Brahmin is a caste of high order in Hinduism. A Brahmin is a member of the ‘Brahmin’ caste.
The word ‘Brahmin’ is also spelt correctly as ‘Brahman’ and it should be rightly pronounced as “braahmaN”. The word ‘Brahmin’ is not to be confused with ‘the Brahman’ , the Supreme Being.
Literally speaking, a Brahmin is one who has realized ‘Brahman’ or who is in the pursuit of ‘Brahma Gyana’. He is the seeker of the Ultimate Truth. A Brahmin, therefore, leads a pious life enriched with high values, exceptional conduct as well as sanctified thoughts and practices. In the ancient Vedic times, the caste system came into existence. The society was divided into four castes (the Varnas). The four Varnas were: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. It is said that the Brahmins were created from the mouth of Brahmaa so that they could preach the mankind. Brahmins are, therefore, bestowed with the high level of intellect. In the Vedic times, the Brahmins had to be well-versed in the knowledge of Vedas. They were the teachers, preachers and priests. They used to set the norms for religious, social as well as moral principles and practices. This is why the Brahmins have always enjoyed a respectable status of the highest class in the society. The Brahmins are said to have descended from the great Rishis of our ancient times. The prominent among them are Gautama, Vishvamitra, Bharadvaja, Jamadagni, Vasishta, Kashyapa and Atri.
Brahmins in India:
Brahmins in India can be broadly classified, geographically, into two major divisions: (1) Brahmins from North India (2) Brahmins from South India. Brahmins from N. India are referred to as Panch-Gaud Brahmins. Brahmins from S. India are referred to as Panch-Dravid Brahmins. North Indian (Panch-Gaud) Brahmins are divided into 5 segments: Kanyakubja, Sarasvat, Gauda, Mithila and Utkala. South Indian (Panch-Dravid) Brahmins are divided into 5 segments: Maharashtra, Telinga, Dravida, Karnataka and Malabar.
Castes of Brahmins In Gujarat:
It is believed that there were 84 castes of Brahmins in Gujarat. Though the statement may be correct at some time in the past, it is highly debatable today. It is very difficult to define a caste and a sub-caste. Some of the major Brahmin castes of Gujarat are: Audichya, Anavil, Bajkhedawal, Nagar, Mevada, Modh, Shrimali and many other important castes.
Major Brahmin castes have mythological stories shrouded around their inception. There are diverse stories regarding the origin of the Baj Khedawal Brahmins. Some historians believe that the Bajkhedawal Brahmins belong to South Indian Groups of Brahmins. But the fact remains that once upon a time, the Bajkhedawal Brahmins were inhabitants of Gujarat. Later they migrated to South and again centuries later, they came back to settle in Gujarat. The historical references suggest the association of the Bajkhedawal Brahmins with two regions: Khedabrahma and Kheda.
A number of stories spring up from mythology. The more reliable mythological story traces the origin of the Bajkhedawal Brahmins to Khedabrahma. Hence we shall describe this more popular and more convincing story related to Khedabrahma.
Khedabrahma is a town of Sabarkantha district of Gujarat. It is on the banks of a small river Haranav. It is nearly 140 kms from Ahmedabad, by road, on the Ahmedabad-Himmatnagar-Ambaji route. Mythology suggests that Khedabrahma was created by Brahma, the Generator among the Divine Triplet of Gods: Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. In ancient times, Khedabrahma was known as Brahmakshetra. The story goes that Brahma created it with the help of Vishvakarma, the god of architecture. Then Brahma prayed to the holy river Ganga to enrich the region. Gangaji appeared there and was known as Hiranyaganga as the region had golden sand (The word hiranya means gold). Today the river is called Haranav.
Brahma decided to perform a great ‘yagna’ at Brahmakshetra. For performing yagna, a host must be accompanied by his wife. Brahma’s wife, Savitriji, was in the heaven. Brahma instructed one of the maharishis to fly to heaven to invite Savitriji. Brahma empowered the maharishi with an ability to fly. The maharishi flew to heaven, but Savitriji refused to descend to the Earth. However, the maharishi was called Khetak ; the word khetak means “a person with an ability to fly”. It is said that the descendents of the great maharishi Khetak came to be known, initially, as the Khetak Brahmins. Brahma decided to help the Khetak Brahmins help earn their livelihood. He prayed to Lord Vishnu and goddess Mahalakshmi. As a consequence, with the blessings of Lord Vishnu, a temple of Mahalakshmiji was established at Brahmakshetra.
With the passage of time, the Khetak Brahmins came to be known as the Baj Khedawal Brahmins. Brahmakshetra came to be known initially as Brahmakhet and later as Khedabrahma. Today, the temple of Mahalaksmhmi exists as the temple of Kshirajamba Mataji at Khedabrahma. Kshirajamba Mataji is the “kuldevi” of the Baj Khedawal Brahmins.
Gotra and Pravara:
‘Gotra’ is a term to denote a group of families, a clan or a lineage having a common source of ancestry. All members of a gotra have ascended from the same ancestor, usually a great Rishi of ancient times. Gotra is named after the common ancestor, the Rishi. For example, all the descendents of Rishi Bharadvaja belong to Bharadvaja gotra. Over the time, the number of Brahmin gotras have increased. It is around 49, but some believe it between 50 and 100.
A sub-division of a gotra is known as a ‘pravara’.
A pravara is a distinguished set of great Rishis who belonged to that gotra. A pravara, usually, is a set of 2 to 5 Rishis. In most Brahmin communities, marriages within a gotra are forbidden. A marriage is permitted only if the male and the female belong to different gotra. However, different traditions are observed in different communities in different regions.
In ancient times, a specific Brahmin community used to study a specific Veda and a specific version of that Veda. The version of Veda is known as a ‘shakha’. As a result, today we have groups of Brahmins, each of which follows a particular ‘shakha’ of a specific Veda.
A Brahmin can be known by certain parameters. The chief among these parameters are the Veda, its shakha, the gotra and the pravara.