Glossary of religious terms related to geneology

Brahmins, Gotras and Pravaras

The priests and the upper caste of the Hindu caste system. There are many subcastes of Brahmins.

Brahmins, like other upper castes, are divided into gotras or religious traditions. (Originally tribal markers: ‘Whose cowpen do you own/share?’) Each gotra has about five pravars or great people in that tradition. The gotra is hereditary by patrilineal descent, and marriage is prohibited (with some exceptions) between two people if there is any common pravar.


An offshoot of Hinduism which was strated by Siddhaartha Gautam in around who was born to Suddhodhana and Mahaamaayaa, the king and queen of the kingdom of the Sakyas probably in the sixth century B.C. According to tradition he was born on the full moon day of the month of Vaisaakha (That would be May according to the Christian calender), in the park of Lumbini (present day Rumindei in Nepal: it was jointly owned by the cities of Kapilavastu and Devadaaha) when his expectant was journeying from the capital city of Kapilavastu to her parents' place in Devadaaha.

Siddhartha was of the Kshatriya caste, but, according to tradition, Suddhodhana's guru, a Brahmin called Asita Kaala Devala recognized that he was going to gain great religious enlightenment. He married his cousin Yashodharaa, and had had a son by her called Raahula (means ‘bond’).

Siddhartha however renounced his worldly life and left Kapilavasthu as an ascetic. He is supposed to have gone to Raajgaha (modern day Rajgir in the state of Bihar), the capital of the Magadha empire, and entertained by the king Bimbisaara. After studying under various teachers like Aalaara Kaalaamaa and Uddaka Raamaputra, but was not satisfied. He and a group of five ascetics started searching for truth (in a village called Senaanigrama, near Uruvelaa, near modern Gayaa in Uttar Pradesh). His renunciation of the ascetic path disgusted the others, but he continued on in his quest. At the age of 35, after a meal of milk rice offered to him by Sujaataa, the daughter of the landowner of Senaanigrama, Gautama fought with Maara (A daemon who tempts people with desires and away from knowledge), and became a Buddha (or the enlightened one) under a fig tree on the bank of Neranjaraa river.

According to buddhist tradition, buddha was the last in a long line of Bodhisatvas (those who try to become buddha).

Tradition has it that Ajaatshatru, the son of Bimbisaara forbid buddhism in his kingdom. Much later when Ashoka (270 to 230 BC, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, 321–297 BC, who founded the Maurya dynasty in Magadha, and followed Jainism) converted to Buddhism, Buddhism became the state religion. After the Mauryas, they were again persecuted by the Shungas and the Kanvas (from around 185 to 28 B.C.). The Gupta kings (320 AD–600 AD) allowed the Budhhists to flourish, though it was also a period of great Hindu brahminical revivalism. A lot of their monasteries (called stupas) were destroyed by the Huns. Around 8th to 12th century, it again became a state religion under the Palas in Eastern India: however, the religion declined in India with the decline of this dynasty.

Buddhism does not believe in the religious significance of the caste system.


All Hindus are divided into four castes which are ranked in the order: Brahmins (the priests), Kshatriyas (the warriors), Vaishyas (the merchants) and the Shudras (labourers). According to tradition, there were initially three castes, with Shudras being a later addition. The caste system could have arisen out of a guild system: but not much is known about the origins. Except in some rare mythological examples, caste is determined by birth, and flows along the male line.

Castes were divided into subcastes (and some subcastes were thought of as arising out of the mixture of two classes possible only by moral decline), and these subcastes formed the endogamous units of Hindu society. Though there are statements allowing marriage of an upper caste male with a lower caste female, practically speaking, intercaste marriage was not religiously sanctioned.

Today, one can usually figure out the caste of a person from his family name.

The term caste hindu refers to any hindu other than from the untouchable lower classes.


A religious teacher. Almost every brahmin family has a ‘guru’ family: the post of teacher was hereditary. This term should not be confused with purohit.


The name for all the sects of the religion practiced by the Indo-European speaking people who came to India around 1500 B.C. Over time the religion changed a lot, and because it was never hierarchily organized, split into as many fragments as there were villages: but very rarely was a split recognized as a new religion. In fact, before modern times, the only ideas which gave rise to new religions in Eastern India were the ones that led to Jainism and Buddhism.

This religion, at least in its later period, was marked by a rigid caste system.

To be written. Currently see the following link for s description of the religion, and this one for a brief history.

A priest. Every family has a ‘purohit’ family: the post of the priest was hereditary. This term should not be confused with guru.

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