Friday, October 30, 2009

211. Gotra , Bari: Genetic tags

A comment from Purushotham Puthran rather innocently enquires: “May I also Know what to say when the Temple priest ask us for the GOTRA.”
Many of us who piously follow Hindu traditional worship patterns and customs, like Purushotham , may have encountered certain degree of embarrassment, especially if you are from non-brahmin lineages , when the temple priest asks you the name of your Gotra,.
Gotra system
The ‘Gotra’ is an ancient system (origin ca. 1700 BC or older) of identifying and classifying the individual. Then there were no genome studies. The individual hymns in the Vedas were said to have been composed by a set of (twelve or so) sages independently and then collated together as a consensus after presenting them in a like- minded group discussion forum or seminar.
Yadava : cow lineage
It seems the Vedic sages adopted a scheme of identification of families earlier used and adopted by pre-Vedic Yadava group (Idiya, Yedava etc equivalents) that specialized in cattle-herding. Or it could be that Yadava cattle camps in the due course adopted a Vedic sage or Guru for guiding them in various physical and metaphysical aspects of life. In other words ancient families were attached to specific cowsheds, since dairy products were one of the primary source of wealth in those days. It was designated Gotra system (go=cow, tra=line), since the classification was based on the name of the cowshed to which joint families were attached at that time.
One of the possibility is that the ‘tra’ (tra=thread; tara,dhara=flow) or lineage system was in vogue among civilized people and the Yadava tribes specially formulated a ’go-tra’ (cow- lineage) system to identify and distinguish persons from their community. The Vedic poet-sages were associated with or sponsored by camps of cattle-herders (Yadava) who depended on dairy products for their livelihood. With passage of time, when families in each camp grew in size, persons were identified by the cow-pen which was named after the priest (Guru) of the camp.
Thus then it was a convenient general practice to identify individuals based on the name of their camps. Subsequently, post-Vedic people of dominant communities (brahmin, kshatriya and vaishya groups) had also the option of joining or adopting any of the pre-existing set of ‘ gotra’ camps, and the opted ‘gotra’ tag was continued in their progeny from father to son.
Thus the gotra tag during the timeline was either innate or acquired. Some of the common ancient gotra were named after sages Agashtya, Angirasa, Athri, Brighu, Bharadwaja, Kashyapa, Vasishta, Vishwamitra etc. (The gotra system obviously evolved over a period of long time. For example Bhardwaja was said to be a descendant of Angirasa. Jamadagni was said to be a descendant of Bhrighu and so on).These sages were scholars of that time and it should be remembered that many of the sages like Valmiki, Vyasa and Markandeya during the history originated from so called backward classes.
Since the ‘gotra’ system was like an identity tag for individual that was perpetuated over the years for the purpose of matrimonial alliances etc, there are inheritors of this ‘gotra’ system even today. The temple priest who asks the name of your ‘gotra’ is only trying to identify you in terms of the original Vedic camps your forefathers possibly belonged to!
However, it should be remembered that were also other people in the antiquity who did not belong to any of these gotra camps or subscribed to their theories.
Bari system
However, there were similar wise systems of identifying persons from different groups was in vogue at that time in the subcontinent. Tulu-Dravida ancestors, for example, had adopted the ‘Bari’ system or the ‘Bali ‘system.
The word ‘bari’ specifically means a side or a flank. In an early civilized human settlement, there were several families residing in a colony and each house was designated specifically based on the origin of the senior persons/parents in the house.
The word ‘bali’ is said to be a variant of the word ‘bari’. However the word ‘bali’ specifically means a forest creeper that was used as thread or rope in the olden days. Therefore the word ‘bali’ means lineage, like the suffix ‘tra’ in gotra. Obviously in the later system there is no mention of 'gow' or the cow, which leads us to surmise that in the beginning this system probably was originally designed by non- Yadava sects and subsequently adopted by Yadavas as gotra system.
Therefore we can conclude that lineage (bali) or side (bari) system was probably prevalent in (at least) north-western India during pre-Vedic (ca. 1700 BC) and ensuing periods. The concept spread to other regions later along with migrating people.
Gotra or Bari
Now back to the dilemma posed by Purushottam Puthran. What to say when your priest asks the name of your Gotra? The answer basically depends on your convictions and beliefs. If you feel that following a ‘gotra’ of Vedic to post Vedic period elevates you, please select (adopt as many have done traditionally) a ’gotra’ name and utter it. Many priests spontaneously classify you as ‘Kashyapa’, ‘Viswamitra’ or ‘Markandeya’, when you are unable to tell your gotra.
Or if you are scientific in your temper, tell the Priest your actual ‘bari ‘. Note that Brahmin families in Tulunadu have adopted surnames based on the names of their family houses such as Kakkilaya, Pejathaya, Kalluraya etc. If the ancient ‘gotra’ system was ever enduring and satisfactory this kind of subsequent adoption of family names was not required.

If you are a ‘Puthran’ in terms of ’bari’ system, I suggest that you should adopt ‘Puthran’ tag as your both ‘bari’ and ‘gotra’.It would be more meaningful than adopting some unknown or unrelated genetic tags.



  1. Is Puthran patrilineally inherited or matrilineally inherited? As far as I know most of the Tulu communities inherited baris thro' mother in the past. (Malayalam : vazhi < tavazhi < taay vazhi = mother's way/side or thro' mother)

  2. Many of us who piously follow Hindu traditional worship patterns and customs, like Purushotham , may have encountered certain degree of embarrassment, especially if you are from non-brahmin lineages

    I can understand confusion or irritation but why embarrassment.

  3. Tulu 'bari' and Gond 'padi' most likely are cognates. Both are clan/family names. However, Dravidian tribes might have still retained the complete structure of clans.

    Among Gonds, from lowest unit to the highest group could be;

    - padi (family nme)
    - padis make up "houses"
    - houses make up a tribal group (identified totemic objects like iguana, tiger etc..)

    Among non-tribal Dravidians tribal group identity has vanished. Family name(bari/vazhi/baLi/paDi) and house names(inti peru(Te)/illam peru(Mal)/vidu peru(Ta/Ma)) are interchangeably used as clan names.

  4. 1.Gond 'padi' and totems is interesting! Is it pronounced 'paaDi'? Can I have some references..on this.
    2.'Embarassment' is composed of confusion and irritation; and ofcourse, with a tinge of tolerance!
    3. Tulu people have both maternal and paternal lineages (especially verified during matrimonial tallying).But they dominantly adopt maternal lineage.

  5. 1. Link

    2. I meant either confusion OR irritation. Confusion due to lack of knowledge or irritation due to knowledge in this case.

    3. Thanks.

  6. I think that link doesn't take you directly to the relevant page. It's in page no. 114. I made mistake in my first message.

    Gonds are divided into tribal groups identified by totemic objects. These groups further divided into 'houses' identified by 'Padi'. Okay, the house-padi structure is similar to non-tribal Dravidians, however, we no longer have tribal group identity (I suppose for obvious reasons).

    Also, in some other book I found it's pronounced as pADi as you have mentioned or pAri too. Not sure what that term mean. It's doubtful whether it's a cognate with 'bari' or 'vazhi'.


Blog Archive

Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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