BRAHMACARYA The Brahmacārin student "doing (religious) formulation" in the older Vedic literature denoted men who devoted their lives exclusively to religious duties. Later, this Sanskrit term came to refer to young Indians of the three higher social orders during their time of study, which typically began at the age of eight and ended at age sixteen. The young men stayed with their teacher's family, trained to follow a strict discipline that included sleeping on the ground, simple food and dress, and obedience. Another disciplinary feature was absolute celibacy. Graduation from this period of study was immediately followed by marriage and the setting up of a household, with ensuing economic and sexual obligations. Much later, as an old man, the higher caste Hindu would, according to standard doctrine, retire with his wife to a celibate life in the forest, eventually renouncing the world as an ascetic. Celibacy was seen as such a prominent feature of a man's life in his student years that brahmacarya (life of a Veda student) acquired the secondary meaning of "celibacy."
Indian society, on the one hand, placed a high priority on the production of offspring, especially sons, both for religious and economic reasons: only sons could make the offerings to ancestors, and sons were required to work the fields and to defend and support the family as well as the community. At the same time, there was admiration for those who resisted the temptations of worldly life and lived a life of religious devotion in poverty and celibacy. In some instances, the inability to get married and function sexually due to physical defects may have been a factor, but mostly the decision was based on religious fervor, a belief that restrictions and mortifications helped to destroy bad karma, and a conviction that the retention of semen increased a man's potency. The ascetic is often called ūrdhva-retas (whose semen is up), which in tantric texts is explained as retaining it in the head; tantric rituals included intercourse without orgasm. Male orgasm was often seen as the effluence of power, weakening the man. The celibate ascetic was credited with great powers that he could unleash in terrible curses or could use to bestow blessings. God Shiva is typically seen in a yoga pose as an ascetic or as a virile dancer. He is described alternatively as the ultimate celibate ascetic and as the passionate lover of his wife Pārvatī. In modern times there are reports how, in his old age, Mahatma Gandhi extolled the virtues of celibacy and imposed on himself exercises to test and strengthen his powers of restraint.
Hartmut E. Scharfe
Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. 2nd ed., vol. II. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1974.
"Brahmacarya." Encyclopedia of India. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 16, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brahmacarya
"Brahmacarya." Encyclopedia of India. . Retrieved November 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brahmacarya
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.