Brahmin Gothra System

 
The word "gotra" means "lineage" in the Sanskrit language. Among those of the Brahmin caste, gotras are reckoned patrilineally. Each gotra takes the name of a famous Rishi or sage who was the patrilineal forebearer of that clan. And each Gotra is addressed by the suffix 'sa' or 'asa' as relevant.
The concept of Gotra was the first attempt among Brahmins to classify themselves among different groups. At the beginning, these gentes identified themselves by the names of various rishis (Angirasa, Atri, Gautam, Kashyapa, Bhrigu, Vasistha, Kutsa,and Bharadwaja; the first seven of these are often enumerated as Saptarishis). It is to be noted that Vishwamitra was initially a Kshatriya king, who later chose and rose to become an ascetic rishi. Hence the gotra was applied to the grouping stemming from one of these rishis as his descendants
 

Many lines of descent from the major rishis were later grouped separately. Accordingly, the major gotras were divided into ganas (subdivisions) and each gana was further divided into groups of families. The term gotra was then frequently started being applied to the ganas and to the sub-ganas.

Every brahmin claims to be a direct patrilinial descendant of one of the founding rishis of a certain gana or sub-gana. It is the gana or sub-gana that is now commonly referred to as gotra.

Over the years, the number of gotras increased due to:

  1. Descendants of original rishi also started new family lineage or new gotras,
  2. By inter marriage with other sub-groups of the same caste, and
  3. Inspired by another rishi whose name they bear as their own gotra.

Pravara is the number of the most excellent (-cf. reference, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Monier-Williams) rishis who belonged to that particular gotra to which a person belongs. Gotra is the name of the founding father. In vedic ritual, the importance of the pravara appears to be in its use by the ritualist for extolling his ancestry and proclaiming, "as a descendant of worthy ancestors, I am a fit and proper person to do the act I am performing." The sacred thread yajnopavita worn on upanayana has close connection with the concept of pravaras related to brahmin gotra system. While tying the knots of sacred thread, an oath is taken in the name of each one of these three or five of the most excellent rishis belonging to one's gotra.

The full affiliation of a brāhamana consists of (1)gotra, (2)pravaras (3)sutra (of Kalpa), (4)shakha.

(Example :) A brahmana named 'X' introduces himself as follows : I am 'X', of Shrivatsa gotra, of Āpastamba sutra, of Taittiriya shākha of Yajurveda, of five pravaras named Bhārgava, Chyāvana, Āpnavan, Aurva and Jāmdagnya (This example is based upon the example given by Pattābhirām Shastri in the introduction to Vedārtha-Pārijata, cf. ref.).

While the gotras were classified initially according to nine (?) rishis, the pravaras were classified under the names of the following seven rishis:

According to the listing of authors included in the verses in Rigved, the rishi Jamadagni was a descendant of rishi Bhrigu while the rishis Gautam and Bharadwaja were the descendants of rishi Angirasa.

The pravara identifies the association of a person with three or sometimes five of the above-mentioned rishis.

For example, Kashyapa Gothram has 3 rishis associated with it viz. Kashyapa, Daivala and Aavatsaara

Gothras and Pravaras

  1. Suryadhwaja: Lakhi (Mehrishi), Soral, Binju
  2. Bharadwaja: Angirasa, Bruhaspatya (i.e. bruhaspati), Bharadwaja
  3. Rathitara: Baaryhaspatya, Angirasa, Rathitara
  4. Vatula/Vadula: Bhargava,Vaitahavya,Saavedasa
  5. Srivatsa: Bhargava,Chyaavana,Aapnavaana,Aurva,Jaamadaghneya
  6. Salankayana: Viswaamitra, Aghamarshana, Devarata
  7. Shatamarshana: Angirasa, Powrukutsa,Traasatasya
  8. Atreyasa: Atreyasa,Aarchanaasa,Syaavatsyasa
  9. Kowsika: Vishwamitra,Aghavarshana,Kowsika
  10. Kalabodhana/Kalabhavasa(3 variations)
  11. Kalabodhana: Viswaamitra,AAgamarshana,Kalabodhana
  12. Kalaboudha:Viswaamitra,AAgamarshana,Kalaboudha
  13. Kalabhavasa:Viswaamitra,AAgamarshana,Kalabhavasa
  14. Viswamitra: Viswamitra,Devarata, Owtala
  15. Kaundinyasa: Vasista,Maitraavaruna, Kaundinya
  16. Haritasa: Angirasa, Ambarisha,Yuvanasva
  17. Gautamasa: Angirasa,Aayasyasa, Gautama
  18. Mowdgalya(3 Variations)
  19. Angirasa,Bharmyasva,Mowdgalya
  20. Tarkshya,Bharmyasva,Mowdgalya
  21. Angirasa, Dhavya, Mowdgalya
  22. Sandilya (4 Variations)
  23. Kasyapasa,Aavatsaara,Daivala
  24. Kasyapasa,Aavatsaara,Sandilya
  25. Kasyapasa, Daivala, Asitha
  26. Kasyapa, Aavatsaara, Naidruva(Naitruva), Rebha, Raibha , Sandila, Saandilya
  27. Naitruvakaasyapa: Kasyapa,Aavatsara,Naitruva
  28. Kutsa: Angirasa,Maandhatra,Kowtsa
  29. Kanva (2 Variations)
  30. Angirasa,Ajameeda,Kaanva
  31. Angirasa,Kowra, Kaanva
  32. Parashara: Vasista, Saaktya, Parashara
  33. Agastyasa: Agastya,Tardhachyuta,Sowmavaha
  34. Gargi (2 Variations)
  35. Angirasa,Bharhaspatya,Bharadwaja,upadhyay
  36. Angirasa, Sainya, Gaargya
  37. Bhadarayana: Angirasa,Paarshadaswa, Raatitara
  38. Kasyapa (3 Variations)
  39. Kasyapa, Aavatsaara, Daivala
  40. Kasyapa, Aavatsaara, Naidruva(Naitruva)
  41. Kasyapa, Aavatsaara, Naidruva(Naitruva), Rebha, Raibha , Sandila, Saandilya
  42. Sunkriti (2 Variations)
  43. Angirasa,Kowravidha,Saankritya
  44. Sadhya,Kowravidha,Saankritya
  45. Angirasa, Pourukutsya, Thraasadasya
  46. Gautamasa: Aangeerasa, ayasya, gowtama
  47. AgniVaiwaswatha: Angirasa, Brahaspthayasa, Bharadwaja, Srukva, Agnivaiwaswathasa
  48. Sankhyayana:Vishwamitra,Aghamarshana,Devaratha
    1. Vishwamitra, Shraumita, Kaamakayana, Devatarasa, Devaraata, Panchashraya
  49. Kapi: Angirasa,Amahaiya,Orukshaya,
  50. Vartantu
  51. Kutsasa: Angirasa,Mandhatha,Kutsa,
  52. Rauksaayana:Angiras, Mandhana, Madhuvachasa
  53. Viswamitra:Viswamitra,AAgamarshana,lohitasya

 

In general, gotra denotes all persons who trace descent in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor. Panini defines gotra for grammatical purposes as ' apatyam pautraprabhrti gotram' (IV. 1. 162), which means 'the word gotra denotes the progeny (of a sage) beginning with the son's son. When a person says ' I am Kashypasa-gotra' he means that he traces his descent from the ancient sage Kashyapa by unbroken male descent. According to the Baudhâyanas'rauta-sûtra Vishvâmitra, Jamadagni, Bharadvâja, Gautama, Atri, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Agastya are 8 sages; the progeny of these eight sages is declared to be gotras. This enumeration of eight primary gotras seems to have been known to PâNini. The offspring (apatya) of these eight are gotras and others than these are called ' gotrâvayava '.

The gotras are arranged in groups, e. g. there are according to the Âsvalâyana-srautasûtra four subdivisions of the Vasishtha gana, viz. Upamanyu, Parâshara, Kundina and Vasishtha (other than the first three). Each of these four again has numerous sub-sections, each being called gotra. So the arrangement is first into ganas, then into pakshas, then into individual gotras. The first has survived in the Bhrigu and Ângirasa gana. According to Baud, the principal eight gotras were divided into pakshas. The pravara of Upamanyu is Vasishtha, Bharadvasu, Indrapramada; the pravara of the Parâshara gotra is Vasishtha, Shâktya, Pârâsharya; the pravara of the Kundina gotra is Vasishtha, Maitrâvaruna, Kaundinya and the pravara of Vasishthas other than these three is simply Vasishtha. It is therefore that some define pravara as the group of sages that distinguishes the founder (lit. the starter) of one gotra from another.

There are two kinds of pravaras, 1) sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara, and 2) putrparampara. Gotrapravaras can be ekarsheya, dwarsheya, triarsheya, pancharsheya, saptarsheya, and up to 19 rishis. Kashyapasa gotra has at least two distinct pravaras in Andhra Pradesh: one with three sages (triarsheya pravara) and the other with seven sages (saptarsheya pravara). This pravara may be either sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara or putraparampara. When it is sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara marriage is not acceptable if half or more than half of the rishis are same in both bride and bridegroom gotras. If it is putraparampara, marriage is totally unacceptable even if one rishi matches.

Due to the diversity in religious and cultural traditions and practices, and the Vedic schools which they belong to, Brahmins are further divided into various subcastes.
The Beginning of Divisions among Brahmins: sutra Period: During the sutra period, roughly between 1000 BC to 200 BC, Brahmins became divided into various Sakhas or branches, based on the adoption of different Vedas and different readings and interpretations of Vedas.  Sects or schools for different denominations of the same Veda were formed, under the leadership of distinguished teachers among Brahmins.   The teachings of these distinguished rishis are called sutras.  Every Veda has its own sutras. The sutras that deal with social, moral and legal precepts are called dharma sutras, whereas those sutras that deal with ceremonials are called Srauta sutras and domestic rituals are called gruhya sutrassutras are generally written in prose or in mixed prose and verse.  These sutras are based on divine Vedas and are manmade and hence are called Smritis, meaning “recollected or remembered.”

There are several Brahmin law givers such as Angirasa, Apasthambha, Atri, Brihaspati, Boudhayana, Daksha, Gautama, Harita, Katyayana, Likhita, Manu, Parasara, Samvarta, Sankha, Satatapa, Usanasa, Vasishta, Vishnu, Vyasa, Yajnavalkya and Yama.  These twenty-one rishis were the propounders of Dharma Sastras.  There is a lot of contradiction among theseDarmasastas, even within one Smriti.  These differences in the rules and rituals resulted in the rigid stratification of subcastes among Brahmins. None of these smritis is supreme and universally applicable throughout the Indian Continent.  The oldest among these Dharma Sutras are Apasthambha, Baudhayana, Gautama and Vasishta Sutras.

   Apasthambha: Apasthambha, a native of Andhra Country, belonged to Krishnayajurveda School. He belonged to fifth century BC. Apasthambha’s teachings are called Apasthambhasutra or Apasthambhasmriti.
     Baudhayana: Baudhayana also belonged to Krishnayajurveda School and was an inhabitant of Andhra Country. Baudhayana’s teachings are called Baudhayanasutra or Baudhayanasmriti.
     Brihaspati: Brihaspati was probably the first jurist to make a clear distinction between civil and criminal justice. Yajnavalkya referred to Brihaspati.  However, Brihaspati is considered to belong to 200-400 AD.  Brihaspatismriti has a lot of similarities with Dhammathats of Myanmar (Burma). 
   Gautama: Gautama was the most ancient sage of all Brahmin lawgivers. He was quoted by Baudhayana and belonged to Samaveda School.  Gautama’s teachings are called Gautamasutra or Gautamasmriti.
    Harita: Baudhayana and Vasishta in their Dharmasutras quote Harita.  Haritasmriti or Haritasutra is an extensive work.
   Katyayana: Yajnavalkya mentions Katyayana. Katyayanasmriti is quoted in several works of Viswarupa, Mitramisra etc.  Smriti Chandrika cites 600 verses of Katyayanasutras. He may belong to the same period as Narada and Brihaspati.
    Manu: Manu is a mythical personality and is the ancestor of the entire humankind.  Manu received the code from Brahma, and communicated it to ten sages and requested Bhrigu rishi to repeat it to the other nine.  This code of conduct recited by Bhrigu is called Manusmriti.  For convenience, the British took Manusmriti as the paramount law of the Indian Continent. Manudharma is not only revered by Brahmins and Hindus, but also by Buddhists in Java, Siam and Myanamar.  Manusmriti was composed around 200 BC, around which time a revival of Brahminism took place under the rule Sungas in the North India.
   Narada: Sage Narada was probably a native of Nepal around first century AD.  Naradasmriti is the first legal code unhampered by the mass of religious and moral teachings. Some authors think that Narada belonged to Gupta period when there was a distinct revival of Brahminism and Sanskrit literature.
    Vasishta: Vasishta belonged to 3rd century BC and a native of North India. Vasishta’s teachings are called Vasishtasutra or Vasishtasmriti.
    Vishnu: Vishnu belonged to 1st or 2nd century AD. Vishnu’s teachings are called Vishnusutra or Vishnusmriti.
   Yajnavalkya: Yajnavalkya belonged to Suklayajurveda School12.  He was a native of Mithila City in North Bihar and probably lived anywhere from few centuries before Christ to 200 AD.  However, some scholars think he belonged to first or second century AD.  Yajnavalkya Dharmasmriti has been subject of numerous commentaries. The most celebrated of all the commentaries of Yajnavlkyasmriti is Mitakshara and is practically the beginning of the Brahmin law and the so-called Hindu law.  Passages from Mitakshara have been found practically in every part of the Indian Continent and became an authority.  The Yajnavlkyasmriti is concise, more systematic and better arranged than the Manusmriti. From early times, commentators like Viswarupa, Vijnaneswara, Apararka, Sulapani, Mitramisra etc., from every part of India selected the Yajnavalkyasmriti as the basis of their commentaries.  Passages from Yajnavalkyasmiriti appeared in Panchatantra.
 
Other important Brahmins who gave smritis/sutras/laws are: Angirasa, Atri, Daksha, Devala, Laugakshi, Prajapati, Pitamaha, Pulatsya, Yama, Vyasa, Samvarta and Satatapa.  Prominent smriti writers of later age include, Devanabhatta or Devanandabhatta of Madras province, who belonged to ~1200 AD and wrote Smritichandrika, and Madhavacharya or Vidyaranya, who was the Prime Minister of Vijayanagara dynasty and pontiff for some time of the celebrated mutth at Sringeri in Mysore province. He wrote Parasaramadhaviya, which is a commentary on Parasarasmriti.

Subpages (1): Gothra Table
Comments