In Hinduism, the term gotra (in Sanskrit) means clan. It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male ancestor or patriline. The gore forms an exogamous unit, with the marriage it gets changed for girls for male it remains the same, whereas with the marriage within the same gotra being prohibited by custom, being regarded as incest. As a Rigvedic term gotra simply means ‘cow herd’ or ‘herd of cows’. The specific meaning ‘family, lineage kin’, is relatively more recent, first recorded the mid-1stmillennium BCE (e.g., Chandogya Upanishad). These lineages as they developed among the Brahmins of that time meant Patrilineal descent. Later, after sometime the Brahmanical system was later adopted by other communities, such as the Kshatriyas and Vaishya’s.
According to Hindu Tradition, the term gotra is used only for the lineages of Brahmin, kshatriya and Vaishya varnas. Brahmanical gotras relates directly to the original seven or eight rishis of the Vedas. Later the term gotra was expanded beyond Brahmin. A gotra must be distinguished from a Kula.
Now Let me tell you what is Kula – A set of people following similar cultural rituals, often worshiping the same divinity (Kula -devata, god of the clan). Kula does not relate to lineage or caste. In fact, it is possible to change one’s Kula, based on one’s faith or Ista- Devata. It’s a common practice in preparation for Hindu marriage to inquire about the Kula-gotra (meaning clan lineage), this practice continues as far as my marriage was concerned I had to undergo this process too, for the bride and groom before approving the marriage.
What we find in almost all Hindu families, marriage in same gotra is avoided or rather they are considered to be siblings.But marriage within the Kula is allowed and even its preferred too. We find that Shudras also have gotras too, & they too follow in marriages. Let me give you an example, a weaver falls under Markandeya gotra, Markendeya was known to be a Maharishi & had 60 sons. Marriages are held within Markendeya but never in same family name. So, every weaver falls under the one of these gotra. The Brahmin or Guru’s name gives the family name.
Now let me explain the “Origin of Gotra” —
In Vedic Sanskrit, the word “gotra” means cow pen. Cows were the most valuable possession of a family group, so with the time, the term gotra refers to the family group who owned a pen of cows. The term was associated eventually with just the family group and its lineage. The Sanskrit term gotra was used by the Vedic people for the identification of the lineages. These lineages mean patrilineal descent from the sages or rishis in Brahmins, warriors and administrators in Kshatriyas and ancestral trade men in Vaisyas. This Patrilineal or Matrilineal system was followed by South Asian people. In present day Hinduism, gotra is applied to all lineage systems. Many Hindu castes have lineages which do not follow any Vedic classification.
The case of sage Vishwamitra is the e.g., thus the gotra must have been of the lineage of one’s birth. Rama is the descendant of Ikshwaku, but the lineage was broken when Kalmasphada got his son through Niyoga of Vasishta and Kamashpad’s wife Madayanthi, and not a biological liaison. Yet Rama belongs to Ikshwaku’s descendant & not of Vasishta. Sometimes we find a gotra is based on the Guru for the family or any of our ancestors. Many of the Niyogi Brahmins are from a Niyogi liaison, not a marital liaison.
Let me give you some detailed facts for Science of Genetics behind the Hindu Gotra System—The scientific reasoning behind the origins of the ancient gotra system & this do not do not endorse in these modern days in Hindu society to decide marriages or other things. Modern gotra is no more relevant, what I feel the best method is to verify the genetic feasibility of the marriage
Hindu Gotra system -Male lineage identification— If a person says he belongs to Bharadwaja gotra then it means that he goes back his male ancestry to the ancient Rishi Bharadwaja. So Gotra refers to root person in male lineage. The seven sacred saints + Bharadwaja Rishi, the list of root Brahmin gotras –
Angirasa, Atri, Gautam, Kashyapa, bhrigu, Vasishta, kutsa Bharadwaja
The 8 rishis are called as Gotrakarin meaning root of gotras, all other Brahmin gotras evolved from one of the above gotras, total number of Godhra’s are 49.
The word Gotra is formed from the two Sanskrit words Gau (cow) and trahi (shed). Cows are extremely considered as sacred animals to Hindus & there were best breeds of cows that ancient Hindus worshiped and hence the name gotra referring to system of maintaining individual male lineages more appropriate.
The rule of the Gotra system is that the Gotra of men remains the same, but for women after marriage she adopts the gotra of her husband. In Ancient Vedic or Hindu societies, it was preferred a son along with daughters, I find this very absurd, so that the son could carry the lineage of his fathers. I was puzzled and furious that why should sons gotra remain the same or son or carry the gotra of their father, why can’t daughters do?
What is the necessity of maintaining man’s ancestry, why not of women too? Until recently I found that scientific reasoning behind the gotra system.
In Hindu marriages, the same gotra (bride& groom) can’t marry, the reason was that they belonged to same ancestor & considered as siblings, now I find again very amusing but let me give you all a scientific reasoning for this— let me explain to you Genetically too– Chromosomes & Genes
Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and in each pair one chromosome comes from the father and the other comes from the mother. So, total we have 46 chromosomes in every cell, of which 23 comes from Mother and 23 from father. Y chromosome is always a male lineage (father-son-Grandson), son always gets it from father, while X chromosome is considered which is not preserved as it comes from both mother & father.
Y Chromosome and Vedic Gotra system—Y chromosome is the only chromosome which gets passed down only between the Lineage in men. Women never get this chromosome Y in their body. So, Y chromosome plays a vital role in Modern genetics in identifying Genealogy i.e., male ancestry of a person. And thus, the Gotra system was designed to track down the root of Y chromosome which came all the way from 1000 years of time span from Rishi Angirasa!
And if a person belongs to a gotra let’s say (Bharadwaja) with Pravaras (Angirasa, Bhaarhaspartya, bhardwaja) then it means Y chromosome came all the way from Angirasa to Bhaarhaspatya to Bharadwaja to that person. This makes it clear why females are said to belong to the Gotra of their husbands after marriage. That is because women do not carry Y chromosome and the sons will carry Y chromosome of the father and hence the gotra of woman is said to be that of her husband after marriage, I hope till now the scientific reasoning is made clear. So, we find that gotra system – An attempt to protect the Y chromosome from becoming extinct, it’s not the son is regarded as superior or other crap issues attached with, as I gave you scientific reasoning behind this issue.
Hence the ancient Vedic Rishis created the Gotra system where they barred marriage between a boy & a girl belonging to same gotra no matter how deep the lineage tree was, in a bid to prevent inbreeding & eliminate all recessive defective genes from the human DNA.
Gotra system -A window of opportunity to study the Genetics of ancient Vedic rishis-the gotra system can be checked by comparing the chromosomes(Y) of males from different families of the same gotra who are religiously following the gotra system even today. This would prove the male lineage maintenance for thousands of years but also provide us with an opportunity to extract the Y chromosome of the ancient Vedic seers and study them too. In other words, the Gotra system also does not recommend marriage with the maternal cousins even though Gotras are different. This is scientifically correct because cousin like the marriage of a son with mother’s sister’s daughter are also known to result in genetic disorders in the offspring, this was the reason attached to the gotra system.
Should Gotra system to be used for marriages—
The fact is that we are away thousands of years from when this gotra system was originated, and the Indian demographics have undergone substantial changes during these periods, whether we need to retain the gotra system to be retained to decide for marriages or not should be left to scientific reasoning. The gothra system would have had its own benefits in initial days as it prevented marriages between closely related cousins.
But now now after thousands of years have passed by, will it be appropriate to follow this gotra system, if Genetic studies reveal that there are no issues found with same gotra families then there is no point in continuing this system as such. But what I find Hinduism is so deep rooted that everything is based on scientific reasoning attached to it which is still relevant these days after thousands of years, as we find the relevance of Kautilyas Arthasastraas written ages back is still most widely used and valid for many of the present leaders to carry out the Governance & Political Machinery.
I would like to tell all eligible people who are thinking of getting married and settling down in their respective lives—Marriage is more of a divine bonding between two souls rather their physical attributes which according to me friends is temporary in nature, the essence of it (Marriage) is a divine commitment of minds & souls meeting, & no other person should interject and give their views, or rather influence their thoughts or legacies, which according to me I consider as utter rubbish .Legally boy & girl should fit in for minimal age required to get married and definitely with mutual consent not due to compulsions, like Ardhnareeswhwar (Symbolic description of Siva & Parvati) partnering their lives in all kinds of situations. In this Kaliyuga, especially in this E- age, we ought to give importance to Bhava (feelings of boy & girl) rather than other stigmas attached to it,resting it to almighty to guide for a better &blessed life.
Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavantu
Dr.S. Sukanya Iyer