Beheading the Brahmin

Business 29 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, June 11, 2010

In Hinduism, killing a Brahmin is considered the greatest sin. And yet, most astonishingly, God keeps killing Brahmins. Shiva beheads Brahma. Ram kills Ravan. Krishna encourages the beheading of Drona. Why so?

The word Brahmin comes from the root ‘Brh’ which means ‘to grow’. The Brahmin was the noble teacher, he who facilitated growth – provided the direction, the path, the intellectual wherewithal that enabled people to grow. But growth in Hinduism refers to all round growth – material growth (Lakshmi), intellectual growth (Saraswati) and emotional growth (Durga/Shakti). Growth refers not just to one’s own growth but to the growth of others too.

Intellectual growth manifests in increased sensitivity to people around us and to patterns in the world around us. Emotional growth manifests in an increased sense of security that makes us pay more attention to the development of those around us. Material growth cannot happen without emotional growth; emotional growth cannot happen without intellectual growth. Wealth generation and wealth distribution demand intellectual and emotional growth. Brahmins, the intellectuals, were therefore critical for the growth of society, as a whole.

Neither Brahma, Ravan nor Drona demonstrate these traits. When Brahma created the world, the world took the form of a woman. He got attracted to this woman of his own creation and wanted to possess her. So he chased her, determined to possess her. In disgust, Shiva took the form of Bhairava and beheaded him, which is why Shiva is called Kapalika, the skull-bearer. Ravan, son of a Rishi, kicked his brother Kuber out of Lanka to become its king and then went on to abduct wives of other men for his pleasure. Drona, also son of a Rishi, taught martial arts to the Pandavas and the Kauravas and as fee asked his students to give him one half of Drupada’s kingdom, so that he could settle a score with an old enemy. All three are more interested in their own material growth. Brahma wanted to control his creation, Ravan wanted to dominate the world and Drona wanted to settle a score. They did not seem to be interested in facilitating the growth of others, which was the Brahmin’s vocation. Perhaps that is why they were beheaded.

Vinit, who runs a successful spare parts company, has grown from a small 1 crore outfit to a 30 crore outfit in five years. He created this company, nurtured this company and now is a highly admired small scale entrepreneur. “But I am not happy,” he says, “I have more money than before. But I am constantly worried about attrition and competition and client servicing. I am afraid all that I have built will collapse.” Vinit’s personal wealth has increased, so has the value of his company. There is growth in the number of clients, the earning per client, in the number of employees and their respective earnings. Vinit should be happy, but he is not.  He feels his head will explode.

Vinit needs to relook at his vision statement put down years ago after he left his high paying corporate job in Memphis, USA and returned to India. It had nothing to do with profits. It was all about creating world class spare parts locally at a fraction of the price. His aim was to be surrounded by simple engineers who were grounded in reality. He wanted an organization with the warmth of a small organization, not the coldness of a large corporation. Somewhere along the line, he forgot all about intellectual and emotional growth that would facilitate this. It was all about material growth. Perhaps the reason for this is that intellectual growth cannot be measured, nor can emotional growth. In fact measuring intellect and emotions results in de-growth. So the head and heart was ignored in the pursuit of the wallet. This has resulted in a Vinit who is less sensitive than he was when he started out, and less secure. His empathy levels are at an all time low. The Brahmin has been corrupted. Time to behead him.

Brahma, though creator, is not worshipped in India. When Shiva beheads Brahma, Brahma loses his fifth head and is left with four. He is, in effect, cut down to size, shaken out of his madness, to step back and reflect on his enchantment with Lakshmi. In reflection lies realization of Saraswati and Durga. Only when there is all round growth will Brahma, and the Brahmin, be worthy once again of adoration.

  • Murali

    Very well written. Thank you very much for the constant enlightenment. You are changing the paradigms of many people in this country.

    One minor correction –
    you mentioned material growth instead of emotional growth in this line of your article
    “Perhaps the reason for this is that intellectual growth cannot be measured, nor can material growth”

    I will look forward to your next article !

  • Murali

    Can you please explain why “In fact measuring intellect and emotions results in de-growth” ?

    • Devdutt

      Measure the emotion between parents and children… is the first step to ending the relationship.
      Measure the intellect of a child based on the school report card…it is the first step to destroying his confidence.

      • sudhir choudhary

        Very Well Explained Devdutt Sir

  • Guruprasad

    How should vinit behead the brahmin in his company can u pls elaborate

    • Devdutt

      Refocus on what he originally planned to do…that demands sacrifice and courage which is beheading

  • It is one of the very well written articles of this kind. Finding the real meaning of puranic stroies help the younger generation to not only honour our tradition but induce them also to fallow certain values. I happen to be the editor of the monthly bilingual { English and Tamil} magazine Brahmintoday which is being published from Chennai for the past 78 months. Shree Devadut pl visit to know more. I would very much like to publish this write-up in the forth coming issue, of course with your kind permission and due acknowldgement. pl reply.
    Editor Brahmintody
    pl post comments

  • Amazing analysis.My request to you,this knowledge should reach all the youth of our country.

  • Nonyameko Afiya

    Love all of your articles. Thank you for enlightening us on all levels. I feel enlightened every time I read one of your articles.
    I feel I can use what you teach in my daily life toward myself and the people that I meet.

    I just starting buying your books on and I love them.

    I live in the US and plan to visit south India in the fall. I can’t wait.

    You are truly a shining example to all of us.

    Blessings to you,

    Nonyameko Afiya

  • shridhar galgali

    As every day is passing by i am finding myself in the pool of thoughts which come to my mind after reading your articles.I am moving from temporary happiness to eternal bliss.Through your medium i am getting myself aware to different facets of Mythology,Business and relation between them.
    Thank you for enlightening.

    • Chandra

      like the transition “from temporary happiness to eternal bliss”. Good one.

  • What you are promoting is a path long forgotten, which encourages individuals to interpret Indian mythology in their own (radically different) ways.

    The way I see it is a thought process having the potential of challenging the existing ways of doing business…

    The next big thing in Strategy Consulting…

    Keep up the good work…

    Can you please tell if you are also into consulting organizations, and motivational sessions for corporations?

    • Devdutt

      Do check my biography page

  • ravikk

    Devdutt, Are you criticizing Brahmins or giving example of these 3 mythological Brahmins for your explanation. I am amazed your last sentense is very specifically stating “Only when there is all round growth will Brahma, and the Brahmin, be worthy once again of adoration”. With present reservation system there is very good all around growth in India???. Before commenting on Brahmins try to understand the orgin and then you will be worth of reading your articles.

    • Devdutt

      This articles in not about ‘caste’ Brahmins. The epics focus on the ‘idea’ of Brahmin for the sake of society. Despite great wisdom, our society did treat a large sections of society despicably. Let us not deny that. Clearly somewhere along the line, the ‘wisdom’ was given lip-service and the ‘children of Rishis’ became Ravanas, destroying the very essence of Vedic thought. Think about it. The tragedy is that modern policies that claim to be undoing the damage are ALSO failing. Let us not deny that either.

    • Mr. Ravi,

      First of all you need to understand what brahmin is. A brahmin is one who ‘knows’ Who God is and not what God is. One who lives Him in his daily life and one who is thus in relationship with Him. Brahmin is not by caste but by your actions.

  • Abhinav

    Dear Devdutt, so far i have noticed neutrality in your wriitings and books and you have been very fair in your analysis of indian mythology. However I am very surprised by your last line in this article,seems very unlike your views.

    Kindly clarify for the sake of your young readers and followers like me, who have begun to appreciate indian mythology and its relevance in a different way thanks to you.

    • Devdutt

      Brahmin is one who is ‘capable’ of designing an organization where people can achieve their full potential. That is why killing Brahmins was considered the worst of sins. When such ‘capable’ people end up exploiting the organization for personal gain, the world is doomed. They remain Brahmin in letter only, not in spirit. This article does not refer to ‘caste’ Brahmins but to the ‘idea’ of Brahmins. People’s irritation with this article is understandable. But that is the whole idea. Everybody says Hinduism is pro-Brahmin. But here are two great epics that focus less on ‘pandering’ to caste Brahmins and more on celebrating the idea of Brahmin.

      • Abhinav

        Thank you Devdutt for the clear explanation.

      • Hitendra Jagdale

        Dear Devdutt,

        I was first introduced to your website through a friend in late 07. I like your writing style which is lucid and simple. Your interpretation of Hindu Mythology is deep and multifaceted.

        I have tried to read books on Hindu religion before however they were more towards the superstition aspeact and lacked the explanation of the symbolism inherent which you have done.

        I think you are doing a great social service and your writings should be made part of the business studies curriculum in India and elsewhere. Keep up the good work

  • Nikhil

    I am a brahmin and I can say it proudly that whenever I went in wrong direction I was beheaded by none other than my father… :-)

    I thank him for that otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.

    I understand your article totally !

    (Any ancient story ? Where a father beahead’s his son?

    I always feel that Shankar and Ganpati story is one such example where Shankar beheaded this arrogant boy’s head and then replaced it with more mature and intellectual head of an elephant. Big transformation! )

    • Aseem Hattangadi

      I do not think you can illustrate your point with this example, as Ganesh was merely carrying out his mother’s orders! If you read the story of how Ganesh was beheaded, then you will learn that it was done by trickery and not face to face!

      • Chandra


  • Hello Sir,
    This is the first article that i have read. Recently, i have subscribed to ur website. But, truly i confess that ur point of view of looking to any matter is unique n forces even others to re-think on any given subject.
    I really appreciate ur writings…
    Thnx 4 creating such a good site..

  • heena

    sir i have not read anything of this kind anywhere.ur articles r uniquest of the unique.plz enlighten me on dis vl u apply this mechanism to bussiness world? i m persuing MBA and v r taught dat v dnt hav 2be emotional.a world that is governed by PROFIT and not PLANET how can one find intellect->emotions->material.hw can being emotional lead us toward being wealthy?

  • Subhasis Pujapanda

    Dear Dev

    Yet another analysis with finesse. I could able to gaze the depth of the message behind the article.

    Growth should always be holistic to last further and long. Wish your forthcoming articles will enlighten the readers in the way it has been doing so far.

    Thanks & Regards

  • aumshantih

    Fascinating article. I especially love the myths of Shiva and his first father-in-law, the Prajapati Daksha, father of Sati. After Sati’s death, Shiva creates Virabhadra and Mahakali and sends them to disrupt Daksha’s sacrifice. Daksha is beheaded, and later his head is replaced with one from the sacrificial goat.

    To me this myth shows the long simmering tensions between vedic brahminism and ascetic tantricism in our culture.

  • abhishek

    is ‘head’ ahead of ‘heart’ ?

  • Chakravyuh

    It is mentioned that Brahmin is one who eternally revels in the Supreme Brahman. In that state, he cannot be corrupt nor would he chase anyone’s adoration.