brahmacarya ब्रह्मचर्य

Definition: Denotes the condition of life of the Brahma-cārin or religious student. The technical sense is first found in the last Maṇdala of the Rigveda. The practice of-studentship doubtless developed, and was more strictly regulated by custom as time went on, but it is regularly assumed and discussed in the later Vedic literature, being obviously a necessary part of Vedic society. The Atharvaveda has in honour of the Brahmacārin a hymn which already gives all the characteristic features of religious studentship. The youth is initiated (iipa-nī) by the teacher into a new life; he wears an antelope skin, and lets his hair grow long;δ he collects fuel, and begs, learns, and practises penance. All these characteristics appear in the later literature. The student lives in the house of his teacher (ācārya-kala-vāsin; ante-vāsin); he begs, looks after the sacrificial fires, and tends the house. His term of studentship might be long extended: it was normally fixed at twelve years, but much longer periods, such as thirty-two years, are mentioned. The age at which studentship began varied: śvetaketu commenced at twelve and studied for twelve years. It is assumed in the Grhya Sūtras that the three Aryan castes were all required to pass through a period of studentship. But that this is much more than priestly schematism is uncertain. No doubt individuals of the Kçatriya or Vaiśya caste might go through part of the period of studentship, just as Burmese boys of all classes now pass some time in a monastery as students. This is borne out by the reference in the Atharvaveda to the king guarding his country by Brahmacarya—though that is susceptible of a different interpretation—and more clearly by the reference in the Kāthaka Samhitā to a rite intended to benefit one who, although not a Brahmin, had studied (vidyūm anūcya), but had not gained renown, and by references in the Upaniṣads to kings who like Janaka studied the Vedas and the Upaniṣads. Normally, however, the Kṣatriya studied the art of war. One of the duties of the Brahmacārin was chastity. But reference is in several places made to the possibility of misconduct between a student and the wife of his preceptor, nor is any very severe penance imposed in early times later it is different for such a sin. In certain cases the ritual required a breach of chastity, no doubt as a magic spell to secure fertility. Even an old man might on occasion become a pupil, as the story of Árurii shows.


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