Brahman or Brahmin (both: bräˈmən) [key]. In the Upanishads, Brahman is the name for the ultimate, unchanging reality, composed of pure being and consciousness. Brahman lies behind the apparent multiplicity of the phenomenal world, and is ultimately identical to the atman or inner essence of the human being (see Vedanta). This ultimate quality relates to the second meaning of Brahman, or Brahmin—a member of the highest, or priestly, Hindu caste. Brahmins alone may interpret the Vedas and perform the Vedic sacrifice. The vast majority of modern Brahmins are in occupations unrelated to religion, but they have retained their social prestige and many caste conventions. The Brahmins of India are divided into 10 territorial subcastes, 5 in the north and 5 in the south.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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