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-sűtra 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 '.
There are 49 established Hindu gotras. All members of a
particular gotra are believed to possess certain common
characteristics by way of nature or profession. Many theories
have been propounded to explain this system. According to the
brahminical theory, the Brahmins are the direct descendants of
seven or eight sages who are believed to be the mind-born sons
of Brahma. They are Gautama, Bharadvaja, Vishvamitra, Jamadagni,
Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Atri. To this list, Agastya is also
sometimes added. These eight sages are called gotrakarins from
whom all the 49 gotras (especially of the Brahmins) have
evolved. For instance, from Atri sprang the Atreya and
A gotra must be distinguished from a kula.
A kula is a set of people following similar cultural rituals,
often worshiping the same divinity (the Kula-Devata,
god of the clan). Kula does not relate to lineage or caste.
In fact, it is possible to change one's kula, based on one's
faith or Iṣṭa-devatā.
It is common practice in preparation for Hindu marriage
to inquire about the kula-gotra (meaning clan lineage) of the
bride and groom before approving the marriage. In almost all
Hindu families, marriagewithin
the same gotra is prohibited, since people with same gotra
are considered to be siblings. But marriage within the kula is
allowed and even preferred.
have gotras, and follow them in marriages. For example a weaver
falls under Markandeya gotra. Markandeya was known be a
Maharishi and had 60 sons. Marriages are held within Markandeya
but never in same family name. So, every weaver falls under one
of these gotra. The family name is given by the Brahmin or
In a court case "Madhavrao vs Raghavendrarao" which involved a Deshastha
Brahmin couple, the
German scholar Max Mueller's definition of gotra as descending
from eight sages and then branching out to several families was
thrown out by reputed judges of a Bombay High Court. The
court called the idea of Brahmin families descending from an
unbroken line of common ancestors as indicated by the names of
their respective gotras impossible
to accept. The
court consulted relevant Hindu texts and stressed the need for
Hindu society and law to keep up with the times emphasizing that
notions of good social behavior and the general ideology of the
Hindu society had changed. The
court also said that the mass of material in the Hindu texts is
so vast and full of contradictions that it is almost an
impossible task to reduce it to order and coherence.
Gotra is the Sanskrit term for a much older system of tribal
clans. The Sanskrit term "Gotra" was initially used by the Vedicpeople for
the identification of the lineages. Generally, these lineages
mean patrilineal descent from the sages or rishis
in Brahmins, warriors and administrators in Kshatriyas and
ancestral trademen in Vaisyas.
The lineage system, either patrilineal or matrilineal, was
followed by the South Asian people. In present-day Hinduism,
Gotra is applied to all the lineage systems.
The case of sage Vishwamitra is the example. Thus the gotra must
have been of the lineage of the learning one chose rather than
the lineage of one's birth. Rama is stated to be the descendant
of Ikshwaku, but the lineage was broken when Kalmashpada got his
son through Niyoga of Vasishta with Kalmashapad's wife
Madayanthi, and not through a biological liaison. Yet Rama is
said to be Ikshwaku's descendant and not of Vasishta. Some claim
of a continuous biological linkage with the moola
purusha [or most
significant personality] of the Gothra, where as it need not be
the case. Some times, a Gotra is based on the Guru for the
family or one of the ancestors.
Marriages within a gotra reflect inbreeding with significant
health consequences. Inbreeding generally increases
pre-reproductive mortality and crude mortality increases with
inbreeding in proportion to the mortality rate.
Marriages and gotras
In a patrilineal Hindu society (most common), the bride belongs
to her father's gotra before the marriage, and to her husband's
gotra after the marriage. The groom on the other hand only
belongs to his father's gotra throughout his life.
Marriages within the gotra ('sagotra' marriages) are not
permitted under the rule of exogamy in
the traditional matrimonial system. The word 'sagotra' is union
the words 'sa' + gotra, where 'sa' means same or similar. People
within the gotra are regarded as kin and
marrying such a person would be thought of as incest.
The Tamil words
'sagotharan' (brother) and 'sagothari' (sister) derive their
roots from the Sanskrit word 'sahodara' (सहोदर) meaning
co-uterine or born of the same womb. In communities where gotra
membership passed from father to children, marriages were
allowed between maternal uncle and niece, while such marriages
were forbidden in matrilineal communities,
like Malayalisand Tuluvas,
where gotra membership was passed down from the mother.
A much more common characteristic of south Indian Hindu society
is permission for marriage between cross-cousins (children
of brother and sister). Thus, a man is allowed to marry his
maternal uncle's daughter or his paternal aunt's daughter, but
is not allowed to marry his father's brother's daughter. She
would be considered a parallel
cousin who is treated
as a sister.
North Indian Hindu society
not only follows the rules of gotra for marriages, but also had
many regulations which went beyond the basic definition of gotra
and had a broader definition of incestuousness. Some
communities in North India do not allow marriage with some other
communities on the lines that both the Communities are having
An acceptable social workaround for sagotra marriages is to
perform a 'Dathu' (adoption) of the bride to a family of
different gotra (usually dathu is given to the bride's maternal
uncle who obviously belongs to different gotra by the same rule)
and let them perform the 'kanniyadhanam' ('kanniya' (girl) +
'dhanam' (to donate)). However, this is easier said as it would
be quite difficult for the bride's father to watch another man
give his daughter's hand away in marriage in his own presence.
Khap panchayats in Haryana have been making a huge fuss over
banning "same gotra marriages." Kadyan Khap International
convener Naresh Kadyan had moved a petition seeking amendment to
the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) so as to legally prohibit marriages
in the same gotra. However, the petition was dismissed as
withdrawn after a vacation Bench of Justices S N Dhingra and A K
Pathak of the Delhi High Court warned that a heavy cost would be
imposed on the petitioner for wasting the time of the court. In
course of the proceedings, the bench observed, “You don’t know
what is a gotra. Which Hindu text prescribes banning of sagotra
(same clan) marriage? Why are you wasting the time of the court?
If you are not able to substantiate your words, then you should
not have come before the court.”