[Advaita-l] On sagotra Marriages

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Jun 20 09:25:29 CDT 2011

> Prohibition of Sagotra marriages is one such rule allowing for
> flexibility.Basically there were sagotra marriages performed as families
> were restricted to Agraharas and there was not much of movement from place
> to place. Sagotra marriages were causing both mental and physical damage to
> the offspring. This was realised and then sagotra marriages were prohibited.

Statements such as these need to be backed up with historical data. Or at
least with incidents and anecdotes related in mythology that could indicate
a historical progression of allowing sa-gotra unions to prohibiting sa-gotra
marriages. A few 19th century and early 20th century writers held such a
view, which is being mindlessly parroted by some today. e.g.
which says "the rigid injunction against marriage within a Gotra itself implies
that once the practice of marrying within one Gotra must have existed." If
this is the strongest argument that can be offered, it is extremely weak
indeed. Prohibiting theft doesn't indicate that stealing was ever a social
norm. Yes, some people steal, but that would have never been acceptable
to other people in a society, no matter how primitive or how ancient. In a
similar way, yes, some marriages probably occured between members of
the same gotra in the distant past. But to describe it as the ancient norm
is completely unsound, from all possible angles, whether from the ritual
perspective within Vedism/Brahminism/Hinduism or from a modern social
studies perspective of sociology or anthropology. I wish Indians in this day
and age learned a little bit more of critical methodology from contemporary
Western academia when studying and describing their own ancient heritage. 
For example, take the other rarely commented upon prohibition that is 
commonly observed in south Indian society. Why is it that the children born
to two sisters cannot marry each other? They would, by definition be of
different gotra-s, unless both sisters had been married to men of the same
gotra. And south Indian custom is not so strict about sa-piNDa prohibitions,
seeing as how a man could wed his maternal uncle's daughter or a paternal
aunt's daughter. But nowhere is it seen in south India that a man could 
marry his mother's sister's daughter. To understand the historical, social
and cultural reasons for such customs needs a nuanced and critical eye,
rather than repeating tired old theories postulated a century or so ago
and making unwarranted conclusions.
That said,
> However over a period of time people( of same gotra -say ) started to
> migrate to far off places. For example a family with Gotra Kaundinya in
> Vizag can not link with a family of Kaundina in Guntur even after going back
> in to the past( say- five to six generations) . The basic presumption for
> prohibiting sagotra marriage may not hold good in the above case. It may be
> noted that this concept of generations is taken up by ancestors for allowing
> other type of marriages( Sapinda.. ) . If this is so it is more than
> possible to permit Sagotra marriages by applying this concept of looking
> back for three or more generations .

there may be some contemporary incentive to really understand and get
to the roots of the do-s and dont-s in cases such as you describe. On the
other hand, the Indian population is vast. If a prospective bride and groom
have made up their own minds to marry and happen to be from the same
gotra, that is a different question. It would be more honest, as suggested
by other list members, for all the individuals involved to acknowledge that
this is a problematic issue from the SAstric perspective and to take a
principled stand about how to deal with it. But if a wedding is to be arranged
in a traditional way and conducted with the traditional religious ceremonies,
is the eligible sample so limited as to have to choose a match within the
same gotra? 
> It is high time that we do away with static interpretation of certain
> principles, Dharmas when inherently they imply flexible applications with
> changing times.
> May be we discuss sub item in true spirit without resorting to quoting
> scriptures and others but based on related scientific principles.

I think it is hypocritical to call for flexible interpretation of dharma in one
breath and follow it up with request not to quote scripture. You can't do
any sort of interpretation, static or dynamic, rigid or flexible, without
quoting relevant chapter and verse first. I wonder what you mean by "do
away" with a static interpretation in this regard. Are you expecting one
of the Sankaracharyas to come up with a proclamation that says gotra 
considerations will henceforth be irrelevant for marriage? Given that a
Sankaracharya title seems to have become all too common nowadays,
you may even find someone prepared to make such a proclamation. The
question is, what force or validity will it have?
The truth is that it is only in the various offshoots of Vedic culture that we
have never insisted on rigidity and static application of principles. The
very fact that we have a vast diversity of customs and traditions, while
quoting the same basic sets of SAstric texts means that over the centuries,
a variety of flexible applications and dynamic interpretations were made
and indeed accepted. If one does not want to quote scripture and/or give
due weight to precedent from a legal/cultural/social/historical perspective
when it comes to marriages, then there are numerous other valid options
in contemporary society to  proceed with a marriage. For example, a civil
marriage registered legally bypasses the entire sagotra issue. 


ps. Although this topic is getting far away from the focus of this list, there
seems to be some usefulness in discussing basic attitudes towards reason
and revelation/custom/tradition. Inasmuch as that may help critical thinking
towards the role of reason and revelation/custom/tradition in the philosophy
of advaita vedAnta, this thread may be okay. If it wanders too far afield, the
moderators of this list (Ravisankar Mayavaram, Jaldhar Vyas and I) will have
to draw a line and say thus far and no further.  		 	   		  

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