By Swami Harshananda
Gautama literally means ‘descendent of the sage Gotama’.
Gautama, A General Term
Gautam is a patronymic title. The word ‘Gautama’ applies to anyone supposed to be a descendant of the sage Gotama.
Gautama as per Vedic Literature
Vedic literature like the Śatapatha Brāhmana and also few Upanisads have several references of Gautama in each era. It is believed that the Gautama may be a sage giving some important teaching or may have just been mentioned in the lists of vanśas or genealogies.
Gautama, One of the Saptarṣis
Of all the Gautamas, Gautama the son of the sage Dīrghatamas and the husband of Ahalyā is the most celebrated one. He is considered as one among the Saptarṣis (the Seven Sages) and a gotra-pravartaka or the originator of a particular lineage. Among many achievements, the more important ones are listed belows:
- Scholarly conversations with other great sages like Atri, Aṅgiras and Yama (the god of death)
- Training the sage Udaṅka who was his disciple and Satānanda, his own son
- Protecting the people during a severe famine
- Originating the sacred river Godāvarī (also called Gotamī river) by the power of his prayer
Akṣapāda, the author of the Nyāya-sutras was also known as Gautama.
There is an ancient work called Gautama Dharmasutras. He probably belonged to the period 600-400 B.C. His work has been quoted as an authority by later writers on the dharmaśāstras.
- Nyāya-sutras are the basic work of the Nyāya system of Philosophy.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore