The word gotra literally means “that which protects cows”, and in general refers to a stable that protects a herd of cows from the weather and from wild animals. Likewise the family lineages of rishis and forefathers are also metaphorically called as “gotras”, as they are “protective stables” that guide and watch over humanity, which is likened to a herd of cows.

A gotra preserves the knowledge of one’s ancient forefathers and provides a personal link to various great sages and personalities. One should never forget the forefathers or be unthankful to them, nor neglect them in the normal course of life. Every human being is born with five inherent debts which they must repay throughout their life, two of which (debt to the forefathers and debt to the sages), are specifically related to one’s gotra.

Those who have lost knowledge of their link to the Vedic sages and personalities can resort to identifying with their original father, the Supreme Lord Achyuta, (Achyuta Gotra). Others who are fortunate to still possess the knowledge of their forefathers should worship, serve and respect their ancient forefathers through the authorized Vedic system of gotra. Your link to the Vedic sages is in fact your true wealth and should never be given up for frivolous reasons.

In the Srimad Bhagavatam we find the following statement regarding the origin of gotras:

yan-nāmāmaṅgala-ghnaṁ śrutam atha gaditaṁ yat-kṛto gotra-dharmaḥ

“Lord Krishna’s name destroys all inauspiciousness when heard or chanted. He alone has set forth the religious principles of the various disciplic successions of sages [gotra dharma].” (Srimad Bhagavatam 10.90.47)

The word “gotra” also means a hill, or a herd of cows. The Srimad Bhagavatam is making a poetic play of words here, describing the lila of Lord Krishna having lifted Govardhana hill to protect his devotees, and having established the worship of Govardhana hill along with the cows (gotra dharma), while simultaneously telling us that Lord Krishna is the origin of the religious principles of the sages and family lineages (gotra dharma).

One should neither give up gotra dharma (worship of the cows and Govardhana), nor should one give up gotra dharma (worship of the sages and forefathers), for both have been established personally by Lord Krishna. The worship of the cows, sages and forefathers are the fundamental foundations of sanatana dharma and the basis for progression in human life.

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