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A pandit or pundit (both pronounced //; Sanskrit: पण्डित paṇḍita) 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 but has been used to broadly refer to any of the following: Siddhas, Siddhars, Naths, Ascetics, Sadhus, or Yogis.
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."
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The surname "Pandit" is most abundantly found among Kashmiris, but is found amongst Brahmins in other part of India, particularly in North India and Maharashtra, which has substantial Saraswat Brahmin communities. The surname is mostly found among Brahmins (particularly the Kashmiri Brahmins); however, there are also cases of the surname Pandit used by Kashmiri Muslims, most of whom are more recent converts into Islam. It is important to understand that Pandit does not denote an ethnicity, rather, it is a title meaning a Scholar, almost always given to a Brahmin. Brahmins themselves are not one and the same culturally, ethnically or linguistically. Brahmin is a social construct. Therefore a Brahmin from one part of India is different from a Brahmin from another part of India.
"Pandit" as a surname is likely indicative of someone who has Brahmin lineage.
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.
The Sanskrit word Pandita refers to a scholar or someone who is highly learned and an intellectual.
Pandits, or locals learned in the dharmashastra, were also employed as court advisers 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, by that time, had acquired some experience in dealing with Hindu law, and began to apply the increasing volume of case-law that had been developed. Further, the institution of High Courts, two years earlier (i.e. in 1862), had diminished the official requirements of Pandits.
Pandit or pundit was also the name used for Indian native surveyors who explored regions to the north of India for the British in the 19th century. See Pundit (explorer).
For use of the term in Thailand, see Royal Institute of Thailand; literally "Institute of Royal Pandits."