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Brahman, Brahmin, and Brahma have different meanings. Brahman refers to the Supreme Self. Brahmin (or Brahmana) refers to an individual belonging to the Hindu priest, artists, teachers, technicians class (varna or pillar of the society) and also to an individual belonging to the Brahmin tribe/caste into which an individual is born; while the word Brahma refers to the creative aspect of the universal consciousness or God. Because the priest / Acharya is knowledgeable about Brahma (the God), and is responsible for religious rituals in temples and homes and is a person authorized after rigorous training in vedas (sacred texts of knowledge) and religious rituals to provide advice and impart knowledge of God to members of the society and assist in attainment of moksha, the liberation from life cycle; the priest / Acharya class is called "Brahmin varna." The English word brahmin is an anglicized form of the Sanskrit word Brāhmana.
According to ancient Indian philosophers and scholars, society comprises four pillars or classes called varnas or colors. In the ancient Indian texts such as Smritis, vedas, upanishads, puranas, etc., these four "varnas" or classes or pillars of the society are: the priests / Acharya (Brahmins), the rulers and military (Kshatriyas), the merchants and agriculturists(Vaishyas), and the Assistants (Shudras).
Brahmin priests / [[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.
Individuals from the Brahmin castes/tribes have taken on many professions such as priests, ascetics and scholars to warriors and business people, according to the 12th-century poet Kalhana, in Rajatarangini. According to Valmiki, a hunter and Sanskrit poet, in Ramayana history, the Brahmin sage Parashurama is an Avatar (divine incarnate representation) of Vishnu, who takes up arms against kings to deliver justice. Parashurama is portrayed as a powerful warrior who defeated the Haiheya kshatriyas twenty one times, was an expert in martial arts and the use of weapons, and trained others to fight without weapons.
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.
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 Śruti ("that which is heard") and are the paramount source on which Brahmin tradition claims to be based. Śruti 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 - Ascetic
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
Brahmins, basically adhere to the principles of the Vedas, related to the texts of the Śruti 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.
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.
- Saraswat, Kanyakubja, Gaud, Utkala and Mithila form the Pancha Guada
- Karnataka, Telangaa, Dravida, Maharashtra and Gurjarat 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:
- Saraswat Brahmin
- Kashmiri Pandits
- Goud Saraswat Brahmin
- Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin
- Rajapur Saraswat Brahmin
- Kudaldeshkar Gaud Brahman
- Kamrupi Brahmins
- Kanyakubja Brahmin
- Saryupareen Brahmin
- Sanadya Brahmin
- Bhumihar Brahmins
- Bengali Brahmin
- Nepali Brahmins
- Manipuri Brahmin
- Garhwali Brahmins
- Sakaldwipiya Brahmins
The Maithil Brahmiṇs are a group of Brahmins typically originating from and living in and around Mithila, which is part of North 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 Śāktas (worshippers of Śakti) . However, it is also not uncommon to find Vaishnavites among the Maithil Brahmins. Some surnames of Brahmins in Bihar include Shukla, Sharma, Mishra, Kissoon, Bhardwaj, Bhagwan, Choudhary, Jha, 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.
The Sanskrit text Brāhmaṇotpatti-Mārtaṇḍa by Pt. Harikrishna Śāstri 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.
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
- Tuluva Brahmins, which consist of Kandavara Brahmins, Karhade Brahmins, Padia Brahmins, Saklapuri Brahmins, Shivalli Brahmins, Smartha Shivalli Brahmins, Sthanika Brahmins, Padarthi Brahmins.
- Havyaka Brahmins.
- Iyengar (sub-divided into Vadakalai and Thenkalai)
- Iyer (sub-divided further into Vadama, Vathima, Brahacharanam, Ashtasahasram, Sholiyar, Dikshitar, Kaniyalar, Prathamasaki)
Due to the diversity in religious and cultural traditions and practices, and the Vedic schools to which they belong, 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 the 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 (Template:Lang-my): Brahmins who were sent to Burma after Manipur became a Burmese vassal state in the 1700s and ambassadors from Manipur
- Arakanese Brahmins (Template:Lang-my): 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, 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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