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Re: Gothrams

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Mon Aug 07 1995 - 14:48:37 PDT

I would like to make a few comments on gotrams.

>From a sociological standpoint, gotrams for most
south Indian brahmins (and for that matter, probably
all brahmins), are probably useless, since each gotram
by now has probably assimilated countless numbers of
non-brahmins, or was a concoction from the very beginning.

Many brahmins of South India, particlarly Sri Vaishnava
brahmins, are of mixed origin.  This can be gleaned from
the very early days of the movement, when accusations
were made by other brahmins that Pancaratra Vaishnavas 
(i.e., Sri Vaishnavas) were not "true" brahmins.  This
contention is discussed in detail by Yamunacharya in
his Agama PraamaNya.  The fact that he needs to defend
the brahminical origin of Vaishnavas implies that the
movement had a great deal of social fluidity. Dr. Srinivasan
also has some other speculations in this regard.

I am nominally of Srivatsa gotram, but I doubt if I
have any real connection to bhaargava, cyavana, and other
rishis.  My connection with Nammalvar and Ramanuja on
both a psychological and social level is probably much
more direct.

Speaking of gotram concoction, I surmise that the
"SathamarShaNa" gotram that is so common among Sri
Vaishnavas (my mother's side included) is because
of Nathamuni and Yamunacharya's direct spiritual connection
with Nammalvar, who is called "Sathakopa" in Sanskrit.
I also doubt if they are direct descendants of the Vedic
rishis; they may have adopted sathamarshana as their
gotram to indicate greater connection with the Alvar.

The gotrams themselves are regionalized, indicating a
later origin to the separate gotrams. Dr. G.S Ghurye,
a prominent Indian sociologist, has noted that many
gotrams are exclusive to a particular region. The
implications of this are pretty obvious.  An isolated
group of people could easily invent or assimilate
into a gotram, a very valuable thing considering the 
status that brahminhood conveyed.

>From a Vaishnavite standpoint, gotrams are in the end
to be transcended and avoided. There is a verse:

	ekaanti vyapadeshtavyo naiva graama kulaadibhih
	vishnunaa vyapadestavyo ...

Unfortunately, I cannot remember the last paadam of
this verse, but it is quoted by Azhagiya Manavaala
Perumal Nayanaar in the Acharya Hridayam.  The verse
means that a "ekaanti", a single-minded Vaishnava,
should not adorn himself with connections to his
village or his kula (gotram).  Rather, he should
recognize himself as Vishnu's and Vishnu's alone,
and call himself Ramanuja-daasan, Sri Vaishnava
Daasan, Ranganaatha Daasan, and refer to a divya-ksetra
as his town.

I believe Desikar replaces his standard "abhivaadanam"
in his Prabandhasaaram with references to the Azhvaars
and the Prabandham, since they are his more significant
spiritual forebears.

I also think gotram tends to set apart brahmins from
non-brahmins, a vestige of an often distasteful social 
past that I would rather move away from.  For this 
very reason, I avoid reference to it, as well as to the 
term "Iyengar", whose meaning is shrouded in confusion. 
The term "Sri Vaishnava" is so much more appealing.