What does word Brahmana mean

The word brahmana is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word brahmana is a person belonging to the social strata or caste of brahmanas. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  

The word brahmana is derived by adding an suffix to the word brahman, which means the four-headed first deity of the Hindu triad of gods and the operative creator of the world, a brahmana, the superintending or presiding priest at the sacrifice, one of the astronomical yogas, one of the principal servants of the Jinas, the divine cause and essence of the world from which all created things are supposed to emanate and to which they return, the unknown God, the practice of austere devotion, the Vedas or scriptures, holy knowledge, the supreme impersonal attribute-less Being, the efficient and material cause of the universe, the all-pervading soul and spirit of the universe, the essence from which all created things are produced and into which they are absorbed, a hymn of praise, a sacred text, the sacred and mystic syllable Om, the priestly of the brahmanical class, the power or energy of a brahmana, religious penance or austerities, celibacy, chastity, final emancipation or beatitude, theology, religious knowledge, the Brahmana portion of the Vedas, wealth, food, truth, the soul, a devout person, one of the four ritvijas or priests employed at a Soma sacrifice, the sun, intellect, an epithet of the seven Prajapatis, an epithet of Brihaspati, the planet Jupiter, the world of Brahma, of Lord Shiva, a horse, one who has touched the several parts of one’s body by the repetition of mantras, respectful salutation with folded hands while repeating the Veda, and obeisance to a preceptor.

The word brahmana means a person belonging to the caste of brahmana, an assemblage of brahmanas, a portion of the Vedas, the wife of a brahmana, a kind of wasp, a small ant, a potherb, a shrub, a kind of grass, belonging to a brahmana, befitting a brahmana, given by a brahmana, relating to religious worship, one who knows the four-headed god Brahma, a priest, theologian, an epithet of the fire-god Agni, name of the twenty-eighth astrological star or nakshatra, the Soma vessel of a priest.

A person is considered a brahmana or a brahmin belonging to the first caste or varna not by birth or descent, though that is what is held to be the criterion by society, but by one’s qualities and actions as explained by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. We find evidence of this principle even in the story of Satyakama Jabala in the Chhandogya Upanishad, who is considered a brahmana by his prospective guru though he did not his lineage, mainly because Satyakama Jabala could tell an unpleasant truth about his descent without any compunction.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.

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This article was first published in the July 2019 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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