December 18, 2004

Hindu as a Nation: Roots of Hindu Janajaati, Gotra

Hindu as a nation: roots of hindu janajaati, gotra

There are many facets of bharatiya itihas which have been left
unexplored, thanks to the interrugnum caused by invading islamists and
colonial traders. One such facet is janajaati.

Gotra or got, as a set of jaati, can be roughly translated as lineage
and is an organizing principle which can be traced to the practices
related to respect for ancestors, among exogamous kinship units called
hindu janajaati. [Gotra is an exogamous (septs) patrilineal sibship
whose members trace their descent to a common ancestor. Pravara is
constituted by the Sage or Sages who lived in the remotest past, who
were most illustrious and who are generally the ancestors of the Gotra
Sages or in some cases the remotest ancestor alone. (cf. P.V. Kane,
History of Dharma Sastra, Poona Vol.II, Part I, p.497). Endogamous-
marriages occur within the boundaries of the domestic group (between
members of the same group); not the same as incest; Exogamous-
marriages occur outside of the domestic group (between members of
different groups). Since all members of an exogamous consider
themselves to be relatives, marriages are recommended outside such a
kinship group, kinship being generally patrilineal and traced through
the male lineage or phratries (also known as khandan, kutumba or kula;
in some cases also as vams'a or s'a_kha_). Hindu lineages are strictly
exogamous and any marriage within such a lineage is considered
In many cases, the marriages are recommended to be village-exogamous,
thus establishing the enlargement of the self-reproducing kinship
group beyond a village boundary. "After comparing the social
organization of a wide range of primates, including humans, in terms
of the distribution in groups of males and females, kin and nonkin,
they have concluded that humans are distinctive among primates in that
both sexes maintain lifelong relationships with consanguineal
kin-regardless of which sex leaves its natal group or whether both
sexes do so. Among other primates, by contrast, only one sex (the one
that stays put and does not disperse) maintains these lifelong ties
with kin." (Lars Rodseth et al., 1991).
Thus, broadly, gotra defines a family's paternal lineage. A rishi rn.a
is discharged by remembering the gotra, pravara rishi-s during
sandhya_vandanam or s'ra_ddha. An identity of a dvija is also
established by his citing if he is a r.ks'a_kha_dhya_yi or an adhya_yi
of another veda and a particular su_tra. A deceased person is cremated
with enormous respect and his a_tman is invoked in recurring festivals
and in songs of remembrance of the tradition of ancestors. Reverential
worship of ancestors is a powerful bonding among kindship groups and a
reinforcement of the heritage passed on from generation to generation.
Go is a difficult word to interpret in the R.gveda; it may connote a
'cow' and also a 'constellation' on the skies. Hence, it will be
simplistic to assume if go-tra connoted 'cow-pen' in the R.gvedic
times, in all contexts. Considering the sapta-rishi-man.d.ala concept,
it is possible that go-tra refers to the particular
rishi-constellation of a person's ja_takam. Gocaara, for example, is a
technical vedangajyotis.a term. The Buddha refers to
pa_timokkhasamvara s'i_la: 'Naturally seeing the harm of even the
slightest fault [dosa], Bhikkhus in this saasanaa undertake the study
of the sikkhaapadas; the restraint through paatimokkha [a collection
of sikkhaapadas in the Vinaya], with flawless aacaara [conduct] and
gocaara' (Vbh. 244) [vibha. 508; di_. ni. 1.193 - Siilaniddeso
Section 3]. Gocara is an object of perception. (e.g. s'ruti gocara_ =
for understanding S'Br. 1.4.25).

Jaati is derived from the root janmam 'birth'; in almost all bharatiya
languages and dialects, the word jaati connotes an extended kinship
group; this social organization has been categorized by indologists,
following the British colonial and evangelical proselytisers' practice
of using derogatory terms such as tribes, castes (a Portuguese term),
aborigines, animists, pagans, kufr, idolators, clans. Jaati is a term
which relates to all varn.a, all categories currently mentioned in the
Constitution of Bharat, that is India as scheduled castes, scheduled
tribes (because they are listed in schedules appended to the
Constitution, following the practice of the Government of India Act,
1935) and in many commissions' reports as Backward Classes, Other
Backward Classes even after the nation attained independence in 1947.
Brough, J., 1953, The early Brahmanical system of Gotra and Pravara,
(ranslation of the "Gotra-Pravara-Manjari" of Purushottama Pandita)
ambridge Univ. Press is one view of the social organization in early
Bharat; social reality is much more complex than a view contained in a
text by Purushottama Pandita.

Hindu janajaati simply refers to the social organization of people
into exogamous communities. Kirata, for example, is a trading
community, who worshipped S'iva, included pulinda, sabara, mutiba
people considered to be descendants of Vis'vamitra (Aitareya Brahman.a
VII.18). The finds of s'ivalinga at Harappa and Kalibangan point to
the tradition of worship of S'iva dating back to the Sarasvati
civilization [circa 3500 Before Common Era (BCE)]. S'ivalinga is
shaped like the summit of Mt. Kailas; the tradition is that S'iva is
in penance on top of the summit of Mt. Kailasa and out of his jat.a
emerges River Ganga, thus the shape of s'ivalinga with arrangements
for continuous abhis.ekam of water from a pot tied over it, is indeed
a metaphor for a water-giving divinity from the Himalayan glaciers,
yielding the glacial rivers like S'utudri, Lohitya (Brahmaputra),
Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. It is not a mere coincidence that Pa_rvati
is parvataputri_, a metaphor for a daughter of a mountain and there
are people called Parvati-s in Har-ki-dun valley (Svargarohini
Himalayan range called Bandarpurnch massif in W. Garhwal, Uttaranchal)
who celebrate Duryodhana as their divinity in an annual mela even to
this day, attesting to the historicity of kuruvams'a of Mahabharata.

Many hindu practices can be traced to the age-old janajaati
traditions: for example, the worship of jagannath, khandoba, muruga,
na_ga, devi, ma_riamman or sitaladevi as the village boundary
divinity, the institution of hindu mandiram in almost every village of
Bharat, the practices of a_gama, the puja vidha_nam with flower
offerings and abhis.ekam, the procedures for settlement of marriage
contracts by exchange of ta_mbu_la (betel-leaves and betel-nut) and
na_rikela (coconut), offering puja to tulasi plant, decorating the
frontal of a house with rangoli (cf. Tamil kolam), painting svastika_
on walls of mandirams, wearing of yajnopavi_tam (sacred thread), the
wearing of sindhur at the parting of the hair, the wearing of bangles,
nose-ring, bathing with turmeric powder, observance of a vrata for
three days prior to marriage ceremony day at an auspicious muhurtam,
the wearing of mangalasu_tra (tiruma_ngalya) pectoral, the marriage
practices using the stepping on stone, sighting of arundhati and
dhruva naks.atra, both the bride and bridegroom carrying the yoke on
their shoulder, offer of the bride carried on the shoulder of the
maternal uncle, sprinkling of pa_l.i (navadha_nya as a replication of
the processing of farming grains), creation of the marriage man.t.apa
decorated with plantain leaves, saptapadi_ (seven steps) around the
sacred fire-altar to consummate a marriage (pa_n.igra_han.ika_ mantra_
niyatam tes.a_m nis.t.ha_ vijneya_ viva_ha_tsaptame
pade: Manu VIII.227), celebration of tirthasthana-s, celebration of
kumbhamela every 12 years at prayagraj. Among the samska_ra-s related
to stages of life such as conception in a mother's womb, child-birth,
naming of a child, annapra_s'anam, vidya_bhya_sam, attaining puberty,
sanya_sa, cremation, the most notable are the social customs related
to the treatment of a corpse of a deceased. Four persons carry the
corpse to the smas'a_na (cremation ground). These four persons become
an idiom, for example, in Tamil: na_luper. The social rectitude of
every action in life is judged with reference to the query: na_luper
enna colluva_? 'What will the four people say?' That is, the four
people who are enjoined as close relatives to carry the bier are the
touchstone for judging if an action is morally right or wrong. Only
the close relatives upto seven patrilineal generations are entitled to
pin.d.a prada_nam and are referred to as gotraja sapin.d.a (agnate),
those enjoined to offer pin.d.a to the deceased. The property of a son
dying without any issues (Manu IX.217) can pass to his mother. Manu
IX. 187 says: anantaram sapin.d.a_dyastasya tasya haredddhanam 'to the
nearest sapin.d.a, the inheritance next belongs'. Commentator Kullu_ka
expounded that the term sapin.d.a includes puma_n stri_ va_ 'either
male or female'. The performance of annual s'raddha ceremonies in
honour of the departed ancestors is a tradition common among all
janajaati in Bharat. A purchased wife (that is, a bride-price paid in
an a_sura type of marriage) continues to be part of her father's gotra
and sons born of her are not entitled to offer oblations to her
husband's ancestors (krayakri_ta_ ca ya_ kanya_ na sa_ patni_
vidhi_yate tasya_m ja_ta_h suta_stes.a_m na vidyate:
Atri, 384. A gotra was thus an extended recognition of sapin.d.a
relationship among people of a particular gotra patri-lineage. It
should, however, be noted that there was no gender bias; this is
evidenced by Brihadaranyaka IV.4.18: atha ya icched duhita_
me pan.d.ita_ ja_yeta, tilaudanau pa_cayitva_ as'ni_ya_ta_miti, while
a gr.hasta prays for the birth of a scholarly daughter. It is notable
that during Balarama's pariyatra along the River Saravati (described
in S'alyaparva in about 200 s'loka), the elder brother of Krishna
offers homage to the ancestors and visits the ashram of many rishi-s
and muni-s and offers homage to them, apart from offering maatru at Pruthudaka (Pehoa). To this day, the tradition continues;
Siddhapura on Little River Sarasvati in Gujarat is revered as
Maatrugaya as a tirthasthana. The roots of early
philosophical/spiritual thoughts exemplified by the terms: dharma,
vrata, yajna, yoga, rita, rina have to be traced to the traditions of
the hindu janajaati. The tradition continues to celebrate rinamochan
(on Karthika Purnima day) at a place called Rinamochan (Kapalamochan)
on the road between Jagadhri and Adi Badri. During a mela held on this
day, about 8 lakh pilgrims take a holy dip in the Somasarovar. The
tradition is that Pandavas washed their arms in this sarovar. Nearby
in Kurukshetra is Brahmasarovar where 10 lakh pilgrims gather during
every solar eclipse day to pay their homage to the ancestors.

Marriages among close relations were not encouraged. For example,
sapin.d.a marriages were barred. Sapin.d.a is a relationship within
seven generations on the father's side and five generations on the
mother's side. In many regions of southern Bharat, the custom was to
marry a male with his maternal uncle's daughter; this was in not in
consonance with the sapin.d.a bar for marriages. Nirn.ayasindhu refers
to the bar on marrying one's wife's sister's daughter or one's
paternal aunt's sister. (dampatyormivah pitruma_trusa_mye
viruddhasambandhah yava_ bha_rya_svasurduhita_ pituvyapatni_svasa_

It can be posited that there was a dynamic interaction among janajaati
of Bharat which resulted in the patterns and practices of Bharatiya
culture and identity. Redfield Robert and Milton B. Singer, The
cultural role of cities, Economic Development and Cultural Change,
1954 note: "This…is perhaps the most important conclusion of recent
anthropological studies of Hinduism…the unity of Hinduism does not
exclusively reside in an exemplary set of norms and scriptures, such
as those defined by Sanskritic Hinduism, or in an alternative 'lower
level' popular Hinduism of the uncultivated masses. The unity is to be
found rather in the continuities that can be traced vin the concrete
media of song, dance, play, sculpture, painting, religious story and
rite that connect the rituals and beliefs of the villager with those
of the townsman and urbanite, one region with another, and the
educated with the uneducated." Irawati Karve (Hindu Society – an
interpretation, 1961, Poona, Deccan College) contests the received
wisdom that the proliferation of jaati in Bharat is the result of
fission, sub-fission of a limited number of varn.a. The alternative
view offered by her is that jaati is an extended family or kin group,
an exogamous kinship, normally tied to a hereditary occupation and
that the birth of jaati as an institution preceded the birth of varn.a
framework in society.

The practice of barring marriages with another sept or kili (cf. Tamil 'branch of tree'), among many janajaati may have been
elaborated as a prohibition of sagotra marriages. Gotra names indicate
that belonging to one gotra is not always related to a family progeny.
While some gotra names are linked to rishi-s (e.g., vasis.t.ha,
vis'va_mitra, bha_radva_ja), there are names which indicate
territories (e.g., gandha_ra, panca_la, kaus'a_mbeya), or professional
names (e.g. mes.apa, hastipa, hota_, ya_jaka) or personal traits (e.g.
matsyagandhi, ka_n.a, di_rghajangha, ja_yavis'vambhara).

Sandhya Jain notes (Sandhya Jain, 2004, Adi Deo Arya Devata, Delhi,
Rupa and co., pp. 45-46, p. 60, p. 266): "Ibbetson, DCJ, Report on the
Census of Punjab, 1881, Vol. 1, Calcutta, 1883…concluded, caste was
more a social than religious institution…its allegedly hereditary
nature ws nothing more than a presumption; that castes were
essentially guilds; and that the earliest guild was a tribe based on
common descent. A large number of caste division or sub-caste units,
such as gotras, were essentially tribal in origin…The Manbhum Bhumij
have forgotten their native speech and speak Bengali. Risley found the
tribe far advanced on the road to caste-hood; they were employing
Brahmins of low status in their rites of passage (Risley, H., The
People of India, 2nd ed., by W. Crook, 1915: 75). Yet old social and
cultural patterns can still be discerned. Like the allied Munda tribe
of Ranchi, the Bhumij are grouped in patrilineal exogamous clans
(gotras) affiliated to the respective ancestral villages where the
clan ossuaries are located (Sinha, Surajit, State formation and Rajput
myth in tribal central India in: The state in India 1000-1700 ed,
Herman Kulke, OUP, 1995: 310-11). Gotra is thus clearly the organizing
principle of tribal societies.…the Mundas of Chotanagpur, who were
organized in exogamous septs called Kilis, changed their kilis into
Gotras, Sandi Kili becoming Sandil Gotra and Nom Tutu Kili developing
into Bhoj-Raj-Gotra (Roy, Saratchandra, 1912, The Mundas and their
Country: 410). The Koch tribes of Assam used their creativity to
emerge as Bhanga-Kshatriya or Rajbansi, and claim affinity with
Rajputs (Risley, 1915: 74-76, 92)…In Manipur, the Meitheis consider
the seven lairemas (goddesses) as the female ancestors of the seven
clans (viz., Ningthouja, Angom, Khimal, Moirang, Lu-wang,
Sarang-Leisangthem and Khaba-a-Ngenba), which came to be identified
with the seven Brahminical gotras under Hindu influence."

There was no bar on inter-caste marriages or inter-dining. Anuloma
marriages were common, right down to the eighth century Common Era
(CE). Baudha_yana S'rauta Su_tra 2.2.19 lays out the shares of
inheritance of sons born from wives of different castes:
na_na_varn.astri_samava_ye da_yam das'a_ms'a_nkr.tva_
caturastri_ndva_vevekamiti yaya_kramam vibhajet. A bra_hman.a, Soma
who was the progenitor of Hastivarman, a Va_ka_t.aka minister, had
married a ks.atriya lady, 'in accordance with the precepts of s'ruti
and smr.ti' says a 5th century inscription: somastatah soma
iva_parobhu_tsa bra_hman.ah ks.atriyavams'aja_su s'rutismr.tibhya_m
vihita_ryaka_ri_ dvayi_su bha_ya_msu mano dagha_ra (Archaeological
Survey of Western India, Vol. 4, p. 140). King Harichandra, founder of
Prati_ha_ra family (circa 550 CE), had both a ks.atriya and a
bra_hman.a wife (tena s'ri_haricandren.a parin.i_ta_ dvija_tmana_
dviti_ya_ ks.atriya_ bhadra_ maha_kulagun.a_nvita_: Epigraphica
Indica, XVIII, p. 87). Katha_saritsa_gara has many episodes where a
father asks his daughter as to which of the suitors belonging to the
four varn.a she approves (eva_m caturga_m varn.a_na_m putrid
kobhimatastava: 53, 108).

Altekar further adds (AS Altekar, 1938, The position of women in Hindu
Civilization, repr. Motilal Banarsidass, 1959, pp. 77-78): "Intercaste
marriages were permitted down to the 10th century because the cultural
differences between the members of the different twice-born castes
were not many or far-reaching. They all performed upanayana, and
observed the various sacraments laid down for them…A number of new
vratas came to be prescribed. The brahmana community as a whole used
to conform to the new standard as much as possible. Other castes,
however, could not only not follow the new standard, but found it
difficult to maintain the old one. Thus all dvijas, i.e., brahmanas,
kshatriyas and vais'yas, were authorized to study the Vedas…Our social
reformers should not forget that the observation of the Mahabharata
still holds good, viz. an alliance of friendship or of marriage is
possible between those two parties only who are evenly matched as far
as character, education, culture and wealth are concerned: yayoreva
samam vr.ttam yayoreva samams'rutam tayomaitri_ viva_has'ca na tu
pus.t.avipus.t.ayoh (MBh. I.131.10)."

S. Kalyanaraman
18 Dec. 2004

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