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Religion Library: Hinduism

Schisms and Sects

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

Each of these, in turns, has numerous sub traditions. Some followers of Krishna, for instance, worship him as a playful and mischievous young boy; the devotee loves and takes care of the god in much the same way that a parent loves and takes care of a child. In other contexts, Krishna is a handsome young man, and the devotee approaches him more as a lover does a beloved. And in still other groups within the Vaishnava tradition, Krishna is the wise counselor and guide.

 

Title: Durga, standing on her lion, stabs Mahishasura (in green)Although it is not certain when Shaktism historically emerged, it may be linked to the Indus Valley civilization, which placed particular emphasis on female figures. Shaktas are, most basically, followers of the various forms of the great goddess (Maha Devi). The name Shakta comes from a form of the goddesses' divine power, shakti. As with the male gods, the goddess can take many forms—fierce and wrathful, motherly, wifely.

Shaktas understand the goddess, Devi, to be the supreme manifestation of divine power and energy. This is mythologically expressed in a number of different accounts of the cosmic origin of the goddess as Durga. Title: Durga, standing on her lion, stabs MahishasuraIn the Devi Mahatmya, an important Shakta scripture, Durga was created by the three great gods—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—to defeat a demon named Mahishasura whom the gods could not individually defeat. They combined their energy and collectively created Durga to slay the demon. She is thus taken by her followers to be more powerful than—and uncontrollable by—any god, because she is the combined power of all gods.

Both men and women worship the goddess, who takes many, many forms. She is worshipped as the fierce Durga or as Kali, who are tremendously powerful but who also often demand blood sacrifice to appease them (to cool their energy). As such they often have a particular, although by no means exclusive, appeal to the lower castes.


Study Questions:
1.     Who benefits from the classification of Hinduism into four major sects? Why?
2.     What are the four major sects, and what do the individuals within each believe?
3.     Who are the three major gods of Hinduism? What is the role of each? The major goddess?

 

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