In India, the kinship system is an organised system of rank, roles, and relationships between individuals and groups. It is based on family kinship and can be consanguineal or affinal, depending on the family’s reproduction and inclination. Personal names, kinship words, or a combination of the two are used to address each other. These concepts can be fundamental, derived, descriptive, isolative, or classificatory.

Kinship groups are extremely important in Hindu daily life, rituals, and social festivities. Vansh (lineage) and gotra (clan) are important kinship groups. Vansh is a consanguineous unilateral descent group, with individuals descended from a known common ancestor. It is an exogamous entity that can be patrilineal or matrilineal. The major bond between lineage families is shared participation in ritual events like as birth and death.

The vansh enters the gotra, which is a unilateral kin group greater than but smaller than the lineage. Feminal kin (those connected through mother) are just as essential in a person’s life as patrilineal kin (those related through father). In India, geographical variations influence the kinship structure, with marriage serving as a link between the family of orientation and the family of procreation.


According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, kinship is a “system of social organisation based on real or putative family ties.” 

According to the Sociology Group, kinship is more than just family relationships in sociology: “Kinship is one of the most important organising components of society…. This social institution ties individuals and groups together and establishes a relationship among them.” 

Schneider defined kinship as “the degree of sharing likelihood among individuals from different communities.” 

Kinship is defined as “the bond (of) marriage and reproduction,” according to the Sociology Group, although it can also refer to any number of groups or individuals based on their social relationships.

“ Kinship is simply the relation between kin that is persons related by real putative or fiction  consanguinity “  

– Robin Fox  

Kinship is “ a system of dynamic relation between person and person in a community, the behavior  of any two person in any of these relation being regulated in some way , and to greater or less  extent by social usage .”  

– A R Radcliffe Brown  

Kinship in Northern zone 

The characteristics of kinship in North and Central India differ from those in South India. Language, caste, and (plain and hilly) geography are the socio-cultural correlates of the kinship system. Regardless of the effect of these three elements on kinship ties, kinship organisation can be discussed on some collective grounds, such as caste and zonal basis. Though kinship behaviour in the northern zone varies slightly from region to region and within each region from caste to caste, comparative studies show that there is a ‘ideal’ northern pattern referring to practises and attitudes that are generally found to be common among a majority of the castes. 

Referring to the kinship organisation of the northern zone, Irawati Karve has given some important features. Some of these are:  

  1. Kin junior to ego are called by their personal names, while kin senior to ego are addressed by the kinship word. 
  2. In ascending and descending generations, all children are equated with one’s own sibling group (brothers and sisters), and all children of one’s sibling group are equated with one’s own children. 
  3. The principle of generational oneness is followed (for example, great-grandfather and grandfather are treated the same as father). 
  4. Within the same generation, the elder and younger generations are maintained separate.
  5. The duties and behaviour patterns of three generations’ members are rigorously regulated.
  6. Some ancient Sanskrit kinship concepts have been replaced by new terminology; for example, pitamaha has been replaced by pita. Kinship terms with the suffix ‘ji’ are used for kin older than the speaker (for example, chachaji, tauji, etc.). In Bengal, the suffix’moshai’ is used instead of ‘ji’. 
  7. Marriage between close relatives is prohibited. 
  8. After marriage, a girl is not expected to be free with her in-laws, but when she becomes a mother, she gains respect and power, and constraints are lifted. 
  9. The family is so arranged that children, parents, and grandparents either live together or have strong social kinship obligations to them. 
  10. In addition to the joint family, which symbolises a person’s closest circle of connections, there is always a bigger circle of kin who play a role in his life.  This kindred reflects his life’s circle. This kindred represents his patri kin or matri-kin, who may stand by him and assist him when his immediate family is no longer sufficient.

  Kinship in Central Zone: 

The main characteristics of kinship organisation in Central India are similar to those in North India. 

In Central India, the following are key aspects of kinship:

  1. Every region follows the marital practises of northern India, that is, consanguinity is the primary criteria that governs marriage. 
  2. Exogamous clans exist in several castes. Exogamous clans are established in hypergamous hierarchy among various castes. 
  3. Kinship language demonstrates intimacy and connection among various kin. The custom of ‘neota-gifts’ governs interactions between kin, according to which cash-gift is provided in proportion to cash-gift received. For decades, the neota-registeis are nurtured and kept. 
  4. Some castes in Gujarat practise mamera-type cousin marriage (marriage with mother’s brother) and levirate marriage (marriage with husband’s brother). 
  5. The Gujarati custom of periodic marriages has resulted in child marriages as well as unequal marriages. Such marriages are still common nowadays.
  6. The Marathas’ clan system in Maharashtra is similar to the Rajputs’ ladder-like structure, with divisions called after the number of clans. The panch-kuli comes first, then the sat-kuli. They are allowed to marry among themselves and take girls from the sat-kuli, but they are not permitted to have daughters outside the panch-kuli.
  7. Some castes in the central zone, such as the Marathas and Kun-bis, practise bride-price as well, while dowry custom exists among them as well.
  8. Unlike in the north, where a wife permanently remains with her husband after gauna and rarely visits her father’s house, the Maharashtra family system is patrilineal and local, with Marathas castes routinely visiting their father’s house. This emphasises the influence of the south on kin connections.
  9. Though most kinship terms are northern, some are adopted from the Dravidians in the south, such as the use of the phrases anna and nana for brother, as well as the term dada. Similarly, the terms akka, tai, and mai are used to refer to sisters.
  10. The language, marriage customs, inheritance system, and clan obligations of tribals and caste Hindus in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh differ, making the northern and central zones a transitional region, whereas Maharashtra is a culturally rich state.

Kinship in Southern zones :  

The southern zone features a complicated kinship system, with patrilineal and patrilocal families dominating for the majority of castes and tribes. Some groups of people, however, are matrilineal and matrilocal, and some castes have both patrilineal and matrilineal organisations. Some castes solely practise polygyny, but others practise both. Polyandrous patrilineal groups exist, as do polyandrous matrilineal groups and polygynous patrilineal groupings. There are also patrilineal and matrilineal joint families. Kinship connections in matrilineal families are based on blood, with women having daughters, mothers, sisters, and sons, while men have brothers, mothers’ brothers, and sister’s sons. Marriage is not frequent, and husbands only visit the family on occasion.

We, therefore, find: 

  1. There is no friendship between husband and wife, and no connection between father and children; and
  2. Women have complete financial freedom; they do not share their husband’s salary. This is how some southern families differ from those in the north. 
  3.  Tarwad is a matrilineal joint family found among the Nairs of Malabar in Travancore and a few other tribes.. 

The important characteristics of Tarwad are: 

  1. Tarwad’s property is the property of all males and females who belong to it. 
  2. Unmarried sons are assigned to their mother’s Tarwad, whereas married sons are sent to their wife’s Tarwad. 
  3. The manager of Tarwad land is Karnavan, the family’s oldest male member (Ammayi is his wife).
  4. Karnavan is the family’s absolute ruler. When he dies, the next senior male member takes over as Karnavan. He can invest money in his own name, mortgage property, lend money, and offer land as a gift, and he is not answerable to any member for income and expenditure.
  5. Tarwad is divided into Tavazhis when it becomes too enormous and cumbersome. In the case of a woman, a Tavazhi is “a group of persons consisting of a female, her children, and all her descendants in the female line.”

Tarwad before and after the 1912 Act are two distinct things: 

  1. Previously, Tarwad property was indivisible, but it can now be divided. 
  2. Previously, Karnavan was the absolute king of Tarwad, but his authority has now been limited. 
  3. Previously, Tarwad members were not entitled to maintenance unless they lived in the ancestral house, but Tarwad members are now eligible to maintenance outside the ancestral house. 
  4. Ancestor worship of Karnavan was once prevalent, but it is now uncommon. 
  5. Previously, husband-wife connections were official, but now they are informal and personal, as well as more close and intimate.
  6. Previously, a Tarward’s self-acquired property went to Tarward after his death, but now it belongs to his wife and children, and in their absence, to mother and mother’s mother.

As a result of the enactments of the 1912 Act (Travancore), the 1920 Act (Cochin), the 1933 Act (Madras), and the 1958 Act (Kerala), Tarwad of Nairs has completely collapsed. The property of a woman now passes to her sons and daughters, followed by her father and husband. Kapadia has called attention to the fact that more than 90% of veedus (houses) had only one Tavazhi, demonstrating the extent of Tarwad atomisation in recent decades. Let us now look at clan organisation and marriage laws in the South. There are five exogamous clans within a caste.

The important characteristics of clan organisation are: 

  1. Each clan (a group of families) is given the name of an animal, a plant, or another object. 
  2. A member of one clan may seek a mate from any clan other than his own. However, due to the regulation of daughter exchange, this option is just hypothetical. 
  3. There is not only the norm of clan exogamy in marriage, but also the rule of family exchange of daughters. 
  4. Many kinship phrases are used because of the marriage practise of exchanging daughters. For example, the phrase nanad is also used for bhabhi; the term sda is also used for bahnoi; and the term sasur is also used for father.
  5. It is forbidden to marry maternal parallel cousins, that is, children of two sisters. 
  6. Sororate marriage (marriage with the wife’s younger sister) is common. In addition, two sisters can marry two brothers from the same family). 
  7. A favoured mating system favours the oldest sister’s daughter in the south, followed by the father’s sister’s daughter and the mother’s brother’s daughter. Cross-cousin marriage, particularly uncle-niece marriage, is becoming obsolete in groups with contact with northern Indians or western civilization.
  8. Marriage taboos include: a man cannot marry his junior sister’s daughter; a widow cannot marry her husband’s elder or younger brother (this is known as levirate); and a guy cannot marry his mother’s sister’s daughter.
  9. Marriage is based on chronological age differences rather than generational divisions as in the north. In the south, for example, grandfather and granddaughter marriages are possible. 
  10. Another element of marriage and kinship in the south is that marriage is not organised with the intention of expanding a kin group, but rather each marriage deepens already existing relationships and brings those people who were already extremely close friends even closer together.
  11. A girl must marry someone from the group older than her, which is tarn-mum, as well as someone from the group younger than her parents, which is any of her older cross-cousins.  A boy must marry in a tan-pm group and to the child of a tam-mum group.
  12. In the south, the duality of status and sentiments indicated in northern terminology such as kanya (unmarried girl), bahu (married girl), pihar (mother’s house), and sasural (husband’s house) is lacking. This is because, unlike in the north, a girl after marriage does not enter the home of strangers. One’s husband is the son of one’s mother’s brother, and so on. Thus, marriage in the south does not represent a girl’s separation from her father’s house. In her father-in-law’s home, a girl moves freely.

Kinship in Eastern Zone: 

Kinship structure is varied in Eastern India. Eastern India (which includes areas of Bengal, Bihar, Assam, and Orissa) has more tribes than caste Hindus. The most powerful tribes are the Khasi, Birhor, Hos, Monads, and Uraon. There is no single structure to the kinship organisation here. Mundari language speakers have patrilineal families. However, joint families are uncommon in this region. Cross-cousin marriages are uncommon, while bride-price is widespread. 

Dual refers to a woman who is addressed as dual (you two). Both Sanskrit and Dravidian languages are used to define kinship. The Khasis and Garos have a matrilineal joint family system, similar to the Nairs in the south. After marriage, a man rarely lives with his parents and usually establishes his own home. It is possible to deduce that caste and language have an impact on familial organisation in India. A man and his family must have kin as allies in this age of fierce competition for status and livelihood. Caste and language groupings may occasionally assist an individual, but his most steadfast, trustworthy, and devoted supporters can only be his own family. 

As a result, a person must not only develop his relationships with kin, but also endeavour to broaden his circle of kin. Cousin marriages, preferential mating, exchange rules, and marriage norms that circumvent the field of mate selection are now so prevalent that kinship relations are being extended through marriage and a person is able to obtain their assistance in seeking power and the status-lift that power can bring.


 Kinship organisation in India varies by location, with a common trait being that it is influenced by caste or ethnicity. Values, norms, behavioural patterns, and practises associated to kinship systems exhibit both rigidity and flexibility. Divorce, widow remarriage, incest taboos, caste endogamy, clan exogamy, avoidance rule, family structure, lineage and residence systems, authority systems, succession, and property inheritance are examples. Kinship is still a fundamental social organising and mobilising element, but it has been eroded by migration, mobility, and education, notably in Kerala and the northeast.

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