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Brahmin (also called Brahmana) is a varna in Vedic Hinduism and also a caste of people who are members of it. Members are subdivided into numerous communities known as gotras. Most of the practicing Brahmins adhere to the principles such as acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation and realization of the truth are diverse; God is one, but has innumerable names and forms to chant and worship due to our varied perceptions, cultures and languages; that a Brahmin works for the welfare of the entire society and so on. Daily practices of Brahmins include sandhyavandana (prayers to Gayatri and Sun God), prayer to ishtadaiva or ilavelpu (personal God), yoga, non-violence, vegetarianism etc. Everything in the daily life of a Brahmin is a ritual. However, special rituals include marriage, ritual conception and consummation of the wedding, rituals of childbirth, naming ceremony, first feeding ceremony, the child’s first tonsure, upanayana (the sacred-thread ceremony - initiation into vedic learning and ritual), ritual baths, cremation rituals, shraaddha, etc. All of these rituals are very important for a practicing Brahmin. They are traditionally priests, artists, teachers and technicians.
"Giving a human form to the society, priests and teachers are its expressive face, rulers and warriors its protective arms, traders and farmers its supporting thighs and servants and labourers its transporting feet. To conceive of the world in the human image, the sun and moon are its eyes and mind, water and fire its mouth, air its breath, sky its head, earth its feet, and the ethereal space its body. This world is itself a continuing sacrifice, in which we see all matter and energy evolving into new forms by consuming whatever existed before." Purusha Sukta: (The Hymn of God), Rigveda.
Therefore, human society comprises four pillars or classes called varnas or colors; the priests/teachers, the rulers and military, the merchants and agriculturists (Vaishyas), and the artisans and laborers (Shudras).
Brahmin priests and teachers (acharya) were engaged in attaining the highest spiritual knowledge (brahmavidya) of Brahman and adhered to different branches (shakhas) of the Vedas. The Brahmin priest is responsible for religious rituals in temples and homes of Hindus and is a person authorized after rigorous training in vedas and sacred]] rituals, and as a liaison between humans and the God. In general, as family vocations and businesses are inherited, priesthood used to be inherited among Brahmin priestly families, as it requires years of practice of vedas from childhood after proper introduction to student life through a religious initiation called upanayana at the age of about five.
Some Brahmins were also warriors. Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, son of a Brahmin sage Parashara and a fisher woman Satyavathi, in his Mahabharata, describes several warriors belonging to Brahmin castes/tribes, such as Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Parashurama etc., who were professors in the schools of martial arts and the art of war.
- 1 History
- 2 Practices
- 3 Brahmin communities
- 4 Pancha-Gauda
- 5 Pancha-Dravida
- 6 Sampradayas
- 7 Nepali Brahmins
- 8 Burma (Myanmar)
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Most sampradayas (sects) of modern Brahmins claim to take inspiration from the Vedas. According to orthodox Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apauruṣeya and anādi (beginning-less), and are revealed truths of eternal validity. The Vedas are considered Sruti ("that which is heard") and are the paramount source on which Brahmin tradition claims to be based. Sruti texts include the four Vedas (the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda), and their respective Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.
Apart from clerical positions, Brahmins have also historically been ministers (known as Sachivas or Amatyas) in dynasties.
- Swami (Priest) - Purohita (performer for domestic ceremonies) and Rtvij (performer of seasonal ceremonies)
- Acarya or Upadhyaya (Spiritual teacher)
- Tapasvin - Mendicant
Requirements for being Brahmin
According to a Buddhist scripture, at the time of the Buddha in eastern India there were five requirements for being Brahmin:
- Varna (ubhato sujato hoti) or Brahmin status on both sides of the family
- Jati (avikkitto anupakutto jativadena)
- Mantra (ajjhayako hoti mantradharo)
- Sila or virtue
- Panditya or learned
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Brahmins, basically adhere to the principles of the Vedas, related to the texts of the Sruti and Smriti which are some the foundations of Hinduism, and practice Sanatana Dharma. Vedic Brāhmaṇas have six occupational duties, of which three are compulsory — studying the Vedas, performing Vedic rituals and practicing dharma. By teaching the insights of the Vedic literature which deals with all aspects of life including spirituality, philosophy, yoga, religion, rituals, temples, arts and culture, music, dance, grammar, pronunciation, metre, astrology, astronomy, logic, law, medicine, surgery, technology, martial arts, military strategy, etc. By spreading its philosophy, and by accepting back from the community, the Brahmins receive the necessities of life.
Male members of all Brahmin sects wear the Yagnopaveetham (Hindi:जनेऊ or sacred thread) that is a symbol of initiation to the Gayatri recital. This ritual is often referred to as Upanayana. This marks the learning of the Gayatri hymn. Brahmin sects also generally identify themselves as belonging to a particular Gotra, a classification based on patrilineal descent, which is specific for each family and indicates their origin.
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The Brahmin castes may be broadly divided into two regional groups: Pancha-Gauda Brahmins from the Northern part of India (considered to be the region north of the Vindhya mountains) and Pancha-Dravida Brahmins from the region south of the Vindhya mountains as per the shloka of Kalhana.
- Mithila, Saraswat, Kanyakubja, Gaud, Utkala and form the Pancha Guada
- Karnataka, Telangaa, Dravida, Maharashtrian and Gurjarati form the Pancha Dravida.
The Brahmins from Sārasvata, Kanyakubja, Gauda, Mithila and Utkala, who with passage of time spread to North East, East and West, were called Pancha Gauda. This group is originally from Uttarapatha (Āryāvarta).
Pancha Gauda Brahmins are divided into five main categories:
The Mithila Brahmiṇs are a group of Brahmins typically originating from and living in and around the area that was at one time the Videha kingdom of Mithila covering part of Nepal and the Northern Indian state of Bihar. They are a community of highly cohesive, traditional Brahmins who strive to follow rites and rituals according to ancient Hindu canons. They have a reputation for orthodoxy and interest in learning. A large number of Maithil Brahmins migrated a few centuries ago to adjoining areas of South-east Bihar and Jharkhand, as well as to adjoining Terai regions of Nepal. Most of the Maithil Brahmins are Sāktas (worshippers of Sakti) . However, it is also not uncommon to find Vaishnavites among the Maithil Brahmins. Some surnames of Brahmins in Bihar include Shukla, Sharma, Mishra, Choubey, Tiwary, Kissoon, Bhardwaj, Bhagwan, Choudhary, Jha,Bishwas, Bhatt, Kanojia, Kaileyas, Bhaglani, Pingal, and Lakhlani, amongst others. Maithili is their mother tongue, though many use Angika (a south-eastern dialect of Maithili) as their mother tongue.
- Saraswat Brahmin
- Kashmiri Pandits
- Goud Saraswat Brahmin
- Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin
- Rajapur Saraswat Brahmin
- Kudaldeshkar Gaud Brahman
- Gaur Brahmin
- Sanadya Brahmin
- Kamrupi Brahmins
- Kanyakubja Brahmin
- Saryupareen Brahmin
- Bhumihar Brahmins
- Nepali Brahmins
- Garhwali Brahmins
- Sakaldwipiya Brahmins
- Pareek Brahmins
- Saraswat Brahmin
- Pushkarna Brahmin
The Brahmins from historical region of Gauḍa are known as Gauda Brahmins.
The Sanskrit text Brāhmaṇotpatti-Mārtaṇḍa by Pt. Harikrishna Sāstri mentions that a king named Utkala invited Brahmins from the Gangetic Valley to perform a yajna in Jagannath-Puri in Odisha. When the yajna ended, these Brahmins laid the foundation of Lord Jagannath there and settled around Odisha, Jharkhand and Medinipur. The Utkala Brahmins are of three classes 1) Shrautiya (vaidika), 2) Sevayata and 3) Halua Brahmins.
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Pancha-Dravida Brahmins comprise five categories:
- Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
- Dravida (Tamil Nadu and Kerala)
Niyogis are further divided into the following subcategories: Nandavarika Niyogi, Prathama Shakha Niyogi, Aaru Vela Niyogulu, Karanaalu, Sistukaranalu, Karana kamma vyaparlu, Karanakammulu.
During the days of Maratha India, these Marathi/Konkani Brahmins primarily served as prime ministers or Peshwas, apart from taking up military jobs and converged into the sovereign or the Chhatrapati of Satara. One of the notable Peshwa families is the Bhat family, who happen to be Chitpavan Konkanastha Brahmins. They took up military jobs and ended up being the de facto head of the Maratha Dynasty. Originally the Chitpavan held a low rank in the social hierarchy amongst Marathi Brahmins, however in modern times they enjoy the same social ranking with Deshastha and Karhade Brahmins, inter-marriages between these three communities is now very common.
- Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins
- Halenadu Karnataka Brahmin
- Madhwa Brahmins
- Mysore Iyengars
- Tuluva Brahmins, which consist of Kandavara Brahmins, Karhade Brahmins, Padia Brahmins, Saklapuri Brahmins, Shivalli Brahmins, Smartha Shivalli Brahmins, Sthanika Brahmins, Padarthi Brahmins.
- Havyaka Brahmin
- Iyengar (sub-divided into Vadakalai and Thenkalai)
- Iyer (sub-divided further into Vadama, Vathima, Brahacharanam, Ashtasahasram, Sholiyar, Dikshitar, Kaniyalar, Prathamasaki)
Gujarati Brahmins consist of various sub-castes such as :
- Modh Brahmins
- Nagar Brahmins
- Audichya Brahmin
- Bardai Brahmins
- Anavil Brahmin
- Nodera Brahmin
- Khedaval Brahmins
There are additional sampradayas, which are not as widely followed:
The Mahima Dharma or "Satya Mahima Alekha Dharma" was founded by the Brahmin Mukunda Das of present-day Odisha, popularly known by followers as Mahima Swami according to the Bhima Bhoi text. He was born in the last part of the 18th century, in the former state of Baudh, a son of Ananta Mishra. He was Brahmin by caste as mentioned in Mahima Vinod of Bhima Bhoi in Vol.11. This sampradaya is similar to Vaishnavism. Although the members of this sect do not worship Lord Vishnu as their Ishta-Deva, they believe that the Srimad Bhagavatam is sacred. The founder of this sect was a Vaishnavite before founding the new order. This sampradaya was founded in the latter part of the 18th century.
There is also the Avadhoot Panth, wherein Lord Dattatreya and his forms such as Narasimha Saraswati and Sai Baba of Shirdi are worshiped. Lord Dattatreya is worshiped by many as the Hindu trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in one divine entity. Many even worship Dattatreya as an Avatar of Vishnu or of Shiva.
Bahun is a colloquial Nepali term for a member of the Pahari or "Hill" Brahmin (ब्राह्मण) caste, who are traditionally educators, scholars and priests of Hinduism. They are also known as Barmu in Newari, Bavan in Kham. Brahmins are the second largest caste group in Nepal (12.18% of the population), with the Chhetri (Kshatriya) being the first (16.60%).
Historically, Brahmins, known as ponna (ပုဏ္ဏား) in modern-day Burmese, formed an influential group in Burma prior to British colonialism. Until the 1900s, ponna referred to Indians who had arrived prior to colonial rule, distinct from kala, Indians who arrived during British rule. During the Konbaung dynasty, court Brahmins were consulted by kings before moving royal capitals, waging wars, making offerings to Buddhist sites like the Mahamuni Buddha, and for astrology. Burmese Brahmins can be divided into four general groups, depending on their origins:
- Manipur Brahmins (Burmese: မုနိပူရဗြာဟ္မဏ): Brahmins who were sent to Burma after Manipur became a Burmese vassal state in the 1700s and ambassadors from Manipur
- Arakanese Brahmins (Burmese: ရခိုင်ဗြာဟ္မဏ): Brahmins brought to Burma from Arakan after it was conquered by the Konbaung king Bodawpaya
- Sagaing Brahmins: the oldest Brahmins in Burmese society, who consulted the Pyu, Burman[disambiguation needed] and Mon kingdoms prior to the Konbaung dynasty
- Indian Brahmins: Brahmins who arrived with British colonial rule when Burma became a part of the British Raj
According to Burmese chronicles, Brahmins in Burma were subject to the four-caste system, which included brahmanas (ဗြာဟ္မဏ), kshatriyas (ခတ္တိယ), vaishya (ဝေဿ), and shudra (သုဒ္ဒ). Because the Burmese monarchy enforced the caste system for Indians, Brahmins who broke caste traditions and laws were subject to punishment. In the Arakanese kingdom, punished Brahmins often became kyun ponna (ကျွန်ပုဏ္ဏား), literally 'slave Brahmins', who made flower offerings to Buddha images and performed menial tasks. During the Konbaung dynasty, caste was indicated by the number of salwe (threads) worn; Brahmins wore nine, while the lowest caste wore none. Brahmins are also fundamental in the Nine-God cult, called the Nine Divinities (Phaya Ko Su ဘုရားကိုးစု) which is essentially a Burmese puja (puzaw in Burmese) for appeasing nine divinities, Buddha and the eight arahats, or a group of nine deities, five Hindu gods and four nat spirits. This practice continues to be practiced in modern-day Burma.
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