In the R^igveda the gotama-s repeatedly and respectfully mention the bhR^igu-s as the founders of the fire rite, which is consonant with their position at the head of the shrauta gotra-pravara lists.
dadhuSh TvA bhR^igavo mAnuSheShvA rayiM na chAruM suhavaM janebhyaH |
hotAram agne atithiM vareNyaM mitraM na shevaM divyAya janmane ||RV 1.58.6
Here nodhA gautama declares that the bhR^igu-s first established the ritual fire in the midst of men. In fact nodhA gautama goes ahead to mention this act of the bhR^igu-s again in RV 1.60.1:
vahniM yashasaM vidathasya ketuM suprAvyaM dUtaM sadyo-artham |
dvi-janmAnaM rayim iva prashastaM rAtiM bharad bhR^igave mAtarishvA ||
Here the transmission of the ritual fire from mAtarishvan to bhR^igu, the first founder of the rite amongst men is mentioned.
The other gautama, kakShivAn dairghatamasa, also mentions the bhR^igu-s in positive light:
pra yA ghoShe bhR^igavANe na shobhe yayA vAchA yajati pajriyo vAm |
praiShayurna vidvAn || RV 1.120.5
Here he compares his own chant to the ashvinau to that of the bhR^igu-s.
His father dirghatamAH auchAthya states:
yamerire bhR^igavo vishvavedasaM nAbhA pR^ithivyA bhuvanasya majmanA |
agniM taM gIrbhirhinuhi sva A dame ya eko vasvo varuNo na rAjati || RV 1.143.3
Here he states that the mighty bhR^igu-s first established the fire sacrifice in the nave of the earth.
A similar view is also shared by the other great vipra amongst the gotama-s, vAmadeva gautama:
ayam iha prathamo dhAyi dhAtR^ibhir hotA yajiShTho adhvareShv IDyaH |
yam apnavAno bhR^igavo viruruchur vaneShu chitraM vibhvaM vishe-vishe || RV4.7.1
AshuM dUtaM vivasvato vishvA yash charShaNIr abhi |
A jabhruH ketum Ayavo bhR^igavANaM vishe-vishe ||RV 4.7.4
Here, apnavAna and his bhR^igu-s are described as having initiated the fire rite that spread throughout the peoples.
vAmadeva gautama also states:
eved indrAya vR^iShabhAya vR^iShNe brahmAkarma bhR^igavo na rathaM |
nU chid yathA naH sakhyA viyoShad asan na ugro .avitA tanUpAH || RV 4.16.20
Here, vAmadeva says that he fashions a hymn for indra even as the bhR^igu-s had made a car. Earlier in the same same sUkta vAmadeva states that he is fashioning a hymn for indra even as the bhArgava ushanAH kAvya had done in the past. Thus from all accounts in the R^igveda it appear that the gotama-s like their other a~Ngirasa cousins the kaNva-s and bharadvAja-s considered the bhR^igu-s as their models, and founders of their ritual system.
Given this vedic precedence I was puzzled by a short paurANic narrative provided by the siddhAnta tantra, mR^igendra’s vidyApAda (13.102-105) regarding the Pauranic dvIpa known as gomeda:
gomede gopatir nAma rAjAbhUd gosavodyataH ||
yAjyo .abhUd vahni kalpAnAm autathyAnAM manoH kule |
In gomeda there was a king named gopati who wanted to perform the gosava. The ritual was performed by the autathya-s (i.e. the Epic/Pauranic form of the vedic name auchAthya or the descendents of dIrghatamas the founding father of the gautama-s) who were like fire.
sa teShu hari yaj~nAya pravR^itteShu bhR^igUn gurUn ||
vavre taM gautamaH kopAd ashapad agamat kShayam |
He chose the bhR^igu-s as his officiants while [the gotama-s] were performing a hari ritual [soma ritual, taken by some as a ritual to viShNu]. The gautama out of anger cursed him and he went to his destruction.
yaj~navATe .asya tA gAvo dagdhAH kopAgninA muneH ||
tan medasA mahI channA gomedaH sa tato .abhavat |
The cows in the ritual enclosure were burnt by the flames of brAhmaNa-s wrath. The earth was convered by the fat of those cows and dvIpa gomedah came to be known.
The persistence of this tale in the shaiva world became clear from its presence in an abbreviated form in the parAkhya tantra (D. Goodall edition):
Gomedas tat paraM dvIpaM yatra gautama-shApataH |
gavAM shate hate medaH pravR^itaM prachurAt tadA || (parAkhya 5.102)
Beyond that is gomedas where a hundred cows were killed because of the curse of gautama and their fat flowed out profusely [forming the continent].
This conflict between the gautama-s and bhR^igu-s nor the king gopati is mentioned in any other paurANic source. I suspect that it is one of those rare cases where the paurANic material within the tantra-s is preserving something absent in the classical tantra-s themselves. In this sense it would compare to the paurANic material found in the kubjikA-matA and ShaT-sAhasra. Its antecedents are indeed puzzling. The brAhmaNa narratives of the gosava mention the ritualist being sprinkled with cow milk – it may be performed by a vaishya or a sthapati who is elected as a governor by his people. This gopati could be such a character as no such king figures in the major paurANic or vedic genealogies.