This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
1 The Mahavamsa has a reference to reading on particular occasions, of what is called Arya-Vamsa, i. e., a sort of an Acharya-Farampara which was being publicly read on stated occasions.
Learning got associated with the Brahman probably from the days of the Rig Veda itself. At any rate in the next stage of development when the hymns got to have a ritualistic signi-ficance a class had necessarily to be detailed for the preservation of this learning. While therefore learning, even holy learning, was the common property of all the twice-born, its development and growth naturally required a special section of the community to be set apart for the pursuit of it, and either that community became Brahman or the Brahman took up that duty along with the one already described. Thus by a process almost of natural selection he became the custodian of learning'. Not content merely with being the custodian he added the important function of dispensing this learning, so that he became not merely the special student who learnt all that was worth learning at the time, but he also regarded it as his duty to hand down the torch of learning undiminished, if not improved and extended. This brings us to the other two of his functions in the Tamil country, learning and teaching. This double function gave him, as it were, the natural right to be the authority for consultation and guidance in matters relating to conduct in society. It was not merely teaching of book-learning that he took upon himself, but the far more serious duty of "perfecting the people ' (janapakvata). This "perfecting of the people " which, in more modern language would mean civilizing the people, involved in the peculiar circumstances of the times the free gift of education and the free acceptance of rewards therefor. One was not to teach for fees but having been taught there was the moral obligation on the part of the taught to contribute his mite to the continued maintenance of the beneficent office. It was not merely an obligation on the part of the taught, but became gradually to be felt as an extended obligation upon the whole of the society. Those that were capable of being taught should have the opportunity to teach themselves, and thus arose the obligation to maintain the Brahman on the part of society. That brings us to the third pair of his functions, the giving and the receiving in gift. He taught freely and laboured hard to elevate society. The people gave freely and maintained him in comfort in order that he may pursue the good work untrammelled by considerations as to his maintenance. We thus find that the duties specially allotted to the Brahman and the privileges to which he became specially entitled were both alike the natural development of his position in society and the function that he allotted to himself. The following passage from the Satapatha Brahmana puts the whole of his duties and responsibilities in a nut-shell:
"The study and teaching (of the Veda) are a source of pleasure to him, he becomes ready-minded, and independent of others; and day by day, he acquires wealth. He sleeps peacefully; he is the best physician for himself; and (peculiar) to him are the restraint of the senses, delight on the one hand, growth of intelligence, fame and the task of perfecting people. The growing of intelligence gives rise to four duties attaching to the Brahmanas -Brahmanical descent, a befitting deportment, fame and perfecting of the people; and the people that are being perfected guard the Brahman by four duties - by (showing him) respect and liberality, and by (granting him) security against oppression and security against capital punishment."
Much the same idea is conveyed in a far more simple way when the Tamil poet speaks of a royal family as the one which had never known to do anything that would cause pain of mind to a Brahman.
On Brahmanism so constituted came to bear new influences for the rudiments of which we have to go back to times much earlier, and that influence is the rising cult of Bhakti. Bhakti involves the notion of a personal God who intervenes in the affairs of man for the benefit of humanity. We can see the emergence of the notion of the personal God in the Sata-patha Brahmana1 itself in the strident Vishnu. This theistic notion of personal God and of service to him comes in its further development to be known as Bhakti. This was the orthodox answer to the rising of agnostic cults of Buddhism and Jainism, and in its further development it influenced both Brahmanism and Buddhism vitally as we saw. The modification of orthodox Brahmanism of the Vedic kind by the influence of this new and still orthodox cult of Bhakti we shall trace in the next section.
1 I. 5, 3, 14 and I. 9, 3, 10. Also Katha Up. I. 3, 9 and MacNicol's Indian Theism, p. 33.