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Re: Gotra

From: Venkatesh Elayavalli (elayavalli_at_HOTMAIL.COM)
Date: Tue Oct 13 1998 - 07:50:48 PDT

Dear Sri Sriram,

The gotra system is part of a two type classification
of various Brahmin families in ancient times. The two
classifications are (1) Gotra and (2) Charana.

It is believed that Charana was more a prominent than
the gotra classification. The Charana is based on the 
lineage of teachers and their students who then become
teachers. In ancient times (probably during the Rig 
Vedic Period) it was more important for Brahmins to 
be more aware of the charana as it is related to 
education more that social activites.

The gotra classification took form probably (according
to some accounts) sometime during the Yajur Veda period,
after the Rig Veda period (some scholars have attributed
this to the fact that Rig Veda seem to point to Charana
more frequently that gotra).

It is believed that the gotras (now account to a total of
49) were a plenty and started to consolidate some around
10-8 Century B. C. The present day gotra classification is
created from a core of 8 rishis (The Saptha rishis +
Agastya). The Seven rishis are Bhrigu, Visvamitra, Angirasa,
Atri, Bharadvaja, Vashistha, Kanva. 

It is believed that once there were 88000 rishis who were
following the sastras and were not tied down by the Samsara.
Of these, 8 of them desired progeny and received it. The 
first of these 8 were Agastya. All present day Brahmin
communities are said to be descendants of these 8 rishis.
The 49 or so present day gotras are based on some sort
of sub-grouping of these 8 rishis.

The sampling of various Brahmin families across India 
indicates that the gotras (their names ) vary from place
to place and may be more than 49 (this number seem to be
generally accepted by many scholars).

The gotra system was instituted for the purposes of identifying
one's ancestors and pay respects during various invocations
and other rituals to honour their fathers, fore-fathers
and so on, up to their respective rishis.

This was latter adopted to other aspects of the Brahmin
life, such as Marriage and temple worship. 

In present days, the gotra classification is mainly used for
marriages. It was manily used so that that progeney will not be 
allowed within the same gotra (sa-gora) in order to avoid 
impure matrimoney. In fact the Manusmriti (according to some
accounts) strongly advises a man NOT to seek father's sisters's
daughter, mother's sister's daughter and mother's brother's 
daughter for marriage. This however, is not followed in
many parts of India, in particular Tamil Nadu, where marriage
between brother and his elder sister's daughter is common.

It is also true that other Varnas has similar grouping and 
follow some restrictions on marriage.


Venkatesh K. Elayavalli             Cypress Semiconductor
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