“Gotra’ means clan (Kula) identification for Hindus. It means, an unbroken lineage of sons in the family tree (Y Chromosomes) from the Vedic times. Some say the practice of Gotra is for preservation of the Y chromosome with all its purity sans tampering/contamination in the Hindu society. Every family goes by a Kula-Gotra therefore among Hindus. Every family has a Kula Deivam (family deity). The Kula and Gotra are something that a Hindu inherits and/or acquires by birth (that alters with marriage in case of women).
Essentially all Hindus are supposed to have descended from the seven sages ‘Sapta Rishis’ (Brahma Maharishis) (direct disciples of Lord Shiva) (in the case of learned Brahmanas and north Indians), and their seers (in the case of south Indians and others). Every single family line traces back by ages and ages to one common ancestor, following the kula-gotra chart and map. Invasions unleashed a hell of disturbance but even through the foreign aggression, the Hindus continued the chain forward, may be at times, with missing links here and there. Those who mixed with invaders ceased to be Hindus, severely ostracized by the community. (The ex-communicated later became Muslims and Christians). (For instance, typically the Kashmiri Hindu pundits and baniyas wanted to return back to the Hindu fold someday after being force converted at the point of sword by Aurangzeb. Many surprisingly still retain their Hindu family names. However, they were refused re-admission to Dharma after the Moghul’s time).
Gotra and Kula Deivam therefore are our race and clan identities. They go back to our very roots and to the very beginnings of ancient Hindu/human civilization. No wonder India’s Hindu civilization is the only surviving, longest and continuous civilization in the world today. It is a mammoth, mammoth task keeping this ancient culture alive for over 10,000 years, most of it fairly in tact. How an entire landmass called Bharat Varsh adopted and practised such a grand scheme of things averting inbreeding without a legal enforcement is astonishing. We Hindus of this 21st century are the descendants of Bharatha, ancestor to Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabhaarath. ‘Bhaarath’ is the true and original name of India. ‘Hindustan’ was the name given by Islamic invaders from the Persian Gulf. The British rechristened us ‘India’ in a blatant attempt to kill our very character and soul.
Of course there were some strict norms voluntarily adhered to be each clan or Kula. These were slightly varied in the south compared to north. However extreme care was taken never to marry in the same bloodline and procreate. Did our Hindu forefathers foresee/witness any harmful genetic mutation and disorder when one married into the same kula-gotra.
Same Gotra marriages are frowned upon in Hinduism (entire north and in some sections of south) even today. First cousin marriage is strictly forbidden among Hindus, considered incestuous. But down south, if the gotras are different you can marry your (cross) cousin. For example, straight cousins cannot marry each other. Like the children of brothers. Children of sisters. But a brother’s son or daughter can marry his sister’s daughter or son. Cross cousin marriages are permitted because, the sister gets married and goes to another family/gotra. She assumes the gotra of her husband’s family tree. Her children born under new gotra in a strange family will be inheriting different gotra/Y chromosomes, not that of her parents. So the children can marry back into her parents’ family.
But north or south, not even the second cousin marriage is permissible between straight cousin (between children of brothers’ male cousins and children of sisters’ girl cousins). All straight cousins in north and (with cross cousin exemption) in south be it first cousins or second cousins or third cousins cannot marry.
My north Indian friends used to tease me relentlessly about this proven logic. They would be shocked by the south Indian custom that allowed cross cousin marriages. Generations of cross cousin marriages especially within a closed circle can be equally damaging as the Y chromosomes may return to the home family tree after a generation or two. But even these cross cousin marriages mostly stopped with the last or my generation. Not many of my parents generation had cross cousin marriages. One of my friends married her cross cousin. In my generation it was minimal, almost non existent. Now it is totally off. Full stop. Whether it is love marriage or arranged marriage in India, we can be more than certain that there is not the least chance of someone marrying from within the same gotra. We have outgrown that custom in south for our own sake. Awareness of genetic health issues made it possible for south Indians to put an end to cross cousin marriages as we have been a lot more literate for ages compared to north. We needed no written law.
Why were the same kula-gotra marriages prohibited in Hinduism. This is the scientific reason as researches have established in modern times: Straight cousin marriages will lead to harmful gene mutations and congenital birth defects thereby. For ‘vamsavridhi’ or for the family clan to grow, ancient Hindus wanted their offsprings to marry outside their home families into other blood lines so that the gene pools could get freshly recharged.
Cross cousin marriages where the gotra changes for daughters of the family after marriage were considered relatively safer which is why they were allowed down south. Even in south, straight first cousin marriages are considered taboo and incestuous. In north one hundred percent, first cousin marriages are prohibited even today. If you marry a woman of same gotra, it may imply you are marrying like your own sister because you and she may have descended from the same gene pool whose protagonist Alpha male originally could be the same ancestor. It is like blasphemy therefore for Hindus to marry cousins. Honour killings have been reported from states like Hariyana where the same gotra girl and boy married (in the case of love marriage).
Those who have lost track of their gotra (like for instance in Tamil Nadu), use broader terms like ‘Shiva’ gotra and ‘Vishnu’ gotra. Even in this case, marrying someone with the same Kula Deivam is considered taboo and incestuous and both the boy and the girl may be deemed to have been offspring of the same family tree – with a common ancestor. So this is carefully avoided. Where your gotra cannot distinguish you, your Kula Deivam can.
With the help of the Kula Deivam orientation therefore, one can still decipher one’s gothra if the kula history is studied carefully and in detail.
Similarly many families also seem to have lost track of their ‘Kula Deivam’ – in which case their gotra may come to their help to get their bearings. To those who have ‘lost’ their Kula deivams, Lord Balaji of Tirupathi comes to rescue. Down south, anyone who cannot trace their Kula deivam can adopt Lord Venkatachapathi as their Kula deivam. Or Subramanya.
Ancient Hindus thus devised foolproof means to keep track of their pedigree genes, avoiding marrying into the same family tree. They double-checked and cross-checked the race and blood purity following the tabs such as Kula Deivam and Kula Gotra. Those families who have knowledge of both their gotra and Kula Deivam in the present times are indeed very fortunate. But even if you cannot track one of the two – the Kula Deivam or your gotra – it is still fine. Overlapping is averted at various levels of check.
To break it down to simple terms,
A boy and girl who intend to marry cannot be of the same Kula Gotra by birth
A boy and girl who intend to marry cannot be of the same Kula Deivam family by birth
Both cases are mutually exclusive. This is the secret and logic behind the Hindu genealogy that is in force for millennia from long since before words like DNA and Y Chromosome came into existence and became fashionable. Inbreeding eliminated maximum if not completely.
India’s population is one billion plus. It is amazing that we discovered and mastered and in fact excelled in a way our gene mapping technique, and our ancestors preserved the genetic chain in tact for millennia without a text book reference. Neither did they go for patenting their find. There was no terminology such as ‘Y’ chromosome or for that matter ‘X’ chromosome. How they had the clue yet to go to lengths to preserve the Y chromosome chain is unbelievable. How they worked it all out so perfectly is amazing. Even after millennia, in this 21st century, if you are a Hindu by birth, then you can safely claim that you are a pedigree with no mixed blood. Conversions to Hindu Dharma are happening for last 50-60 years only and now of course, the Dharma has a hearty worldwide following. The gene pool preservation of the Hindu race is matchless in history. No written laws were formulated. No code of conduct to abide by. This is just a brilliant network of our awesome Hindu ancestors trying to save their gene pool from any contamination. Think of the enormous discipline that this might have necessitated. The penalties were simple but rigorous: those who violated the kula-gotra norm were treated as outcasts never allowed into Hindu fold ever again. Looking back one wonders at the scientific precision of such a gene preservation strategy.
Same gotra marriages are tolerated these days, true. Hindu girls are pricey who the Indian Christians and Muslims chase. Mainly for the precious gene. Imagine the havoc this can wreck in the carefully constructed Hindu genealogy.
Today’s youngsters hardly understand the dynamics behind the Hindu Kula-Gotra science and set-up.
We don’t know what future has in store for us Hindus. It took millennia to build such a beautiful catacomb of a pedigree gene structure. It may take only a generation to break it all up to smithereens.
Hindus are not racists. It is however in our self-interest to preserve our pedigree gene pool for our very survival. If, for instance,you take the Indian muslims, they have been marrying first cousins and procreating for generations. A lot about their Y chromosomes may have altered getting mixed up, inbred at every generation. (You see Imran Khan’s Mongolian face (!) (from the Indian subcontinent)). No wonder they (our bhais) have rates (cash rewards) reportedly for bagging a Hindu girl as shocking media news have revealed. By marrying the Abrahamics and procreating, the Hindus will lose the most precious gift of all that has been passed over generations, over thousands of years, nurtured and harvested painstakingly by our forefathers.
Would like to add a footnote on extremely conservative Senguntha Mudaliar community gene & family trees here.
This community’s gotra is mostly Markandeya (from the sage who gifted his descendants the art of (yarn) weaving). However, during Raja Raja Chola’s reign for instance, the Chola king did not favour this smug and rich community whose young men he deputed into armed services, which earned them a name ‘Kai Kolar’ (the weapon holding hand). The ancestors were thoroughly put off the by the king pressing them into military services taking them away from spinning wheels, but could do nothing about it in their powers. Raja Raja no wonder earned enemies in every quarter. Many (I personally believe) forefathers in the family tree could have lost their Markandeya gotra around this time (and hence go by Shiva gotra now). However, after the Raja Raja Chola period, the men dropped their weapons forced into their hands by the king and returned to weaving. This is also a part of history that is hardly recorded. I got intrigued why some Sengunthas referred to themselves as Kai Kolas. I got this explanation from someone who knew what he spoke about.