from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Brahmin priests perform a fire ritual ( yajna ) at a family festival

The Brahmins ( Sanskrit , ब्राह्मण, brāhmaṇa ) are members of the highest caste ( Varna ) in the Indian caste system . In Hinduism it is the privilege and duty of the Brahmins to be teachers of the Veda and scholars. To this day they are mainly the priests . Therefore “Brahmin” was also a religious title . In modern India they practice every profession.

Myth and History

In the Purusha Sukta in the 10th book of the Rigveda there is a myth about the origin of the castes. Through the sacrifice of the divine primordial giant Purusha , the Brahmins emerged from his mouth, the Kshatriya (princes) from the arms , the Vaishya (traders, farmers) from the thighs and the Shudra (servants) from the feet .

In the course of history, the Brahmins succeeded in consolidating their claim to power in terms of ritual and society, which led to ascetic forms of religion such as Buddhism or Jainism being able to establish themselves temporarily in India. But even within Hinduism itself, new movements such as that of bhakti piety slowly pushed back the influence of the Brahmins.

Properties according to traditional understanding

Brahmins carry the sacred cord

The social status, all tasks, duties and rights are described in the Manusmriti , a code of law that is more than 2000 years old, but which is of little importance for most people in today's everyday life.

According to the scriptures of the Hindus, it is the characteristics of character that make the Brahmin. The Bhagavad Gita (18:42) calls it “cheerfulness, self-control , asceticism , purity , forbearance and righteousness, wisdom , knowledge and religious belief ” .

The Mahabharata : "The qualities of a Brahmin are purity, good behavior, compassion for all living beings."

Accordingly, a member of this highest caste is expected to have psychological purity acquired through birth and a particularly pure way of life. As in other scriptures, however, many passages in the Mahabharata deal with the discrepancy between the high ideal and the real way of life: "Neither origin, nor consecration and erudition make the Brahmin, only his way of life is the reason."

According to ancient Hindu Dharma , which is also in the Manusmriti describes the ideal life of a Brahmin and the other two upper box was this: He was at the age of about 8 years to become a teacher and stayed with him until he studying the Vedas completed would have. Then he was obliged to marry, make regular sacrifices, father sons, teach, and give gifts. When the sons were grown up, he was to retire to the forest and finally, at the last stage of his life, free from all ties and lead the life of a hermit . But no brahmin should strive for this life until he has fulfilled the duties of the preceding stages. In historical studies there is the assumption that such regulations were deliberately established by the religious authorities in order to take the wind out of the sails of the increasingly successful ascetic, often anti-Rahman and anti-ritualist movements. In this way, the ideal of the sacred ascetic lifestyle could be integrated into the general course of life without massively disrupting social life itself. Only after a man has fulfilled his socio-economic duties to family and society should he legitimately go into homelessness. In addition, since many people did not reach an age in such a system that left a lot of time for the last, ascetic phase of life in such a system, it was hoped to be able to counter the socio-religious threat to the majority society in this way.

The Brahmins passed on the Vedas orally from generation to generation , even after the emergence of the Brahmi script . The Brahmanic family names Dvivedi / Dwivedi (shortened: Dube / Dubey), Trivedi / Tripathi / Tripati and Chaturvedi (shortened: Chaube / Chaubey) were originally honorary designations for the mastery of two, three or all four Vedas. In 2008, UNESCO added the tradition of Vedic chanting to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity .

Role in India today

Only a minority is active as priests and scholars, the typical but not exclusive professions of the Brahmins. The income of an average priest is rather meager if he does not have a traditional place, for example at an important pilgrimage site with many paying “customers”. Recently, more and more members of the other castes have begun to take over the duties of priests.

Although Brahmins make up only a small part of the Indian population, they are well represented in the country's intellectual elite. Basically, however, they work in all professions and have also gained a foothold in business life. They tend to be found in " white-collar " jobs. Contrary to common prejudices, Brahmins are also employed as workers in industry; Although they have an aversion to low-status jobs, they are not fundamentally against physical work. Since by no means all brahmins are wealthy, they often have to accept any work that is offered. Brahmins work particularly often as cooks, because traditionally they not only have to observe ritual purity, hygiene is also usually a high priority in their lives. The old religious legal literature, such as the Manusmriti , as the highest caste, also assigns them the right to serve and prepare food and drinks to all other castes. In today's practice, however, many Hindus, even Brahmins, accept food from anyone.

See also


  • Gilles Chuyen: Who is a Brahmin? The politics of identity in India . Manohar Publications, New Delhi 2004, ISBN 81-7304603-4 .

Web links

Commons : Brahmin  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Mahabharata 13,131,49 sa
  2. ^ Jack Goody: The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987, ISBN 0-521-33268-0 , p. 111.
  3. Nigel Bathurst Hankin: Hanklyn-Janklin. A Stranger's Rumble-Tumble Guide to Some Words, Customs and Guiddities. Indian and Indo-British. India Research Press, New Delhi 2003, ISBN 81-87943-04-1 , p. 504.