Did you Know ?

1. What is Gotra?

In Hindu culture, the term gotra refers to our ancestry or lineage in Brahmins (like a Kul). It refers to people who are descendants from a common male ancestor or patriline (father’s side). Gotra is different from a surname though some people may use it as a surname.

When a person says “I am Kaushik-gotra”, he means that he traces his descent from the ancient sage Kaushik Rishi by unbroken male descent.

According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.2.4 there are 7 rishi’s (or Saptarishi), which are original Gotra’s as: Kashyapa, Atri, Vasistha, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Bharadvaja, each of them a great rishi/sage. Two other gotras were added for Rishi Agastya & Rishi Shandilya and it is believed now that about 49 brahmin gotras evolved from these original gotras. People of the same gotra can be found across different brahmin castes and across length & breadth of India. Each Gotra comprises pravaras.

Our Modh Chaturvediya Chuntha Samvay community consists of following six Gotras: Bharadvaja, Shandilya, Kaushik, Kutsas, Vatsas and Mandavya. You can see more details of our gotras and surnames/families under each in our Community details section.

2. What is Pravara?

Every Brahmin Gotra is further sub-divided into several divisions called Pravaras, meaning ‘most excellent’. A Pravara represents the lineage of individuals under a particular Gotra who had ‘achieved greatness’. These individuals were also saints or sages and direct descendants of the original Saptarishi. Pravara is thus used to identify one’s ancestry under a gotra. In our vedic rituals, the importance of the pravara is to announce one’s ancestry and proclaiming, “as a descendant of worthy ancestors, I am a fit and proper person to do the act I am performing.” Generally, there are two, three, five or seven pravaras within each Gotra. Within each Pravara, there can be further classification of various ‘Shakhas’. So each person can be mapped as ‘Gotra-xx, Pravar-xx & Shakha-xx’).

3. What is Choghadiya?

Choghadiya Panchang is a Vedic Hindu calendar. There are two types of Choghadiya, one for Day-time (from sun-rise to sun-set) and one for Night-time (from sun-set to sun-rise). As per ancient Hindu calendar, one ghadi is approx.24 mins and Choghadiya which consists of 4 such ghadis is of approx. 96 mins duration. There are totally seven Choghdiyas. Amrut, Shubh and Labh are considered the auspicious Choghadiyas, Chal is considered as good Choghadiya whereas Udveg, Kaal and Rog are considered inauspicious Choghadiyas. Any good deed should be done in any of the four good choghadiyas and the three inauspicious Choghadiyas should be avoided as far as possible. For daytime Choghadiya, one should find the sunrise time for that day and start calculating chogahdiya based on approx 90 mins duration from sun-rise time. Similarly, for nighttime Choghadiya, one should find the sunset time for that day and start calculating chogahdiya based on approx 90 mins duration from sun-set time. (You can refer daily sunrise/sunset time for each day and Choghadiya details in our Panchang section).

4. What is Sutak?

Sutak is an inauspicious period, that happens due to certain specific events such as eclipse, birth of a child or death in the family. Duration of sutak period differs from 1 day (24 hours) or up to 14 days, depending on the event causing such sutak. The concept of sutak is based on belief that the underlying events could make one’s atmosphere contaminated and extra precautions need to be taken to avoid any harmful side effects due to such contamination. Once the sutak period is over, it is recommended to have a fresh bath and change janoi/yagnopavit. Any auspicious or good actions such as daily worship, celebrations, any puja or havan, engagement, wedding ceremonies etc. are prohibited during the sutak period. For sutak occurring due to solar or lunar eclipse, it is advised that all type of food either solid or liquid are prohibited during sutak and eclipse. Hence one should not eat when the eclipse is on (at the place under discussion) and also preferably all stale food should not be consumed and is best discarded; only freshly cooked food should be consumed after the eclipse period is over. If the sutak occurs due to birth/death in the family, then the family members should also not visit the temples till the sutak period is over.

5. What is Shraddh?

Shraaddh is one of the important sanskaras for a Brahmin. it is the ritual that one performs to pay homage to one’s ‘ancestors’ (or Pitṛu), especially to one’s dead parents. As part of rituals, the offerings are made to three generations i.e. father, grandfather and great grandfather / mother, fathers’ mother, fathers’ grandmother & so on. Offerings include balls of cooked rice (bhaat) called as ‘Pinda’ to the departed souls. Many people visit Hindu pilgrimage sites to perform Shraaddh ceremonies, like Chanod (Gujarat), Haridwar, Nashik, Gaya etc. Second half of the Hindu month Bhadrapada is called Pitru Paksha and its amavasya (New Moon day) is called sarvapitri amavasya. During this time offering called ‘Vaas’ is made of Bhakhari, milk & sugar and offered to crows who are believed to be carrying spirits of ancestors. This Pitru Paksha time period in month of Bhadrapada is considered inauspicious in muhurtaśāstra (electional astrology) and not recommended to do any auspicious or good actions such as celebrations, any major puja or havan, engagement, wedding ceremonies etc.

6. What is Surdhan Dada Temple?

It is believed the word Surdhan comes from Shoor (meaning brave) and Dharani (meaning land or a location), thus it signifies a past brave event at a given place. Western India, especially Saursahtra region has rich history of various paliyas (stone marking ancestral place). A small temple (dehri) marking Surdhan refers to a place where a noble or brave ancestor gave away his life usually accidentally or at a young age and so it is often referred as ‘Surdhan dada’. It can have one or more stones, symbolic of face/head of such ancestors. In many families it is a ritual to visit such Surdhan temple at least once a year or after special events like wedding or child birth in the family. Often families under same gotra may have a common Surdhan dada/temple, even though they may be related as distant cousins, separated by few generations. In case the ancestors gave away life in a fight or a battle, such place or temple is referred as ‘Sura-pura’ dada.

7. Why we say 'Svaha' while performing a Hom-Havan-Yagna?

Goddess Svaha is the name of Agnidev’s wife. Lord Krishna blessed Goddess Svaha saying, “You become the wife of Agnidev and be full of fire power and satisfy the deities. With my blessing you will be worshiped as part of mantras. Those who chant your name at the end of the mantra and offer incense to the gods will be easily received by the gods.” After this Agni Dev and Goddess Svaha got married and Goddess Svaha became Agnidev’s wife. Thus the power of fire in Agnidev is the subtle form of Goddess Svaha, who accepts the offerings offered by the devotees and nourishes the deities with them. From then on, sages and Brahmans started chanting ‘Svaha’ with mantras and offering sacrifices in the fire and the gods began to receive these substances in the form of food. For this reason, we say ‘Svaha’ when making an offering in a Hom-Havan-Yagna.

8. What is special significance about these days of Hindu calendar: Vasant Panchami, Gudi Padwa, Akshaya Tritiya and Dussehra ?

In Hindu calendar, all these days i.e. Vasant Panchami, Akshaya Tritiya (or Akha Trij), Gudi Padwa and Dussehra (or Vijayadashmi) are considered especially good or auspicious for taking up any new or good action. Any auspicious or good actions such as celebrations, any major puja or havan, engagement, wedding ceremonies, business inauguration etc. can be performed on these days and you do not need to check if it is a good day. Every moment of these days is considered auspicious.

Vasant Panchami is celebrated every year on the fifth day of the bright half (Shukla/Sud Paksha) of the month of Magha. Vasant Panchami is a festival that marks the beginning of preparations for spring season, and it happens 40 days before Holi, when the Vasant/Spring season is in full bloom.

Gudi Padwa is also a spring-time festival that marks the traditional new year in some parts of India like Maharashtra and Goa. It is the first day of the Chaitra month. The word padava or padavo comes from the Sanskrit word pratipada which refers to the first day of a lunar fortnight. Gudi Padwa also marks beginning of Chaitra Navaratri puja in some parts of North India like U.P. & Himalayas.

Akshaya Tritiya, (or Akha Trij) falls on the third tithi of the bright half (Shukla/Sud Paksha) of the month of Vaisakha. Every year, after winter, Gangotri Temple and Yamunotri Temple are opened for pilgrims on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya.

Dussehra (or Vijayadashmi) festival marks the victory of Ram (Good) over Ravana (Evil). It is observed on the tenth day in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin.

So the importance of above four days is that all these days can be considered especially good or auspicious for starting any new activity or any celebration.

9. What are 16 Samskaras (or Shodasha Samskaras) in Hinduism for a Brahman male?

As per Hinduism every aspect of life is sacred and so each stage of life, from conception to cremation, is celebrated as a reminder that life is a gift from God that should be duly respected. The Vedic seers prescribed a set of 16 observances (or “Shodasha Samskaras“). These cover: 3 Pre-natal Samskaras which are: (1) Garbhadhan (Conception), (2) Punsavan (Engendering a male issue), (3) Simantonayana (Hair-parting), followed by 6 Post-natal/Childhood Samskaras which are: (4) Jaatkarma (Birth rituals), (5) Namakarana (Name-giving), (6) Nishkraman (First outing), (7) Annaprashana (First Solid Food), (8) Chudakarma or Chaulkarma (Shaving of head), (9) Karnavedh (Piercing the earlobes), followed by 4 Educational Samskaras which are: (10) Vidyarambha (Learning the alphabet), (11) Upanayana (Sacred thread initiation), (12) Vedarambha (Beginning Vedic study), (13) Keshant (Shaving shaving head and beard), (14) Samavartan (End of studentship), followed by Marriage Samskara (15) Vivaha (Marriage Ceremony) and finally Death Samskara (16) Antyeshti (Death rites).

10. What is the importance of 'Garbo' pot during Navratri festival?

Almost all Gujaratis follow a ritual during Navratri festival of bringing Garbo home. Garbo an earthen pot that is decorated with colors, beads, mirror pieces etc. and with a series of see-through holes on all sides. During Navratri, every night a lamp is lighted inside the Garbo pot. This earthen pot symbolizes the universe and the lamp inside is considered as God/energy powering the entire universe. Garba pot usually has three rows of holes in the pot, with nine holes in each row denoting 27 Nakshtras or Zodiac signs. Thus, Garbo signifies that God is present everywhere in the universe. Another meaning of Garbo is Garbha (or womb). It is dedicated to Goddess Amba who is the protector of entire world and she keeps all her children under her warmth. The lamp inside the pot symbolizes a baby growing in the womb of the mother. Navratri festival is devoted to celebrate the woman-power of the world. Devotional songs (in Gujarati) are sang during these nine nights addressing Mataji and these songs are called ‘Garba’ songs. Traditionally, woman-folk in a neighborhood locality would get together and dance to these devotional garba songs and these dances are also called Garba.