The four Hindu denominations or divisions are the Saivism, Shaktism, Smartism, and Vaishnavism. Hinduism is a very rich and complex religion.
Each of its four denominations shares rituals, beliefs, traditions, and personal gods with one another, but each sect has a unique philosophy on how to achieve life’s ultimate goal, which is liberation and is also known as moksa. For example, a person can be a devotee to Shiva and a Vishnu devotee, but one can practice the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, which believes there is no difference between Brahman and a person’s individual soul.
Conversely, a Hindu may follow the Dvaita philosophy, which stresses that Brahman and the soul are not the same. However, each denomination fundamentally believes in different methods of self realization and in different aspects of the one supreme being. However, each denomination respects and accepts all others, and conflict of any kind is rare.
Vaishnavism, Saivism, and Shaktism, respectively believe in a monotheistic ideal of Vishnu, which is often as Krishna, Shiva, or Devi. This view does not exclude other personal gods, as they are understood to be aspects of the chosen ideal. For instance, to many devotees of Krishna, Shiva is seen as having sprung from Krishna’s creative force. Ganesha worshipers would connect themselves with Shiva as Shiva is the father of Ganesha, making him a Shaiv deity.
Often times, the monad Brahman is seen as the one source, with all other gods emanating from there. As a result, with all Hindus, there is a strong belief in all paths being true religions that lead to one God or source, whatever one chooses to call the ultimate truth. As the Vedas, which are the most important Hindu scriptures, state that truth is one, the wise call it by various names.
Smartism, is monist as well as a monotheist and understands different deities as representing the various aspects and principles of one supreme entity, Brahman or parabrahman. Teachers such as Swami Vivekananda, who brought Hinduism to the west, held beliefs like those found in Smartism, although he usually referred to his religion as Vedanta. Other denominations of Hinduism do not strictly hold this belief.
A Smartist would have no problem worshiping Shiva or Vishnu together as he views the different aspects of God as leading to the same One God. It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the west, but in contrast, a Vaishnavite considers Vishnu as the one true God, worthy of worship and other forms as subordinate. Accordingly, many Vaishnavites, for example, believe that only Vishnu can grant moksha. Similarly, many Shaivites also hold similar beliefs for Shiva.
There are some Hindus who consider the various deities not as forms of the one Ishvara, but as independently existing entities, and may thus be properly considered polytheists. Although, the pantheistic tendency in Hinduism allowed only a subordinate rank to the old polytheistic gods, they continued to occupy an important place in the affections of individual Hindus and were still represented as exercising considerable influence on the destinies of man.