Gotras - family traditions

Gotras - family lines
Background info'
Marriage Comptibility around the Gotra Agreement.

An overview of all the main Gotras from Sri Anbil Ramaswamy archived in Sri Ranga Sri:

Brahminical society

Different kinds of devotees; Ordinary, Transcendental


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Gotras - family lines

Gotra A term applied to a clan, a group of families, or a lineage - exogamous and patrilineal - whose members trace their descent to a common ancestor, usually a sage of ancient times.

A gotra is of immense importance to a Hindu for it shores up his identity. All Hindu ceremonies require a statement of the gotra. A devout Hindu speaks out his gotra and pravara every day in the morning. Gotra also comes of use during the performance of the rites of passage or sanskaras. People of the same gotra (sagotra) are not allowed to marry, to prevent inbreeding. At weddings, the gotra of the bride and the groom are proclaimed aloud to establish that they are not breaking this socially ordained genetic precaution. Marriages between certain gotras are also not allowed; for instance, marriages between those of the Vasishtha and Vishvamitra gotras are not permitted. This is because these two sages were opponents and their descendants are traditional foes.

In olden times, every gotra had a definite task to perform. Thus every Veda had priests of specific gotras for their narration and teaching. Certain sacrifices require priests of a specific gotra only.

There are 49 established Hindu gotras. All members of a particular gotra are believed to possess certain common characteristics by way of nature or profession. Many theories have been propounded to explain this system. According to the brahminical theory, the Brahmins are the direct descendants of seven or eight sages who are believed to be the mind-born sons of Brahma. They are Gautama, Bharadvaja, Vishvamitra, Jamadagni, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Atri. To this list, Agastya is also sometimes added. These eight sages are called gotrakarins from whom all the 49 gotras (especially of the Brahmins) have evolved. For instance, from Atri sprang the Atreya and Gavisthiras gotras. According to this theory, the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas do not have a gotra and are to Gotraspeak out the gotras of their Purohita during the various ceremonies. However according to some Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, they are also descendants of these sages. Because of this, many a time a Brahmin, Kshatriya and a Vaishya claim the same gotra. The members of a gotra however need not necessarily be blood relations, but could be spiritual inheritors or descendants of a guru's pupils.

Among the Kshatriyas, Rajputs claim to be the direct descendants of the Sun (Suryavanshi), the moon (Chandravanshi) or the fire (Agnikula). They are also divided into numerous clans, each bearing the name of some great ancestor. Similarly every caste and class of the Hindus is divided into many clans.

In olden times the members of the brahminical gotras had certain characteristic features distinguishing them from the others: the Bhargavas had their heads shaven, the Angirasas wore five braids and so on.

Gotra closely connected with the concept of gotra is that of pravara which is the invocation of Agni by the name of the ancestral sage of whichever Brahmin consecrates the sacrificial fire. As a rule, there are not more than four or five sages in one pravara. Two gotras having a common pravara are not allowed to marry. For instance those of the Kashyapa and Shandilya gotras cannot intermarry because they share the same sage, Asita, in their pravaras.

Abhivada, the formal proclamation of one's ancestry, is only enjoined upon 'twice-born' (see also Upanayanam) males. It includes not just the gotra and pravara but, for a Brahmin, the Veda to which he 'belongs', the Sutra or Vedic interpretation favored by his gotra and finally his own name. It is said with the thumb behind the ears, in the traditional gesture of invoking ancestors. Today's great classical musicians invoke their gurus similarly before beginning a concert.

Vasishtha, Maitra - Varuna, Kaundinya Trayarishiya gotre, Apastambha sutra, Yajushtagadhyayi, Sri Parashuraman Sharmana aham asmiboho. In the Rig-Veda (see Veda), the word gotra means a 'cowpen'. In the Vedic period, marriage within the family was a common occurrence. The term gotra was used in its present sense for the first time in the Brahmanas. It was systematised by about the 4th century BC to accommodate changed social rules and laws and by the time of the Sutras, it was a well-established system. Even today almost all families abide by its rules.

Marriage Comptibility around the Gotra Agreement.
"Ancient Sages who handed down the Vedic lore, are seven in number; Marici, Atri, Vasishtha, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha and Kratu. There are many list of ancient sages who are called progenitors of Gotras like Vishvamitra, Kashyapa, Gauttama, Jamadagni and Bharadvaj. This lineage (gotra) of horary sages is based on two factors; birth and learning., i.e. from father to son; and teacher (mentor - preceptor) to disciple. the 28 stars (nakshatras) including Abhijit (which is placed in Capricorn between Uttarashadha and Shravan) have been distributed among the above sages at the rate of four asterism's per sage as follows:

(1) Marichi: Aswini, Pushya, Svati, Abhijit.
(2) Vasishta: Bharani, Ashlesha, Vishakha, Shravan.
(3) Angiras: Krittika, Magha, Anuradha, Dhanistha.
(4) Atri: Rohini, Purvaphalguni, Jyestha, Shatabhishakam.
(5) Pulastya: Mrgashirsha, Uttaraphalguni, Mula, Purva Bhadrapad.
(6) Pulaha: Ardra, Hasta, Purvashadha, Uttarabhadrapad.
(7) Kratu: Punarvasu, Chitra, Uttarashadha, Revati.

It is said that identical gotra of a boy and girl would lead to calamity. If they belong to different gotras, their union will lead to happiness, prosperity and progeny. This subject can be looked into from another angle. If the stars obtained from the longitudes of their respective lagnas belong to the same gotra or different ones, their effects would be in order moderate or excellent."(M. Ramakrishna Bhat. essentials of Horary Astrology, pages 141-142.)
Note: This factor of compatibility of horoscopes is not taken into consideration too much these days, unfortunately with the decline in Vedic culture, and pure family lineages.

Prabhupad: Before marriage takes place, one has to calculate whether they belong to the same family, same disciplic...... Then, if it is the same, the marriage will not take place. Same blood will not be accepted. Same family means same blood. So throughout the whole world the same blood is not allowed in marriage.
Tamal Krsna: Yes, that's going on other places in the world too.
Prabhupad: Yes.
Tamal Krsna: all over the world. They say that what will happen...... One thing that will happen is that if there's any...... Of course, this is scientist's explanation. If there is any weakness within the family line - that means bodily weakness, mental weakness, or anything......
Prabhupad: No, even it is not weakness, it will create weakness, same blood. The different blood will create some incentive, different flow of blood. That is scientific. But who cares for that?
Tamal Krsna: Nowadays.......
Prabhupad: The Mohammedans, they accept the same blood. Therefore they are not very intelligent. Throughout the whole world the Mohammedans are not very intelligent.
Tamal Krsna: They marry within their family.
Prabhupad: Yes. And uncles' daughter.
Tamal Krsna: Uncle's daughter?
Prabhupad: Yes. The father and his brother, so his daugther, his son can marry.
Bhavananda: First cousins.
Prabhupad: First cousins, yes.
Jayapataka: There was some case of that in the royalty in France, and they got some bleeding disease from that, hemophilia. If they got cut, then that would never heal. It would only bleed until they died.
Prabhupad: So it is very scientific not to get married to someone of the same blood (Morning Walk conversation 2-9-1976.)

"According to the Vedic system, any family, brahmana, kshatriya, vaisya, those who are higher caste, they must give at least seven generations account. Otherwise he is not a respectable family. Seven generations. His father (i), his father (ii), his father (iii), his father (iv), his father (v), his father (vi), his father (vii), that. When there is marriage, then there is check corroboration.........  If within the seventh generations it collides, then there will be no marriage, because it becomes the same family. One cannot marry in the same family. He must pick up another family. Otherwise one could marry his own sister. No. That is not possible. So these family descendants, still there is gotra. Gotra means in which family one is coming. Everyone must say his gotra and family titles. Gotra means guru, disciplic succession. Acyuta-gotra. We Vaishnava, our gotra is Acyuta-gotra, Krsna. Krsna's name is Acyuta. Because we give up our other family gotra. We accept. Actually originally everyone is coming from Krsna"(A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami. Srimad Bhagavatam lecture 10-2-1972.) However such a statement should not be included when devotees are looking for the gotra of a prospective mate for marriage, least there be no marriage for Vaishnavas ever again - as we are all Acyuta-gotra - chech as above with either nakshatra based gotras or family gotras.

“The devotees are referred to as acyuta-gotra, or the dynasty of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Lord is called Acyuta, as indicated in Bhagavad-gétä (senayor ubhayor madhye rathaà sthäpaya me ’cyuta). The Lord is infallible in the material world because He is the supreme spiritual person. Similarly, the jévas, who are part and parcel of the Lord, can also become infallible. Although Prahläda’s mother was in the conditional state and was the wife of a demon, even Yakñas, Räkñasas, women, çüdras and even birds and other lower living entities can be elevated to the acyuta-gotra, the family of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is the highest perfection.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 7:7:54. Purport.)
 “Different gotras, or family designations, are distinctions in terms of the material body, but when one comes to Kåñëa consciousness he immediately becomes one of the Acyuta-gotra, or descendants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and thus becomes transcendental to all considerations of caste, creed, color and nationality.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 4:21:12.purport.)
arcye viñëau çilä-dhér guruñu nara-matir vaiñëave jäti-buddhir
viñëor vä vaiñëavänäà kali-mala-mathane päda-térthe ’mbu-buddhiù
çré-viñëor nämni mantre sakala-kaluña-he çabda-sämänya-buddhir
viñëau sarveçvareçe tad-itara-sama-dhér yasya vä näraké saù
“One who thinks the Deity in the temple to be made of wood or stone, who thinks of the spiritual master in the disciplic succession as an ordinary man, who thinks the Vaiñëava in the Acyuta-gotra to belong to a certain caste or creed or who thinks of caraëämåta or Ganges water as ordinary water is taken to be a resident of hell.” (Padma Puräëa)
 “So if we serve Kåñëa, that is our Acyuta position. If we deny to serve Kåñëa, that is vicyuta, fallen condition. Acyuta and vicyuta. So to become Kåñëa conscious means acyuta-gotra. Acyuta-gotra. Gotra, perhaps you do not know. Gotra is the family tradition. According to Vedic civilization, everybody has got gotra. Gotra means of the same family, of åñis, gotra, from the åñis. So we have to become acyuta-gotra, again belonging to the family of Kåñëa. Now we are fallen. Therefore we have forgotten that we belong to the family of Kåñëa. When we revive our consciousness, Kåñëa consciousness, that “I belong to the Kåñëa’s family...” Kåñëa is not alone, eko bahu çyäma. He wants to enjoy.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. 18th July 1973. Bhagavad Gita class 1:21-22. London, England.)
 “So these family descendants... Still there is gotra. Gotra means in which family one is coming. Everyone must say his gotra and family title. Gotra means the guru, disciplic succession. Acyuta-gotra. We Vaiñëava, our gotra is acyuta-gotra, Kåñëa. Kåñëa’s name is Acyuta. Because we give up our other family gotra. We accept. Actually, originally everyone is coming from Kåñëa. From Kåñëa the Käraëärëavaçäyé Viñëu. From Käraëärëavaçäyé Viñëu, Garbhodakaçäyé Viñëu. From Garbhodakaçäyé Viñëu, Brahmä. From Brahmä, the sages, the Manus. In this way, everyone is descended from Kåñëa. And Kåñëa confirms also in the Bhagavad-gétä,
sarva-yoniñu kaunteya
mürtayaù sambhavanti yäù
täsäà brahma mahad-yonir
ahaà béja-pradaù pitä
‘I am the origin, or seed-giving father.’ Trees, plants, aquatics, by their karma they have to accept different dress, but as spirit soul, everyone is part and parcel of Kåñëa. That is also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gétä. Mamaiväàço jéva-bhütaù.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. 2nd October 1972. Srimad Bhagavatam 1:3:27. lecture. Los Angeles.)
 “Prabhupäda: So it is very scientific not to get married of the same blood.
Jayapatäkä: Many people ask us what gotra we are.
Prabhupäda: You are acyuta-gotra. You can say acyuta-gotra. Acyuta means never falls down.
Tamäla Kåñëa: Never falls down.
Prabhupäda: Yes.
Tamäla Kåñëa: There is such a gotra as that?
Prabhupäda: Yes, acyuta-gotra. All devotees are... We are identified with Kåñëa’s family, acyuta-gotra. (break) ...madhye rathaà sthäpaya me acyuta. Acyuta is Kåñëa. So Kåñëa conscious man means acyuta-gotra.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. 9th February 1976. Morning Walk. Mayapur.)
 “The word gotrajaù is significant in this connection. Brähmaëas generally act as spiritual masters of two dynasties. One is their disciplic succession, and the other is the dynasty born of their semen. Both descendants belong to the same gotra, or dynasty. In the Vedic system we sometimes find that both brähmaëas and kñatriyas and even vaiçyas come in the disciplic succession of the same åñis. Because the gotra and dynasty are one, there is no difference between the disciples and the family born of the semen. The same system still prevails in Indian society, especially in regard to marriage, for which the gotra is calculated. Here the word gotrajaù refers to those born in the same dynasty, whether they be disciples or members of the family.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 9:1:38-39. Purport.)
 “Our personal family is connected with the Mulliks of Mahatma Gandhi Road in Calcutta, and we often used to visit their Rädhä-Govinda temple. They belong to the same family as we do. (Our family gotra, or original genealogical line, is the Gautama-gotra, or line of disciples of Gautama Muni, and our surname is De.) But due to their accepting the posts of Zamindars in the Muslim government, they received the title Mullik. Similarly, Rüpa, Sanätana and Vallabha were also given the title Mullik. Mullik means “lord.” Just as the English government gives rich and respectable persons the title “lord,” so the Muslims give the title Mullik to rich, respectable families that have intimate connections with the government. The title Mullik is found not only among the Hindu aristocracy but also among Muslims. This title is not restricted to a particular family but is given to different families and castes. The qualifications for receiving it are wealth and respectabilityi
Sanätana Gosvämé and Rüpa Gosvämé belonged to the Bharadväja-gotra, which indicates that they belonged either to the family or disciplic succession of Bharadväja Muni. As members of the Kåñëa consciousness movement we belong to the family, or disciplic succession, of Sarasvaté Gosvämé, and thus we are known as Särasvatas. Obeisances are therefore offered to the spiritual master as särasvata-deva, or a member of the Särasvata family (namas te särasvate deve), whose mission is to broadcast the cult of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu (gaura-väëé-pracäriëe) and to fight with impersonalists and voidists (nirviçeña-çünyavädi-päçcätya-deça-täriëe).” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita Adi lila 10:84. Purport.)

Background info'

1.      Pravarrishi can be said as the father of the Gotrarishis. Hence we can see that though there are many Gotrarishis, Pravarrishis are very less. Generally four-five Gotrarishis come under a Pravarrishi.Gandhata, Ambarish, Yuvanashwa are some of the names of the Pravarishis which are the names of famous Suryavanshi Kshatriya kings, similarly Sunahitra, Ajmil are famous Chandravanshi Kings. Bhrugu and Angaris, are from Gan pravar and are mostly Kshatriya kings.
2.      Importance of Gotra Pravar :
For the Vedic Hindu followers they need to know their Gotra and Pravar in various religious ceremonies like, wedding, post death ceremonies like Shradhha, Paksha, Uttarkriya. The reason is that when a person does a religious ceremony at that time he remembers this forefather and ancestors and it this Gotra and Pravar which tell the family tree. This is a 5000 year old tradition. This is well documented on various stone carvings and copper plates. The gotras of Brahmins and Marathas are many times similar, the reason being in ancient times Brahmins were as a result of knowledge and achievement of a person and not by birth. Mostly all Gotrarishi are Kshatriyas.
3.      Kshatriya Gotras :
The Brahmins have been telling that, the Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Sudras did not have independent gotra and pravars and hence they used to take on the gotra and pravars of their family preists, but unfortunately this is not true. In fact, research has shown that it is in fact the opposite. The brahmins have donned the gotras and pravars of the kshatriyas.
Brahmins consider themselves the decendents of the seven main sages, Angiras, Bhrugu, Vishwamitra, Kashyap, Vasishtha, Atri and Agasti. Of these sages Vishwamitra was Kshatriya, Kaushik gotra is also of Kshatriyas. Certain text Vishwamitra has been refered as Kaushik. The Bhrugu gotra families consider good fortune to get a girl from this family. Jamdagni's mother Satyavati was Vishwamitras sister, and his wife Renuka was also a Kshatriya. Hence it can be seen that the Gotras of Kshatriyas have a very solid foundation.

Suryavanshi are not forbidden to intermarry. Udaipurs Guhilod and Jaipurs Kachwahas though belong to Suryavanshi families are related my intermarriages. Lord Ram and Sita were also both from Suryavanshi families. Arjun and Draupadi were from Chandravanshi families.

Raghavan Iyer