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Who is a Brahmin?

by Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: November 02, 2002
Page Last Updated: January 11, 2018

The belief that people born in brahmin caste, automatically become brahmins, is a much later concept in the very ancient land of India. In the pre-Gita period (before the beginning of the Christian era) a Brahmin was a person who had attained highest spiritual knowledge (brahmavidya). This was an extremely difficult path of discipline of body, mind , and intellect, and people irrespective of their birth or class, who dedicated to such an austere life were recognized as brahmins.

A great example of this tradition (that a person becoming a brahmin, rather than born as one) is the case of Vishwamitra, a warrior (kshatriya), who became a brahmin after attaining brahmavidya, and composed the Gayatri mantra, the most sacred hymn of the Hindus.

A smritis, or code of conduct composed by sage Atri defines brahminhood very clearly.

"By birth, every man is a Shudra (an ignorant person). Through various types of disciplines (samskaras), he becomes a dwija (twice born). Through the studies of scriptures, he becomes a vipra (or a scholar). Through realization of supreme spirit (brahmajnana), he becomes a brahmin."

Who is Brahmin?

The Bhagavad-Gita divides1 the class of people into four categories of Brahmana, Kshtriya, Vaishya, and Shudra depending on the traits (svabhava) inherent in individuals.

1. Chapter XVIII of Bhagavad-Gita, verses 41 - 45 [more]

The Brahmins
The Brahmins

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