Kuladevata darshan and the Gotra system in Hinduism

KuladevtaThe seniors and elders in the family and the old family priest used to tell me that we should go for our Kuladevata (Kuladev and Kuladaivat = family or Gotra deity, that is either a god or a goddess) darshan.

We have a tradition of village (community) deity -that’s Lakshmi Narasimha – and Gotra deity – that’s Mahalasa Narayani. Our Kuladevta temple is in Mardol, Goa hence we decided to go for a quick visit and reached temple on November 1, 2014.

The temple of Mahalsa Narayani is located at the small village of Mardol, about 22 kms from Panaji, the capital city of Goa. The Goddess Mahalsa is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, hence the name Mahalsa Narayani (Mohini, a a beautiful damsel representing the form of an enchantress). There are a number of legends associated with the deity and how she came into being.

For starters, the Sanatan Dharma followers (or Hindus) were living happily and peacefully from Gandhara Desa (today’s Afghanistan) to Philippines (including Tibet and China’s Yunnan Province) centuries ago. My ancestors were believed lived somewhere in Kashmir to Nepal belt five thousand years ago. Mahalsa Narayani temple was somewhere in Nepal.

The Goddess deity was moved from Nepal to Aurangabad in Maharashtra. During the Mugal invasion in Aurangabad the idol was moved to a secret location in Goa. Later, the deity was housed in a temple at a shrine in village of Verna which is now the site of an industrial estate. Along with other 4000 Goan temples, this beautiful temple at Verna was also marked for destruction by the Portuguese missionaries around 1543 as part of inquisition.

However, before the actual demolition could take place the idol of the deity was smuggled away across the river by faithful devotees, to the safer locale of Mardol, where it is located today.

Mahalasa is Kuladevata for my Gotra. My Gotra is Vishwamitra- Aghamarshana- Kamsi.

“What’s a Gotra?”

Gotra = lineage (Sanskrit). Many lines of descent from the major Rishis (Sages or Saints or Seers) were later grouped separately. The sages were probably the source of the gene pool in ancient India. The Gotra is a system that associates a person with his most ancient or root ancestor in an unbroken lineage. For instance if a person says that he belongs to the Vaashishtha Gotra then it means that he traces back his ancestry to the ancient Rishi Vashishtha. So Gotra refers to the root person in a person’s lineage.

There are approximately 49 Gotras. The major Gotras were divided into ganas (subdivisions) and each gana was further divided into groups of families.

People belonging to various castes may have same Gotra Hindu social system. Even gods have Gotra – Sri Rama is considered to be of Vaashishtha Gotra and Sita is of Vatsa Gotra. Lord Venkateswara belongs to Bharadwaja Gotra.

For thousands of years, people maintained the genetic track in their own way – never mixing it up or doing anything which will disturb the track – so that their progeny come out well – remember, those sages perfected life-style to attain ‘Ayur, Arogya and Saukhyam'( longevity, health and happiness). The system was founded upon yoga, meditation, pranayama (In many forms like Sandhya Vandana, Surya Namaskar, Shodasa Karma etc) and perfect food habit based upon pure vegetarianism. It was known as “Sattvik” life style. The life-expectancy of an average human being was 126 years then – that too with good health.

“Is Gotra scientific and relevant today?” You might ask.

I am not an expert to comment on that. Our ancestors considered the best method to verify the genetic feasibility of a marriage is to prevent same Gotra marriage. A Bride and a Bridegroom belonging to the same Gotra are considered to be siblings and hence it is prohibited for them to marry even if they belong to distant families. Such marriages may cause genetic disorders in their offspring. Its a fact that we all inherit the DNA of our ancestors. If both are from the same lineage, they will carry more or less the same type of DNA. So Gotra system may have had some wisdom in order to avoid in breeding.

Today, we can conduct a DNA test of little bone of someone who died a hundred years ago and compare it with your DNA and find if he was your grandfather. You can do this even for someone who died ten thousand years ago. Modern science is researching more on this. They can find something that works for your DNA, and all the people who have that type of DNA will get benefit. Reflect this on Sattvik life-style.

If marriages take place within the same Gotra then the risk of Recessive Gene Disorder (RGD) becomes higher. But it does not mean every such couple will give birth to a baby with the RGD. If two recessive genes, one from mother and the other from father, happen to join then the manifestation of single gene-specific disease is sure. According to medical science, an inbred man or women may suffer from as many as 6000 ailments, arising out of genetic disorder.

The Gotra System might have had its benefits in its initial days – so Gotra was the single criteria for marriage. But thousands of years later today Gotra is replaced by superstitious horoscope matching and material gains in matrimonial alliances.

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 legalizes marriage between members of the same Gotra. So it doesn’t have any legal or traditional sanctity today.

Very few people (especially those who belong to Brahmin community) know about their Gotra. Even they are not following the life-style perfected by those Sages. We don’t know how many of our grandparents maintained the lineage. There has been lot of cross-breeding, inter-connections, mutations and conversions happened during the last few centuries. There are cases of artificial insemination too. So the chances of having the same recessive gene or perfect gene are very scarce … (around 0.000001%). So, we cannot prove anything in a laboratory.

Still, why should one take such risk? I am seeing and listening to hundreds of miseries in life – diseases, infertility, stress, depression, failures etc. It could have from RGD. And we have fools-proof system to fight it out. So I advocate the sattvik life style to all. Even if we do not know our Gotra and even if Gotra is irrelevant today, our DNA would quickly heal itself by being Sattvik. Hence it is worth your life. As you go ahead in your life you will understand this truth.

Udaylal Pai

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