Brahman the highest of the four Hindu castes. However, Brahmans do not form a single group, but are heterogeneous and have more than two thousand branches. The Saraswata Brahmans alone have more than 469 branches. Though there is a social and religious barrier between castes, inter-caste marriage does take place, with Brahman men being allowed to marry women of different castes. All Brahmans do not possess the same status. Thus in Bengal, Acharya and Shakdipi belong to a lower caste. Similarly in Maharashtra, Debal and Guraba Brahmans are of a lower caste. Nambudri Brahmans form the top rank. Though Brahmans form only 3.5% of the total population of India, they tend to occupy prestigious positions in society.

Brahmans migrated and settled down in Bengal during the fourth to sixth centuries AD, their number increasing subsequently. During the Pala reign they forgot their Vedic rituals and many were converted to buddhism. During the Sena rule there was a resurgence of Brahmanism. According to tradition, the Sena Kings brought five Brahmans from Karnata and had them perform sacrifices. In the royal court of laksmanasena there were five Brahman sanskrit scholars known as five gems. During the Muslim period, the Brahmans were variously established, with most of the poets and scholars being Brahmans. In the British era Bengali Brahmans, like Brahmans in other parts of India, maintained their traditional superiority and dominance, with many of them serving the British. [Hiralal Bala]

See also caste system.