There is a scientifically based system in Hinduism that associates a person with the ancestors of the unbroken male lineage. This system is known as Gotra system. Let’s say, if a person is associated with Bharadwaja Gotra, then s/he is linked to the ancient Rishi Bharadwaja.
Almost all Hindus practice the Gotra system. There are different systems there too.
In the Brahmin culture, there are linked with eight different ancestors: the Saptarishis (Seven Sacred Saints) and one Bharadwaja Rishi. Here is the list of the roots of Brahmin Gotras:
They are known as Gotrakarin, in other words, roots of Gotras. Every other Brahmin have evolved from these eight Gotras. The total, today, has reached 49 for Brahmin Gotras. Each of them finally traces back to the core Gotra: Gotrakarin Rishi.
The word Gotra comes from two Sanskrit words: Gau, meaning Cow, and Trahi meaning Shed. Gotra then literally means Cowshed, and what it symbolizes is that it protects the particular male lineage.
Why Son is important in Gotra System
In the system, the identification only passes down in males, but not in females. What it means is that the lineage is passed down from father to son, but never from father to daughter. In case of marriage, the association of daughter gets transferred. For instance, if a person belonging to Gotra Gautam has a son, and that son gets married to a daughter whose father belongs to Gotra Atri, then the daughter is automatically associated with Gotra Gautam.
In case a person does not have any daughter, then the lineage ends with him. That is why it was preferred in the ancient Hindu societies to have at least one son to protect the ‘bansa’.
You might be thinking this is too sexist. You might be asking questions like “Why should only sons carry the Gotra of their fathers, why not the daughters?” This issue has also been common among the feminists. What they lack is the genetic science behind this, a clear biological answer that is 100% logical for it.
Before getting into that….
A Boy And A Girl Belonging To The Same Gotra Cannot Marry
There exists one important rule in the Gotra system: a boy and a girl belonging to the same Gotra cannot marry, even if they are not siblings and belong to distant families. Again, sounds crap? There is a genetic science behind this too. Two people from the same Gotra marrying can cause genetic disorders in their offspring. How? We will come to that later.
Let’s get into another rule in the Gotra system.
Pravaras and the Gotra
Pravara is the list of most excellent Rishis in the Gotra lineage. As mentioned before, some descendants started their own lineage of Gotra while keeping the base intact. For example, the Vatsa Gotra has Bhargaa, Chyavana, Jamadagnya, Apnavana as their Pravaras. This means that Vatsa Gotra is in line with all these Gotra and still goes back to the Bhrigu Rishi in the list of Gotrakins. The idea is to keep track of it and maintain Pravara. Why? The same marriage limit as we discussed above. Since Gotras have evolved, it is necessary to maintain this. So, even if two people are from different Gotras, even of their roots cannot be same. It’s the same logic as that of Object Oriented Programming:
Consider this: Classic B and Class C both derived from Class A. Now, considered Class D, derived from Class B and Class C both. In simpler terms, Class B is the parent of Class D, Class C is also the parent of Class D, but Class A is the parent of both Class B and Class C. The root of Class B and Class C is class A. Replace B and C with different Gotras, they might seem different, but their root is still class A.
Now let’s understand the science behind this in depth:
Chromosomes and Genes
There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans. In each pair, one comes from the father, and the other comes from the mother. In total, there are 46 chromosomes in every cell, with 23 coming from father and 23 coming from the mother.
Out of these chromosomes, sex chromosomes determine the gender of the offspring. The resultant cell has either XX chromosome pair or XY chromosome pair. X chromosome decides female attributes and Y chromosome determines male attribute. So, if the pair is XX, then the child will be a girl, or if the pair is XY, then the pair will be a boy.
Only son gets a Y chromosome from his father, and cannot from a mother (since female only have X chromosomes). But the daughter can get the X chromosome from both father and mother. Thus, Y chromosome is always preserved through male lineage, from grandfather to father to son to grandson……..
Crossover can happen when both X chromosomes in a daughter have been obtained from both the parents.
The Y Chromosome and the Vedic Gotra System
It is the Y chromosome which gets passed down between men in a lineage, Y chromosome will never be in any woman. Thus, Y Chromosome plays a crucial role in modern genetics to identify Genealogy, that is the male ancestry of a person. So, the system was designed to trace the Y chromosome to its roots. So if a person belongs to Angirasa Gotra, then his Y Chromosome has come all the way from the ancestor Rishi Angirasa thousands of years ago, and if the person belongs to Gotra Bharadwaja with Pravaras (Angirasa, Bhaarhaspatya, Bharadwaja), then the Chromosome came from Angirasa to Bhaarhaspatya to Bharadwaja to the person.
This also clarifies while females belong to the Gotra of their husbands when they marry. Women do not carry Y chromosome, only male will carry the father’s Y chromosome. Thus, the Gotra of the woman is said to be that of the husband.
But why can’t male and female from the same Gotra marry? Let’s know more about the important Y Chromosome in the lineage:
The Weakness of the Y Chromosome
X Chromosome has a similar pair in the human body, but Y chromosome does not. It means X chromosome can pair with both X and Y, but Y chromosome needs X chromosome to pair. Also, the size of Y chromosome is one-third than that of Y-chromosome. The size is only decreasing with evolution, with scientists debating that the Y chromosome would not be able to survive more than a few million years into the future, leading to the extinction of mankind. The logic is simple without both male and female, reproduction is not possible. But they debate if the Chromosome will be able to completely take over the functionality.
The reason for the debate is that there is no process for Y chromosome to repair itself by crossing over with its Chromosomal pair. To clarify, X chromosomes can pair with another X chromosome. So, when one X chromosome gets damaged, it allows itself to be repaired by copying DNA from other Chromosome in that pair as they are identical in nature. But Y chromosome can only pair with Y for XY combination, and thus cannot mix and match with Y except for small 5% of X which matches with Y, while the remaining 95% of Y chromosome is crucial in the development of male cannot match at all.
It is also that the Y chromosome has to depend on itself to repair itself in cases of damages. For that, it creates duplicate copies of its genes within itself. But it doesn’t limit the DNA damages in Y chromosome which escape its local repair process from being propagated into offspring males. Thus, Y chromosomes accumulate more and more defects over a prolonged period of evolution.
To summarize all this, Y chromosome, crucial for creation and evolution of males, has a fundamental weakness to continue the normal evolution via a chromosomal mix and match to create better versions of every successive generation. That is causing scientists to believe that male chromosome might be extinct in the future.
But that is not to say that humanity will be extinct since female only require XX chromosomes, they can be cultivated by injecting X chromosomes into the cell. Perhaps, Hinduism regards Mother Goddess to be the most powerful than all male deity put together.
The Gotra System – an attempt at protecting the Y chromosome from becoming extinct
It is proven in modern Genetics that marriages between cousins will increase the risk of causing genetic disorders. If you want to know more, you can visit here
Let’s say there is a recessive dangerous gene in one person. This means that the person is carrying a dangerous abnormality causing the gene in one of his chromosomes, but the effect has not been expressed due to the corresponding gene pair Chromosome is stronger, and is preventing from the abnormality to appear and activate. This gene will remain intact and hidden unless the person keeps marrying outside the same genetic imprint. When they marry someone with the same genetic imprint, there are high chances that their children will have the defective gene activated and cause abnormality in them. Thus, marrying to the same cousins will always have a chance of producing defective genes, or rather, the defective genes to be activated, and thus, leading to abnormalities. It is not an opinion, but a biological fact.
With that fact, Vedic Rishis devised a mechanism where such possibilities of defective genes were minimized, where 5% of Y chromosome which can be mixed and crossed over with X counterpart can be protected so that the remaining 95% doesn’t take part in the mix and match process stay healthy. That could only be possible if the people were separated according to their gene, and hence the Gotra system. While we have talked only about the Brahmin Gotra here, there exist many Gotras all across the human civilization.
The System as a window to understand the genetics of ancient Vedic Rishis
While we can see the Gotra system maintained among different families, it does provide us the opportunity to extract the Y chromosome of ancient Vedic seers and study them.
The Question: Why only the selected Rishis as root Gotra?
You might be thinking, ultimately, Brahma was the one who created everything, and thus we all are descendants of Brahma, and our root will ultimately be one, so our Gotra will not allow marriage between anyone.
There is a small defect in that logic. Brahma was a God, and when the civilization of humans started, there were Prajapatis, the immediate descendant of Brahma, from where the lineage started. During that time, there were different families of Prajapatis, and thus, there were different Gotra system that started there. Rishis, that we talk of when we talk about Gotra, were also the Prajapatis. And each Rishi belonged to different Prajapati family, and thus, they are the roots.
But is the mismatch between Gotra and Pravaras enough for marriage?
Another rule of Gotra states:
“When the man and woman do not belong to six generations from the maternal side, and also do not come from the father’s lineage, marriage between the two is good.”
Thus, the Gotra system doesn’t also recommend marriage with maternal cousins either, even if the Gotras are different. The science is the same, even the cousin marriage with maternal cousins, for example, the marriage of a son with mother’s sister’s daughter, can result in disorder among the offspring.
Is Gotra System relevant today?
Just to make sure that things are on the right track, what we discussed above only proved two things:
- Gotra system is the same as the male lineage that follows via Y Chromosome
- Cousin marriages within immediate families are known to cause genetic disorders
With that, we know that Gotra system was developed thousands of years ago, and they tried to do it to protect the disorder by limiting the marriage system. It might have had its benefits in the early days, but now, when we have come far off after evolution and civilization, the system might not be relevant today, or it might be. The answer must be given by science. If there are any proof that genetic studies found no problem with same Gotra marriages, then the question is raised against the Gotra system. Having said that, Gotra system is scientific and still has a major say in marriages today.