Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Brahmans at Wikipedia or at Kamat's Potpourri

BRAHMAN. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The first of the four castes; the sacerdotal class, the members of which may be, but are not necessarily, priests. A Brahman is the chief of all created beings; his person is inviolate; he is entitled to all honour, and enjoys many rights and privileges. The Satapatha Brahmana declares that "there are two kinds of gods; first the gods, then those who are Brahmans, and have learnt the Veda and repeat it: they are human gods." The chief duty of a Brahman is the study and teaching of the Vedas, and the performance of sacrifices and other religious ceremonies; but in modern times many Brahmans entirely neglect these duties, and they engage in most of the occupations of secular life. Under the law of Manu, the life of a Brahman was divided into four asramas or stages:

  1. Brahmachari - The student, whose duty was to pass his days in humble and obedient attendance upon his spiritual preceptor in the study of the Vedas.
  2. Grihasta - The householder; the married man living with his wife as head of a family engaged in the ordinary duties of a Brahman, reading and teaching the Vedas, sacrificing and assisting to sacrifice, bestowing alms and receiving alms.
  3. Vanaprastha - The anchorite, or "dweller in the woods, "who having discharged his duties as a man of the world, has retired into the forest to devote himself to self-denial in food and raiment, to mortifications of various kinds, to religious meditation, an to the strict performance of all ceremonial duties.
  4. Sannyasi - The religious mendicant, who, freed from all forms and observances, wanders about and subsists on alms, practising or striving for that condition of mind which, heedless of the joys and pains, cares and troubles of the flesh, is intent only upon the deity and final absorption.

The divisions and subdivisions of the Brahman caste are almost innumerable. It must suffice here to notice the great divisions of north and south, the Pancha Gauda, and the Pancha Dravida. The five divisions of Gauda, or Bengal, are the Brahmans of - 1. Kanyakubja, Kanauj; 2. Saraswata, the northwest, about the Saraswati or Sarsuti river; 3. Gauda; 4. Mithila, North Bihar; 5. Utkala, Orissa. The Pancha Dravida are the Brahmans of 1. Maharashtra, the Mahratta country; 2. Telinga, the Telugu country; 3. Dravida, the Tamil country; 4. Karnata, the Canarese country; 5. Gurjjara, Guzerat. 

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM