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This article is about the social caste. For other uses, see Brahmin (disambiguation).
Group of Brahmanas, 1913

Brahmin 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.

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 as well as in the homes of Hindus and is a person authorised, after receiving rigorous training, to recite the Vedas and perform sacred rituals that serve as a fundamental aspect of the relationship between humans and the deities of Hinduism.

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.[citation needed]

Some Brahmins were also warriors.[citation needed]

Rigvedic sources[edit]

It must be emphasized that attempts to interpolate references from the Rigveda with contemporary social groups that identify as "brahmin" is entirely speculative.

The earliest inferred reference to "brahmin" as a possible social class is in the Rigveda, regarded by linguists as the oldest of the four Vedas (dated to between 1500 to 1200 BCE).

The masculine noun brâhmaná first appears in the Rigveda as a metaphor for the deity Agni and brâhmaná is listed as one among several enumerated roles within the Vedic priesthood (such as hotṛ, adhvaryu and udgātṛ).

The second Mandala of the Rigveda contains a sūkta (lit. "well-formed, eulogy", a Vedic hymn) describing the Rigvedic deity Agni as a "Cleanser" and one who performs the "Herald's task". The metaphor "Brahman, Lord and Master in our home" is used to describe the relationship between Agni and the faithful:

Vedic Sanskrit:

तवमग्ने दयुभिस्त्वमाशुशुक्षणिस्त्वमद्भ्यस्त्वमश्मनस परि
तवं वनेभ्यस्त्वमोषधीभ्यस्त्वं नर्णां नर्पते जायसे शुचिः
तवाग्ने होत्रं तव पोत्रं रत्वियं तव नेष्ट्रं तवमग्निद रतायतः
तव परशास्त्रं तवमध्वरीयसि बरह्मा चासि गर्हपतिश्च नो दमे
तवमग्न इन्द्रो वर्षभः सतामसि तवं विष्णुरुरुगायो नमस्यः
तवं बरह्मा रयिविद बरह्मणस पते तवं विधर्तःसचसे पुरन्ध्या

tvamaghne dyubhistvamāśuśukṣaṇistvamadbhyastvamaśmanas pari
tvaṃ vanebhyastvamoṣadhībhyastvaṃ nṛṇāṃ nṛpate jāyase śuciḥ
tavāghne hotraṃ tava potraṃ ṛtviyaṃ tava neṣṭraṃ tvamaghnid ṛtāyataḥ
tava praśāstraṃ tvamadhvarīyasi brahmā cāsi ghṛhapatiśca no dame
tvamaghna indro vṛṣabhaḥ satāmasi tvaṃ viṣṇururughāyo namasyaḥ
tvaṃ brahmā rayivid brahmaṇas pate tvaṃ vidhartaḥsacase purandhyā

Translation by Ralph T H Griffith:
1. THOU, Agni, shining in thy glory through the days, art brought to life from out the waters, from the stone:
From out the forest trees and herbs that grow on ground, thou, Sovran Lord of men art generated pure.
2 Thine is the Herald's task and Cleanser's duly timed; Leader art thou, and Kindler for the pious man.
Thou art Director, thou the ministering Priest: thou art the Brahman, Lord and Master in our home.
3 Hero of Heroes, Agni! Thou art Indra, thou art Viṣṇu of the Mighty Stride, adorable:

Thou, Brahmaṇaspati, the Brahman finding wealth: thou, O
Sustainer, with thy wisdom tendest us.
— Rigveda, 2.1.1-3

This use of the term brâhmaná is very similar, and in some stanzas identical,[1] with those of another sukta in praise of Agni from the tenth Mandala of the Rigveda, where the same differentiated Vedic priesthood (hotr, potr and brâhmaná) also serves to describe Agni:

Vedic Sanskrit:

मेधाकारं विदथस्य परसाधनमग्निं होतारम्परिभूतमं मतिम
तमिदर्भे हविष्या समानमित्तमिन महे वर्णते नान्यं तवत
तवामिदत्र वर्णते तवायवो होतारमग्ने विदथेषुवेधसः
यद देवयन्तो दधति परयाण्सि ते हविष्मन्तोमनवो वर्क्तबर्हिषः
तवाग्ने होत्रं तव पोत्रं रत्वियं तव नेष्ट्रं तवमग्निद रतायतः
तव परशास्त्रं तवमध्वरीयसि बरह्माचासि गर्हपतिश्च नो दमे

medhākāraṃ vidathasya prasādhanamaghniṃ hotāramparibhūtamaṃ matim
tamidarbhe haviṣyā samānamittamin mahe vṛṇate nānyaṃ tvat
tvāmidatra vṛṇate tvāyavo hotāramaghne vidatheṣuvedhasaḥ
yad devayanto dadhati prayāṇsi te haviṣmantomanavo vṛktabarhiṣaḥ
tavāghne hotraṃ tava potraṃ ṛtviyaṃ tava neṣṭraṃ tvamaghnid ṛtāyataḥ
tava praśāstraṃ tvamadhvarīyasi brahmācāsi ghṛhapatiśca no dame

Translation by Ralpth T H Griffith:
8 Agni, the Hotar-priest who fills the assembly full, Waker of
knowledge, chief Controller of the thought,—
Him, yea, none other than thyself, doth man elect at sacrificial offerings great and small alike.
9 Here, Agni, the arrangers, those attached to thee, elect thee as their Priest in sacred gatherings,
When men with strewn clipt grass and sacrificial gifts offer thee entertainment, piously inclined.
10 Thine is the Herald's task and Cleanser's duly timed; Leader art thou, and Kindler for the pious man.

Thou art Director, thou the ministering Priest: thou art the Brahman, Lord and Master in our home.
— Rigveda, 10.91.8-10

According to the Purusha Sukta, also in Mandala 10, Brahmins are described as having emerged from the mouth of Purusha, being that part of the body from which words emerge.[2][3]

Vedic Sanskrit:

यत पुरुषं वयदधुः कतिधा वयकल्पयन
मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते
बराह्मणो.अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्यः कर्तः
ऊरूतदस्य यद वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत

yat puruṣaṃ vyadadhuḥ katidhā vyakalpayan
mukhaṃ kimasya kau bāhū kā ūrū pādā ucyete
brāhmaṇo.asya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ
ūrūtadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṃ śūdro ajāyata

Translation by Ralph TH Griffith:
11 When they divided Puruṣa how many portions did they make?
What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?
12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made.

His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced.
— Rigveda, 10.90.11-2


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. According to four surveys conducted by CSDS in 2005-2007, Brahmins are 5% of India's total population.[4] Brahmins have been very influential in India.[5]


Adi Guru Shri Gauḍapādāchārya, the grand guru of Shri Adi Shankaracharya and the first historical proponent of Advaita Vedanta, also believed to be the founder of Shri Gaudapadacharya Math.
Main article: Pancha-Gauda

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).[citation needed]

Pancha Gauda Brahmins are divided into these main categories:

Saraswat Brahmins[edit]

Kanyakubja Brahmins[edit]

Gauda Brahmins[edit]

Gauda Brahmins or Gaur Brahmin .The Brahmins from historical region of Gauḍa are known as Gauda Brahmins.

Saryupareen Brahmins[edit]

Saryupareen Brahmins , also known as Sarvarya Brahmins or Saryupariya Brahmins, are North Indian Brahmins residing on the eastern plain of the Sarayu near Ayodhya.


Pancha-Dravida Brahmins comprise five categories:

  • Telugu (originating from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana)
  • Dravida (Tamil Nadu and Kerala)
  • Gujarat
  • Karnataka
  • Maharashtra

Telugu Brahmins[edit]

The Telugu Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are broadly classified into four groups: Vaidiki Brahmins, Niyogi, Dravida Brahmins, and Vaikhānasa.

Niyogis are further divided into the following subcategories: Nandavarika Niyogi, Prathama Shakha Niyogi, Aaru Vela Niyogulu, Karanaalu, Sistukaranalu, Karana kamma vyaparlu, Karanakammulu.



Gujarati Brahmins consist of various sub-castes such as :



During the days of Maratha India, Koknastha(Chitpavan) Brahmins primarily served as prime ministers or Peshwas,[6] 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.[7] They took up military jobs[8] and ended up being the de facto head[9] of the Maratha Dynasty.[10]


The three sampradayas (sects) of Brahmins found mostly in South India are the Smarta, the Srivaishnava and the Madhva.[citation needed]

Other sects[edit]

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.[11] 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.[11] This sampradaya was founded in the latter part of the 18th century.[11]

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.[citation needed]

Nepali Brahmins[edit]

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).[citation needed]

Burma (Myanmar)[edit]

Manipuri astrologers and Brahmins in Burma, 1900

Historically, Brahmins, known as ponna 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.[12]

Burmese Brahmins can be divided into four general groups, depending on their origins:[citation needed]

  • Manipur Brahmins: Brahmins who were sent to Burma after Manipur became a Burmese vassal state in the 1700s and ambassadors from Manipur
  • Arakanese Brahmins: 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 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 similar to that of India. Because the Burmese monarchy enforced the caste system for Indians, Brahmins who broke caste traditions and laws were subject to punishment. . However, in the Arakanese kingdom, punished Brahmins often became kyun ponna, 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 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.[12] This practice continues to be practised in modern-day Burma.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bloomfield, Maurice (1916). Rig-Veda Repetitions: The Repeated Verses and Distichs and Stanzas of the Rig-Veda in Systematic Presentation and with Critical Discussion (PDF). Harvard University Press. p. 186. 
  2. ^ Thapar, Romila (2004). Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. University of California Press. p. 125. ISBN 9780520242258. 
  3. ^ Leeming, David Adams; Leeming, Margaret Adams (1994). A Dictionary of Creation Myths. Oxford University Press. pp. 139–144. ISBN 978-0-19510-275-8. 
  4. ^ "Brahmins In India". 
  5. ^ "When will the Brahmin-Bania hegemony end?". 
  6. ^ "Dictionary - Definition of Peshwa". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  7. ^ "peshwa (Maratha chief minister) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  8. ^ "Shrimant Bajirao Peshwa : Great warrior and protector of Hindu Dharma - Valiant Hindu Kings | Hindu Janajagruti Samiti". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  9. ^ The Satara Raj, 1818-1848: A Study in History, Administration, and Culture - Sumitra Kulkarni - Google Books. 1995. ISBN 9788170995814. Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  10. ^ "India : Rise of the peshwas - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". 2011-11-08. Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  11. ^ a b c "Mahima Dharma, Bhima Bhoi and Biswanathbaba"
  12. ^ a b Leider, Jacques P. (2005). "Specialists for Ritual, Magic and Devotion: The Court Brahmins of the Konbaung Kings". The Journal of Burma Studies 10: 159–180. doi:10.1353/jbs.2005.0004. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]