|Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)|
Gotra (गोत्र) denotes the ancestral family from which its members traced their descent. Jats have more than 5000 gotras. Gotra is the Sanskrit term for a much older system of tribal clans. The Sanskrit term "Gotra" was initially used by the Vedic people for the identification of the lineages.
Definition of Gotra
Meaning – Gotra is the name of group of descents, leaving son, including grandsons and great grandsons.
V S Agarwal  writes that Gotra was next to Caste. Gotra denoted the ancestral family from which its members traced their descent. Members belonging to same Gotra were called Sagotra (VI.3.85). The Gotra name of a person on the basis of his gotra must have been a matter of considerable practical importance. In the Jatakas we often find the gotra name of a person asked along with his personal name. This is shown by Panini having prescribed elaborate rules for the formation of Gotra names, e.g. Garga, father; Gārgi, son; Gārgya, grandson; Gārgyāyaṇa, great-grandson.
V. S. Agrawala writes about Kula – The phrase Gana-Rajakula used in connection with Sangha of the Vrijis shows that political Sangha called Gana was composed of various Rajakulas or royal families and that the heads of these Rajakulas constituted the governing body of that Gana. This is confirmed by the Mahabharata which says that the members of Gana were equals of one another in respect of birth and family (Shantiparva, 107.30). Kautilya also states that Kula was the unit of a Sangha.
The Kula basis of the tribes appears to be vitally connected with a number of Paninian Sutras dealing with Gotrāpatya and yuvan descendants. Apart from those names which were Rishi gotras Panini also includes a number of tribal names in the lists dealt with in the Gotrapatya chapter. For example, in the very first sutra (IV.1.98) Kunja and Bradhna were not names of Rishi Gotra but of Vrātas, a class of rudimentary Sanghas of the Ayudhajivi pattern (V.3.113). The need for distinguishing the gotra-descendant from the yuvan-descendants should be understood clearly. In-fact in the social as well as political sphere, the family was the unit of representation, which was exercised through the head of each family, called Kula-vriddha (Shantiparva, 107.27). In grammatical literature, Panini refers to him as Vriddha, which was a pre-paninian term for Gotra. Panini in his grammar substituted Vriddha mostly by Gotra, stating that all the descendants of an ancestor in a family except the son of the founder were called Gotra (Apatyaṁ pautra-prabhṛiti gotram, IV.1.162).
[p.430]: During his life time the eldest male member who represented the family was the Gotra and the junior members were called Yuvan. Panini also uses a third term, viz. Vaṁśya, to designate him; this also appears to be a pre-paninian saṁjñā incidentally retained (IV.1.163).
Each individual was given his personal name and a Gotra name. The latter came in for special attention of grammarians owing to its importance in social and political life. According to Panini only one member in the family at a time was to retain the title Gotra, the rest were Yuvan. This implies that only one person, usually the oldest male member, represented his Kula on all important occasions and functions.
This family basis of Gana polity preserved the hereditary character of its ruler-ship vesting in the same families. The number and names of these families comprising the ruling class were carefully preserved as in the case of Lichchhavis whose number is stated 7707 in Pali literature. In the capital of Cheta state mention is made of 60000 khattiyas all of whom were styled Rājāno (Jat. VI.511), and must have represented so many Kshatriya members constituting that State. The craze for constituting new republics had reached its climax in the Vahika country and north-west India where clans consisting of as many as one hundred families only organized as Ganas, as in the case of 100 sons of Savitrri establishing themselves as Kshatriya clan under Saviti-putras with the title of Raja applied to each one of them (Vanaparva 297.58, Karnaparva V.49, and Panini in Dāmanyādi group V.3.116).
Sapiṇḍa & Sanābhi
V S Agarwal  writes that The word Sapiṇḍa is peculiar to the Sutra literature but there is no trace of it either in Samhitas, or the Brahmanas and Aranyaka. Dharmshastra works explain Sapinda as blood relations up to the 7th degree on the father’s and 5th degree on mother’s side (Manu, V.60). Panini writes that a great grandson was called yuvan, when a more elderly Sapinda i.e either his uncle or grand-uncle was alive.
V S Agarwal  writes that Sanābhi is equal to samāna nabhi, i.e. those connected with a common nabhi or umbilical cord (VI.3.85) , thus bringing within its fold all the blood relations of different degrees. In Manu Sanābhya is taken as Sapinda.
Basis of Vanshas and Gotras
Gotras have initially been created in the name of a person, a place or some historical incidence. When a great person takes birth in a generation, all the previous titles of this generation are included in the name of this great person and a new gotra starts in his name. Like caste does not change, gotras and vanshas also do not change. There can be more than one gotra in a vansha but there can not be more than one vansha in a gotra. For example Chauhan Vansha has 116 gotras included in it.
Based on persons
The vanshas or gotras started on the basis of persons are Yadavavanshi, Raghuvanshi, Pandava, Rahar, Paurava, Kuruvanshi, Laur, Tanwar, Salkhalan, Tomar, Dahiya, Jakhar, Kushan, Budhwar, Deshwal, Dalal, Maan, Sihag, Kadian, Lamba, Punia, Lalla, Balan, Nava, Taxak, Kakrana, Chandravanshi, Shivi, Gaur, Madra, Bhimbhraulia, Sangwan, Gill, Hala and Suryavanshi etc. 
Based on places
The vanshas or gotras started on the basis of place are Sindhu, Gandhari, Kuntal, Khutail, Ahlawat, Chedi, Sinsinwar, Bhind, Dahima, Nehra, Tewatia, Vahika, Bais, Magadh, Mohil, Tushar, Malloi (Malwa), Sikarwar, Sisodia etc. 
Based on languages
Based on titles
The vanshas or gotras started on the basis of title are Rao, Rawat, Harawat, Chauhan, Solanki, Parihar, Parmar, Thakurela, Chhokar, Thenua, Chapotkat, Rana, Godara, Dixit, Mithe, Chatte, Khatte, Janghare, Bhagaur, Lohchab, Thakur, Antal, Malik, Gathwale, Jatrana, Chaudhari etc. The creation of new vanshas stopped with the vanishing of Rajshahi or Rajvansh. 
Based on geographical features
Some gotras are based on natural and geographical features such as Sun, Moon, Stars, Fire, Water, Forest, Mountains, Lakes, Rivers, Seas, Trees, Flowers, Animals, Birds , Places etc. 
Utility of Gotras in Hindu marriage
Manusmṛti or Manusmriti (Sanskrit: मनुस्मृति), also known as Mānava-Dharmaśāstra (Sanskrit: मानवधर्मशास्त्र), is the most important and earliest metrical work of the Dharmaśāstra textual tradition of Hinduism. Sagotra i.e. same gotra marriages are banned under the traditional matrimonial system. According to the Hindu marriage traditions, commonality of four gotras of mother, father, father’s mother (dadi) and mother’s mother (nani) are avoided for marriages. This has been advocated necessary for proper health and morality of the society. Manava dharmashastra, chapter-3, shloka-5 mentions that -
अस पिण्डा च या मातुर गोत्रा च या पितुः । as piṇdā ca yā mātura gotrā ca yā pituḥ
सा प्रशस्ता द्विजातीनां दार, कर्माणि मैथुने ।। sā praśastā dvijātīnām dāra, karmāṇi maithune
Meaning – The girl who is not from mother’s clan of six generations and who is not of father’s gotra is suitable for marriage amongst dvijati people (Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaishya).
Satyartha Prakasha by Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati also explains in Chapter IV shloka-4 that The girl who is not from mother’s clan of six generations and who is not of father’s gotra is suitable for marriage:
- असपिण्डा च या मातुरसगोत्रा च या पितुः
- सा प्रशस्ता द्विजातीनां दारकर्मणि मैथुने ।। 4 ।।
Satyartha Prakasha has given eight reasons for not marrying in the same gotra. It also explains why it is useful to marry a girl of far off place.
- दुहिता दुर्हिता दूरेहिता भवतीति ।। निरू. ।।
- In Sanskrit a daughter is called duhitri (from Du - distant, Hit - good), because the marriage of a girl to a man who comes from a distant country or distant part of the same country is productive of good.
The advantages and disadvantages of distant and near marriages respectively are :-
- Any two persons who have, in their childhood, lived near each other, played and quarreled together, loved one another, noticed each other's faults, imperfections, ebullitions of temper and misbehaviors, and perhaps sometimes, even each other undressed, if married to each other, can never love each other to the extent desired.
- The marriage of near relatives does not improve the race from want of interchange of fluids and essences (such as blood) of the body, it rather deteriorates it,. This is analogous to the addition of water to water, no new quality being produced.
- As the addition of sugar and such medicines as ginger, improves the taste and quality of milk, so does the marriage of people, who are not related to each other (either on father's or on mother's side), improve the race.
- As in the case of an invalid, change of climate and diet very often effects a cure, so does marriage with foreigners or distant people improve the health of the parties and prove beneficial in every other respect.
- When the parties are nearly related to each other and live amongst their people, the sorrows and joys of one family will affect the other and there will be many occasions for family disputes to arise; while marriages among distant people and consequent separation from relatives lengthen the thread of mutual love. This is not the case when they live near their people.
- When marriages are contracted with people of foreign or distant countries, things and news from those countries can be easily obtained (and consequently relations between different countries become closely established). This not possible when people marry near relatives or persons living near their homes, or, in their own country.
- If the bride's people do not live very far from her husband's home, there is a possibility of her parents becoming poor, as whenever she visits her parents, they will have to give her something or other by the way of a present.
- If their people live near at hand, on any slight friction taking place between the husband and the wife, she, feeling assured that her people will support her, will at once leave her husband and go to her parents. That may become the cause of mutual reviling and wrangling, for, women, as a rule, are so easily offended and pleased.
Gotra in History
Well known historian Dasharatha Sharma writes that It may be that some of Kshatriyas had forgotten their gotra and pravaras, but a good many perhaps never had any. We are therefore not surprised to find either Medhatithi stating in his comment on the Manusmrti, III, 5 that distinction of gotra and pravara applied only to Brahmanas, or Mitakshara laying down that the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas should adopt the gotra and pravaras of their purohitas, inasmuch as they (the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas) had no gotras of their own.[राजन्यविशां प्रातिस्विक गोत्राभावात् प्रवराभावस्तथापि पुरोहितगोत्रप्रवरौ वेदितव्यौ । (Comment on याज्ञवल्क्यस्मृति I,53.)] The only rules of exogamy and endogamy observed were that a Kshatriya generally married Kshatriya and did not marry within his own clan.
- Elaboration of prohibition of same gotra marriage in various Hindu Scriptures
- Article at hitxp.com website
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