Brahmavidya (ब्रह्मविद्या)

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Brahmavidya (ब्रह्मविद्या) (derived from the Sanskrit : ब्रह्मा brahma and विद्या||vidyā) is that branch of scriptural knowledge that gives the integral experience of everything from the standpoint of दिव्य||divinity. Brahma means the absolute universal reality derived from Sanskrit धातुः root बृहि ॥ br̥hi (to grow). Vidya means wisdom is derived from the धातुः ॥ root विद् ॥ 'vid' (to know).

Custodians of Brahmavidya

The primary question that is often referred to in Vedanta is that of Origin of Creation. This is explained through the Shrutis, which is directly heard or experienced by intuition. The dharmic perspective views every action as Yagya, unlike the Western's who view action as Labour. Yagya means प्रीणनम् ("prinanam" or to satisfy). Performance of Yagna brings about complete mental, physical and spiritual development of a human being. It is a continuous activity that living beings offer to divinity.

A Kshatriya could teach vedanta to a Brahmana or vice versa. An example is Uddalalaka and Shwetaketu, both from the Brahmana Varna (social or economic status) learning ब्रह्मविद्या (Brahma Vidya-spiritual knowledge) from the Kshatriya King Pravahana Jaivali. In छान्दोग्य उपनिषद् (Chandogya Upanishad) of सामवेद (Sama Veda, 5-3), Shwetaketu’s story is mentioned.

A similar event King Janaka of Videha also imparted the Agnihotra ritual to his spiritual teacher.

In Bhagavadgeeta Chap 4 Sri Bhagavan explains to Arjuna about the parampara of Brahmavidya or Jnaanavidya thus,

इमं विवस्वते योगं प्रोक्तवानहमव्ययम् ।

विवस्वान्मनवे प्राह मनुरिक्ष्वाकवेऽब्रवीत् ॥ (4.1)

I taught this eternal Yoga to Vivasvan (Sun-God); he taught it to Manu (the ancient law maker) and Manu proclaimed it to Ikshvaku (ancestor of Kshatriyas or Royal lineage of Rama).

एवं परम्पराप्राप्तमिमं राजर्षयो विदुः ।

स कालेनेह महता योगो नष्टः परन्तप ॥ (4.2)

This knowledge was handed down in regular succession and known to the royal sages राजर्षयः . This yoga due to long lapse of time has been lost to the world, O Arjuna.

Textual References

Shwetaketu (Aruneya or son of Aruna), a Brahmin, came to the assembly of Panchalas, whose reigning monarch was Pravahana Jaivali to understand Brahmavidya. This story clearly reveals that in the Vedic period, Kshatriyas were well versed in ब्रह्मविद्य debunking the Caste-system hierarchies of the East India Company Indologists’ insinuation that Brahmins were the only custodians of knowledge.

Shwetaketu thought himself to be a ब्रह्मज्ञानिन् (brahma jnanin) yet did not have a clue to the King’s questions about Brahmavidya or vedanta. The King pointed out that mere initiation or Brahmopadesa doesnt make one a ब्रह्मज्ञानिन्. Humiliated, Shwetaketu returns home and relating the incident, rebukes his father Uddalaka. Shwetaketu and Uddalaka's conversation reveals their lack of knowledge in the subject and hence their inability to answer any question of the kshatrabandhu or the King.

The royal sages - like Rama and Janaka were kings and at the same time rajarshi's or sages. They were engaged in activities of Material world as rulers and because of their austerities and wisdom knew this Yoga of the Spiritual world. The teachings of this yoga were lost by falling into the hands of selfish and unrighteous people. It is the intention of Sri Bhagavan to revive it through the Gita. The leaders of a country possessing this knowledge of Yoga i.e. moral values of life, will percolate such values down the line into the society irrespective of the present day communities.

The Myth of Caste Debunked

In all humility, both Uddalaka and Shwetaketu go to King Pravahna’s assembly to seek knowledge. Offering all hospitality, the King humbly addresses Uddalaka thus: "Bhagavan (as a brahmin usually was addressed), you can ask for any kind of wealth that is within the means of a human being". But Shwetaketu and his father requested the Kshatriya to impart ब्रह्मविद्या to them and accordingly the King lays down the rules or अधिकार (aptitude) to acquire knowledge.

Here the implication is that the ruler, Kshatriya, according to his dharma is bound to provide material wealth to a Brahmana for Yagnas but ब्रह्मविद्या as per the prevailing वर्णव्यवस्था (social order) was usually respected to be in the brahmana’s domain. Notably, this is view is contrary to the presently continuing popular perception invented by the East India Company Indologists and their Indian Sepoys, Varna (translated wrongly as caste) was determined by संस्कार and not parentage.

Through the explanation of Panchagni vidya, which included explanations of devayan (journey to the deva loka post death) and pitruyan (journey to Pitr loka post death) as well as of panca maha yajna the king imparted the essence of Brahmavidya. As an introduction to पञ्चाग्निविद्या, the Kshatriya King told Uddalaka, "You are the first one amongst the Brahmans to receive the knowledge of this ब्रह्मविद्या, up until now it was known only to Kshatriyas". Within the Bharatiya tradition, everyone irrespective of their Varna (social or economic status) had access to Divine Knowledge.

Hence "Brahmavid brahmana" was the definition given, One who knows Brahmavidya is a brahmana irrespective of the varna or gender.


  1. Veda Sanskrita Parichaya by Dr. K. S. Narayanana
  2. Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 4