Sunday, May 30, 2010

#35. Gotra System in Modern Context

Hindu Gotra System
Media been giving wide coverage to the Khap Panchayats and their unreasonably rigid and inflexible stand on the question of same gotra marriages.
What What is gotra and how did it come about? It was the Brahmins who first tried to classify themselves according to gotra. This later on got extended to other varnas (Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra)) as well. To understand the concept, let us confine to gotra system in Brahmins. Each gotra takes the name of a famous rishi or sage, who was the patrilineal forebear of the clan. The original rishis after whom the gotras were named were eight in number namely Angiras, Atri, Gautam, Kashyapa, Bhrigu, Vashishtha, Kutsa and Bharadvaj. Gotras were further subdivided into ganas and sub ganas. Another concept is that of Pravars or Pravar Rishis who were 3 or 5 most excellent sages belonging to that gotra. Each Brahmin was known by his gotra, pravar, sutra and shakha. Thus introducing himself one has to say “I am XYZ of Srivatsa gotra of Apstamba sutra, of Tathiriya shakha of Yajurved, of the five Pravars named Bhargava, Chyavan, Aapnavan, Aurva and Jamdagnya.” (Example taken from Wikipedia).
While the gotras were initially classified under eight rishis, pravars were classified under seven rishis named Agastya, Angiras, Atri, Bhrigu, Kashyapa, Vashishtha and Vishwamitra.
Marriage between close relations increases the chances of congenital birth defects through an increase in the frequency of homozygots. A case in point is the Habsburg lip which by intermarriages was aggravated to the point that Charles II of Spain could not even properly chew his food. Even during those olden days in India, our ancestors were aware of the deleterious effect on progeny of marriage between close relatives. With a small population those belonging to the same gotra generally were related either closely or remotely either from the paternal side or the maternal side. And therefore, sagotra marriage or marriage within the same gotra was prohibited. It was a simple way of keeping the younger members of your family healthy both physically and mentally, so that he is fit to work in the fields, or fight in a battle, or work as a priest (I am talking of all the varnas together).As the population increased so did the number of gotras. Jamdagni descended (and got separated ) from Bhrigu, and so did Gautam and Bharadwaj from Angiras. Some other sages formed their own gotra. But then the number count stopped. At the last count there were about 119 gotras. No separate gotra for Ramtirth, Dayanand, Ramkrishna, Vivekanand or Ambedkar.
Later some types of relaxation were made for marriage between relatives, mainly for property considerations. Like South Indian Hindu society allowed marriage to maternal uncle’s daughter, or paternal aunt’s daughter., But marriage to father’s brother’s daughter was not allowed, as they belonged to the same gotra in the patrilineal society. (cross cousins vs, parallel cousins). With the increase in population, a short cut was evolved which allowed sagotra marriage by the maternal uncle adopting the bride. In matrilineal society of Kerala, the type of marriages allowed in patrilineal society was not allowed, as the gotra descended from the mother’s side.
So are the Khap Panchayats justified in taking an aggressive and sometimes violent stand against same gotra marriages? They have now extended their demand to ban same village marriage as well on the argument that generally the villages were originally settled by one extended family only. I do not think that the Khap are justified in taking this reactionary stand. It is a throwback to the times not by a few centuries but a few millennia., distorting the meaning of a good system for reasons which are beyond understanding. When the population of the entire country (India+Pakistan) was less than a crore during the days of Mahabharat, banning marriages in the same gotra had some justification, but it is hardly justified for a burgeoning Hindu population of about 900 million and which is still growing.


Water Engineer said...

Gotra is still a relevant factor, even in urban settings. In fact there is an increased awareness of one's gotra these days. In fact, the first question is GOTRA. If they clash, the matrimony propsal is closed summarily.

In N. India it is strictly adhered by each and every caste, even the so called dalit and OBC castes.

Inter-gotra marriage is the rule. Intra gotra marriage none accepts.

S. indians have their customery laws, and N. indians do not comment on them. But even in S. India, marriage between close relatives as quoted is dropping off.

Anand Kumar Bhatt said...

Mr. Engineer, What you say is corect for the semi-urban and rural India, and not for the urban area. No doubt intra gotra marriages are frowned upon, but they happen sometimes and they deserve connivance or sympathy, and not violent or coercive action as we are seeing today happening in north-western part of the country. My own cousin was married to a sagotra, and at the time of her marriage she was adopted by my paternal aunt's son who gave her away in Kanyadaan, the father was sad and unhappy but was helpless. What my argument in the blog is that for a huge Hindu population which exists today throughout the world, gotra system especially for marriages has lost its significance.

Cult said...

I think the gotra system is baseless

you can read more here

Dr. Amodini said...

Consanguinity in modern usage has nothing to do with this custom of disallowing sagotra marriages. It was fairly common to wed the maternal uncle or maternal cousin, especially among the Kshatriyas in Maharashtra.

Anand Kumar Bhatt said...

Dr. Amodini: I am puzzled about the Muslims who can marry paternal uncle's daughter or other near relation. How come the law of genetics regarding retardation (or whatever the word) does not apply to them?

Wanderer said...

I am a Brahmin by birth and married to thesame gotra woman. I have two daughters, adjudged by a padetrician and later GPs as "physically fit" and in fact to the triple star category in terms of their immunity, height/growth patterns, sleep patrerns and general well-being. I am extremely happy with the conjugal compatibility and children; and pleased with my decision to marry a girl whom i liked, in spite of the knowledge that we had same gotra. Practically speaking, Gotra means little to me. I hope we all learn to stay with changing times. Incidentally, i consider myself a well-educated, progressive, culturally aware person.