What is a Gothra?

Lineage is more than just knowing the names of ancestors and feeling proud of them. Lineage is not mere legacy either. Contrary to the highly trumpeted western view that ‘all are humans at the end of the day,’ a real lineage as per Vedic definition takes into consideration various parameters of geography, history and patrilineal heritage of descent.

‘We all are humans at the end of the day’ rises out of an Abrahamic egalitarianism that everybody is Abraham’s descendant and hence, everyone is of the same stock of people. This in turn is backed by a pseudo-scientific theory of Adam – that Adam and Eve were the first and only humans whose incestuous immediate descendants spawned a whole race called the humans. Likewise, the Hindu liberal today loves portraying Manu as the equal of Adam – a fallacy in itself.

The Gothra system is elaborate as it is highly diverse in its approach. Unlike what many ignorant Hindus believe, we all are NOT the children of Manu. Manu was not even a single person. Other civilizations too followed the gothra. In Sassanid era texts, we find the word ‘Gohra’ to define a person’s stock and background. The Iranian sage Zarathushtra was from a Gothra/Gohra known as Spitaman – a name after which a region in Tajikistan today has been named.

Manu is a generic definition for any Swayambhuva created by Brahma. As to what a swayambhuva is – it is a being who was given the ability of self-spawning by Brahma. In other words – it is a being formed in nature whose basis of creation was laid down by Brahma (who in turn is a swayambhuva himself from Vishnu’s navel). Every age of these beings’ manifestation is therefore called a ‘Manvantara.’ There many many Manus – Kusha, Vasishta, Bhrigu, Atri, Angirasa, etc.

Each of these Manus gave birth to children – each of whom in turn gave rise to entire corpuses of social groups which we in English call as ‘tribes.’ The children’s descendants took various paths in life and pretty much the entirety of those we call ‘Hindus’ today are progeny of these first-made self-made beings. And hence, the descendants of these ‘Manus’ are called ‘Manava’ – a word erroneously translated in Hindi as Mankind. Manava refers NOT to ‘Mankind,’ but to Manus’ kindred.

Now unlike the Abrahamic view that everyone came from one man and one woman, the Vedic view takes into account that many such Manus would have existed and therefore, the source of mankind was not a single man and woman, but Brahma Himself who Himself comes from Vishnu’s navel. In other words, the manava come from God and not the incest of a single family. Every such group of manava trace their descent to an historical patriarch who revealed to them a part of the cosmic wisdom which we call the Vedas and all these primordial forefathers’ descendants put together these Vedas into the corpuses (or their remnants) which we read today.

Allegation 1: Gothra is a preserve of the Brahmins

The modern liberal Hindu however hates the very word gothra, constantly throwing the allegation that it is a preserve of the Brahmins. If it was a Brahmin preserve, why then was the swayambhuva called Kusha a Kshatriya? Kusha’s son was Kushanabha whose son was Kaushika – the titanic Godly figure we today call by the name of Vishwamithra.

Why do Rajputs belonging to the Paramara, Pratihara, Chauhan and Chalukya lineages trace their descent back to a Brahmin Agastya? If they also be as brahminical as the liberal Hindu alleges, why are Gujjars (a descendant group of the Pratihara Rajputs) a reserved ‘backward’ community? Should their gothra privilege not make them upper caste supremacists?

The very claim of some kind of brahmin agenda behind the gothra has a singular purpose – that the allegation be used to overshadow the actual proud origins of these lineages. Agastya for instance raised the forefathers of some Kshatriya lineages from his sacrificial fire and therefore, the Kshatriyas tracing their lineage to these bloodlines have a sage and a God (Agni) as their progenitors.

Likewise, Vaishyas following gothras such as Mahawar claim a history similar to that of any swayambhuva – spawned lineage – of descent from Brahma’s thighs. The liberal Hindu cannot understand that even the Shudra has a gothra – Nammazhvar for instance was from a background, some of whose branch-lineages called themselves Shudras later. He was no Brahmin and today he is worshipped as a Saint who attained moksha at the hand of Vishnu Himself.

The reason why the gothra system became something associated in a rather biased manner towards Brahmins and the so-called upper class Hindus is due to a western propaganda that only they have reserved the right to maintain a claim to a lineage. If that claim were true, then why did we upper class Hindus not take the pains to erase our scriptures clean off any and every reference to great men and women from the so called lower classes? We could have easily done it considering that even today, most people with any knowledge of Sanskrit are Brahmins alone.

The atom-sized brain of the Hindu liberal cannot comprehend that even if taken simply as a concept of lineage without its various puranic complexities, the gothra system stresses ultimately on one and only one truth – That we all come from the navel of the Great Vishnu – He who sees all, knows all and makes all things happen. We are all from that great supreme cosmic union called Vishnu.

Allegation 2: Brahmins created the gothra for ‘blood purity.’

If you can conclusively state that your forefathers and theirs before them share a common patriarch as an ancestor, why would you want to go out of your way to taint your own gene pool by marrying back into it? We all know that the father’s chromosome defines the child’s very gender and yet, when the Hindu scripture states that exact same thing with much greater spiritual depth, it gets branded as right wing Hindutva fascism.

If Brahmins cared so much for blood purity, I wouldn’t exist, for my patriarchal ancestor Bhrigu and his descendant Jamadagni wouldn’t have married Kshatriyas by whom they have spawned my entire lineage. Even though this does not justify random marriage between lineages, it does state to a fact that blood purity by itself is a concept of western racial thought. If blood purity was such an important aspect of the so-called ‘upper caste’ Hindu, why is it that not all of these upper caste Hindus have white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair with robotic uniformity? Why is it that I, as a Brahmin, have brown skin, some of my ‘pure-blooded’ Brahmin and Kshatriya friends have black skin and Lord Krishna himself had black skin while his brother Balarama was white of skin?

If anything, the gothra system encourages controlled marital diversity while the idea of its so called divisiveness is a western propaganda, whose ethos again are based on the Abrahamic idea that since all humans are the product of incest, the lineage of whom you marry today should not even matter. By that logic, I fail to understand why the western liberal won’t marry his own mother or aunt. After all, is it not a statement of pride to marry into the same lineage and aren’t all humans of the same lineage (by their logic)? Go figure.

Allegation 3: Upper caste Hindus have a gothra based close-mindedness

If that were true, most Hindus of the so called upper castes would be purely endogamous and yet, data today suggests more mixed marriages among Hindus than any of the egalitarianism-preaching minority religions in Bharat (and then again we notice that Muslims and Christians today see caste-based compatibility more than Hindus. Ever heard of a Chettiar Christian or a Rajput Muslim? Go figure).

Fact is, most Hindus don’t know their lineages or are steadily and voluntarily forgetting them, for such knowledge they feel makes them look like supremacists. That again is the individual problem of the inferiority-complex ridden Hindu liberal and not the concept of gothra whose most dilute understanding itself states (I repeat) – that the kindred of Manu came from diverse self-made men who in turn were all made BY GOD.

Allegation 4: Gothras are divisive in nature

Genetically, it is. Socially, it is not. Genetic diversity and its maintenance is something that modern science itself calls as healthy. Yet if a Sanskrit scripture states anything to that same effect, it should obviously be Hindutva Brahmin baby-killers’ propaganda, right?

Maintaining your genetic diversity in a controlled fashion is a basis of marriage in Hindu Dharma. Hence, the gothra is one of the many parameters that a traditional Hindu union considers before solemnizing a union. Thus, a Kaushika Brahmin cannot marry a Kaushika Brahmin, a Kaundinya cannot marry a Kaundinya and so on and so forth. If the liberal Hindu believes that this is some kind of social division, then he can probably practice the ‘peaceful’ egalitarianism of marrying his sister or even a child. After all, if Hindu scripture and science say the same thing, the former is blasphemy to the liberal, the latter is sacrosanct, and yet the contrary to both is good practice. Go figure.

Allegation 5: Brahmins denied the right of gothra to all other ‘low castes’

If that were really the Brahmins’ intent, they’d have done it long long ago when the Vedas were revealed. Our entire corpus of legendarium would have never come to pass as:

  1. Krishna would have been maintained in the status of a low caste shepherd beggar by the conspiring Brahmins of Mathura.
  2. Dasharatha would have been illiterate for the evil Vashishta would have denied him any knowledge and enslaved him to his wiles.
  3. Vishwamithra would have never existed as Vishwamithra.
  4. Jamadagni would have become an outcast because his wife Renuka was a Kshatriya (as a consequence of which, I would not be writing this today).

So on and so forth. Point is, that many Hindu lineages have forgotten their gothras. You cannot blame the concept and scripture for human folly and forgetfulness.

What we can learn

Albeit that mixed marriages occur in puranas and scriptures, you cannot use that to justify random wedlock happening today between random individuals. Note, that the presence of the same in scripture were allowed exceptions and never rules. As to whether it is a sin to marry into another caste – the definition of your punya or paap is a matter of the karmic consequences such wedlock leave. For instance, if your wedlock spawns a monster (whose creation was your doing by and large), then no matter the lineage compatibility, you are a greater sinner than someone who married outside a defined caste but led a noble life and spawned God-believing offspring. Karma decides a sin.

Your lineage is something to look up to but let that not lead you to arrogance. In the words of my Sanskrit teacher Shri N. Panchapakesan:

Your ancestor might have been Ramanujacharya, Madhwacharya or Adishankara. That doesn’t mean you are as great as them just because you are their descendant. You need to look up to them, learn from them and live up to them at all times to be their equal.

After all, were not Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha the sons of the noble Kashyapa? And was not Prahlada the son of Hiranyakashipu?

(This article originally appeared as a post on Facebook.)

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About the Author

Aashrai Arun Shrivaths
I am a Hindu