Brahmins (the sons of Brahma, the divines) are the priests of India, and form the highest caste; they are considered as having sprung from the head of Brahma, and, as such, considered holy, inviolable, and the only ones worthy of fulfilling the priestly offices. Their distinctive marks are the jagnapavadan or punal, a shoulder-girdle composed of nine threads long enough to go 108 times around the closed hand, and the kudumi, a small bunch of hair which is left at the back of the head when shaving it. On the forehead, breast, and arms they wear the holy sign of Siva, or, in honor of Vishna, the simple sign kuri, 6, on the forehead. They have two rules: the exterior (Yaman) contains five duties: always to speak the truth; not to take the life of any creature; never to steal any thing; to observe the most rigorous chastity; not to marry after the death of their wife. The inner rule (Niyama) also enjoins five duties: to preserve the utmost inward purity; to aim at inward peace; to live in continual penitence and contemplation of the divinity; to acquire the most perfect knowledge of the laws of God, and to make use of that knowledge; continually to think of Siva as the highest god. Their occupations consist in reading and teaching the Vedas, to officiate in the temples, particularly in offering sacrifices, to give alms, to sit in judgment, and to act as physicians. Their decisions are in every case final, and disobedience to them is most severely punishable; the king himself must show them the greatest respect, even when they follow the humblest callings. The life of the Brahmin is divided into four parts: 1st, Brahmachari, or scholar, when the Brahmin, by the application of the punal, is received into the caste, and studies the Vedas; he binds himself to punctual obedience, continence, purity of heart, and discretion; after twelve years he becomes, 2dly, Grihasthen, when he is appointed priest of a pagoda or of a private family, or else devotes himself to other occupations, principally to agriculture; in the 3d part he becomes Vanaprasthen, from 40 or 50 years of age to 72. The Brahmin must then leave his home and retire to the woods, there to live as a hermit, laying aside all comforts or mental enjoyments; he must fast, and wear a dress of bark or of the skin of the black antelope, and let his hair and nails grow without ever cutting them. He takes only the sacred fire with him, and presides at all festive offerings. In the 4th part the Brahmin becomes Bhikshu or Sannyasi, and is then to devote himself to the contemplation of God, previous to going back to him after death. He therefore renounces all that belongs to him, and leaves all his goods to his family. His hair is all cut off, his dress consists only of a white cloth, and he receives a brass vessel in which he is to keep some water for the purpose of washing what food he may get; he also receives a stick called dandam, with seven natural knots, to remind him of the seven great saints. He thus lives on alms, bathes three times every day, and covers his forehead and breast with ashes; he is in the highest odor of sanctity, and any one who approaches him must respectfully bow before him. After his death, he is buried sitting in a quantity of salt; his head is broken with a cocoanut, and his brains distributed among those present. SEE HINDUISM; SEE INDIA.

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