What is the difference between a Smarta and an Advaitin? Both are the followers of Adi Sankaracharya only.

People who worship Lord Shiva are called Shaivite and those who worship Lord Vishnu are called Vaishnavite. Then what is one called when he worships both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu only?

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    Sri Adhi Sankara Bhagavadpadacharya was incarnation of Lord Siva.His refining of Advaita Vedanta took Hinduism to glory.However present day youth are very much like worldly enjoyments too much.They have to be taught about Sri Adhi Sankaracharya and his teachings which will help them to have an idea of Advaitam and its value.
    – user3119
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 14:52
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    Smartha is a common usage in the south to refer to followers of Advaita and Sankaracharya. It is mostly used in the south, it is not in common usage in the north. Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 4:33

1 Answer 1


As I discuss in this answer, the word Smartha originally just meant "follower of Smriti. (Hinduism has two sets of scripture, Shruti or "that which is heard" and Smriti or "that which is remembered.) But the Smartha came to denote the followers of the sect founded by Adi Shankaracharya, which he did in order to create a more streamlined version of Hinduism. Let me explain.

In Adi Shankaracharya's time, Buddhism and Jainism had great influence in India. These two religions rejected the authority of the Vedas, and they attacked the Yagnas (fire-rituals) prescribed in the Vedas as cruel and barbaric. Unfortunately, the Hindu philosophers of the day were woefully unprepared to defend their religion, because the dominant school of Hindu philosophy at the time was Purva Mimamsa, a school which considered the Vedic hymns as eternal truths, but doubted the existence of the gods mentioned in those hymns! So most Hindu philosophers at the time were just as atheistic as the Buddhists and Jains they were debating.

In contrast to the Purva Mimamsa school, the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy accepted the existence of the gods as well as the abstract entity Brahman. Adi Shankaracharya subscribed to a particular version of Vedanta called Advaita Vedanta, according to which the gods are just manifestations of Brahman, Brahman and the individual soul are identical, and the physical world is an illusion. With this belief system he was better-equipped to defend Hinduism than the followers of Purva Mimamsa.

But there was a problem: Hinduism as it existed at the time was in Adi Shankaracharya's view too ritualistic and disorganized due to diverse parochial beliefs and customs. So it was hard to defend Hinduism as it was actually practiced from Buddhist and Jain critiques. This motivated Adi Shankaracharya to create a more streamlined version of Hinduism. First of all, he tried to put an end to some traditional Hindu practices which he felt were justifiably criticized by non-Hindus (like animal sacrifice). Second of all, since he believed in Advaita Vedanta and thus believed that all the gods were just manifestations of a single Brahman, he saw no reason why anyone would need to worship so many different gods.

So he started to encourage people to worship just five gods, the Panchayatana: Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Ganesha, and Surya. Other than Surya, the other gods in this list are ones that are mainly emphasized in Smriti texts like the Puranas, so the Adi Shankaracharya's new sect soon came to be called Smartha. Now you might have heard Smarthas simply being called Shaivites. There are two reasons for this. First of all, Advaitins tend to refer to the divine by the terms Ishwara and Parameshwara, which are often considered names of Shiva. Second of all, while Smarthas are theoretically supposed to worship five gods, usually the one they put the most emphasis on is Shiva.

To sum up, Advaita Vedanta is a (sub-) school of Hindu philosophy and and Smartha is sect of Hinduism, but in practice people who subscribe to one subscribe to the other as well.

P.S. You asked what to call someone who worships Vishnu and Shiva only. Well, there's no major sect if Hinduism that does precisely that. The closest you could come up with is follower of Harihara.

  • thanks for the concise notes on the historical facts. I would like add the following. The differentiation between shaiva and vaishnava probably got highlighted during the time of Sri Ramanujacharya who founded Sri Vaishnavism. In fact he fled the pallava kingdom who were shaivites and opposed him. I doubt if this distinction existed in Sankara's time. More can be found in history books i guess.
    – DroidSK
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 13:56
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    @DroidSK Ramanujacharya was not actually the founder of Sri Vaishnavism, he was just the one who popularized it. The first Sri Vaishnava Acharya was Nathamuni, who compiled the Naalayira Divya Prabhandam (the collection of the 4000 verses of the Alwars). Nathamuni based the doctrines of the Sri Vaishnava sect (like Visistadvaita) on the principles embodied in the Alwars' poems. Nathamuni was the first acharya of Sri Rangam. After Nathamuni, the next major Sri Vaishnava Acharya was Nathamuni's grandson Yamunacharya (AKA Alavandar), and Yamunacharya's granddaughter's son was Ramanujacharya. Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 19:41
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    @DroidSK Nathamuni's grandson Yamunacharya is believed to be the one who introduced the Pancharatra texts into Sri Vaishnavism. In any case, Yamunacharya's grandson Thirumalai Nambi was the maternal uncle of Ramanujacharya, and he was the one who taught Ramanujacharya about Sri Vaishnavism. So Sri Vaishnavism had quite a storied past before the time of Ramanujacharya. But Ramanucharya changed Sri Vaishnavism from a local Sri Rangam cult to a major sect of Hinduism, to the point where Sri Vaishnava Brahmins acquired their own identity, the Iyengars: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/2480/36 Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 19:48
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    @Krishna As far as the term Smarta goes, it's true that Smarta originally meant "follower of Smriti", which encompassed pretty much all Brahmins. But in modern times, the word Smarta is more commonly used to refer to the sect of Hinduism followed by Iyer Brahmins. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 18:06
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    As an Advaitian and a follower of Sankaracharya I would disagree with your answer in its entirety. You have stated many opinions and no facts. Many of your stated opinions I have never heard in my entire life. Commented May 1, 2017 at 4:17

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