There were (and still are) many divisions in Hinduism. According to historical facts, these divisions were very deep rooted in the society during the Medieval period. It is also known that there were serious clashes between them.

In South India, especially during the Chola rule, there were four main religions. Buddhism, Jainism, Saivism and Vaishnavism (yes, Saivism and Vaishnavism were separate religions back then, atleast that's what history says). There were clashes between Saivism and Vaishnavism. For instance, King Kulothunga Chola II ordered to uproot Govindaraja Swamy from Thillai Nataraja temple (a Saivite temple). Then during the 16th century, Krishnappa Nayak seems to have ordered the re-installation of Govindaraja in the temple, amidst strong protests from the Saivites.

Though Buddhism and Jainism have maintained their status as separate religions, Saivism and Vaishnavism, once clashing sects, are now united under Hinduism. Today, there is no enemity among Saivites and Vaishnavites, as far as I know. The Saivites visit Vaishnavite temples and Vaishnavites pray at Saivite temples. Even other sects like Shaktism, Kaumaram easily mingle with others.

What or who led to this unification of once clashing divisions of Hinduism?

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    Probably, the political turmoil in the later part of millennium like invasion by Muslim hoards caught major part of their attention. Religious altercation only arise when the politics is stable, which wasn't the case then... Jul 4, 2014 at 10:53
  • A friend of me said this story " A statue of Vishnu (somewhere in South India) when viewed looked like Vishnu but when viewed at different angle looked like Shiva". I am not sure about veracity of this story, but it was Adi Shankara who united all sects and religions of the then India.
    – The Destroyer
    Nov 7, 2015 at 10:10

2 Answers 2


Rajiv Malhotra's book Indra's Net deals with this question. This has already been mentioned in an answer in this site.

The book claims that it is Vijnanabhikshu who unified Hinduism in the 16th century. I disagree with Malhotra's claim. It is Shankara who united Hinduism centuries before Madhava, Vijnanabhikshu and others. He is remembered as the shanmatasthapaka for uniting the worshippers of Ganesh, Surya, Vishnu etc.

Shankara also unified the Advaita Vedanta schools with the Bhakti schools of Vedanta by saying that Bhakti is a very useful method to attain chittasuddhi (purification of heart). It is another matter that Bhakti Vedantins did not accept his unification scheme.

The establishment of 4 mathas in 4 corners of India, his journeys along the length and breadth of India laid the foundation of united Hinduism. We, the modern Hindus, regardless of our attitudes towards Shankara (whether we accept his teachings or are opposed to him) are children of Shankara.

The priests of the temples of Uttarakhand, Nepal etc are still from Kerala. There is no doubt that Swami Vivekananda presented a unified vision of Hinduism in the 19th century. We should remember, however, that Vivekananda (whose full monastic name is Swami Vivekananda Puri) is a Dasnami Sannyasi of Puri order and is a child of Shankara. The doxographies penned by Madhavacharya and others were made possible by Shankara.

I am amazed why RM did not see Shankara as a unifier of Hinduism.

I did write a review of Malhotra's book here

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    I do agree Adi Shankara was instrumental in unifying Hinduism. He in fact saved Hinduism from a destruction & made Buddhists revert back to Sanathan Dharma. Maybe Vijnanabhiksu took the unification further.
    – Bharat
    Jul 4, 2014 at 16:25
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    I agree with this answer! Good one.
    – user1195
    Feb 10, 2015 at 15:58

Rajiv Malothra's book Indra's Net precisely deals with this.

First, to understand what the term Hinduism means, refer to this question: What is the origin of the word "Hindu"?

Refer to Myths 2,3,6 from this page from Indra's Net book's site. Also on the same page see "Summary of both sides of the debate". I am not quoting it here as it is too long. This has some arguments in favor of evolution of a unified Hinduism.

Prior to colonial invasions, a sense of unified religion was developed by Vijnanabhiksu who brought together Vedānta, Sāṃkhya, and Yoga into a single theistic synthesis known as avibhagādvaita[1]. It is wrongly assumed that unity between philosophical schools came only as a response to colonization. During colonial times, with Vivekananda popularizing Advaita in which everything in this world is a manifestation of a single Brahman, the unity was further strengthened. But the basis of Vivekananda's ideas of unity came from pre-colonial ideas and the Upanishads.

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