The Vedas are a body of knowledge believed to have been revealed by the Lord to the rishis(Seers), who were capable of receiving and handing over the knowledge to posterity for the benefit of humanity. These rishis came to be known as the mantra-drashtaarah, rishis of the Vedic mantras.
The word ‘GOTRA’ refers to a clan or lineage of a Hindu family which is traced to one of these rishis and named after him.
There are ten rishis from whom all the gotras are believed to have originated. They are
There are two hundred and twenty nine gotras, of which approximately forty are common today. These forty include
Gotras are further classified into five groups, depending upon the number of rishi descendants in a particular gotra.These groups are
Ekaarsheya-pravara-gotra, which has one rishi descendant;
Dvayaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having two rishi descendants;
Trayaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having three rishi descendants;
Pancaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having five rishi descendants; and
Saptaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having seven rishi descendants.
One’s gotra is a symbol of one’s connection with the past. It provides an identity with one’s heritage and intimate bond with one’s parents and ancestors.
Everyone born into the Vedic culture belongs to a gotra whether one does or does not know the name of the rishi of one’s lineage. According to Vedic culture, marriage alliances between two people belonging to the same gotra is customarily prohibited as they become brother-sister having same clan or lineage.
There are many other occasions when one is called upon to state one’s gotra. For instance, when a puja or a ritual is performed for the benefit of a particular individual, his gotra is mentioned besides his name and the star in which he is born.
In the Vedic tradition there is a form of salutation in which one introduces oneself to elders by narrating one’s name and family lineage. One states one’s gotra, thereby acknowledging one’s ancestral ties. By doing so, one naturally discovers an attitude of reverence and gratitude for all that one has been given by one’s ancestors.