What is the general understanding of Gotra, Shakha & Pravar ? Knowing these terms in isolation will be like अन्धगजन्यायः, the maxim of the blind men attempts to explain what the elephant is. These three terms are plinth of Vedic system of culture(संस्कृति), sociology (सामाजिक व्यवस्था) & cultural traditions (परंपरा).
The Gotra is a system which associates a person with his most ancient or root ancestor in an unbroken male lineage. For instance, if a person says that he belongs to the Kutsas (कुत्सस) Gotra then it means that he traces back his male ancestry to the ancient Rishi Kutsas. So Gotra refers to the Root Person in a person’s male lineage.
Along with lineage, there is very deep and well thought aspects of Genetics considered by our sages. Humans have 23 pairs of Chromosomes and in each pair one Chromosome comes from the father and the other comes from the mother. So in all we have 46 Chromosomes in every cell, of which 23 come from the mother and 23 from the father.
If embryo cell has XX sex chromosomes, then the child will be a girl and if it is XY then the child will be a boy. X chromosome decides the female attributes of a person and Y Chromosome decides the male attributes of a person.
When the initial embryonic cell has XY chromosome, the female attributes get suppressed by the genes in the Y Chromosome and the embryo develops into a male child. Since only men have Y Chromosomes, son always gets his Y Chromosome from his father and the X Chromosome from his mother. On the other hand, daughters always get their X Chromosomes, one each from both father and mother.
So the Y Chromosome is always preserved throughout a male lineage (Father – Son – Grandson etc.) because a Son always gets it from his father, while the X Chromosome is not preserved in the female lineage (Mother, Daughter, Grand Daughter etc.) because it comes from both father and mother. Thus genetical (अनुवंशिक) continuity is dependent on this Y chromosome, through it the typical genetical peculiarities / competencies / capabilities / nature are transitioned from one generation to others. Taking care of genetical qualities/virtues are very crucial for overall development of human race and that’s why Sagotra (or swa-gotra) marriages were not having social acceptance in ancient times. Similarly, out of varna (जातीगत ऑक्युपेशन) were also not acceptable.
(Ironically, in modern times, humans are doing deep research for animal breeding, but the core principle of genetics are not considered for we humans. It is not the subject here and we are omitting this subject.) The cultural aspect of Gotra is quite interesting. In very ancient times, entire Ved was one knowledge volume, the Vedas are the large body of vast knowledge and text, the religious and spiritual teachings of all aspects of life.
Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types or four portions.
The Samhitas, they are most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, and benedictions which has in literary terms put together or joined the other three texts; The Aranyakas, which constitute the philosophy behind the ritual sacrifice, The Brahmanas, which in turn has the commentary on hymns of four Vedas and The Upanishads, which consist of conversations between teachers and students, clarify the Vedas’ philosophical message.
Badarayan Ved Vyas did the compilation and did the division for better understanding/study and preservation in to four parts under his four disciples i.e. Paila was asked to preserve of Rigveda, Jaimini for Samaveda, Vaishampayana for Yajurveda and Sumantu of Atharvaveda. Yajurved is further classified in Krushna Yajurved under Vaishampayan and Shukla Yajurved under Yajnavalkya.
Each ved has various branches (shakhas) which were taken care of by their respective Rishi. In essence, whoever principal disciple was taking care of respective shakha, his linage got his name as Gotra. Sometimes, some major Rishi could have multiple shakhas under them and in that case multiple Shakha have same gotra, but it is kind of exception and not norm. To understand, Kutsas rishi who was disciple of Yajnavalkya was preserving/studying Kauthumbini shakha of Shukla Yajurveda and under him, few of our MCCS families have got the name of Kutsas gotra. It becomes of our pious duty to study, spread and take the message of Shukla Yajurveda, living life as per his traditions/parampara.