Gotra ‘Un-googled’: Some facts you don’t know
In TV debates the Party Spokespersons might quote everyone from Manu to geneticists on Gotra, but fact remains that Gotra is as dead as the Dodo to most millennials in India
According to a family lore, there was this girl from a Brahmin clan long ago, whose father failed to find her a suitably young and prosperous husband from a different Gotra. Finally, she was married to a very old and very poor Brahmin beggar from an acceptable Gotra. A year later the father decided to pay his daughter a visit and was appalled to see her in rags roasting a fistful of coarse grain over a twig fire in a hut. “What are you roasting child? “ the father asked gently . “My caste and your Gotra Babuji.” the girl replied.
Fast-forward to story number two. The year was 1991. A batch of young IAS probationers visiting eastern India as part of their mandatory Bharat Darshan, were taken to an ancient temple, considered an archeological treasure. On their way out, they decided to leave behind a donation. The priest cum accountant as he filled out the form, asked the young lady handing him the donation, ‘what Gotra shall I write here?”
“All India Services 1991 batch”, replied the lady without batting an eye.
Interestingly during the Vedic and post Vedic era, all the deemed founders of four major Gotras bore their mothers’ names. By that analogy patriarchs have little or no business to step into this delicate area
Fast forward to some more years, to October 2018. We have the redoubtable Dr Sambit Patra the spokesperson of the NDA asking where was Rahul Gandhi’s sacred thread, Janeu, as he worshipped Lord Shiva at the Mahakal temple? Did he even know what was his Gotra?
Temples, Gender, Caste, Gotra and politics have all come a long way since a young wife in Uttarakhand sat roasting them all over twigs. In TV debates the Party Spokespersons might quote everyone from Manu to geneticists on Gotra, but fact remains that Gotra is as dead as the Dodo to most millennials in India. Even if we do some furious backpedaling, treatises on Dharmashastras have ruled that while performing religious rituals anywhere, traders and warriors (perhaps because they travel so much, or perhaps because they contributed generously to temple coffers) of all kinds, if they do not know their Gotra, shall automatically avail of their Guru’s or family priests’ Gotra as their own.
Interestingly during the Vedic and post Vedic era, all the deemed founders of four major Gotras bore their mothers’ names. By that analogy patriarchs have little or no business to step into this delicate area. Even if we grant them their limited freedoms, fact is, the most militant upholders of the Gotra system in India are the Jats of north western India. Their concept of Gotra, as defined by the Khaps dates back to the 14th century, the time of Timur’s massive assault on western India. When the raiders’ sudden arrival exposed the vulnerability of disunited landowning clans, they hastily cobbled together clusters of 84 villages on the basis of caste and geographical location and created newfangled Gotra banks. All young boys and girls of such a Khap area were thereafter declared siblings who must not marry. The fabled desperation of Dr Patra to protect his Party’s turf and question the Opposition leader’s Gotra thus rings somewhat hollow.