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Unravelling the Gotra traditions amongst Brahmins


New member
Namaskara samastha Tamizh Brahmavrunda,

First and foremost let me disclaim that I am not a Tambrahm in the strictest definition prevailing today. I was born to a Karhata Brahmana father and a Deshastha Brahmana mother in Maharashtra. Those who may not know, both these subgroups belong to the larger Pancha Dravida Brahmin group. That said I am not here to discuss about that, however to invoke a healthy discussion about the institution of Gotra, which all Brahmins across the subcontinent subscribe to.

I grew up in a traditional household with the deepseated belief that one's Gotra indicates the unbroken patrilineal lineage from one of the many sages who lived and practised in antiquity. That sagotra marriages were forbidden suggests that this institution was formulated to prevent the much dreaded inbreeding amongst the Brahmavrunda. Whilst this theory may sound convincing given our current day understanding of reproductive biology - thanks to the Europeans. Curiously though, the Gotra institution was explained to the larger world by an European Max Müller.

I for one have always been intrigued by the following;

1- The literal interpretation of the word Gotra, suggesting some connection to the bovine species.
2- Do I share a common ancestor with any samagotri individual even if he or she is from anywhere from Nepal to Srilanka, or from Dwarka to Bali ?

With regards to the former, I suspect that the Gotra traditions are strongly connected with the lineage of cattle (Bos Indicus) that the family housed in their Goshalas. Today we are relearning that much of what we are is defined by our microbiome. Our gut, skin and internal microbiome is partly inherited through breastmilk and later supported by environmental microbiata often due to close habitation with domestic animals notably cows. Bovine milk, urine and dung - all three products rich in microbial activity - have been used traditionally by all Brahmins in various ways. A healthy microbiome would usually mean a robust immune system amongst other genetic attributes.

It was not uncommon to see several generations of humans and bovines coexisting together in what could only result in a perfect symbiotic relationship.

Could it be that the three microbially rich products from the cow - milk, dung and gomutra, constituted to the Go (bovine) + Traya (three) = Gotra ?

If yes would it be possible that any young person staying in a Goshala and later taking a calf with him to start a new goshala would subscribe to the same microbiome i.e. Gotra ?

Let me give an example, a young prepubescent boy gets initiated by Upanayana in a particular Gurukula. He lives in the Gurukula for the best part of his Brahmacharya and leaves with the Vedic knowledge and a calf as a trophy. He goes elsewhere and initiates his own goshala and perhaps later even a Gurukula ?

But does this explain the prohibition of marriage between sagotris ? Or was that a European concept inadevertently introduced during translations ?

We must try to learn more about the new adage - microbiome is the new genetics !

Perhaps this may also explain why Hindus avoid consuming the meat of any animal whose milk they partake.

I have posed this question in the spirit of Jidnyasa and Chikitsa across many Brahmin forums. I would like to know what my Brahmin brethren from Tamil Nadu think.

Who knows we may all be cousins after all.
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