Brahman ［婆羅門］ (, Pali brāhmana; baramon): Also, Brahmin. A member of the priestly class, the highest of the four castes in ancient India. The other three were the Kshatriya, the military or ruling class; the Vaishya, or class of peasants, merchants, and artisans; and the Shūdra, or slave class. The Brahmans retained exclusive rights over the administration of religious matters such as instruction on the Vedas and performance of rites and rituals. Since Brahmanism held that the accumulation of merit and the gods’ beneficence depended upon the correct performance of rituals, this right invested the Brahmans with tremendous social authority. Their ascendancy over the other castes was secured in the later Vedic period, from around 1000 b.c.e. through 500 b.c.e. During this period, an agricultural society developed in the Ganges Valley, and rituals assumed great importance. The Brahmans formed a detailed system of rites and held sole claim over their administration. By the time of Shakyamuni, however, a flourishing of commerce and industry was under way, and many cities had appeared. As powerful monarchic states were formed, the Kshatriya and Vaishya classes rose in social standing, and the authority of the Brahmans declined proportionately.