What is the difference between Smarthas and Shaivites? Why do our elders as us to think of Shiva while praying in Vishnu’s temple and vice versa?

Hindu religion is a huge tree. All the various traditions are its branches. As the branches grow the tree can only get stronger. The trunk gets bulkier and heavier. Likewise in Hinduism, Vedas are the trunk. Certain principles or rules were drawn from these Vedas and compiled in Granthas called ‘Smriti’. Those who followed the Smritis are called Smarthas.

The most important figure in this tradition was Sri Shankara-bhagawad-pādācharya. That is why all his followers, who follow Advaita (non-dualism), are Smarthas. These people do not differentiate between Shiva and Vishnu and pray to all Gods treating them all as equal. They wear Vibhuti and Kumkum on their forehead.

Shaivites i.e. worshippers of Shiva wear Vibhuti on their forehead. ‘Shiva Agama’ is their holy text. They believe in worshipping Shiva. It is not that they hate other deities, but they consider Shiva as the Lord of the worlds and all other Devatas as his followers or devotees.

History is replete with many instances of bloodshed between Vaishnavites (worshippers of Vishnu) and Shaivites (worshippers of Shiva). It is important to know that this was not due to main religious principles of the community but because certain leaders for their selfish needs distorted the religious principles and caused wars.

We are lucky that the society we are living in is more tolerant. According to the Puranas, Shiva’s main mantram is ‘Rama nama’. At the same time, Vishnu constantly worships Shiva with lotus flowers. We should thereby understand that both are same. That is why in the daily Sandhya ritual done by Brahmins, the following shloka is uttered:

Shivāya Vishnu rūpaya Shiva rūpāya Vishave

                Shivasya hdaya Vishnuh  Vishnoscha hdaya Śivah

                Yadhāmtaram na pasyami ta dha svastirāyushi.

“Shiva is Vishnu. Vishnu is Shiva. Shiva lives in Vishnu’s heart and Vishnu lives in Shiva’s heart. Therefore if I am able to see no differences between them and see them as one and the same then my longevity will increase.”

The last part of the shloka stresses that by not differentiating between Vishnu and Shiva, one can increase his life span. It means that as one race if we are able to overcome these differences and pray to them as a single force then without bloodshed our race will be successful.

Since the Vedas have declared that there is no difference, then it definitely must be possible for us to adopt this principle, is it not? This is the reason behind the custom that in Vishnu’s temple, we should think of Shiva and vice versa. What is so difficult about thinking about Shiva while in Vishnu’s temple? Didn’t we say that Shiva lives in Vishnu’s heart? This is true for Vishnu also.

Suppose you are looking at your mother’s photo and suddenly you think of your father. Can it mean that you are disrespecting your mother by suddenly thinking of your father? Is it possible to disrespect any one of them? Since your parents mutually love and respect each other, thinking of the father when seeing the mother’s photo (or vice versa) only makes them happier. Similarly, thinking of Vishnu and Shiva together grants us the blessings of both of them.

Contrary to this, if you love one and ridicule the other, then it is not acceptable to either of them. Will your father be happy if you ridicule your mother? Can a mother be happy when the child hates the father? In this case both Vishnu and Shiva are our mother as well as our father. Therefore praying to both of them is always beneficial to us.

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