A fundamental defining characteristic of Hindu belief is the recognition of the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, as an absolute religious authority. This is affirmed by virtually all traditional Hindus, and those who reject its authority (such as Buddhists and Jains) are regarded as unfaithful to their tradition.
Interestingly, however, the contents of the Vedas are practically unknown to most Hindus and the texts are seldom drawn upon for information or advice. Yet the Vedas are regarded as the basis of all the later texts used in Hindu doctrine and practice, parts of the Vedas are still quoted in essential Hindu rituals, and they are the source of many enduring patterns of Hindu thought.
Another characteristic of Hinduism is the belief in the power and authority of the Brahmans (also spelled Brahmins), a priestly class that has spiritual supremacy by birth. Brahmans are the highest ranking caste in society and represent the ideal of ritual purity and social prestige. Because of their great purity, the Brahmans are called upon to perform vital religious tasks as well as interpret and teach the scriptures. The Brahman family priest officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonial occasions.
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