What is Smartism?

Malcolm Tatum

Smartism is a form of expression or approach to the Hindu faith. More properly known as Smarta Hampradaya, persons in the West often think of Smartism as functioning as a denomination within Hinduism. However, the concept of a Hindu denomination is more of an attempt by Western culture to relate to the internal function and philosophy of the Hindu faith than a true picture of how Smartism functions within Hinduism.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The term Smartism is derived from the word smarta, which is utilized to identify the faithful who place special emphasis on the Vedas and Shastras. In general, the understandings of Smartism are modeled after the teachings of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy within Hinduism. While elements of the Advaita Vedanta are found in most expressions of the faith, Smarta adherents seem to more closely identify and give expression to the thoughts found in this expression.

One of the defining characteristics of Smartism is the recognition of God expressed as both Saguna and Nirguna. As Saguna, God exhibits qualities such as an infinite nature and a number of characteristics such as compassion, love, and justice. As Nirguna, God is understood as pure consciousness that is not connected with matter as experienced by humanity. Because of the holistic nature of God, these are simply two forms or names that are expressions of Nirguna Brahman, or the Ultimate Reality.

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Smartism also observes the tradition of Shanmata, or the Six Opinions. Within this context, six different deities are worshipped. Each of the six deities is understood to be six different expressions or manifestations of the Ultimate Reality. As such, it is left up to the individual to determine which and how many of the six deities that the worshipper will interact with most often. Since all six are considered to be expressions of the same God, worship of one, two, or all six of the deities during the course of life is both common and perfectly acceptable.

Adherents to Smartism are expected to be students of the Vedas and Shastras. Prior to marriage, the faithful Smarta will also choose to lead a celibate life. Dietary regulations as well as attendance to the traditions and observances of the family are also very important. When a female adherent of Smartism marries, she is expected to take on the traditions held dear by the family of the husband.

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