Gotra Diet


Zubin Dsouza

India is gearing up for the elections and the world’s largest democracy will soon queue up outside polling booths to cast their franchise and elect a prime minister to lead us over the next five years.

Debates are heating up and barbs and insults are being traded like hot commodities on the stock exchange.

Obviously no one has chosen to highlight what they are going to do to fix the basic freedoms that one would associate with a progressive nation.

The transport system is pitiful, women safety is non-existent and clean drinking water is still a dream for many.

We however do have a clear idea of the perfect traits that are desirable for an effective leader of our great nation.

Recently several members of the ruling party have been levelling charges at the president of one of the opposition parties. The latter has been accused of not knowing his gotra and hence being a ninny; deemed unfit to rule or hold a governmental position.

The worst part is that the young leader who is the target has taken the bait and is actually going about justifying his position and gotra.

What a mess!

The term gotra is used whilst adhering to the ancient Vedic caste based lineage system. It is patrilineal having being passed down from father to male heirs. A married woman moves on to adopt the gotra of her husband.

The system may have started as an honest attempt to create an orderly approach to division of labour.

People were divided into castes which further determined their occupation.

The castes were not restricted by geographical divide and each individual settlement could have an amalgamation of all the castes to make the society run effectively.

There were specific people earmarked for priestly duties and as such they would learn the complex rituals and accompanying hymns that were required; the soldier caste prepared for hostile invasions; the farmers tilled their fields and the traders ensured that the economy wasn’t sluggish.

In a strangely complex and aggressive manner, the castes became a part of one’s identity and were passed down from one generation to the next without anyone being allowed to break the chain.

Even if a carpenter’s son possessed the talent and ability, he would not have been conscripted into the army or at the very least would have been taken in as cannon fodder.

The ones at the bottom of the pecking order ended up staying there even to this very day. The discrimination, ill-treatment of people and polarisation of a nation was all done in the name of tradition.

Yet we still choose to defend and justify it.

This is even though we have misunderstood it all along.

Most etymologists linked gotra with the Sanskrit word ‘gotta’ which means ‘being a part of the lineage’.

The word actually originates from ‘goptr’ which means ‘protector’!

In the context of the current conversation, it means ‘protector of a certain tradition’!

And we have managed to take a wonderfully novel concept that we were the first to think of and blow it all to pieces!

In the gotra tradition, the Brahmins are strict lacto-vegetarians. However these rules are generally restricted to a division known as pancha-dravida; the pancha-gauda Brahmins which form another arm are allowed to eat specific non-vegetarian food.

There was a specific period in time when all Brahmins could eat meat specifically for certain rituals but this being the Kal Yug (more on that later) removes meats including eggs from their menus entirely.

The Jains take their vows of ahimsa or passiveness very seriously. Apart from being strict vegetarians, many follow a vegan diet and even eschew root vegetables and tubers in the belief that uprooting them causes the death of tiny insects that burrow themselves in the earth.

The Buddhists who also follow ahimsa did not choose to extend this principle to animals and instead chose the middle path which is generally vegetarianism with occasional meat eating.

They chose instead to focus on curbing the practices of wastage and ritualistic animal sacrifice.

Certain versions of Buddhism also claim that the last meal eaten by Buddha was a dish of pork.

The warrior clans were also meat eaters since they needed the added protein and hunts were part of their tradition.

The traders were vegetarians again because their sedentary occupations made a controlled diet necessary.

Finally we come to the lower castes that were tasked with all the menial jobs. They had the worst treatment.

Apart from being branded as ‘Backward’ or worse still ‘Untouchables’, they were not allowed to integrate themselves in normal society.

They were allowed to eat the flesh of animals that were dead due to causes other than slaughter. Their diets included beef and pork which are meats that were taboo to almost all other classes.

This was hardly compensation for all that they have to endure.

The caste or gotra system and the diet make absolutely no logical sense especially in the present day scenario and yet we have two prime ministerial candidates engaged in a slugfest over it.