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A pandit (Sanskrit: पण्डित; paṇḍita or paṇḍit) is a scholar and a teacher, particularly one skilled in the Sanskrit language, who has mastered the four Vedic scriptures, Hindu rituals, Hindu law, religion, music, and/or philosophy under a Guru in a Gurukul or has been tutored under the ancient vedic Guru Shishya academic tradition. The English loan word pundit is derived from it.
In the original usage of the word, "Pandit", synonymous to "Purohits", refers to a Hindu, almost always a Brahmin, who has memorized a substantial portion of the Vedas, along with the corresponding rhythms and melodies for chanting religious verses or singing them during prayers or rituals.
The designation may also appear as the abbreviation "Pt." or "Pnt."
The term is also widely used referring to the great Indian Mahasiddhas of the Buddhist Nalanda Monastery. The Buddha himself had used the term when referring to the masters of the pure Sanatana Dharma: "Sanatanam va panditanam dhammo."
The historical evolution of Vedic priests can be traced back to ancient Aryan civilization through the Chandragupta Maurya era, branching off to all regions by family geneaology across Bharatvarsha after training under the ancient Hindu Sages to perform services to the people and the Kings (Rajas). The surnames appended to the pundits often follow the gotra of the family geneaology, historical regions in migration, or the patronage of the Kings or nobility.
The surname "Pandit", most abundantly found among Kashmiris, is found all over India today. The surname is mostly found among Hindus; however, there are also cases of the surname Pandit used by Kashmiri Muslims who are more recent converts into Islam.
Naming patterns of the Kashmiri Pandits are almost the same as are found there among the Brahmins of the centro-eastern region with componential preferences with regard to the second component. Some of these are: (1) + Narayan: Jagdish – (Sapru), Anand – (Mulla), Parameshwar – (Haksar), Hriday - (Kunjru), Jagat-,Laxmi-,Brij-,Shyam-,etc. (2) + Krisn: Roop-, Maharaj-, Brij-, Avta-, Tej-, Mohan-, Hari-, Kumar-, Jay-, Pyare-, Nipun-, Apurv-, etc. (3) + Nath: Hriday-, Omkar-, Raghu-, Amar-, Balji-, etc. (4) + Lal: Moti-, Jawahar-, Krishan-, Ziya-
Moreover, at present, the names of Kashmiri Pandits are drawn from the same sources as by the Hindus of northern India, but some of the names of Kashmiri Pandits recorded in earlier literary works show that names drawn from Persian sources were also current among them (e.g. Aftab Pandit, Balkak Dar, etc.). Interestingly, in Kashmiri, the "Pandit" surname is found in Muslims as well, e.g. Mohd Shafi Pandit, Chairman of J&K Public Service Commission. High incidence of the surname today can be found in Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan..
- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
- Chandrakant Pandit (Maharashtraian)
- Farah Pandith (Kashmiri)
- Giridhari Lal Pandit (Kashmiri)
- Mohammad Shafi Pandit (Kashmiri)
- Lalita Pandit (Kashmiri)
- Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (Kashmiri)
- Kulbhushan Pandit– known by stage name Raaj Kumar (Kashmiri)
- Jatin Lalit (Jatin Pandit & Lalit Pandit) (Rajasthani)
- Vikram Pandit (Maharashtrian)
- Shrradha Pandit (Rajasthani/Hindi/Haryanvi)
- Shweta Pandit (Rajasthani/Hindi/Haryanvi)
- Yash Pandit (Rajasthani/Hindi/Haryanvi)
In India today, 'Pandit' is an honour conferred on an expert of any subject or field, especially Hindustani music. Its usage is confined to Hindu male exponents. Muslim male musicians are bestowed with the title 'Ustad', and the terms 'Vidushi' and 'Begum' are used for Hindu and Muslim female exponents respectively.
This usage also applies to politician Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Pandits, or locals learned in the dharmasastra, were also employed as court advisors during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Initially, British judges had very little knowledge of Hindu customs and oral traditions, and they could seek information from them on particular questions. The Supreme Court of India had a law officer styled the Pundit of the Supreme Court, who advised the English judges on points of Hindu law. The practice was abandoned by 1864, as judges had acquired some experience in dealing with Hindu law, and applied the increasing volume of case law that had developed. Further, the institution of the High Courts, two years earlier, in 1862 further diminished their official use.
In Indonesian language and many regional languages of Indonesia, derivative form of pandit, pendeta, is used to refer priest or cleric, in [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], Buddhism and Hinduism.