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This page deals with the Hindu varnas. For other uses of this word and similar words, see Brahmana, Brahman and Brahman (disambiguation). For the family of moths known as brahmin moths, see Brahmaeidae
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A Brahmin (anglicised from the Sanskrit adjective brahmin "belonging to Brahma", also known as Brahman brahmán "belonging to bráhman"; Vipra, Dvija "twice-born", Dvijottama "best of the twice born" or Bhūsura "earth-god") is considered to be the highest class (varna) in the Indian caste system of Hindu society [1] [2], although this status has been regarded by some as too simplistic, given the history and complexity of the Indian caste system [3].

Brahmin is a class (Varna) within the larger fold of Hindu society found all over the world especially India and Nepal. "Brahmin" in early history was a title given to an individual who was learned in the holy scriptures and had demonstrated a high level of knowledge in the Vedas. This in turn manifested itself in the role often assumed by the Brahmin class as the traditional teachers, advisers and custodian of matters spiritual for the ruling aristocratic Rajputs or Kshatriyas. In early history there was no restriction for one to become a Brahmin, as long as he or she demonstrated the knowledge and skills to perform priestly duties. Hence, the word "Brahmin" which means "knower of God" is more definitive of knowledge and spiritual learning than clan or caste. The alternative definition according to earliest Vedic Sruti sources, is that the Brahmins constitute a distinct clan coming from one of the bloodlines of seven major gotras or lineages from seven Rishis (later eight, then ten, then twelve) from which the original Brahmin community carry their spiritual power.

The Nirukta (Etymology) of sage Yaska says Brahmam Jānati iti Brāhmaṇam — A Brahmin is a person who knows Brahmam or Brahman, the ultimate reality; the energy which pervades all or God or supreme knowledge. Hence Brahmin means, "knower of God".

Brahmins have traditionally been considered to be the highest caste in the Indian caste system by various Indologists and historians. However, some authors claim that this status is too simplistic, given the complexities and realities of the Indian caste system. Although Brahmins were given deference in matters of knowledge, religion and spirituality, military and aristocratic classes such as the Rajputs (who were Kshatriyas) considered themselves to be the highest, and looked upon Brahmins as "other-worldly". It has been argued that since every community had a different outlook on life, it is difficult to place them in a straight hierarchy [3].

The historical situation in Hindu society was that Brahmins were the traditional priests and pundits (scholars). Today however, many Brahmins are employed in a variety of occupations and their religious traditions and culture are becoming less of a factor in daily life. Brahmins, forming a small percentage of Indian population, have contributed to culture, knowledge and industry immensely. Today they constitute about 2–5% of the population in India. In 1931, Brahmins were 4.32% of the total population in the areas that constituted the British Raj.


[edit] History

Main article: History of Hinduism
Adi Shankara (centre) is the Hindu philosopher whose tradition is followed by Smarta Brahmins
Adi Shankara (centre) is the Hindu philosopher whose tradition is followed by Smarta Brahmins

The history of the Brahmin community in India begins with the Vedic religion in ancient India. The Manu Smriti, an ancient Smriti refers to Aryavarta as the land of Vedic people. The Vedas are the primary source of knowledge for brahmin practices. All the sampradayas of Brahmins take inspiration from the Vedas. Traditionally, it is believed that Vedas are apauruṣeya (not written by either humans or God) and anādi (beginingless), but are revealed truths of eternal validity. The Vedas are considered Śruti (that which is heard, signifying the oral tradition).

The Vedas are the primary source of knowledge for all Brahmin traditions, both orthodox and heterodox. All religions of Brahmins and all traditions, in one way or other, take inspiration from the Vedas. Traditional Brahmin accepts Vedas as apaurusheyam (not man-made), but revealed truths and of eternal validity or relevance and hence the Vedas are considered Srutis that which have been heard and are the paramount source of Brahmin traditions and is believed to be divine. These Srutis include not only the four Vedas (the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda), but also their respective Brahmanas. Brahmins also give tremendous importance to purity of body and mind and hence attach importance to ritual baths and cleanliness.

Historically, Ancient Indian society consisted of four varnas, Brahmin (taking care of technical knowledge and spirituality), Kshatriya (protectors of Dharma), Vaishya (mercantile and agricultural class) and Shudra (labour class). Varna was conferred on a person on the basis of his qualities, deeds and nature. Scholars, teachers, priests, intellectuals, scientists and knowledge-seekers formed the Brahmin class. The caste was not based on the birth. Kanakadasa, Valmiki, in recent times Vivekananda, Swami Prabhupada not born to brahmin parents are considered great sages and teachers.

[edit] Nature of Brahmin

“Samodamastapah Saucham
Jnanam Vijnaanamaastikyam
Brahmakarma Swabhavajam!”

Control on emotions, control on senses, purity, tolerance, simplicity, concentration and belief in knowledge and science.

[edit] Duties of Brahmin

The six duties of a Brahmin are given as per the Sloka

"Adhyaapanam Adhyayanam
Yajanam Yaajanam Tathaa
Daanam Pratigraham Chaiva

Teaching, learning, performing Yajna, make performing Yajna, accept Daana, and give Daana are the six duties of a Brahmin.

Brahmins are also protectors of the religion. Hence, at times when religion was endangered by aggressors Brahmins took up arms to combat the threat of the enemy. Starting from the time of Parasurama, who was a mythical warrior brahmin and then to the time when all kshtriyas were trained in warfare by Brahmins, which is substantiated by mythological stories such as those from the Mahabharata.(e.g. Dronachraya and Kripacharaya). In actual life, Chanakya (also called Kautaliya) was another Brahmin who raised destitute and poor child (Chandragupta Maurya) and trained him in all spheres of life including warfare. Chandragupta created the largest empire of India ever. Under the able rule of Chandragupta, the majority of India, modern day Pakistan and south-eastern Afghanistan were united.

[edit] Brahmin Communities

See also: Brahmin communities

Brahmin castes in the Indian subcontinent are divided into two regional groups: Pancha-Gauda Brahmins and Pancha-Dravida Brahmins as per the shloka,

कर्णाटकाश्च तैलंगा द्राविडा महाराष्ट्रकाः,
गुर्जराश्चेति पञ्चैव द्राविडा विन्ध्यदक्षिणे ||
सारस्वताः कान्यकुब्जा गौडा उत्कलमैथिलाः,
पन्चगौडा इति ख्याता विन्ध्स्योत्तरवासिनः ||

This classification occurs in Rajatarangini of Kalhana.

In Tamil Nadu,Brahmins belong to 2 major groups: Iyer including dikshitar, shastri,sharma and gurukkal of Smarthas, the followers of Sri Adi Shankaracharya , Sri-Vaishnavas (Iyengars), who are the followers of Sri Ramanujacharya

In Andhra Pradesh, Brahmins are broadly classified into 2 groups: Vaidika (educated in vedas, performing religious and secular vocations) and Niyogi (performing only secular vocation), which are further divided into several sub-castes.

In Karnataka, Brahmins belong to 3 major groups: Smarthas, the followers of Sri Shakanracharya, Madhvas (or Vaishnavas) who are the followers of Sri Madhvacharya, and Sri-Vaishnavas (Iyengars), who are the followers of Sri Ramanujacharya.

In Kerala, Brahmins are classified into two groups: Namboothiris and Pushpakas (Ampalavasis). The major priestly activities are performed by Namboothiris while the other temple related activities known as Kazhakam are performed by Pushpaka Brahmins (Ampalavasis). Sri Adi Shankara was born in Kalady, a village in Kerala, to a Namboothiri Brahmin couple, Shivaguru and Aryamba and lived for thirty-two years. Both the Namboothiri Brahmins and Pushpaka Brahmins in Kerala now follow the Philosophies of Sri Adi Sankaracharya.

[edit] Gotras and Pravaras

See also: Classification of Brahmins

In general, gotra denotes all persons who trace descent in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor. Panini defines gotra for grammatical purposes as ' apatyam pautraprabh*rti gotram' (IV. 1. 162), which means 'the word gotra denotes the progeny (of a sage) beginning with the son's son. When a person says ' I am Kashypasa-gotra' he means that he traces his descent from the ancient sage Kashyapa by unbroken male descent. According to the Baudhâyanas'rauta-sûtra Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Bharadvâja, Gautama, Atri, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Agastya are 8 sages; the progeny of these eight sages is declared to be gotras. This enumeration of eight primary gotras seems to have been known to PâNini. The offspring (apatya) of these eight are gotras and others than these are called ' gotrâvayava '.

The gotras are arranged in groups, e. g. there are according to the Âsvalâyana-srautasûtra four subdivisions of the Vasishtha gana, viz. Upamanyu, Parâshara, Kundina and Vasishtha (other than the first three). Each of these four again has numerous sub-sections, each being called gotra. So the arrangement is first into ganas, then into pakshas, then into individual gotras. The first has survived in the Bhrigu and Ângirasa gana. According to Baud, the principal eight gotras were divided into pakshas. The pravara of Upamanyu is Vasishtha, Bharadvasu, Indrapramada; the pravara of the Parâshara gotra is Vasishtha, Shâktya, Pârâsharya; the pravara of the Kundina gotra is Vasishtha, Maitrâvaruna, Kaundinya and the pravara of Vasishthas other than these three is simply Vasishtha. It is therefore that some define pravara as the group of sages that distinguishes the founder (lit. the starter) of one gotra from another.

There are two kinds of pravaras, 1) sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara, and 2) putrparampara. Gotrapravaras can be ekarsheya, dwarsheya, triarsheya, pancharsheya, saptarsheya, and up to 19 rishis. Kashyapasa gotra has at least two distinct pravaras in Andhra Pradesh: one with three sages (triarsheya pravara) and the other with seven sages (saptarsheya pravara). This pravara may be either sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara or putraparampara. When it is sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara marriage is not acceptable if half or more than half of the rishis are same in both bride and bridegroom gotras. If it is putraparampara, marriage is totally unacceptable even if one rishi matches.

[edit] Sects and Rishis

Due to the diversity in religious and cultural traditions and practices, and the Vedic schools which they belong to, Brahmins are further divided into various subcastes. During the sutra period, roughly between 1000 BCE to 200 BCE, Brahmins became divided into various Shakhas (branches), based on the adoption of different Vedas and different rescension Vedas. Sects for different denominations of the same branch of the Vedas were formed, under the leadership of distinguished teachers among Brahmins. The teachings of these distinguished rishis are called sūtras. Every Veda has its own sūtra. The sūtras that deal with social, moral and legal precepts are called Dharma Sutras, whereas those sūtras that deal with ceremonials are called Shrauta Sutras and domestic rituals are called Grhya Sutras. Sūtras are generally written in prose or in mixed prose and verse.

There are several Brahmin law givers such as Angirasa, Apasthambha, Atri, Brihaspati, Boudhayana, Daksha, Gautam, Harita, Katyayana, Likhita, Manu[4], Parasara, Samvarta, Shankha, Shatatapa, Ushanasa, Vashishta, Vishnu, Vyasa, Yajnavalkya and Yama. These twenty-one rishis were the propounders of Smritis. The oldest among these smritis are Apastamba, Baudhayana, Gautama, and Vasishta Sutras.

[edit] Practices

Brahmins adhere to the principles of Hinduism, such as acceptance of the Vedas with reverence, adherence to the position that the means or ways to salvation and realization of the ultimate truth are diverse, that God is one, but has innumerable names and forms to chant and worship due to our varied perceptions, cultures and languages. Brahmins believe in Sarvejanāssukhinobhavaṃtu — Let the entire society be happy and prosperous and Vasudhaiva kuṭuṃbakaṃ — the whole world is one family. Most Brahmins practice vegetarianism (Bengali Brahmins, Oriya Brahmins, Pahari Brahmins and Kashmiri Pandits and Goud Saraswat Brahmins and Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins are exceptions to this).

[edit] Daily routine

Brahmins from South India performing Sandhyavandanams.
Brahmins from South India performing Sandhyavandanams.

Hindu Brahmins hold practice of Dharma more important than beliefs[citation needed]. This is a distinct feature of the Dharmic religions[citation needed]. The practices include mainly Yajnas.

The daily routine[5] includes performing

The last two named Yajnas are performed in only a few households today. Brahmacharis perform Agnikaryam instead of Agnihotra or Aupasana. The other rituals followed include Amavasya tarpanam and Shraddha.

See also: Nitya karma and Kaamya karma

[edit] Samskaras

Main article: Samskara (rites)

Brahmins also perform sixteen major Samskaras (rites) during the course of their lifetime.[6]

  • In the pre-natal stage,
    • Garbhadharana (conception),
    • Pumsavana (rite for consecrating a male child in the womb) and
    • Simantonnayana (rite for parting the hair of a pregnant woman) are performed.
  • During infancy,
    • Jatakarma (birth ceremony),
    • Namakarana (naming ceremony),
    • Nishkarmana (first outing),
    • Annaprasana (first feeding solid food),
    • Choodakarana (first tonsure) and
    • Karnavedha (ear piercing) are performed.
  • During childhood and adolescence of the child,
    • Vidhyarambha (starting of education),
    • Upanayanam (thread ceremony- initiation),
    • Vedarambha (starting of the study of the Vedas),
    • Keshanta or Godana (first shaving of the beard) and
    • Samavartanam or Snaana (ending of studentship) are performed.
  • During adulthood,
    • Vivaha (marriage)
    • Nisheka and
    • Anthyesthi (funeral rites) are the main ceremonies.

[edit] Sampradayas

The three sampradayas (traditions) of Brahmins, especially in South India are the Smarta sampradaya, the Srivaishnava sampradaya and the Madhva sampradaya.

[edit] Brahmins in Buddhism

Brahmins feature extensively in Buddhist canonical texts i.e the Tripitaka, and are found among the chief disciples of the Buddha. The Brahmana Varga (section on Brahmins) contained in the Dharmapada lists down the Buddha's views on Brahmins[7]

[edit] Brahmin bhikkus

  • Abhaya Raja (built Mahabouddha temple with his descendants in Patan, Nepal in year 1604)[8]
  • Asvaghosa (wrote the 'Buddhacharita' and is considered along with Nagarjuna to have founded the Mahayana)
  • Atapa
  • Bakula [9]
  • Bhitka (Buddha's fifth successor)
  • Cuda Panthaka [10]
  • Dignaga [11]
  • Gopaka [12]
  • Guhyashila [13]
  • Harita [14] (wrote the "Harita Dharmasutra")
  • Humkara [15]
  • Jnanadharma [16]
  • Kacanna [17]
  • Kamashila (Kashmiri Pandit)
  • Kalika [18]
  • Kumarajiva (was imprisoned in China for spreading Buddhism)
  • Kanaka (Yamantaka Tantra)
  • Kukuraja [19]
  • Manjushri (The mentor of Asoka)[20]
  • Padma (woman)
  • Palden Dekyong [21]
  • Pingala-Koccha (preached to the Buddha the Cūlasāropama Sutta, after which he became a dedicated student of the Buddha)
  • Radhasvami (another mentor of Asoka) [22]
  • Majnushrimitra [23]
  • Nagasena [24]
  • Narpola (student of Tipola)
  • Sahara (master of Tipola)
  • Sariputra
  • Shantideva
  • Shantarakshita (Kashmiri Pandit)
  • Subha
  • Subhadra
  • Subrahman (coming father of Bodhisattva Maitreya)
  • Tipola (Mahasiddha, from modern-day Bangladesh)
  • Vakkali
  • Vanavasi [25]

[edit] Brahmin Bodhisattvas

Aryadeva (successor of Nagarjuna) Asangha (from Hinayana sect and Peshwar city founded the Yogacarya and established the Classical age of Buddhism)

  • Bodhidharma (royalty of Pallava, from Kanchi) that went to China
  • Brahmadatta
  • Nagarjuna (founded the Shunyata concept and considered along with Asvaghosa to have founded the Mahayana)
  • Kusanda Buddha
  • Konagamana Buddha
  • Kasyapsa Buddha
  • Kshitagarbha
  • Maitreya (Bodhisattva to come)
  • Parmasambhava (founder of Vajrayana Buddhism)

[edit] Scriptures dedicated to Brahmin bhikkus

Because of the aim of the Brahmins, and the Buddha following on their path, several Buddhist texts have been dedicated to them.[26]

  • Annatara Brahmana Sutta: To a Brahmin
  • Aññatra Sutta: To a certain Brahman (SN XII.46)
  • Brahmana Sutta 1: To Unnabha the Brahman
  • Cankii Sutta: To the Brahmin Cankii
  • Esukaari Sutta: To the Brahmin Esukari
  • Janussoni Brahmana Sutta: To the Brahmin Janussoni
  • Ganakamoggallaanasuttam B: To the Brahmin Ganakamoggallaana
  • Paccha-bhumika Sutta: To Brahmins of the Western Land (SN XLII.6)
  • Saleyyaka Sutta A: The Brahmins of Sela
  • Saleyyaka Sutta B: The Brahmans of Sala

[edit] In Kingdoms

There have been Brahmin Buddhists too in Buddhist kingdoms.

  • In Cambodia (Sanskrit Kambhoja) there is an edict saying that King Jayavarman and his son Rudravarman build a monument in dedication of Lord Buddha and appointed a Brahmin to protect it.[27]
  • In Sri Lanka, Maha Adigar was the first Buddhist emperor of Sri Lanka, converting many to Buddhism.[28]
  • In 120 BC, the Indo-Greek King Milinda converted to Buddhism under sage Nagasena.
  • The Shunga Dynasty is thought by neo-Buddhists as an anti-Buddhist dynasty but the Shungas themselves built a stupa dedicated to the Buddha at Baharut.

[edit] Brahmins in Jainism

  • The founder of the new Jain religion was the Tirthankara or Jina Mahavira but his first convert was Indrabhuti (aka Gautamswami) the Brahmin, who headed a group of other Brahmins and converted them to Jainism. He was from the village Gobbar (also called Govarya) near Rajgriha.
  • Sajjambhava was another born from Rajgriha and was elected the head of the Jain temple. He is famous for his composition of the "Dasavaikalika Sutra."
  • Acharya Vidyanand was a Brahmin of the Dhigambar Jain sect and compiled in the Sanskrit language, "Ashta Shahastri" with eight thousand verses.
  • Acharya Shushil Kumar, known better to Jains as "Guruji", was born a Vaidik in the Shakarpur village of the Haryana province. At the age of 15, he took Diksha (became a sanyassin) into the Sthanakvasi, a Swhetambara sub-sect.
  • There is also a story about a wealthy Brahmin named Dhangiri in the town of Tumbhivan, who, when heard the sermons of the Jain Acharya Sinhgiri, while he regularly listened to but later lost his interest in wealth and decided to take the Diksha.
  • Umasvati was a composer who was so loved by Jains that he is considered by the Dhigambar sect to be a Dhigambar member and the Svetambara sect to be a Svetambara member.

[edit] In Kingdoms

  • The Jain Acharya Bhadrabahu of Pundravardhana is said to be the preceptor of Chandragupta Maurya of the Mauryan dynasty, grandfather of Ashoka the Buddhist ruler.
  • A copperplate grant from the Gupta period found in the vincity of Somapura mentioned a Brahmin donating land to a Jain vihara at Vatagohali.
  • A Brahmin general by the name of Vasudeva in the army of Kamadeva in the Vijayaditya dynasty had built a temple to Lord Parshvanath.
  • The Kadamba kings of Palasika were Jain Brahmins who supported Jainism and gave land grants and erected many temples and hence, patronised Jainism. This supports the view that Jainism entered South India through the West and perhaps from Ujjayini itself.
  • King Mrigesavarman of the Dadamba dynasty of palasika further went on to give grants to Yapaniyas, Nigranthas and Kurchakas.
  • The Brahmin Haribhadra was a pupil of Jinabhadra (or Jinabhata) and Jinadatta and later received the title of "Suri" (an honorable epithet of learning Jain monks.)

[edit] Status of Brahmins today

Historically, Brahmins have been not only ascetics, sages and priests for millennia seeking welfare of the society, but also secular clerks and professionals. Brahmins also have a martial history with many great warrior saints, such as Parashurama, from which many Brahmins claim descent. Clans such as the Mohyals and many other Brahmins have been warriors and protectors of Hinduism and the oppressed. Today, the majority of Brahmins are agriculturalists, however many also hold posts in administration, academia, business, military, politics, and journalism. Former Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Venkatanarasimharao Pamulaparti (P.V. Narasimha Rao), and Atal Behari Vajpayee were Brahmins.

[edit] Contributions to modern India

Brahmins have contributed to the making of modern India in fields such as literature, science and technology, politics, culture, and religion. During the Indian independence movement, many Brahmins, including Mangal Pandey, Balgangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, C. Rajagopalachari, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Basawon Singh (Sinha), Yogendra Shukla, and Sheel Bhadra Yajee, to name just a few, were at the forefront of the struggle for freedom. After independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, a Brahmin and an atheist, became the first Prime Minister of India. His daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, also became the Prime Minister of India. Other Brahmins who later attained this position are Morarji Desai, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Among the great Brahmin scholars and writers are Nobel laureates Rabindranath Tagore and V. S. Naipaul and others like Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan, Subramanya Bharathy, Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar', Suryakant Tripathi Nirala. Great Brahmin scientists include Nobel Laureate Sir C.V.Raman and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, and great Brahmin mathematicians include Srinivasa Ramanujan and C. P. Ramanujam. Even today, many Brahmins hold top posts in administration, academia, business, army, Air Force, journalism, etc. Many Brahmin leaders like C. Rajagopalachari and Lokmanya Tilak fought for the uplifting of the socially repressed Dalits and for the equality of Dalits in society.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Brahman" - Encyclopaedia Britannica
  2. ^ "Brahman" - definition(s)
  3. ^ a b Understanding Caste - Subhash Kak
  4. ^ Manu Smriti on learning of the Vedas
  5. ^ [ A day in the life of a Brahmin]
  6. ^ The Forty Samskaras
  7. ^
  8. ^ Mahabouddha temple
  9. ^ Arhants
  10. ^
  11. ^ Dignaga's Biography
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  • Definitions: A Sanskrit English Dictionary by Sir Monier Monier-Williams
  • Mayne's "Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage.
  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman, "History of dharmasastra" (ancient and mediæval religious and civil law in India)
  • Hindu Castes and Sects Jogendranath Bhattacharya.
  • Andhra Viprula Gotramulu, Indla Perlu, Sakhalu by Emmesroy Sastri.
  • History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh Rao PR.
  • History of India Herman Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund.
  • Acharalu sastriyataNarayanareddi Patil.
  • Hindu Manners, Customs, and Ceremonies Abbe J. A. Dubois

[edit] External links