Traditional Brahmanical Society

Joseph W. Elder

in The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780195137989
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

 Traditional Brahmanical Society

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When one uses the term “Hinduism” for the religious culture of India that has influenced much of Asia, one thinks of the brahmanical tradition. Europeans labeled as Hindus those people on the Indian subcontinent who were not Buddhists, Jains, Jews, Christians, Muslims, or Zoroastrians. Europeans adopted the generic term, Hinduism, for all of these people's widely varying religious observances, beliefs, and practices. One common feature among all of these Hindus throughout much of the Indian subcontinent was their labeling of certain priests as brahmans. Key elements of traditional brahmanical society go back to the Rig-Veda, Hinduism's earliest revealed, authorless text considered true from the beginning of time. The post-sixth century BCE cryptic Sutras and versified Shastras provide instructions for human conduct and domestic rituals. Preeminent among the Shastras is one on correct behavior (dharma) attributed to Manu, believed to be a progenitor of the human race. Manu's Dharma Shastra refers to the four original categories of humans as the four varnas (ranks, colors) and distinguishes between the twice-born and once-born varnas.

Keywords: Hinduism; India; brahmans; brahmanical society; Sutras; Shastras; Manu; varnas; Dharma Shastra

Article.  3136 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Interfaith Relations ; Hinduism

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