Many of us use the words 'Hindu' and 'Hinduism' without knowing their exact meanings and implications. Also, we speak of the 'six systems or branches of Hinduism' and call them as 'Shan matham' or 'Aruvakai samayam'.
Hinduism a common name
The foreign travelers to India, particularly the Greeks and Persians who came in through the Khyberpass, called the people of the land fed by the river Sindhu (Indus) as Hindus. The word Hindu is actually a transliteration of the word Sindhu. The alien rulers who came in later, for the purpose of their administration (taking census in particular), called the people in India as Hindus and Muslims. Unlike Christianity which came later along with the foreign rulers, Islam came in before this. Hence those with the Indian religions were classified as Hindus and those with the prevailing foreign religion were counted as Muslims.
In the strict sense of the word, all the native religions, including Jainism and Buddhism which do not belief in God and the Vedic literature, were considered as Hinduism or part of it. However with the passage of time, Hinduism came to denote only those religions which consider Vedas and Agamas as their authorities. Later, scholars like Max Muller and Vivekananda spoke of Vedanta known to them as the philosophy of Hinduism. Their speeches gained momentum in the West and among the English educated in the East. Now Hinduism is generally spoken of as a religion with Vedanta as its philosophy particularly by those of the Ramakrishna Mutt, and with the philosophy of Sankara particularly by the Smartha Brahmins.
The word Hinduism has now become a common name which denotes all the Vedic religions of India. It is not a religion by itself. Many Saivaites and Vaishnavaites, without any understanding of the import of the words, call themselves as Hindus and their religion as Hinduism.
Scholars on Hinduism
The fallacy of the Saivites calling themselves as Hindus and their religion as Hindu religion has been pointed out from time to time by various scholars. Swami Vivekananda, a Vedanti, who was speaking of Hinduism and the Vedanta philosophy, was clear in his view that Hinduism was not a religion by itself. He pointed out this mistaken notion of the Saivites, when he addressed the Ealam Saiva Tamils on his way back from his famous Chicago address. At a reception given in Colombo the Saiva Tamils, who were mostly English educated, called themselves as Hindus. At another reception followed in Jaffna, the Saivites there also used the words Hindu and Hinduism. Their address started as "We, the inhabitants of Jaffna professing the Hindu religion, desire to offer our most hearty welcome to our land, the chief centre of Hinduism in Ceylon ." When replying, Swami stated s follows:
"The word Hindu has lost its meaning, for this word merely meant those who lived on the other side of river Indus (in Sanskrit Sindu). This name was altered by ancient Persians, and all people living on the other side of the river Sindhu were called by them as Hindus... I, therefore, would not use the word Hindu" ('Lectures from Colombo to Almora', Advaita Ashram, Delhi, 1995 . 14th edition).
Swami Vivekananda's words should have been an eye opener to the Saivites who take pride in calling themselves as Hindus and their religion as Hinduism. Unfortunately they remain blind to the reality, without knowing their rich religious heritage.
Saivism is a religion by itself. Saiva practice is based on Saiva Agamas. The fourteen Meykanda Sastra books in Tamil are the authoritative Saiva philosophical texts. The philosophy of Saiva Siddhanta is praised as one of the best and closely reasoned philosophy by scholars in the East and West. It is a rational philosophy which appeals to the scientific minds. Saivites have every reason to be proud of their religious practice and philosophy.
Swami Sivanandhi Adikal who founded London Meykandar Atheenam and the World Saiva Council worked undauntedly to make the Saivites realize the greatness of their religion. He represented the Saiva religion in the Parliament of Religions held from 1st to 8th December 1999, at Cape Town, South Africa. He convinced the Parliament of Religions that Saivism is a religion by itself and not an appendage of Hinduism.
It is a matter of regret to note that the Saivites, in recent times, have become unaware of their rich religious heritage and consume everything fed to them in the name of Hinduism. Even the Saiva priests are seen imitating the Smartha Brahmins and contributing to this pathetic situation.
In recent times, some schools of Indian religious faith are grouped together and called as "Aruvakai samayam" or "Shan matham'. It is something new to the Saiva world. "Aruvakai samayam" as referred to now is a new arrival which intruded in the name of Hinduism. It is a group of the six schools of Indian religions called Sauram (Sun worship), Ganapatyam (Ganapathy worship), Kaumaram (Murugan worship), Vaishnavam (Vishnu worship), Saktham (Sakthy worship) and Saivam (Siva worship).
Of these six schools called as shanmatas (aruvakaisamayam), only the religions of Saivism and Vaishnvism are in existence in Tamil land now. The religion of Saktham exists in Bengal in northern India. Other religions are not in existence now or have been absorbed into these three religions. It is therefore meaningless and incorrect, particularly for the Saivites, to talk of these religions as 'aruvakai samayam' or 'shanmatam'.
The followers of Sankara call him as the founder of this 'Shan matham' (Shanmatha Sthapakar), which is not correct. Sankarar's philosophy does not give importance to rituals and devotion (bakthy). Actually, his Vedanta philosophy was developed from the works of Goudapathar, the Guru of his Guru Govindapathar. Because of his philosophic thoughts, Sankarar feared that his followers might stop with such 'Maha Vaakiya' as 'Aham Brahmasmi'('I become God') and would not take up to any religious code or conduct. Hence to regulate their conduct, he advised them to follow any one of the six religious systems prevailing in India during his time. He was not the founder of these systems. Ramanujachariar, who came after Sankarar, did not face such problems because his Vishishdatvaitham took into account all that relates to a personal God. Actually 'Shan-matham' is of no significance to a Vaishnavaite or a Saivaite. It gains significance only to the followers of Sankara's school of thought, who are mostly the Smartha Brahmins.
In the Tamil Tradition
As for the Tamils, some of the ancient Tamil works also speak of 'aruvakai samayam' (six religious schools). These are not the six schools mentioned above. Manimekalai (600 AD) speaks of Lokayatham, Budhism, Sankiyam, Naiyayikam, Vaisedikam and Meemamsam as the six schools. It also speaks of other schools which have no connection with the 'shan-matas' spoken by Sankarar's followers.
Thirumanthiram, which is said to have come just after Manimekalai, speaks of six outer schools (purachchamyam - verses 1530, 1533) and six inner schools (ahachchamayam - verses 1557, 1558). St. Manickavaasakar also speaks of these schools. The works 'Thivakaram' (9th century) and 'Pinkalanthai' (12th century) also speak of groups of six religions.
The 13th century works of Saiva Siddhana Philosophical books also speak of various groups of six religious schools. The 15th century book 'Thathuvaprakasam' gives six religions, including Saivism, as 'aka samayam' (inner religions). It also considers twenty four religions as 'pura samayam' (outer religions). The classification of religions as inner religions and outer religions was expanded later as 'aka samayam'(inner religion), 'akappura samayam'(inner external religion), 'pura samyam' (outer religion) and 'purapppura samayam'(outer external religion). Each of these categories comprises of six religions. The 18th century book, 'Sivagnanamapadiyam' by Sivagnana Munivar, gives details of these classifications. None of these works give importance to the six schools as told by Sankara or his followers.
Saivaites and Vaishnavites who know their religious heritage never give importance to and consider Sauram, Ganapathiyam, Kaumaram, Saktham, Vaishnavam and Saivam as the six systems or branch of Hinduism, which again is not a religion by itself.