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Purohit, in the Indian religious context, means chaplain, family priest within the vedic priesthood. In Thailand and Cambodia, it refers to the royal chaplains.

Etymology: the foregoer of Vedic rituals[edit]

The word Purohit derives from the Sanskrit, puras meaning "front", and hita, "placed". The word is also used synonymously with the word pandit, which also means "priest". Tirth Purohit means the purohit who sit at the fords of the holy rivers or holy tanks and who have maintained the records of the forefathers of the Hindu family for thousands of years. Purohit can refer to a house priest.[1]

Origin: the royal priesthood of ages[edit]

Rajpurohit was an ancient term for a priest who acted for royalty, carrying out rituals and providing advice. In this sense, it is synonymous with rajguru. Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund note that, "There is much evidence in ancient texts that there were two ideal types of Brahmins in those days, the royal priest or advisor [rajpurohit, uprohit(Upreti),rajguru] and the sage (rishi) who lived in the forest and shared his wisdom only with those who asked for it."[2] They are generally found in States of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal. Their origin is in Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh. The term's modern use in this sense has been described by Sumit Sarkar as a "self-conscious archaism".[3]

The violent conflict between Vasishtha and Vishvamitra, two of the most famous prelates of the Vedic age, for the post of purohit in the court of king Sudas, show how much importance was attached to the office in those days.[4]


The duties of the purohit is to perform rites or yajna and Vedic sacrifices such as ashvamedha in favour of a sponsor.

Since Vedic times the sponsor of the sacrifice, or yajamāna was only a distant participatn while the hotṛ or brahman took his stead in the ritual. In this seconding lay the origins of the growing importance of the purohita (literally, "one who is placed in front"). The purohita offerd sacrifices in the name of his sponsor, besides conducting other more domestic (gṛhya) rituals for him also. The purohit can mediate for his sponsor "even to the extent of bathing or fasting for him" [5] and the purohit in some ways becomes a member of the family.[6]

The purohit is traditionally a hereditary charge linked to a royal dynasty, a noble family, a group of families, or a village.[7] As one purohit is tied to a certain family of number of families, the division among a new generation of the duties of a first purohit has sometimes given rise to conflicts. Thus, in 1884, a hereditary purohit whose right had been contested by his older brother was given right to officiate in his village as well as damages and fees by the Appellate Civil Court in India.[8]


India: the dwindling presence of the Vedic priesthood[edit]

A Tirth Purohit at the Ram Chandra Goenka Zenana Bathing Ghat, Kolkata.

The office of purohit was one of great honour in the Vedic times in India, but by the end of 19th century it had become insignificant.[9]

In the 1970s, the purohit had been reduced to "rudimentary religious tasks".[10] Along with the loss of the privy purse, the Maharajas of India lost their princely status[11] and the role of the purohit as royal chaplains declined even more.

To this day, however, the Pareeks claim to be descendants of the purohit of Rajas and Maharajas.[12] Since the 1990s, various attempts to renew the Vedic priesthood and the role of the purohit have come from both traditional Vedic temples as well as new movements such as "New Age Purohit Darpan" by the Bengalis to the Bengali diaspora.[13]

Golden Land: the permanence of royal chaplains in Thailand and Cambosia[edit]

Brahmins still serve as royal chaplains and conduct the royal ceremonies in other South East countries where the monarchy had been maintained.

Thailand: an official religion at the service of the court[edit]

Royal Brahmins performing a ceremony, mural painting from Temple of Emerald Buddha

Thailand has two ethnic Thai Brahmin communities-Brahm Luang (Royal Brahmins) and Brahm Chao Baan (folk Brahmins). All ethnic Thai Brahmins are Buddhist by religions, who still worship Hindu Gods.[14] The Brahm Luang (Royal Brahmins) mainly perform royal ceremonies for the Thai King, including crowning of the king.[15] They belong to the long family bloodline of Brahmins in Thailand, who originated from Tamil Nadu. The Brahm Chao Baan or folk Brahmins are the category of Brahmins who are not from a bloodline of priests. Generally, these Brahmins have a small knowledge about the rituals and ceremonies. The Devasathan is the centre of Brahmin activity in Thailand. This is where the Triyampawai ceremony is conducted, which is a Tamil Shaiva ritual. It was built more than 200 years ago. Apart from this there are also Indian Brahmins from India who migrated to Thailand more recently.[16]

Though it is believed that the Brahmins serving the court and residing at the Devasathan temple come from Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, Prince historian Damrong Rajanubhab has mentioned about three kind of Brahmins, from Nakhon Si Thammarat, from Phatthalung, and those who originated from Cambodia.[17]

Cambodia: a remnant of the Angkorian glory[edit]

Khmer legends refer to Java Brahmins coming to Kambujadesa. A Brahmin called Hiranyadama was sent from India to teach Tantric rites to Sivakaivalya whose family honoured the post of Royal purohit for nearly two hundred fifty years.[18]

Ties between the brahmanic lineage from India and the Khmer dynasty were reinforced by bonds of marriage: Indian Brahmin Agatsya married Yasomati, and Duvakara was wedded to Indralakshmi, daughter of king Rajendravarman.[19]

Thus, Sivasoma, the purohit who served as royal chaplain to Indravarman and Yasovarman I was also the grandson of King Jayendradhipativarman and the maternal uncle of Jayavarman II.[20] Sivasoma oversaw the construction of Phnom Bakheng at Angkor, a Hindu temple in the form of a temple mountain, dedicated to Shiva.

Another important "purohit"" was Sarvajnamuni, a brahmin who had left India “to gain the favours of Shiva by coming to Cambodia”[21] and became the purohit of Jayavarman VIII whom he led in the "Shivaite reacton", an iconoclastic movement was directed towards the monuments of Jayavarman VII.[22]

The Brahminical rituals were reinstated in Cambodia after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge.[23][24]

Myanmar: a tradition lost with the abolition of the monarchy[edit]

The Brahmins of Myanmar have lost their role due to the abolition of monarchy.


In India, literate men with the right pedigree who desire to become purohit receive special training both in theory and practice in Vedic schools linked to agraharams, inherited from royal grants to train and sustain chaplains maintained by dynasties such as the Cholas and Pallavas.

In fact, special training is required to perform Yajna and Yagadi rituals. For this, knowledge of the Vedas is required. In order to learn those rituals, one must settle down as courtiers in famous temples. Temples like Tirupati, Simhachalam or Chathapuram Agraharam[25] run Vedic schools to teach wisdom to the aspiring purohit. Chathapuram Agraharam in Kalpathi. Moreover, by joining as disciples of eminent scholars, some learn this education in the manner of gurus.

Training follows the rhythm of mandatory regular prayer or Sandhyavandanam. The candidates are first trained in the Vigneswara Puja. Cantilation and preaching are also part of the formation. This initial formation takes at least one year. After that, it takes another five to eight years to learn to rich array of rites of passage or Shodasha rituals.


  1. ^ Axel Michaels; Barbara Harshav (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton University Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-691-08952-2.
  2. ^ Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (2004) [1986]. A History of India (Fourth ed.). Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 9780415329194. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  3. ^ Sarkar, Sumit (2002). Beyond Nationalist Frames: Postmodernism, Hindutva, History. Indiana University Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780253342034. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  4. ^ Nesfield, John C. (1887). "The functions of modern brahmans in Upper India". Calcutta Review. University of Calcutta. 84–85: 275.
  5. ^ Nesfield, John C. (1887). "The functions of modern brahmans in Upper India". Calcutta Review. University of Calcutta. 84–85: 291.
  6. ^ Channa, V.C. (2000). Studies on Man: Issues and Challenges (Dharma and Karma). Kamla-Raj Enterprises. p. 276. ISBN 978-81-85264-24-0.
  7. ^ Nesfield, John C. (1887). "The functions of modern brahmans in Upper India". Calcutta Review. University of Calcutta. 84–85: 275.
  8. ^ Kernan, Justice (1884). "Ramakristna (Plaintiff), appelant vs. Ranga and antoher (First and Second Dependants), respondents". The Indian Law Reports. 7: 424.
  9. ^ Nesfield, John C. (1887). "The functions of modern brahmans in Upper India". Calcutta Review. University of Calcutta. 84–85.
  10. ^ Miller, D. B. (1975). From Hierarchy to Stratification: Changing Patterns of Social Inequality in a North Indian Village. Oxford University Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-19-560473-3.
  11. ^ "India's Maharajas Face Loss of Princely Status". The New York Times. 3 December 1971. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  12. ^ Miller, D. B. (1975). From Hierarchy to Stratification: Changing Patterns of Social Inequality in a North Indian Village. Oxford University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-19-560473-3.
  13. ^ Mukherjee, Kanai; Banerjee, Arunkati; Chakravarty, Aloka; Bandyopadhyay, Bibhas (19 January 2014). New Age Purohit Darpan: Hindu Marriage. Association of Grandparents of Indian Immigrants.
  14. ^ คมกฤช อุ่ยเต็กเค่ง. ภารตะ-สยาม ? ผี พราหมณ์ พุทธ ?. กรุงเทพฯ : มติชน, 2560, หน้า 15
  15. ^ Thai King Officially Crowned, Cementing Royal Authority, VOA, May 04, 2019
  16. ^ "The new Brahmins". Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  17. ^ สมเด็จกรมพระยานริศรานุวัดติวงศ์, สาส์นสมเด็จ [Royal letters], vol. 1, 2nd ed. (พระนคร: กรมศิลปากร, 2516[1973]), p. 270, cited in Kanjana, ‘Ways of life, rituals and cultural identity’, p. 65.
  18. ^ Puri, Baij Nath (1958). "Brahmanism in ancient Kambujadesa". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 21: 95–101. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44145174.
  19. ^ Sanderson, Alexis (2003). "The Śaiva Religion among the Khmers Part I". Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. 90/91: 349–462. doi:10.3406/befeo.2003.3617. ISSN 0336-1519. JSTOR 43732654.
  20. ^ Puri, Baij Nath (1958). "Brahmanism in ancient Kambujadesa". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 21: 95–101. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44145174.
  21. ^ Dagens, Bruno (2003). Les Khmers. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. p. 180.
  22. ^ Roveda, Vittorio (2004). "The Archaeology of Khmer Images". Aséanie, Sciences humaines en Asie du Sud-Est. 13 (1): 11–46. doi:10.3406/asean.2004.1809.
  23. ^ Priests Uphold a Unique—and Royal—Tradition By Samantha Melamed and Kuch Naren, Compodian Daily, October 31, 2005
  24. ^ Balancing the foreign and the familiar in the articulation of kingship: The royal court Brahmans of Thailand, Nathan McGovern, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Volume 48 Issue 2, June 2017 , pp. 283-303
  25. ^ Swaminathan, C. R. (1997). "Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Sankaracharya Veda Pathasala". Veda Rakshana Samithi Official website. Retrieved 26 April 2021.