Who are the Vadamal ?
The Brahmanas migrating from up North and descending down to South India via the Andhra region as well as the Karnataka region must have settled down in various portions of what is now known as Tamil Nadu - In earlier times it was the Madras Presidency under British rule and even earlier as parts of smaller kingdoms under the Nawab of Arcot , Chanda Sahib of Trichy , the Thondamans of Pudukottai and so forth - The Vadamal or Smarthas as they were also known belong to the group of Brahmanas broadly termed as Iyers or Aiyars today - Distributed from more than a century back around various parts of what is now known as Tamil Nadu it was quite natural that they spoke Tamil within the household - With a large sprinkling of Sanskrit terms the language used by them cannot be called Tamil in a strict sense but it has been understood quite well by the masses -
The Iyers are known to be worshippers of Siva though they have tended to be quite liberal in their beliefs , practices , accepting Vishnu too - I may offer here for comparision the Lingayats of Karnataka with names like Basaveswara who are strong supporters of Siva - This is , of course, in marked contrast to the Iyengars who are staunch Vaishnavites , who would not give the names associated with Siva to their children - It is not uncommon for an Iyer to have a name like Rajaraman or Krishnamoorthy based on avatars of Vishnu but it would be quite unusual and near impossible for an Iyengar to have a name like Subramaniam or Shankar -
The Iyers are divided into sub-sects like Vadamal (supposedly of better stock) , Brahacharanam and Arthasastram - The Vadamal are usually fair in complexion pointing to less blending with local blood - Like the Jews , the trend to marry within family circles or at least within the same sub sect etc would result in maintaining a high degree of genetic carry over of favourable traits like high intelligence levels , good looking features and build , a strong survival instinct with ambitious flavour that tends to eschew the useless and seek more advantage , thus taking the native to the top - There is , of course , less strictness today in such matters and marriage between different sub sects is no longer uncommon -
What does the concept of Gothram signify ?
Broadly speaking the matter is very much to do with paternal lineage - It is supposed that all the Brahmanas find their descent from one or the other of the seven sages or Sapta Rishis - When a Brahmana proclaims that he belongs to the Vasishta gothram , it implies that his paternal ancestry traced backwards would lead to Vasishta , one of the seven sages - This is not very different from the various accounts of geneology traced in the Bible with references like Abraham begat Cain and Cain begat Jesophat etc - A man always takes the gothram of his father and so does a girl till she is married after which her children will of course take the gothram of her husband - Thus it is very clear that paternal lineage is the main criteria here - Adoption though not very common would also imply that the child would take the gothram of the adopting father - The expression "Sa gothram" is used when two people belong to the same gothram - Obviously a man and woman might come from different families , both brahmin Iyers and perhaps even both Vadamal but it might turn out that they belong to the same gothram - Marriage between such people belonging to the same gothram is not normally approved by family elders as they are like brother and sister in an extended sense - The Tamil words "sagotharan" and "sagotharee" standing for "brother" and "sister" are possibly derived from the original expression "Sa Gothram", albeit in a slightly corrupted form and different sense -
How many different gothrams are there and what are pravarams ?
Since the gothram can be traced back to the originating sage of the saptarishis , the mention of the gothram commences with his name and is followed by two or four more names of their descendants , also rishis who came later - We have the concepts of "Triyarsheya pravaraanvitha" which implies names of 3 rishis and "Pancharsheya pravaraanvitha" which implies names of 5 rishis with the pravaram indicating a grouping - These details are best explained by the ceremonial "abhivaadanam" or salutory announcement of one's identity and background in a prescribed form - When a young brahmana would accost an elder it was customary for him to bend down to waist level with both palms around his ears and recite thus :
"Abhivaadayey Angirasa , Barhaspathya , Bharadwaja , Triyarsheya pravaraanvitha , Dhrahyayana sutra , Saama shakaathyaayi , Sri Subramanya Sarma asmi bhoho - Literally translated this would be equivalent to : Prostate before thee do I , who has come down the three rishi lineage of Angirasa , Barhaspathya , Bharadwaja , following the sutra of Dhrahyayana , belonging to the Sama Veda branch , known am I as Subramanya . This is only a random sample and the exact names of rishis , vedam , sutram , name would vary from person to person - For a complete list of pravarams , gothrams , sutrams etc refer the appendix below -
(A small footnote about phonetic spellings - The extended vowel sound of "a" and "aa" needs to be used at least in cases where the word itself is not so familiar - The proper spelling of Rama , the male ought to be actually Raama as there are quite a few South Indian girls called Ramaa with the shortened "a" sound - )
Famous gothrams with their pravarams are first listed below in English alphabetical order for the convenience of our brethren in the west--------------------------------------------------------------------
The full listing of all gothrams would come to around 275 though I must add here that quite a few "gothrams" that are listed could actually be non existent today - The strain could have died out for want of producing male progeny to carry forward the line - By its own definitive content as the "gothram" goes , you will appreciate that when a group of people fail to produce children or produce only or predominantly female children , there is a high probability that the particular "gothram" will die out , given a century or so of this trend - This could also be one of the major reasons for the Indian tendency to have a strong preference for male offspring - In this context of male ego and carry over of family traits / potentials / etc it becomes vital to have male issues so that the male lineage or "gothram" is carried forward - I have known several conventional minded people born during 1920 to even as recent as 1960 who had only daughters born initially but kept persisting in their attempts to have at least one male child - I have known instances where the first three issues were daughters but the 4th turned out to be a son - There have also been cases with people giving up after getting a 4th or 5th daughter - My own maternal grandmother was the 4th in a line of 5 daughters -
Of course in more modern times that we live in today these trends are not seen in such intensity - The open opportunities that young women have today to receive the highest education , occupy high posts in technical as well as managerial areas , means that female children also have the powers and potential to take the family forward to greater heights of prosperity - It is not uncommon today to observe modern educated couples , naturally both gainfully employed , confining themselves to just one child even if it would be a daughter - Employed couples just cannot spare the personal time and energy to bring up too many children - Apparently it is no longer " merrier by the dozen" - It is for the advancing medical technology of today to tell us whether the "genetic pool" in a general sense , misses out on a few vital characteristics , physical or otherwise , when the male lineage as seen above in the context of " gothrams " dies out - If a family has only daughters , spread out over several generations , will some of the latent male traits be able to surface and manifest at least at some point in the future or is that particular "combination" lost for ever ? Will the intensity or strength be good or grossly diluted ? Will records exist over such large gaps in time to make accurate comparisions for study or informed conclusions to be drawn? Our friends must stop quoting from text books and think over the various aspects of this "issue" -