Categories Anthropology II

II. 3.1.1 Varnashram


Hindu society divided into two coordinated systems of social organisation

1) Whole human life divided into four stages ‘ashramas’ – Ashrama dharma to regulate individual’s social life

2) Whole society divided into four strata-varnas

To organise and management of individual and society, these two schemes together called varnashrama vyavastha or varnashrama dharama.

                Human life divided into four stage or Ashramas ,  Bhramacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sanyasa.  Every stage has it’s own duties and functions . Each Ashrama is a stage of life. The individual performs duties and function of a ashram  for a period to qualify for next ashrama .  In his journey, he takes rest in each ashrama to prepare for future journey.  Each individual should pass through four stages or phrases of life.


  • Socio-religious institution of ancient India.
  • It denotes Hindu scheme of life
  • Different stages(ashramas) in the life
  • In this scheme, theory of purusharthas get expression
  • Ashrama scheme related to Varna system Which regulates individual’s social life
  • The purusharthas are guiding principles for functioning of varnashrama dharma

Meaning of the word Ashrama

  • Sanskrit word Ashrama denotes halting or resting place
  • It also means stages, monastry, duties, etc..
  • The word ashrama comes from sanskrit root ‘srama’ means making effort
  • Ashrama means a step in the journey of life .
  • According to Hindu ethics-final aim is liberation, or moksha
  • Every Ashrama is a step in the long journey towards that aim.

Stages of Ashramas

  1. BHRAHMACHARYASHRAMA: THE first stage or Ashrama. This stage is meant for knowledge, developing discipline, moulding character. The stage starts with initiation ceremony- upanayanam(conducting nearer) to bring the individual nearer to life purposes(purusharthas). It also brings nearer to teacher, guru. It marks second birth, Birth into a higher life. hey wear the sacred thread, yajnopavitha or dwija or twice-born


  • Begins educational career with teacher, “Guru” .
  • The bhramachari (the pupil) to go to his guru who lives in forest hermitage
  • He stays with for study and serves him
  • He aquires knowledge of shashtras
  • He leads life of simplicity and hard work.


  • This stage is useful for development of character
  • Character is moulded and given a shape
  • His behaviour, thought patterns, attitudes channelised, prepared for the future
  • He has to observe indriya samyama (control of senses)
  • This helps learning process
  • This stage transforms from animal like human child into a responsible person to meet challenges of life.


  • After end of student career, brahmacharian gives a present (gurudakshina)
  • The guru gives final instruction
  • The Teacher gives convocation address to the students
  • first stage extends from 10 to 12 years
  1. GRIHASTHASHRAMA(STAGE OF HOUSEHOLDER) – This stage is entered at marriage. After studentship, he is ready to take up duties of household life. In this stage, he get married, earns money and gets children. He pursues wealth (Artha) and pleasure (kama) within limits of mural law (Dharma). He earns money by honest means enjoy and distribute in a proper way. Marriage regarded as a sacrament


  • It gives support to all other ashramas
  • It helps householder to perform religious rites
  • The individual fulfils his obligations towards society
  • He gets children for the perpetuation of race
  • He takes care of Bhramacharis, vanaprasthis and sanyasis who are not supposed to earn their living. He engages in all activities relating to varna.
  1. VANAPRASTHASHRAMA (philosophic recluse) – After discharging all household obligations he enters vanaprastha stage. It consists of the third quarter of man’s life. After retiring from active life,he dedicates to a life of spirituality. After reaching age of fifty, it is regarded as age of satisfactions content and happiness. He has to hand over his authority and responsibilities to children. The inner call of vyragya(detachment) insists to give up all that is in his own.


  • Avoidance of conflict between generations
  • Mental Preparation for final journey
  1. Sanyasaashrama- It is a stage of total renunciation. In this stage a person becomes nameless and faceless. He has to preach truth, teach people and become detached absolutely. Anyone accepting Sanyas must entirely devote to Moksha aided by Dharma, with a complete renunciation of Artha and Kama. By pursuing path of knowledge, selflessness one can while living in society can pursue sanyas.

Criticism of Sanyas Ashram

  • Unproductive approach
  • Wastage of knowledge and wisdom
  • Women are not allowed to become sanyasi thus it was gender discriminatory in nature.

Composite model of Indian traditional social system

The four puruṣārthas are often discussed in the context of four ashrams or stages of life (Brahmacharya – student, Grihastha – householder, Vanaprastha – retirement and Sannyasa –renunciation).

Ashram and purushartha.jpg

Scholars have attempted to connect the four stages to the four puruṣārthas, but  neither ancient nor medieval texts of India state that any of the first three ashramas must devote itself predominantly to one specific goal of life.

Traditional indian social system.jpg

The fourth stage of Sannyasa is different, and the overwhelming consensus in ancient and medieval Indian texts is that anyone accepting Sannyasa must entirely devote to Moksha aided by Dharma, with a complete renunciation of Artha and Kama.

With the known exception of Kamasutra, most texts make no recommendation on the relative preference on Artha or Kama, that an individual must emphasize in what stage of life.

The Kamasutra states,

The life span of a man is one hundred years. Dividing that time, he should attend to three aims of life in such a way that they support, rather than hinder each other. In his youth he should attend to profitable aims (artha) such as learning, in his prime to pleasure (kama), and in his old age to dharma and moksha.


  1. Past
  • It gives meaning to the existence of man
  • It gives purpose of life to many people
  • It helps in proper maintenance of social order as well as law and order in society

2. Present

  • It helps in proper maintenance of social order as well as law and order in society
  • Reduction in crime rate
  • Basis of ethical education in Indian society.

Factors of Change

  • Modern philosophy
  • Industrialization
  • Technology
  • Western education system


  • Balance in life between materialism and spirituality for peaceful, prosperous society and world.

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