Tuesday, 4 June 2013



Gothra exist since ancient times. Gothra is known by many names across the globe. The Tamils call it gothiram or kilai.

So what exactly is a gothra?

In genetics, the Y-chromosome is passed down from father to son only. It is an unbroken chain which goes back to hundreds of thousands of years.  The Y-DNA is used to determine a person's paternal ancestry.

This is a form of gothra too. It is a Genetic Gothra.

In human genealogy, the gothra is represented as family names. This was started thousands of years ago by our ancestors. They had a purpose to give names to their gothra. It was done mainly to prevent inbreeding in the family.

Besides India, the gothra system is common in countries like China. Chinese family names like Tan, Chua, Lee are all gothras. The Chinese traditionally use their gothra as prefix before their given name. For example, Chua Soi Lek, with Chua as the gothra and Soi Lek as the given name.

Modern Chinese may use an English name and follow the European & Indian pattern of using gothra as suffix, for example Edward Chua, Brandon Lee, Marcus Tan.

The Yang family tree.
The Europeans use the gothra as a suffx after their given name. For example, Kate Middleton, Mark Wahlberg, Justin Bieber. 
Middleton, Walhberg and Bieber are their gothras.

Members of the same gothra are akin to siblings. This is why people of the same gothra are known as sagothra.

If you are a Tamil, you will realize that gothra is the root word for sagothran (brother) and sagothri (sister). You, your brother, your sister, your father's brother's children are all sagothras. This is why you cannot intermarry with them or anyone else from the same gothra.

The Brahmins have their own gothras. It is believed that there were originally 8 gothras which expanded to over 40. The main 8 gothras of the Brahmins are named after the ancient Rishis (sages). They believe that members of each gothra descended from that particular rishi.


Like the Brahmins, the Kallar community of Tamil Nadu have their own gothras too. They have over 1,000 gothras. Names like Vandayar, Thondaiman, Pallavarayar, Kalingarayar, Servai, Thevar, Malavarayar, Muvarayar, Kandiyar, Kandapillai are examples of gothras used by the Kallars.

I mentioned about the Kongu Vellalar in a separate post. They have approximately 60 gothras known to them as kootam. You can read about them here.

Many would have thought that Tamils have no gothras. Truth is, majority of Tamil have gothras. Only minorities do not have it and that actually depends on their individual clan practices.

Interestingly, some Tamils also have matrilineal branches. This is used to determine inheritance like the Minangkabau community.

Various communities in other parts of the world have their own gothras too. Although the names are different,  the purpose of having gothra is still the same.
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