Rajarajesvari, Bala, Syamala and Lalita.

There are ten forms knowledge of Sakti or Mahavidyas, namely Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvaneshwari, Bagala, Dhumavati, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi and Bhairavi. They include the philosophy, methods of worship with mantra, Yantra and Tantra.

The worship and knowledge of Sakti, is called Sri Vidya. There are schools like Pancadasi and Sodasi, which expound the philosophy of Sri Vidya. While Pancadasi is purely smarta, sodasi being a Mahavidya includes Tantric part too. The Sri Chakra or Sri Yantra is the one used in Sri Vidya. The devata is called Tripurasundari again called with names like Lalita and Bala.

Sakti is worshipped in three major forms, as a child or maiden (Bala), as the consort of Siva (Parvati/Uma) and as Kali. Because of this, many schools worship Siva and Sakti together.


Surya is treated as the Supreme Godhead. He is said to be the giver of life, and the soul of all beings. Surya/Aditya/Savitr is a Vedic deity. Saura is a comparatively less practiced religion, but was more in practice a few centuries ago. There are few famous temples of Surya, like the ones in Konark (Orissa) and Arasavalli (Andhra Pradesh).

Though Saura as an exclusive religion is not very famous, worship of Surya (as Savitr devata) is done by every practicing Brahmin in his Sandhya vandana thrice a day. Savitri is the sakti associated. She is said to be in three forms, Gayatri, Savitri and Saraswati (in the three parts of the day).


Ganapathi is treated as the Supreme Godhead. He is the leader of all the forces or the pramadha ganas. In addition, Ganapati is the deity of obstacles and is to be worshipped before beginning any major work. He is said to reside and rule the muladhara or the base of energy centers. This is in fact the reason why He should be worshipped first, before any other deity. Thus, Ganapati is also said to be all the four forms of vak or word (para-pasyanti-madhyama-vaikhari). Ganapati is found as Brahmanaspati in the Veda.

Though worshiped all over, exclusive Ganapati worship is found more in Maharasthra and Karnataka. There are variedly eight, sixteen and thirty two forms in which Ganapati is worshipped.

Besides, there are many Tantric forms of worship of Ganapati, like Lakshmiganapati, Pingalaganapati, Uchchishtaganapati and Urdhvaganapati.


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