Smartha Vs Vaishnava Traditions; And their Ekadasis

If you have been observing Ekadasi fast, you might have, quite like a multitude of other Hindus, come across consecutive days on your Hindu calendar marked as “Ekadasi”: the first day will usually be “Smartha Ekadasi” and the next “Vaishnava (or Bhagavat) Ekadasi.

What is the significant difference, if any, between the two?

SmarthasWhat and who is a Samrtha
Before we could see what is the difference between the two, let’s start with what “Smartha” (which sometimes spelt “Smarta”) is.

It is a Sanskrit word, which denotes the “smartha sampradayat”, a liberal or nonsectarian tradition or denomination of the Vedic Hindu religion, which accepts all the major Hindu deities as forms of the one Brahman, in contrast to Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, the other three major Hindu sects, which revere Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti, respectively, as the Supreme Being.

The adherents who follow the Vedas and Shastras are, in this regard, called Smarta. Smartas are, therefore, followers and propagators of Smriti or religious texts derived from Vedic scriptures. Smarta religion is practiced by people who believed in the authority of the Vedas as well as the basic premise of puranas.

Smartas believe that the worshiper is free to choose a particular aspect of God to worship, to the extent that the worship practices do not contradict the Vedas and the Smritis. So, in that sense, an orthodox smarta is unlikely to view gods of non-vedic religions favorably, even though he may hold the religion acceptable to its own traditional followers.

Sri Adi Shankaracharya

Sri Adi Shankara fathered the Smartha sampradayat. He reintroduced a purer form of Vedic thought. His teachings and tradition form the basis of Smartism and have influenced Sant Mat lineages. He is the main figure in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta. He was the founder of the Dasanami Sampradaya of Hindu monasticism and Sanmata of Smarta tradition. He introduced the Pancayatana form of worship.Adi Shankara is believed to have propagated the tradition of Shanmata (Sanskrit, meaning Six Opinions). In this six major deities are worshipped.

This is based on the belief in the essential sameness of all deities, the unity of God, and their conceptualization of the myriad deities of India as various manifestations of the one divine power, Brahman.

Smartas 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.

Some of the prominent Smarta Teachers:

  • Mata Sri Amirtanandamayi
  • Appaya Dikshitar
  • Swami Sivananda
  • Swami Haridoss Giri
  • Swami Gnanananda
  • Paramahansa Yogananda
  • Swami Rama
  • Govinda Bhagavatpada
  • Sri Ramakrishna Paramhahamsa
  • Swami Vivekananda
  • Brahmananda Saraswati the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, the Guru of Transcendental Meditation.
  • Jagadguru Swami Sri Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja. Vedic Mathematics.
  • Madhusudana Saraswati
  • Jagadguru Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrusimha Bharati, Sringeri Sharada Peetam
  • Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati III, Sringeri Sharada Peetam
  • Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha, Sringeri Sharada Peetam
  • Jagadguru Sri Bharati Tirtha, Sringeri Sharada Peetam
  • Chandrashekarendra Saraswati, Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham
  • Srimad Raghaveshwara Bharathi Swamiji of Ramachandrapura Mutt, Hosanagara
  • Swami Chinmayananda
  • Dayananda Saraswati (Chinmaya Mission)

Why Hare Krsnas Say that There is the Only True Way?

Hare Krsnas
By contrast, the Vaishnavite regards Sri Krishna (or Krsna) or Vishnu as the only true God, who is worthy of worship, and that all other forms as his subordinates. Accordingly, the Vaishnavite, for example, believe that only Krishna or Vishnu can grant the ultimate salvation for mankind, “moksha”.

The Saivites

In the same manner, many Saivites (the worshipers of Lord Shiva) too hold similar beliefs about Lord Shiva. Notably, many Saivites believe that Shakti is worshiped to reach Shiva, whom for Saktas is the impersonal Absolute.

In Saktism, emphasis is given to the feminine manifest through which the male un-manifested, Lord Shiva, is realized.

The Different Schools of Thoughts — Their Unity and Diversity
The Smartas, like many Saivites and Vaishnavites, consider Surya an aspect of God. Many Saivites and Vaishnavites, for example, differ from Smartas, in that they regard Surya as an aspect of Shiva and Vishnu, respectively.

For example, the sun is called Surya Narayana by Vaishnavites. In Saivite theology, the sun is said to be one of eight forms of Shiva, the Astamurti. In addition, Ganesh and Skanda, for many Shaivites, would be aspects of Shakti and Shiva, respectively.

Most Hindus Today Are Smarthas

These differences and the understanding of these differences are now generally diminishing between the Hindus, and the current practitioners of Hinduism are converging towards the Smarta philosophy, where Shaivites accept and pray to forms of Vishnu and vice-versa. That Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti are all forms of the same principal divinity is slowly gaining understanding and acceptance.

Smarta EkadasiNow, having discussed at length what a “Smartha” is, we are now ready to see the difference between “Smarta and Vaishnava Ekadasis”.

Smarta Ekadasi is based on the calculation that when the sunrises if it is the Ekadasi day then it is Smarta Ekadasi.

Ekadasi has two rules: Smartha and Vaishnava. The Smarta rule is simple – ekadasi should be visible at the time of local sunrise. The vaishnava follows ekadasi that is not contaminated by Dashami thithi. In other words, to the Vaishnavaites, ekadasi should be prevailing two hours before sunrise.

Bhagavata, or Vaishnava, Ekadashi observance is based on the rule that Dasami or the tenth day during a lunar fortnight should have ended before Arunodaya (96 minutes period before sunrise on the Ekadasi or the 11th day in a lunar fortnight). Vaishnava fasting day might be one day after of Smartha fasting day.
Other Notes on Ekadasi: Ekadashi fasting spans for three days. Devotees take single meal in the afternoon a day before fasting day to make sure there is no residual food in the stomach on next day. Devotees keep strict fast on Ekadashi day and break the fast on next day only after sunrise. Eating of all type of grains and cereals is prohibited during Ekadashi fasting.