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Re: Gotram question by Balaraman M. Sriram

From: Srinath Chakravarty (
Date: Mon Dec 14 1998 - 15:01:46 PST

Balaraman M Sriram (
Mon, 12 Oct 1998 13:49:20 PDT 

Dear Sri Vaishnavas,

I have a simple question. What exactly is a gotra/m ? and what
does it signify ? I have heard the gotram being mentioned
while performing archana in the temple and have always
wondered what it is .

Please pardon my ignorance.



Dear Balaraman:
       Your question is not very simple; it is like wanting to know
for sure what homo sapiens' ancestry was like.  They say among the
Acharyas, that one never questions either the Rishi moolam or the
Nadi moolam; i.e. the origins of hermits and rivers.  This is not to
mean that we shouldn't be curious about the same, it just means that
we should try not to dispute the oral traditions.  
       With that said, let me venture to state that gotram usually 
represents the Rishi moolam of your paternal ancestry.  It is not
sectarian, since brahmana, kshatriya and possibly even vaishyas may have 
gotram associated with their lineage (just as much as the rishis 
themselves were a diverse group).  The majority of Srivaishnavas
belong to one of eleven gotrams, such as Gargai, Kaushika, Srivatsa,
Sadamarshana, Atreya, Bharadwaja, etc.  Each of these are associated
with one or more rishis of yore.  While it might be puzzling as to
how more than one rishi could "father" a lineage, the traditional
explanation is that gotrams (such as Srivatsa, for example) represent 
the offspring of the combined spiritual prowess of its five rishis, 
which include Bharvaga and Jamadagni.  This is analogous to the yagnya
performed by King Drupada, which "yielded" him his son Dhristadyumna.
       The gotram therefore, is a Vedic record of sorts and so would
have no equivalents in the anArya (Dravidian) societies which perhaps
even practiced matrilineal customs.  As a matter of fact it is thought
that the reason why gotrams exist in Southern India (where they are
likely confined only to Brahmins) is because of the "migration" of
rishis (such as Agastya) south of the Vindhyas, after the end of the
Dwaparayuga.  And, as you may be aware, marriages within the same
gotram are considered inappropriate even though the people may be
unrelated, because ultimately they trace their roots to the same
paternal rishi moolam.       
        This is my first posting to this group.  Please feel free to
write to me with any comments/corrections/suggestions.  Have a happy
Maarkazhi season.


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