The True meaning of “Gotra” in Hindu Tradition and how it got mixed up

You can understand when the village Khap Panchayat invokes the concept of Gotra during marriage. But when highly educated, modern, urban relatives start talking of how they will not have their children married to prospective grooms or brides from the same Gotra it gets me angry and worried.  This Blog is dedicated to all these people.

Firstly lets understand whats the meaning of the word “Gotra”

The word Gotra is formed from the two Sanskrit words Gau (meaning Cow) and Trahi (meaning Shed). Note that the English word Cow is a derived word of the Sanskrit word Gau with the same meaning Gau. So Gotra means Cowshed. In Atharva Ved, it is referred to a clan

 The traditionalists and the Khap interpret this as family lineage.

They claim that 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, Vashista, Kashyapa and Atri. To this list, Agasthya 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 Gavisthiras gotras

I dont agree – let me disprove this with simple Mathematics

  • Total Population of India  = 1.2 B
  • Total Population of Brahmins in India = 120 M ( assuming 10% – the actual figure is lesser)
  • On an average if we distribute this across the 6 Main Gotra thats 20M Brahmins / Gotra.
  • So Bhardwaj Gotra should have 20 M people – 10 M men and 10 M women.
  • If Sage Bhardwaj is our patrimonial starting point in the lineage lets do a backward calculation using the an annual population growth rate of 1 % , the formulae is simple , 10 M = 1 ( 1 + 1/100)^ n. That would solve for n = 1620.
  • In other words if Sage Bhardwaj lived 1620 years back i.e. in 394 AD then at a 1.2% annual population growth the size of the Bhardwaj male clan would be 10M today.

But hindu Mythology says that Sage Bhardwaja one of the 7 original Rishis who lived many 1000 years back. If we date the Mahabharata to 2000 BC ( as many historians do ) , then Sage Bhardwaj would have lived around 1900 BC since he was the father of Dronacharya. Some say that the Mahabarata and the origin of the sages date back to the time of Adi Yogi which could even be 10,000  BC.

So clearly Sage Bhardwaja did not live in 394 AD, because if history documents Buddha and Mahavira from 500 BC then Sage Bhardwaja would have found reference in our History books. Like always the dots in hindu mythology never add up.

Let me share a possible view of what could have been a strong case for the creation of Gotra’s and this logic comes from the meaning of the word ” Cowshed”

Lets assume the year was 2500 BC. Man was a nomad. He had just learnt to domesticate animals. The Cow was the source of livelihood & food it was central to the economy of India in 2500 BC. Like normal tribes these wandering nomads used to cover vast distances with their families and cows always on the lookout for greener pastures.

Man being man there would invariably be a fight amongst the group wrt ownership of their cows. In a storm or a melee the cows would get mixed and cause tremendous anxiety and ill will.

The possible solution for this was to identify 7 wise men and distribute the total population – men and cows amongst these 7 wise men. Tired of travelling they would have decided to settle down. Each Wise man set up his farm / village / cowshed in an area and that group / Clan came to be known by the Rishis name. Since they lived in a cowshed – they were called Gotra. Each clan probably followed a concept of collective responsibility and  shared the resources they had in their clan. The Cows were now common property and the Wise man / Rishi was the head of this Clan.

Since each Clan shared and lived together they became an extended family and marriage was probably not advised within the clan as the population of Cows could not go up. I am sure dowry existed in those days. So marriage always happened between two clans living maybe a few 100 Km away from each other.

Does that sound logical ? If so then the issue of each person being a descendant of the great Rishi does not arise. Clearly this concept has been advanced at a much later date – maybe by the likes of Max Mueller and Western Historians who were always on the lookout to create concepts that could divide and fraction the society.

And I just hope that the educated  people of today stop thinking like the Khap and take a more balanced view to getting their children married.

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One comment on “The True meaning of “Gotra” in Hindu Tradition and how it got mixed up

  • Aaron , Direct link to comment

    So is this word “gotra/gothra” where we get the word “Goths”, “God”, and “good”?

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