Beliefs and practices
Hinduism comprises numerous sects or denominations. The denominations are roughly comparable to different religions. The main divisions in current Hinduism are Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism. These four denominations share rituals, beliefs, and traditions, but each denomination has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal (Atma-Gyan, self-realization).
The presence of different denominations and schools within Hinduism should not be viewed as a schism, as there was no original unity. On the contrary, there is at present no great animosity between the different "religions" which constitute Hinduism, and among Hindu followers as a whole, there is a strong belief that there are many paths leading to the One God or the Source, whatever one chooses to call that ultimate Truth. Whether Shiva is same as Vishnu or different from Vishnu, is a matter of dispute among adherents but now most keep their disputes private.
Instead, there is a healthy cross-pollination of ideas and logical debate that serves to refine each school's philosophy. It is not uncommon, or disallowed, for an individual to follow one school but take the point of view of another school for a certain issue.
The different Vaishnava schools (sampradayas) and the principle teachers (acharyas) connected with them are as follows:
- Rudra Sampradaya: principle acharya -Vallabhacharya
- Brahma Sampradaya associated with Vishnu, who is the para-brahma (Universal Creator), not to be confused with the other Brahma, who is the four-faced god in Hindu religion: principle acharya - Madhvacharya. Gaudiya Vaishnavism is associated with this sampradaya and is associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, International Society for Krishna Consciousness belongs to this sampradaya.
- Srivaishnava Sampradaya associated with Laksmi: principle acharyas - Ramanujacharya,Vedanta Desikan, is the oldest Vaishnav sect in India. This sampraday was followed by Vyasa, Parasara, Bodhayana. The linage of Acharya is Lord Narayana, next Lakshmi and then Vishweksenar, Nammalwar, Nathamuni, Uyyakondar, Manakal Nambi, Alavandar, Periya Nambi, Ramanujacharya and finally Vedanta Desikan. This sampradaya eradicated the caste system in their temples and made Hinduism a secular religion.
- Kumara Sampradaya is the tradition associated with Four Kumaras: principle acharya - Nimbarka, hence Nimbarka Sampradaya
- Vaikhanasa tradition: principle acharya - Vaikhanasa
- Swaminarayan Sampraday - This stems from the Sri Sampradaya
Shakta form was one of the oldest forms of Hindu religion (evidences even from Indus valley civilization), but with evolution of civilization and emergence of various doctrines, various other forms of Hindu philosophy emerged. Shaivism and Shakta forms are really inseparable, as is the description of Shiva and Shakti/Sati/Parvati. Vaishanvism has also its connections with Shakta philosophy as Goddess Durga herself is called Narayani.
Smarthas have free rein to choose whichever deity they wish to worship. They usually worship five deities (pancopasana) or panchadevata as personal formful manifestations of the impersonal Absolute, Brahman. Smarthas accept and worship the six manifestations of God, (Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya, and Skanda) and the choice of the nature of God is up to the individual worshiper since different manifestations of God are held to be equivalent. It is a liberal and eclectic sect.
- It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West as Smarta belief includes Advaita belief and the first Hindu saint, who significantly brought Hinduism to the west was Swami Vivekananda, an adherent of Advaita. Not till much later, gurus, such as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and others, brought a Vaishnavite perspective to the West. By contrast with Smarta/Advaita belief, Vaishnavism and Shaivism follows a singular concept of God, or panentheistic monotheism or panentheistic monism.
Prominent Smarta communities:
- In south India
- In Maharashtra
- Saraswat Brahmins
- Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB's)
The medieval Bhakti movement has had a significant impact on the traditional denominations of Pauranic Hinduism, especially on Vaishnavism. The Alvars were Tamil poet saints of south India who lived between sixth and ninth centuries and espoused "emotional devotion" or bhakti to Visnu/Krishna in their songs of longing, ecstasy and service. Usually twelve Vaishnava saints, who, during the early medieval period of Tamil history, helped revive devotional Hinduism bhakti through their hymns of worship to Vishnu and his avatars. The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabhandham. The Bhakti literature that sprang from these Alvars has contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that broke away from the ritual-oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation. In addition, they helped to make the Tamil religious life independent of knowledge of Sanskrit.  As part of the legacy of the Alvars, five Vaishnava philosophical traditions (sampradayas) has developed at the later stages.
In Southeast Asia
A sect of Balinese Hindus flourished on the nearby island of Java until the late 16th century, when a vast majority of its adherents converted to Islam. Theologically, it is closer to Śaivism than to other major sects of Hinduism.
The term "Agama Hindu Dharma" can also refer to the traditional practices in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi and other places in Indonesia, where people have started to identify and accept their agamas as Hinduism.
19th to 20th century Hindu revivalist organizations include:
- Arya Samaj
- Brahmo Samaj
- Parisada Hindu Dharma
- Prarthana Samaj
- Ramakrishna Mission
- Sadharan Brahmo Samaj
- Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana
- Swadhyay Movement
- Swaminarayan Sampraday
- Sathya Sai Organisation