Gowda Saraswath Brahmins, Their Gotras and Kuladevatas

Gowda Saraswath Brahmins were originally residents along the banks of Saraswathi river. There are references to these Brahmins in Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavatam and Bhavishyothara Purana, as one among several Brahmins. In Vanaparva of Mahabharata when Pandavas were residing in Dwaitaranya and Kamyakhavana along the banks of Saraswati, Rishi Vakadalbhya while addressing Yudishtira, says “O King, you are indeed fortunate to have got the services of learned Brahmins belonging to the Gotras of Bhrugu, Angiras, Agastya, Kashyap, Atri to do the Agnihotra rituals”. These are the Gotras of Saraswath Brahmins.

The original habitat of Saraswaths, land between the rivers Saraswathi and Drishadvati, is mentioned in Rigveda. This land is referred to as Brahmavarta in Manusmruti. Mention of this piece of land is also there in Varahamihira’s Bruhat Samhita, Markandeya Purana and Bhagavata.

Gowda Saraswath Brahmins have a long history and hoary past in respect of their affiliation and allegiance to Kuladevatas or family deities. They carried their Kuladevatas along with them from place to place as they migrated over the years.

According to Mahabharata, Lord Parushurama, an Avatar of Vishnu, was furious at the whole of Kshatriya race when his father Jamadagni was killed by King Kartaviryarjuna. To avenge this killing he exterminated the whole Kshatriya race in a bloody battle and took over all their territories. He was advised by his guru to do Prayaschita (Expiatory rituals) for this slaughter of kings, and as a parihara he donated all the conqured territories away. As he could not stay in a land donated by him, he went south of Vindhyas and obtained from Varuna the King of seas, a piece of land known as Sapta Konkana on the west coast of India. Konkana is the name of his mother. In order to tend this reclaimed land and settle down he went to Gowda desha, (Trihotrapura), near present day Bihar and West Bengal, and brought back with him Gowda Saraswath Brahmins of Ten Gotras along with their family deities. The ten Gotras of Gowda Saraswath Brahmins brought by him to Kushastali in Goa, which is the mid Sapta Konkana, are as follows 1. Bharadwaj 2.Kaushik 3. Vatsa 4. Koundinya 5. Kashyapa 6.Vasista 7. Jamadagni 8. Vishwamitra 9. Goutama 10. Atri.

Kula referres to a family of persons related by blood living together and dedicated to a common cause. The Kurma Purana says that a Kula has nine characteristic namely 1. Good conduct 2. Humility 3. Scholarship 4. Stature in Society 5. Prilimigrage in Holy places 6. Steadfastness to the common cause, 7. Noble actions 8. Studiousness and 9. Generosity in donating to good causes. When the members of the Kula deviate from these characteristics and indulge in contrary conduct and behaviour, then the Kula perishes.

“आचारो विनयो विद्या प्रतिष्ठा तीर्थदर्शनम् ।   निष्ठा वृत्तिस्तपो दानं नवधा कुललक्षणम्” |कुलान्यकुलतां यान्ति ब्राह्मणातिक्रमेण वै ।    अनृतात् पारदार्य्याच्च तथाऽभक्षस्य भक्षणात् ।   अश्रौतधर्म्माचरणात् क्षिप्रं नश्यति वै कुलम् ।    अश्रोत्रिये वै वेदानां वृषलेषु तथैव च ।   विहिताचारहीनेषु क्षिप्रं नश्यति वै कुलम्” ।    इति कूर्म्मपुराणे उपरिभागे १५ अध्यायः ।

In the ancient and earlier Kulas each Kula had its own deity at home called Kula Devata which they used to worship in order that they may sustain the nobility and characteristics of the Kula.

Any given Kula will have a single distinctive Gotra. Gotra refers to the parentage of a person, having a recorded line of descent from the originator of Gotra or Gotra Pravartaka, and is an index of pedigree of the person. Thus the descendents of the original Saptarishis namely

  1.  Bharadwaja
  2. Kashyapa
  3. Atri
  4. Vasista
  5. Vishwamitra
  6. Goutama and
  7. Jamadagni, have the names of the Rishis.

Pravara means the notable earliest descendents of the Rishis.

The following table lists the Gotras and Pravaras of the Seven Rishis:

Rishi Gotra Pravara
Bharadwaja Bharadwaja Angirasa Bharhaspatya Bharadwaja
Kashyapa Kashyapa Kaashyapa Avatsara Naidruva
Atri Atri Aatreya Archanaanasa Shyavaaswa
Vasista Vaasista Vaasista Indrapramada Abharadvasa
Vishwamitra Vishwamitra Vaishwamitra Devarata Aaudala
Gautama Gautama Angirasa Ayaasya Gautama
Jamadagni Jamadagni Bhargava Chyavana Apnavan Aurva Vatsa

There are some groups of Brahmins who have only the above seven Gotras. However the ten Gotras of Gowda Saraswath Brahmins bought by Lord Parushurama to Goa as follows:

  1. Atri
  2. Kashyapa
  3. Koundinya
  4. Kaushika
  5. Gautama
  6. Jamadagni
  7. Bharadwaja
  8. Vatsa
  9. Vasista
  10. Vishwamitra

It is thus seen that Gowda Saraswath Brahmins Gotras include all the Saptarishi Gotras and three more namely, Koundinya, Kaushika and Vatsa. Pravara of these Gotras as follows:

Rishi Gotra Pravara
Koundinya Koundinya Vasista Maitravarna Koundinya
Kaushika Kaushika Vishwamitra Aghamarshana Kaushika
Vatsa Vatsa Bhaargava Chyavana Apnavan Aaurva Jamadagni

Even today in our daily Sandhyavandan during Abhivadana and Gotra Pravarochara we call on main Gotra Pravartaka and the Principal decedents to protect us.

While any given Kula has one common Gotra the same cannot be said for the Kula Devata. Any given Kula Devata has as its Kulavis, descendents of multiple Gotras as (Kulavis of a Kula Devata refers to the members of a Kula owing allegiance to that Kula Devata). A further characteristic specially for Gowda Saraswath Brahmins is that depending on surnames namely Pai, Kamath, Nayak, Baliga etc.., there is variation in Kula Devatas of each surname. Eg: a Nayak of Koundinya Gotra has Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi as Kula Devata, while a Nayak of Kaushika Gotra worships Nagesh Mahalakshmi as Kula Devata.

The following table gives the Kula Devata of Gowda Saraswath Brahmins of different surnames and gotras.

Sl. No SURNAME GOTRA KULA DEVATA
 1  Baliga
  •  Kashyapa
  • Vatsa
  • Kaundinya
  • Damodar Mahalakshmi & Damodar Arya Durga
  • Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi
 2  Bhakta
  •  Koushika
  •  Mahalasa Narayani
 3  Bhat
  •  Atri
  • Gargya
  • Koundinya
  • Vatsa
  •  Mahalasa Narayani
  • Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi
 4  Hegde
  •  Kashyapa
  •  Damodar Mahalakshmi & Damodar Arya Durga
 5  Kamath
  • Gargya
  • Koundinya
  • Kaushika
  • Mahalasa Narayani
  • Mahamaya
  • Damodar Mahalakshmi & Damodar Arya Durga
 6  Kini
  •  Koundinya
  •  Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi
 7  Mallya
  •  Vatsa
  •  Nagesh Mahalakshmi
 8  Nayak
  • Koundinya
  • Kaushika
  • Shanka Pingala Kausha
  • Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi
  • Nagesh Mahalakshmi
  • Narasimha Shanta Durga Vijaya Durga
 9  Padiyar
  •  Shanka Pingala Kausha
  •  Narasimha Shanta Durga and Vijayadurga
 10  Pai
  • Atri
  • Bharadwaj
  • Kaushika
  • Kaundinya
  • Mahalasa Narayani
  • Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi
 11  Prabhu
  • Atri
  • Kashyapa
  • Bharadwaj
  • Kaushika
  • Devaki Krishna Ravalanath
  • Nagesh Mahalakshmi
  • Damodar Mahalakshmi & Damodar Arya Durga
 12  Shenoy
  • Gargya
  • Kaushika
  • Kaundinya
  • Vatsa
  • Mahalasa Narayani
  • Katyayani Baneshwar
  • Ramnath Shanteri Kamakshi

The Ambalamedu Kula Devata Complex is a brain child of HH Srimad Sudhinrda Thirtha Swamiji the 20th Matadipati of Samsthan Sri Kashi Math. Realising the dire need to remind the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins Samaj of its glorious tradition of Kuladevata worship, particularly in the Kerala region, he conceived of a grand Kuladevata Temple complex on a eleven acre barren land on a hill at Ambalamedu in Kochi. This complex was inaugurated on 28th February 1994 at a grand function.

NIne Kuladevatas were indentified based on the Gotras of the GSB community in Kerala, for being housed in a complex of eight temple structures in the eleven acre sylvan area. This land is adjacent to Sri Kashi Math complex of Ambalamedu consisting of Math, Balakashrama and Vriddhashrama. The temple house the following Kuladevatas:

  1. Sri Maha Ganapathi
  2. Sri Mahamaya
  3. Sri Damodhar
  4. Sri Nagesh
  5. Sri Ramanath Shanteri Kamakshi
  6. Sri Mahalasa Narayani
  7. Sri Mahalakshmi
  8. Sri Devaki Krishna Ravalnath
  9. Sri Katyayani Baneshwar.

More details of the complex are available in — sreekuladevatamandir.org

Thus the Kuladevata complex provides facility of worship to Gowda Saraswath Brahmins of twelve surnames belonging to eight Gotras to worship nine Kuladevatas in a single location. It is normally the custom and practice to visit one’s Kuladevata at least once a year along with family and offer worship to the deity. Special occasion in the family such as Upanayanam Weddings ect.. are also utilised to pay obesience to the deity. Every family keeps two dedicated kanika boxes at home in the Pooja room where kanikas are offered during special functions or prayers at home, one for the Kuladevata and other for Swamiji. While visiting Kuladevata it is usual practice to carry the Kuladevata box to the temple and empty the box before the deity in the temple hundi while offering worhip to the deity. This is in addition to any special sevas one conducts during the visit.

It is customary for newly wedded couples to be bought to the presence of Kuladevatas by their parents and certain rituals are followed as advised. Also where horoscope indicates a problem in the stars position, parihara karyas or expatiory rituals may be done in the presence of Kuladevata. Sathya Narayana pooja could also be organised inviting all family members to the Kuladevata complex. All such rituals help and guide us in doing parihara to overcome the problems arising from the deviation from right conduct and family kept protected.

Kuladevata complex at Ambalamedu recently celebrated its silver jubilee with the divine presence and guidance of present Matadipati HH Srimad Sayamindra Thirta Swamiji.

Over the years inevitability there has been a gradual deterioration in the stict observance of these traits and characteristic in keeping with the passing of time. At such times our Swamijis and Guru Parmpara have guided us and steered us through tough periods. It is a tribute to our Guruparampara system that Ambalamedu complex was bestowed on the Samaj by HH Srimad Sudindra Thirta Swamiji.

Kuladevatas of Saraswaths

All the Kuladevatas of Sarasawath Brahmins are in Goa. There are some Kuladevatas in other parts of the country which are also acknowledged by them. But it is the Kuladevatas in Goa which are held by them to be special and they try to visit them once a year or so, because these are the ones their ancestors originally bought from Trihotrapura

Many of these temples in Goa are of Mahadeva, some of Parvati and some of Shakti. To name a few Mangesh, Ramanath, Nagesh, Saptakoteeshwar, Hatakeshwara, Narasimha, Gajanan, Shantadurga, Ajadurga, Mahalakshmi, Mahalasa ect..

There are two Sampradayas one of Smartha and other Vaishnava, among Gowda Saraswath Brahmins. Kaivalya Math and Chithrapur Math follow the Smartha Sampradaya while Gokarna Partagali Math and Kashi Math follow the Vaishnava Sampradaya. However, there is mutual acceptability and regard between the two Sampradayas, communication, inter marriages etc.

Conclusion

We live amidst very trying times of rapid changes in societal behaviour. Modern digital communication tools such as mobile and internet enable all to know and experience the change. The positive side of such facilities is the ability to access information which ennoble our thoughts and actions. However as the digital world is completely amoral, it puts the onus on the user to access only those sources on the internet which ennoble and shun the others. This is not an easy task. Hence the necessity for all of us particularly the youth in our Samaj to continue to be guided in our personal and social behaviour by our Guruparampara which has served us well over the past millennia.

Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community has always been in the forefront of change in a fast changing India and the World. It has a history of setting up educational and banking institutions in the last century which has led to growing up of the community in the economic scale. The community has also been in the forefront of emigration to richer countries such as USA, UK and Australia. Today there are large numbers of non resident Gowda Saraswath Brahmins who are richer than their Indian counterparts. It is heartening to see their continued allegiance and trust in our Temples and Maths. The recent examples of temple renovations in Mangalore and Karkala as well as building of new institutions by the Maths at Haridwar, Kalpi, Mumbai ect., attracting substantial donations from non resident Gowda Saraswath Brahmins is a proof of the same.

Constantly reminding ourselves of the contribution made by the successive Swamijis in our Guruparampara and constantly gathering in groups and praying together, discussing and sharing information is therefore vital for the well being of the Samaj. Regularly attending temple functions and renewing our faith in our Maths and Temples is a sure way to surmount our problems. May Sri Hari Guru and our Kuladevatas enable us do so.

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