(Last Updated on : 19/01/2011)
is considered as a member of the priestly caste of the country. In Hinduism
, there is the concept of Varna system where the society is stratified into four Varnas or castes - Brahmin, Kshatriya
. The Brahmin occupies the highest level in the varna system and is considered to be the priest class in the Varna system of ancient India
. In the Hindu Varna System, Brahmins are the priestly sections of the society. The rigid caste system in India had divided the society into four classes. Amongst these the Brahmins were at the top position. They are responsible for solemnising the religious rituals as they were considered the learned ones. Brahmins, the privileged class in the ancient Indian history, used to hold important positions in the royal court and used to receive handsome rewards for performing rituals and ceremonies.
This ancient Hindu caste system is divided on the basis of occupation. With the Vedic religion
in ancient India the history of the Brahmin community actually begins. In chapter ten of the Rig Veda
, Brahmins were created from the mouth of Purusha
. The primary source of knowledge for all Brahmin tradition, both orthodox and heterodox lies in the Vedas
. The name Brahman is derived from the root brih or vrih, meaning to increase. The origin of the Brahmins can be traced back to 6000 B.C. the earliest references are found in Vedas. Brahmins are known as Vedic People. Vedas depict them as a population originating in North India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sages like Vishwamitra
, Agastya, Brihaspati, Daksha
, Kashyapa, Manu
, Vashishta, Vyasa and Yamaand and several others are mentioned in the mythological texts and Vedas. They imparted education and led a life of simplicity. The life of an Indian Brahmin is divided into four stages - Brahmacharya
, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa
Historical sources point out that Brahmins were not limited to the profession of priests, scholars and ascetics. Whenever need arose they played the role of warriors and businessmen. One of the greatest warrior sages was Parashuram. However, with time the image of the Brahmins changed. Nevertheless they continued to hold high positions in the royal court. They were either teachers or advisers to the kings.
There are numerous divisions among the Brahmins. Owing to their high prestige and tradition of education, they dominated Indian scholarship for centuries. The various Brahmin castes are Chitpavana Brahmins, Dadhich Brahmins, Dayama Brahmins, Daivajna Brahmins, Deshastha Brahmins, Dravida Brahmins, Gaud Brahmins, Gouda Saraswat Brahmins, Havyaka Brahmins, Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins, Iyers, Kandavara Brahmins, Karade Brahmins, Karhada Brahmins, Kayastha Brahmins, Khandelwal Brahmins, Kota Brahmins, Konkanastha Brahmins, Koteshwara Brahmins, Maithil Brahmins, Nagar Brahmins, Namboothiri Brahmins, Niyogi Brahmins, Padia Brahmins, Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins, Saklapuri Brahmins, Sanketi Brahmins, Saraswat Brahmins,shree gaud brahmins,Shivalli Brahmins, Smarta Brahmins, Sthanika Brahmins, Thenkalai Iyengars, Tuluva Brahmins, Vadagalai Iyengars, Vaidiki Brahmins and Vaishnava Brahmins. Brahmin castes in the Indian subcontinent are divided into two regional groups Pancha-Gauda Brahmins and Pancha-Dravida Brahmins. Panch Gauda is the five classes of North India, Saraswata, Kanyakubja, Gaudra, Utkala, and Maithil. Panch Dravida the five classes of South India.
While in Andhra Pradesh
the Brahmins are categorized into two groups - Vaidika and Niyogi, Bihar Brahmins are divided into two broad groups namely Bhumihar Brahmins and the Maithili Brahmins. In Karnataka
, the Brahmins are divided into three major groups namely Smarthas, Madhvas (or Vaisnavas) and Sri-Vaishnavas (Iyengars). Brahmins are classified into two groups in Kerala, while the major priestly activities are performed by Namboothris and the other activities associated with the temple is performed by Pushpaka Brahmins. In Rajasthan, Brahmins are mainly classified into Dahima Brahmin, Gaud Brahmin, Sri Gaud Brahmin, Khandelwal Brahmin, Gujar-Gaud Brahmins. It is believed that there are eight sages Vishwamitra, Jamadagni
, Gautama, Atri, Vashishta
and the offspring of these eight sages is declared to be gotras. The gotras are further divided into groups. Upamanyu, Parashara, Kundina and Vasishtha are the four sub divisions. Other than the gotras there are two kinds of pravaras namely sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara, and the putrparampara.
Being a priestly class the Brahmins are expected to control their emotions, senses, purity, truthfulness, tolerance, simplicity, belief in God and studying and teaching of sacred scriptures. Rituals like Snana (bathing), Sandhyavandana, Japa, Puja, Aupasana and Agnihotra were all done by the Brahmins in ancient India. Besides Hinduism, Brahmins are also to be found in Buddhism
has a list on the Buddhist Brahmin section. Brahmin Bhikshus were quite common with this religious sect. Other sects like Jainism
also bear testimony to the existence of Brahmins within their religious sects.