From an acquaintance’s posts here
The Chandogya Upanishad mentions this incident. The boy came to Gauthama
Rishi for knowledge and the Rishi asked him for his gotra. The boy goes back
to his mother and finds out that his mother is not aware of who the father
was. The boy comes back and says the same to Rishi Guathama, who says that
he shall teach the boy as the boy belongs to the gotra of truth, and thus by
default is a Brahmana.
“Thereupon the boy went to Gautama and asked to be accepted as a student.
‘Of what family are you, my lad?’ inquired the sage. Satyakama replied: ‘I
asked my mother what my family name was, and she answered: “I do not know.
In my youth I was a servant and worked in many places. I do not know who was
your father. I am Jabala, and you are Satyakama. Call yourself Satyakama
Jabala!” I am therefore Satyakama Jabala, sir.’ Then said the sage: ‘None
but a true Brahmin would have spoken thus. Go and fetch fuel, for I will
teach you. You have not swerved from the truth.'” (Chandogya Upanishad
So that is one sure shot, explicit case, where a Rishi shows that the tag
Brahmin is more by action than by birth.
This is a popular misconception. Satyakama asks his mother this
question upfront. The mother does not know her child’s gotra. Why? In
olden days, women married young, and did not ask questions such as
“Who are you? What is your gotra?” to their husband. (In some areas,
this is still taboo today.) Over time, the gotra would be repeated
during various samskara’s, she would naturally remember it. The
conclusion here is that her husband, whom she served with devotion,
The seers were tri-kAla-darshi-s. Gautama knew of his boy’s pedigree
before asking him the question. After hearing his answer, he says “A
non-brahmin could not have said this . . . you have not swerved from
the truth”. “satyam” is explained as “brAhmaNa-jAti-dharma”.
First, you have a jAti-brAhmaNa who desires to go to a preceptor, on
his own, during childhood. He then answers the preceptor’s question
truthfully, in his mother’s own words, without embellishment. This is
a very rare set of events. Of course the acharyA sees the worthy
student in front of him.
I do not agree to this analysis of the incident.
You are certainly welcome to your opinions. However, the view I shared
is the traditional one, and it makes quite a bit of sense to me. I am
content with the traditional understanding, which shows this woman as
a pativrata. In the famed 3-volume set “Upanishad Bhashyam”, the
editor, Sri S.N.Sastri has a very lengthly footnote on the subject.
Those who are interested can go through it.
I am really sorry, but I have to disagree with you in this issue.
With due respect to you and Sri S.N. Sastri, I must say that Rajarshi’s view
is far more accurate and truthful to the scripture. In fact, Swami
Vivekananda also shared exactly the same view (i.e. Rajarshi’s view) when
commenting on this story from Chhaandogypanishad!
* * *
The specific line where mother Jabaalaa tells son Satyakaama about his gotra
in Chandogyopanishad is:
“naahametadveda taata yadgotrastvamasi bahvaham charantii parichaariNii
yauvane tvaamalabhe saahametanna veda yadgotrastvamasi” (chhaandogyopaniShad
Literal meaning word to word is: taata = son, aham = I, na veda = not know,
etat = that, yat = which, gotras = gotra, tvam = you, asi = are, aham = I,
charantii = moving, bahu = a lot, parichaariNii = servant maid, yauvane = in
youth, tvaam = you, alabhe = got, saaham = thus I, na veda = not know, etat
= that, yat = which, gotras = gotra, tvam = you, asi = are.
Literal translation without any interpretation (or spin) is:
“Son, I do not which gotra you are. I was a servant maid moving a lot in
youth when I got you. Thus, I do not know which gotra you are.”
* * *
Now, I cannot reconcile Sri S.N. Sastri’s interpretation with the above at
all. Even today, in this deep Kali yuga, Brahmins do find out the gotra
before marriage and avoid marrying people from the same gotra at any cost. I
find it strange that one would get married without finding gotra in old
days. In any case, there is no reference to such a thing above. There is
also no reference to early death of father. If she did not know the gotra
because her husband died when child was young and she did not ask at the
time of marriage, she would’ve explicitly said that and not say “I was a
servant maid moving a lot in youth when I got you. Thus, I do not know which
gotra you are.” If the true reason is that her husband died young, what is
the relevance of her being a servant maid and her moving a lot? Why would
she mention those irrelevant points and not her husband dying young?
Thus, I cannot support Sri S.N. Sastri’s view at all. It seems quite
far-fetched and motivated to me.
* * *
If one’s conditioned mind cannot accept the fact that a maharshi accepted
the son of a woman who would be considered “fallen” by the moral standards
one is used to, then one would probably try to imagine things, twist the
words of a scripture and give an interpretation that fits with one’s notions
of right and wrong. But then, one would be missing out on the true morals of
the scripture and an opportunity to question and refine one’s pre-exiting
notions of right and wrong…
* * *
Let us say an unmarried woman with good control over senses wanted a child.
Let us say she slept with five men that she liked and respected, with mutual
consent, on five different occasions, not for carnal pleasure, but with the
sole intention of begetting a child with any of them and then raising the
Let us say another person (man or woman) slept with the same person that one
is ritually married to, on five different occasions, not with the intention
of begetting a child but just for carnal pleasure (i.e. using birth control
Which is worse? Which has a higher purpose? Which more adharmik?
* * *
Prevalent rules of morality are there for general guidance. World will sink
into an abyss of chaos and adharma without them and they are definitely
needed. But they are not absolute.
The correct judgment of right and wrong does not always come from the
application of a set of rigid rules. Correct judgment comes only from a
refined and purified mind. Scriptures and actions of rishis and gods
contained in them (and actions of other great souls of recent centuries who
were most likely reincarnations of rishis and gods) are there to clarify and
refine our understanding of what is right and what is wrong. As we
understand more and purify ourselves more, our judgment will become more and
>I am really sorry, but I have to disagree with you in this issue.
I do not know what there is to be sorry about.
> With due respect to you and Sri S.N. Sastri, I must say that Rajarshi’s view
> is far more accurate and truthful to the scripture. In fact, Swami
> Vivekananda also shared exactly the same view (i.e. Rajarshi’s view) when
> commenting on this story from Chhaandogypanishad!
I mentioned Sri S.N.Sastri’s name, because he has a long 2-page
footnote discussion on the subject, and not to bolster my argument by
association. If I had wished to do the latter, I would have invoked
AdishankarachArya — “paricAriNii paricaranti iti paracaraNa-shiiilA
eva aham paricaraNa-chittatayA gotrAdi-smaraNe mama manaH na abhUt”
and Anandagiri — “punaH tasya uparatatvAt”. According the S.N.Sastri,
Shri Ramanuja and Shri Madhva also subscribed to the same view.
> Now, I cannot reconcile Sri S.N. Sastri’s interpretation with the above at
> all. Even today, in this deep Kali yuga, Brahmins do find out the gotra
> before marriage and avoid marrying people from the same gotra at any cost. I
> find it strange that one would get married without finding gotra in old
Needless criticism. I obviously conveyed the wrong message — the
argument is that she does not remember her new gotra, and not that she
was never exposed to it. Some things require repeated repetition
before they register. It is quite normal, even today, for brides and
in-laws to be very forgetful (or, more accurately “un-remember-ful”)
of their new gotra.
> If the true reason is that her husband died young, what is
> the relevance of her being a servant maid and her moving a lot? Why would
> she mention those irrelevant points and not her husband dying young?
The points mentioned are not at all irrelevant. It is a partial excuse
/ apology. Her mind was totally occupied in these activities. In her
youth, it did not occur to her to pay attention and remember her
gotra. Narasimha, this is a conversation between mother and son. If
the father died young, it would be well-known, and there would be no
reason for the mother to “disclose” it to her son at this time. When
answering the question, there is simply no need to start reciting the
litany of known facts. On the other hand, the points mentioned are
relevant, since they show her state of mind. It is a natural lament.
> Thus, I cannot support Sri S.N. Sastri’s view at all. It seems quite
> far-fetched and motivated to me.
The first sentence is quite reasonable. To say that it seems
far-fetched to you, is also very reasonable. However, the last
criticism is unfair, and cannot be substantiated. Though I did not
wish to say it, I have the same criticism — I see an attempt to
retrofit a story to result in a desirable conclusion, which would make
for an excellent example.
> If one’s conditioned mind cannot accept the fact that a maharshi accepted
> the son of a woman who would be considered “fallen” by the moral standards
This diatribe is interesting, but irrelevant to this dicussion. I am
happy to accept that this is how maharshis worked. But, this incident
is not a good example. The traditional understanding adds facts which
are not found in the upanishad. However, in my opinion, in this
instance, it fits in quite well.