Our ancient land of Bharata is the cradle of Sanatana Dharma. This is the land where humans are born in order to undergo the churning due to karma – to simultaneously enjoy the blessings of punya and exhaust paapa through suffering. This is the holy land where Sriman Narayana undertook numerous avataras to sustain dharma. This is the land where Rama established his ideal kingdom – Rama Rajya – and also the land where Krishna taught us how to fight adharma.
In this very land were born numerous great souls – realized souls – who had direct perception of the Supreme Being – the parabrahman. These souls had complete knowledge of the truth of the world and were detached from the material bindings of samsara – the cycle of birth and death. These souls are what we collectively refer to as ‘Rishis’. Although the root of the word Rishi indicates ‘gati’ or movement, its primary meaning is knowledge. It indicates knowledge of the shastras, satya or truth and tapas or austerity. Therefore, those souls who had great knowledge, were wedded to truth and always engaged themselves in austerities came to be known as Rishis.
The Vishnu Purana declares the greatness of Rishis thus
यो वेदनिहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन् सोश्नुते सर्वान् कामान् ब्रह्मणा विपश्चिता…..
The Rishis had, in their hearts, that parabrahman who has been described by the Vedas!
Classification of Rishis
The shastras declare parabrahman as the one who is infinite in an infinite number of ways. He is ananta in every guNa – auspicious attribute – that we can think of. Naturally, it is impossible for anyone to realize – or have full knowledge of – any entity that is infinite. Still, different souls have varying knowledge of this parabrahman, subject to the extent of their intrinsic ability – swaroopa. This ability to know brahman is highest amongst the Rishis.
Within the category of Rishis also, there is a gradation based on their level of realization. Thus we have Rishis, Rajarshis, Devarshis, Maharshis and Brahmarshi. In the Bala Kanda of the Valimiki Ramayana, there is a description of how Sage Vishwamitra performs repeated cycles of tapas to progressively attain each of these positions and finally ends up becoming a Brahmarshi.
Based on the area of their excellence or fame, there are again a few categories into which Rishis are classified. When Chaturmukha Brahma (the four headed devata – different from parabrahma the Supreme Being) started his process of creation, ten Rishis emerged from his mind – the manas – and these ten were naturally endowed with the divine knowledge of parabrahman. These ten Rishis – Bhrigu, Marichi, Atri, Angirasa, Pulaha, Kratu, Manu, Daksha, Vasishta and Pulastya – came to be known as manasa-putras.
As briefly mentioned earlier, those who attain the highest level of knowledge of parabrahman – amongst the Rishis – are known as Brahmarshis. Seven of them are very well known – Bhrigu, Angirasa, Atri, Vishwamitra, Kashyapa, Vasishta and Shandilya.
At the next level, the Rishis are known as Maharshis. Some of the well-known Maharshis are Shukra, Brihaspati, Upanasha, Utathya, Vamadeva, Apojya, Ishija, Kardama, Vishravassu, Shakti, Valikhilya and Dhara. These became Maharshis due to their jnana or knowledge.
There is another category of Rishis who attained their exalted position due to their relentless pursuit, and practice, of truth. They are known as Satyarshis. Some of the well-known Satyarshis are Vatsara, Nagrahu, Bharadhwaja, Bruhadutta, Sharadvanta, Vajashravasa, Dadichi and Vaishravana.
Yet another classification of Rishis is based on their ‘drashtatva’ or ‘realization’ of the mantras of the Vedas. These Rishis are known as ‘mantra-drashtaara-rishi’. Some of the well-known Rishis under this category are Bhrigu, Kavya, Prachetasa, Grutsamada, Nabha, Angirasa, Bharadhwaja, Gargya, Kanva, Vamadeva, Kakshivanta, Kashyapa, Vatsara, Raibhya-Asita, Atri, Valgutaka, Vasishta and Kundina.
Thus we find a variety of parameters based on which the ancient Rishis were identified and classified.
(Note: The above list of Rishis, under each category, is obviously not exhaustive)
Origins of the Gotra-pravartaka Rishis
The Rishis are also the pravarkatas – the propagators – of various vamshas, the lineages. It is believed that all lineages in the Bharata Bhumi have originally their roots in one of the Rishi paramparas. The lineages are identified by two main attributes – the Gotra and the Pravara. The Gotra indicates the chief clan to which an individual belongs. Further within a Gotra, there exists many ‘Pravaras’ or ‘sub-lineages’. Both the Gotra and Pravara are identified with Rishis who were part of the lineage.
The Gotra is always identified by the name of a single Rishi (mostly) while the Pravara can have a number of Rishis associated with it – up to even seven. Just to illustrate, the author of this post belongs to the ‘Kashyapa’ Gotra – the clan of the Sage Kashyapa – and further belongs to a ‘Tryarsheya’ Pravara – or a Pravara containing the names of three Rishis – the same being Kashyapa-Avatsara-Naidhruvi.
Even today, in many traditional families, the custom of offering salutations to an elder by distinctly stating ones Gotra and Pravara is prevalent. This is termed as ‘Gotrabhivandana’.
There are a number of Rishis who are propagators of Gotra – Gotra-pravartakas. We shall get to the details of these Rishis a little later. However, there are primarily seven chief Rishis – Saptarshis – who are considered as the root for even the Gotra-pravartaka Rishis. In other words, even the Gotra-pravartaka Rishis came from the lineages of these seven Rishis. The names of these seven – Bhrigu, Angirasa, Kashyapa, Atri, Vasishta, Agastya and Vishwamitra – are slightly different from the Saptarshis quoted earlier in the post.
The Matsya Purana provides an interesting insight into the origins of these seven Rishis and how they became the Gotra-pravartaka Rishis.
The longevity of an individual Brahma is 100 years, after which he attains Moksha. Each of the 100 years consists of 360 days and nights. Every single day (and similary every night) in the life of the Chaturmukha Brahma consists of 14 manvantaras. Each manvantara, as measured by our time standards, is equal to 306,720,000 human years. Presently, in the life of the current Chaturmukha Brahma, 6 manvantaras have already passed, and the seventh manvantara is underway. The name of the present manvantara is ‘Vaivaswata’ – so named after the ‘Manu’ or the leader of the current time period. The first of the manvantaras was similarly named after the then Manu – Swayambhu.
Chaturmukha Brahma had created the various life forms during the Swayambhuva manvantara. This included the various Rishis – the Saptarshis being the chief among them. However, it so happened that Lord Shiva once cursed the Rishis to lose their tapasya. The Rishis were greatly depressed by this and they sacrificed their lives, choosing to not live a life without knowledge of the parabrahman.
महादेवस्य शापेन त्व्यक्त्वा देहं स्वयं तथा |
ऋषयश्च समुद्भूताच्युते शुक्रे महात्मनः || M.P – 195 – 6 ||
In the Vaivasvata manvantara, Chaturmukha Brahma decided that it was time to bring back the various Rishis to ensure the propagation of jnana and dharma happened without any hindrance. To facilitate this, he underwent a ‘retas-skhalana’. The veerya thus produced by Brahma was offered, by himself, into a great sacrifice! From the sacrifice, numerous Rishis took birth one after the other.
From the base of the sacrifice, Rishi Bhrigu made his appearance. From the heated coals, Rishi Angirasa was born. Rishi Atri was born from the flames of the fire. From the rays of the fire emerged the resplendent Rishi Marichi. From the hair of Brahma, Rishi Kapisha and Pulastya were born. From his long locks, Rishi Pulaha was born. Right from the middle of the sacrificial fire, Rishi Vasishta appeared. Rishi Kashyapa and Agastya also came out of the sacrificial fire like the others. Numerous other Rishis were also given birth by Brahma in this fashion.
These Rishis got married and subsequently gave rise to numerous other Maharshis. Thus the various lineages started to grow at the onset of Vaivasvata manvantara.
The seven primary Gotra-pravartakas
All the Gotra-pravartaka Rishis are categorized under seven primary Rishis. These seven – Bhrigu, Angirasa, Atri, Kashyapa, Vasishta, Agastya and Vishwamitra – were all Brahmarshis occupying the highest echelons amongst the hierarchy of the Rishis.
From these seven Rishis, there arose 18 chief groups – gaNas – to which all the Gotra causing Rishis belonged. In other words, every Rishi who has propagated a Gotra belongs to one of these 18 gaNas.
The classification of the 7 Brahmarshi families into 18 gaNas is as follows.
- Rishi Bhrigu heads five gaNas.
- The Rishis who are the head of these five gaNas are Jamadagni, Vitahavya, Grutsamada, Vadhrashwa and Vainya
- Rishi Angirasa accounts for eight gaNas.
- The Rishis who are the head of these eight gaNas are Gautama, Bharadhwaja, Kapi, Kanva, Mudgala, Virupa, Harita, Vishnuvruddha
- The other 5 Brahmarshis – Kashyapa, Atri, Vasishta, Agastya and Vishwamitra – head one gaNa each.
Thus the 18 Rishi gaNas are Jamadagni, Vitahavya, Grutsamada, Vadhrashwa, Vainya, Gautama, Bharadhwaja, Kapi, Kanva, Mudgala, Virupa, Harita, Vishnuvruddha, Kashyapa, Atri, Vasishta, Agastya and Vishwamitra.
Brahmarshis and the Gotra Ganas
Ganas and Gotra Rishis
Each of the 18 gaNas listed above have under them a number of ‘Gotra Rishis’. Thus, from 18, we get many tens of Gotras, the descendants of whom are amongst us even today. Further under each Gotra, numerous Rishis and Rishi-kumaras were born. Based on the tradition in the particular Gotra, a number of ‘Pravaras’ or sub-lineages became prevalent.
Thus, each gaNa has several Gotras, each of which further has one or more Pravaras. The Pravaras are classified based on the number of Rishis who are remembered in the lineage.
- Ekarsheya – Pravara has the name of only one Rishi
- Dvarsheya – names of two Rishis used
- Tryarsheya – three Rishi names are used
- Pancharsheya – five Rishis are remembered as part of the Pravara
- Saptarsheya – seven Rishis comprise the Pravara
The documentation of all the Gotra names under each gaNa and the list of all Pravaras under each of those Gotras will be a very exhaustive work, beyond the scope of this post. However, in order to illustrate the richness of the classification, the names of few Gotras under each gaNa and a few Pravaras will be given below.
- Bhrigu – Jamadagni Gana
Some of the well-known Gotras under this gaNa are Jamadagni, Vatsa, Chyavana, Mandavya, Mandukeya, Manduka, Vitashayana, Vairohitya, Valmiki, Markandeya, Panini, Rishtishena, Arshtishena, Anupavi, Druda, Vata, Prachinayogya and Baida.
Some of the Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Bhargava (bhrigu) – Chyavana – Apnuvana – Ourva – Jamadagni. (pancha-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhargava – Chyavana – Apnuvana – Arshtishena – Anupa. (pancha-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhargava – Chyavana – Apnuvana – Ourva. (chatur-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhargava – Chyavana – Apnuvana. (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhrigu – Vitahavya Gana
The well-known Gotras under this gaNa are Vitahavya, Yaska, Vadhula, Mauna, Maukasa, Sharkarakshi, Sharshti, Shalankayana, Daivantyayana, Jabala and Savarni.
Some of the Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Bhargava – Vaitahavya – Savetasa. (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhrigu – Grutsamada Gana
Grutsamada and Shaunaka are the well-known Gotras under this gaNa.
The Pravara common under this gaNa is
- Bhargava – Grutsamada – Shaunaka (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhrigu – Vadhrashwa Gana
Vadhrashwa and Mitrayu are the famous Gotras under this gaNa
The common Pravara belonging to this gaNa is
- Bhargava – Daivodasa – Vadhrashwa (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Bhrigu – Vainya Gana
Vainya and Partha are the most famous Gotra Rishis under this Gana.
The Pravara most often found under this gaNa is
- Bhargava – Vainya – Partha
The above are the gaNas coming under Brahmarshi Bhrigu.
- Angirasa – Gautama Gana
The well-known Gotras under this gaNa are seven in number – Gautama, Ayasya, Ouchathya, Kakshivanta, Oushija, Bruhaduktha and Vamadeva.
Some of the Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Angirasa – Ayathya – Gautama (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Vamadevaya – Barhaduktha (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Outhathya – Kakshivanta – Gautama – Dairghatamasa (pancha-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Bharadhwaja Gana
The well-known Gotras under this Gana are Bharadhwaja, Kusha, Agniveshya, Urja, Yama, Kata, Shaishira, Ksheerashrunga, Vandana, Bruhaspati, Sarvastamba, Kapi, Matavachasa, Gargya and Shainaka.
The commonly occurring Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Angirasa – Barhaspatya – Bharadhwaja (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Barhaspatya – Bharadhwaja – Katya – Aksheela (pancha-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Barhaspatya – Bharadhwaja – Shainya – Gargya (pancha-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Kapi Gana
Tarasvanta, Shalaka, Bindu, Shalka, Patanjali, Bhuyasi, Danuki and Jalandhara are the eight chief Gotras under this gaNa.
The main Pravara under this gaNa is
- Angirasa – Mahiyuva – Rikshayyavasa (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Kanva Gana
Ajamidha, Ghora and Kanva are the main Gotras under this gaNa.
In this gaNa, the main Pravaras are all consisting of a single rishi – ekarsheya Pravaras. Angirasa, Ajamidha, Ghora and Kanva are thus the four main ekarsheya Pravaras.
- Angirasa – Mudgala Gana
The five main Gotras under this gaNa are Mudgala, Trivedi, Takshya, Bharmashyva and Moudgalya.
Each of the five Gotras have ekarsheya Pravaras. Hence the Pravaras are also as the Gotra names above.
- Angirasa – Virupa Gana
The Rishis under this Gana are Virupa, Prushadashva, Paarshadashvi, Rathithara, Aangushta and Ashtadamshtra.
The main Pravara under this gaNa is
- Angirasa – Paarshadashva – Vairupa (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Harita Gana
The ten main Gotras under this gaNa are Harita, Ambarisha, Mandhata, Yuvanashva, Kautsa, Painga, Shankha, Dabhra, Hemagava and Kaumara.
The two main Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Angirasa – Ambarisha – Harita (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Ambarisha – Yauvanashva (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Vishnuvruddha Gana
Fourteen Rishis are well known as Gotra-pravartakas under this gaNa. They are Vishnuvruddha, Shata, Mata, Mapana, Dabhrana, Jaalpa, Oupagavi, Vidabhrana, Badarayana, Nitundi, Kratu, Satyaki and Taluki.
The main Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Angirasa – Vishnuvruddha – Badarayana (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Angirasa – Paurukutsa – Trasadasya (tri-rishi-Pravara)
Thus the above are the details corresponding to the gaNas coming under Brahmarshi Angirasa
- Kashyapa Gana
Brahmarshi Kashyapa has one gaNa under him. There are ten famous Rishis under this gaNa. They are Kashyapa, Vatsara, Naidhruva, Sankruti, Putimasha, Raibhya, Shandilya, Shandila, Devala and Asita.
The main Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Kashyapa – Vatsara – Naidhruvi (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Kashyapa – Vatsara – Raibhya (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Kashyapa – Shandila – Devala (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Atri Gana
The following are the Rishis belonging to the gaNa coming under Brahmarshi Atri.
Atri, Prathama, Svasti, Krishna, Chandra, Pada, Aadima, Atreya, Vamarathya, Gavishtira, Rasa, Paurvatithya, Tithi, Bahutaka, Dhananjaya, Sumangala, Bijavapi and Saumangalya.
The well-known Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Atreya – Archananasa – Shyavashva (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Atreya – Sumangala – Shyavashva (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vasishta Gana
Under Brahmarshi Vasistha, the Gotras are Vasishta, Vaasishta, Upamanyu, Gauravita, Putimasha, Dvitiya Upamanyu, Aabharadvasu, Indrapramada, Parashara, Paarasharya, Vyasa, Shakti, Kundina, Tandi, Sankruti, Sankhyayana, Jatukarnya, Dvitiya Kaundinya and Maitravaruni.
Some of the Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Vasishta (eka-rishi-Pravara)
- Vaashishta – Shakti – Paarasharya (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vaahishta – Maitravaruni – Kaundinya (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Agastya Gana
The Gotras under Brahmarshi Agastya are Agastya, Aagastya, Daardyachyuta, Idhmavaha, Somavaha, Saravaha, Yajnavaha, Himodaka and Panika.
The main Pravaras are
- Aagastya – Daardachyuta – Idhmavaha (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Aagastya – Daardachyuta – Somavaha (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Aagastya – Painayaka – Panika (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vishwamitra Gana
Vishwamitra Gana has thirty nine main Rishis. They are Vishwamitra, Devarata, Manu, Shraumata, Jaulaki, Valuki, Chakita, Ulooka, Yajnavalkya, Narada, Bruhadagni, Kala, Babha, Shabali, Bahu, Rohina, Shalankayana, Savarni, Kamakayana, Purana, Shalavata, Agnideva, Damana, Shaunaka, Ashtaka, Aja, Madhucchandasa, Devashrava, Dhananjaya, Shunga, Kata, Shaishira, Varidhapa, Aghamarshana, Sunu, Pana, Dhoomra, Jatara and Ekahavyaka.
Some of the main Pravaras under this gaNa are
- Vishwamitra – Devarata – Oudala (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vishwamitra – Devarata – Daivashravasa (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vishwamitra – Madhucchandasa – Dhananjaya (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vishwamitra – Shalankayana – Kaushika (tri-rishi-Pravara)
- Vishwamitra – Gathina – Vaishvamitra – Raukshaka – Raivana (pancha-rishi-Pravara)
Thus are the details of all the 18 gaNas of Rishis who are the ancestors of all our lineages.
Gotras and Marriages
Even today, in Sanatana Dharma, the Gotras and Pravaras are an important factor in deciding whether two families will proceed with a marriage proposal. Sa-gotra (within the same Gotra) and especially sa-Pravara (same gotra and also same Pravara) marriages are strictly avoided by traditional families.
Another measure typically used in determining suitability, or otherwise, of marriages is the concept of Sapinda relationship. If in the paternal side of the bride and the paternal side of the groom, there exists any person who performs “pinda daan” to a common ancestor within 7 generations, then that relationship becomes a sapinda relationship, and is avoided for marriage.
Markandeya Purana defines this sapinda relationship very succinctly.
पिता पितामहश्चैव तथैव प्रपितामहः |
पिण्डसंबन्धिनो ह्येते विज्ञेयाः पुरुषास्त्रयः ||
लेपसंबन्धिनश्चान्ये पितामहपितामहात् |
प्रभृत्युक्तास्त्रयस्तेषां यजमानस्तु सप्तमः ||
इत्येषः मुनिभिः प्रोक्तः संबन्धस्साप्तपूरुषः ||
“Father, grandfather and great-grandfather are the three purushas known as “pinda sambandhi”. The great-great-grandfather, his father and his grandfather – these three are known as “pinda-lepa sambandhi”. Including the person who has the right to give pinda, 7 generations thus get accounted for. So have the great munis decided”
Thus amongst the 7 generations thus described, if there is any common pinda-pradaatru (pinda-giver) on either side, then the relationship will end up becoming a sapinda relation.
Gotras for the unknown
Apart from the above detailed Rishis and Gotras thereof there are many Gotras which have originated from many Kshatriyas. These are not covered in this post. One may get to know the same from family sources.
For those who do not know their Gotras, either because the family lost knowledge of the same, or if a person became an orphan in childhood – the Gotra and Pravara of the family purohita becomes their Gotra.
आचार्यगोत्रप्रवरानभिज्ञस्तु द्विजः स्वयम् |
दत्त्वात्मानं तु कस्मैचित्तद्गोत्रप्रवरो भवेत् ||
Another solution given in the shastras is to accept the Kashyapa Gotra since the Shrutis declare Kashyapa as the forefather of all humanity.
गोत्रस्यत्वपरिज्ञाने काश्यपं गोत्रमुच्यते |
यस्मादाह श्रुतिः सर्वाः प्रजाः कश्यपसंभवाः ||
- Smruti muktavali – Shodasha Karma Prakarana – By Sri Krishnacharya, Shishya of Sri Raghavendra Swamiji
- Matsya Purana.
- Markandeya Purana.
- Valmiki Ramayana.
- “Rishigalu” – A book in Kannada by Sri Be. Na. Vijayeendracharya, published by Sri Harivayu Prakashana, First edition, 2014
Featured Image: Himachal Abhi Abhi