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Who Are the Brahmins?

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The brahmins are the highest caste in Hinduism.

A Hindu brahmin or priest in India lights a offering.

Paolo Angius for Image Bank / Getty Images
Definition:

Brahmin: A member of the highest priestly caste or varna in Hinduism. The other major castes, from highest to lowest, are the Kshatriya (warriors and princes), Vaisya (farmers or merchants) and Shudra (servants and sharecroppers).

In modern-day India, the Brahmins comprise about 9% of the total population. Traditionally, male Brahmins performed priestly services, but they may also work in jobs associated with lower castes. In some cases, such work precludes the Brahmin in question from carrying out priestly duties, however. For example, a Brahmin who begins farming (not only as an absentee land-owner, but actually tilling the land himself) may be barred from the priesthood.

Brahmins study the religious texts, such as the Vedas and the Puranas, and teach members of other castes about the holy books. Traditionally, the Brahmins served as the spiritual guides and teachers of the Kshatriya princes and warriors, preaching to the political and military elites about the dharma.

Brahmins are vegetarian, in keeping with Hindu beliefs in reincarnation. However, some do consume milk products or fish, particularly in mountainous or desert areas where produce is scarce.

Pronunciation: "BRAH-mihn"
Alternate Spellings: Brahman, Brahmana
Examples:
"Some people believe that the Buddha himself, Siddharta Gautama, was a member of a Brahmin family. However, his father was a king, which usually aligns with the Kshatriya (warrior/prince) caste instead."
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