Brahmin is a name used to designate a member of one of the four varnas (castes) in the traditional Hindu societys of Nepal and India.
Brahman, Brahmin and Brahma have different meanings. Brahman refers to the Supreme Self. Brahmin or Brahmana refers to an individual, while the word Brahma refers to the creative aspect of the universal consciousness. The English word brahmin is an anglicised form of the Sanskrit word Brāhmana. In the Smriti view there are four "varnas", or classes: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, and Shudras. The Atreya smriti 141-142 enjoins that
"janmana jayate shudrah
One is a Shudra by birth
samskarad dvija ucyate
By observing Samskaras one becomes a Dvija
vedapathi bhaved viprah
By studying the Vedas one becomes a Vipra
brahma janati brahmanah
One who knows Brahman is a Brahmana
Traditionally Brahmin was the name given to persons who had attained the highest spiritual knowledge (brahmavidya) and who adhered to different branches (shakhas) of Vedas. This was described to be a difficult path of discipline of body, mind, and intellect. Irrespective of their birth or class, people who were dedicated to such an austere life were recognized as Brahmins. An example of this definition of Brahmin, that a person becomes a Brahmin, rather than being born as one, is the story of the sage Vishwamitra, who was a warrior, who became a Brahmin after attaining brahmavidya, and composed the Gayatri mantra. [defunct example from period before dharmashastras So, The belief that people born into the Brahmin caste, automatically become Brahmins, is a concept that emerged later in ancient India.
Historically, the semantic[clarification needed] change from a tribal state into the Hindu state of the jati-varna matrix saw the conversion and absorption of tribals into the Brahmin class, through adoption of the priestly occupation. In medieval and colonial India, people in mundane occupations also proselytized[clarification needed] themselves into Brahmins, usually upon gaining positions of power or upon becoming wealthy.
The Smritis conferred upon the Brahmins the position of being the highest of the four Varnas. The priestly class is expected to practice self-abnegation and play the role of being the custodians of Dharma (as a Brāhman who is well versed in Vedic texts). The fee paid to the Brahmana for performance of a sacrifice was considered as a return for the duties of the priest. Hopkins states: "As to the fees, the rules are precise, and the propounders of them are unblushing. The priest performs the sacrifice for the fee alone, and it must consist of valuable garments, kine, horses, or gold; – when each is to be given is carefully stated. Gold is coveted most, for ‘this is immortality, the seed of Agni'"
Main article: History of Hinduism
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.
In 1931, Brahmins accounted for 4.32% of the total population of the subcontinent. In Andhra Pradesh, they formed less than 2%; in Tamil Nadu they formed less than 3%. In Kerala, Nambudiri Brahmins make up 0.7% of the population. In West Bengal the figures stand at 5 %, whereas in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Orissa the Brahmin population is quite near 10%.
Brahmins, basically adhere to the principles of the Vedas, related to the texts of the Śruti and Smriti which are the foundations of Hinduism, and practise 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.
Brahmins practice vegetarianism or lacto-vegetarianism which has been a custom for centuries, dating back to the pre-Christian era. However, some Brahmins inhabiting regions of Mithila, Punjab, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Nepal, are non-vegetarian.
Most Brahmin sects wear the Yagnopaveetham (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 from Rajatarangini of Kalhana. This shloka was composed only in the 11th century CE.