Analyse the salience of ‘sect’ in Indian society vis-a-vis caste, region and religion.

Sample Answer


A sect is a small religious group that has branched off from larger established religion. Sects have many beliefs and practices in common with the religion that they have broken off from, but are differentiated by a number of doctrinal differences.


Caste and sect:

  • Sects are likely to arise within the groups that are marginalised in society, as they promise them a “sense of honour” which is not provided in the existing religious framework.
  • In Hinduism, several sects emerged as a response to the dominance of Brahmanical social practices like caste restrictions. E.g., Vaishnavite Alwars, Shivaite Nayanar, Lingayats etc.
  • Sects also emerge within the upper caste groups who don’t lack material wealth, but feel spiritual deprivation. E.g., Hare Krishna movement.

Religion and sect:

  • Those who want change in their practical life without abandoning their religion become supporters of new interpretation of religion that suits their way of life, which causes emergence of new sects. E.g., Mahayana vs Theravada; Digambara vs Svetambara.
  • Some sects emerge out of the need to reform the religion from social evils where as other emerge to revive original doctrines. E.g., Nirankaris vs Namdaris; Wahabism vs Sufism.

Region and Sect:

  • Most of the sects are region-specific as the local political, demographic and socio-economic conditions predominantly influence their growth and shape them. For example,
    • Patronisation of Cholas helped growth of Alwars and Nayanars in South India. 
    • Navayana Buddhism became popular in Maharashtra after Ambedkar embraced it.
    • Migration of brahmins into valley of Manipur and cross-fertilisation of Meiteis and Hinduism gave rise to the birth of Vaishnavism in Manipur.


Thus, sect not only enables marginalised sections to find a place in the religion, it also makes the religion relevant to the changing socio-economic conditions of the society.

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