Āśrama (stage)

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Āśrama (Sanskrit: आश्रम) is a system of stages of life discussed in Hindu texts of the ancient and medieval eras.[1] The four asramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Gṛhastha (householder), Vanaprastha (forest walker/forest dweller), and Sannyasa (renunciate).[2]

The Asrama system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism.[3] It is also a component of the ethical theories in Indian philosophy, where it is combined with four proper goals of human life (Purushartha), for fulfilment, happiness and spiritual liberation.[4] Moreover, since the four asramas can be seen as the framework of an influential life-span model, they are also part of an indigenous developmental psychology which from its ancient beginnings until today has shaped the orientations and goals of many people, especially in India.[5][6]

Asrama system[edit]

Under the Asrama system, the human lifespan was divided into four periods.[5][7] The goal of each period was the fulfilment and development of the individual. The classical system, in the Āśrama Upanishad, the Vaikhanasa Dharmasutra and the later Dharmashastra, presents these as sequential stages of human life and recommends ages for entry to each stage, while in the original system presented in the early Dharmasutras the Asramas were four alternative available ways of life, neither presented as sequential nor with age recommendations.[1][8]

The Asrama system
Āśrama or stage Age (years)[9] Description Rituals of transition
(student life)
Till 25 Brahmacharya represented the bachelor student stage of life. This stage focuses on education and included the practice of celibacy.[2] The student went to a Gurukul (family/clan of the guru) and typically would live with a Guru (mentor), acquiring knowledge of science, philosophy, scriptures and logic, practicing self-discipline, working to earn dakshina to be paid for the guru, learning to live a life of Dharma (righteousness, morals, duties). Upanayana at entry.[10][11] Samavartana at exit.[12]
(household life)
25–48 This stage referred to the individual's married life, with the duties of maintaining a household, raising a family, educating one's children, and leading a family-centred and a dharmic social life.[2][13][14] Grihastha stage was considered as the most important of all stages in sociological context, as human beings in this stage not only pursued a virtuous life, they produced food and wealth that sustained people in other stages of life, as well as the offsprings that continued mankind.[2][4] The stage also represented one where the most intense physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments exist in a human being's life.[15] Hindu wedding at entry.
(retired life)
48–72 The retirement stage, where a person handed over household responsibilities to the next generation, took an advisory role, and gradually withdrew from the world.[16][17] Vanaprastha stage was a transition phase from a householder's life with its greater emphasis on Artha and Kama (wealth, security, pleasure and desires) to one with greater emphasis on Moksha (spiritual liberation).[16][18]
(renounced life)
(or anytime)
The stage was marked by renunciation of material desires and prejudices, represented by a state of disinterest and detachment from material life, generally without any meaningful property or home (Ascetic), and focused on Moksha, peace and simple spiritual life.[19][20] Anyone could enter this stage after completing the Brahmacharya stage of life.[1]

Asrama and Purushartha[edit]

The Asramas system is one facet of the complex Dharma concept in Hinduism.[3] It is integrated with the concept of Purushartha, or four proper aims of life in Hindu philosophy, namely, Dharma (piety, morality, duties), Artha (wealth, health, means of life), Kama (love, relationships, emotions) and Moksha (liberation, freedom, self-realization).[3] Each of the four Asramas of life are a form of personal and social environment, each stage with ethical guidelines, duties and responsibilities, for the individual and for the society. Each Asrama stage places different levels of emphasis on the four proper goals of life, with different stages viewed as steps to the attainment of the ideal in Hindu philosophy, namely Moksha.[21]

Neither ancient nor medieval texts of India state that any of the first three Asramas must devote itself solely to a specific goal of life (Purushartha).[22] The fourth stage of Sannyasa is different, and the overwhelming consensus in ancient and medieval texts is that Sannyas stage of life must entirely be devoted to Moksha aided by Dharma.[22]

Dharma is held primary for all stages. Moksha is the ultimate noble goal, recommended for everyone, to be sought at any stage of life. On the other two, the texts are unclear.[22] With the exception of Kamasutra, most texts make no recommendation on the relative preference on Artha or Kama, that an individual must emphasise in what stage of life. The Kamasutra states,[22]

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.

— Kamasutr 1.2.1 – 1.2.4, Translated by Patrick Olivelle [22]

Alternate classification system of life stages[edit]

stages of life[citation needed]
Period Ashrama
(stages of
dutiful life)
(Saving of life)
Saisava 0–2 years No moral codes during this period
Balya 3–12 years Brahmacharya Dharma Vidyarambha, Learning of alphabet, arithmetic, basic education
Kaishora 13–15 years Brahmacharya Dharma and Moksha
Tarunya 16–19 years Brahmacharya Dharma and Moksha
20–29 years Brahmacharya or Grihastha Dharma, Artha and Moksha
30–59 years Grihastha Dharma, Artha and Kama and Moksha
(60+ )
60–79 years Vanaprastha Dharma and Moksha
80+ years Sanyasa Dharma and Moksha

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Patrick Olivelle (1993), The Āśram System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution, Oxford University Press, OCLC 466428084, pages 1–29, 84–111
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 RK Sharma (1999), Indian Society, Institutions and Change, ISBN 978-8171566655, page 28
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Alban Widgery (1930), The Principles of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, 40(2): 237–239
  4. 4.0 4.1 Alban Widgery (1930), The Principles of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, 40(2): 232–245
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chakkarath, Pradeep (2005), pp. 31-54.
  6. Chakkarath, Pradeep (2013). Indian thoughts on psychological human development. In G. Misra (Ed.), Psychology and Psychoanalysis in India (pp. 167-190). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
  7. Rama, p. 467.
  8. Barbara Holdrege (2004), Dharma, in The Hindu World (Editors: Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby), Routledge, ISBN 0-415-21527-7, page 231
  9. J. Donald Walters (1998), The Hindu Way of Awakening: Its Revelation, Its Symbols, an Essential View of Religion, Crystal Clarity Publishers, pp. 154–, ISBN 978-1-56589-745-8, retrieved 12 July 2013
  10. Vivekjivandas, Sadhu. Hinduism: An Introduction – Part 2. (Swaminarayan Aksharpith: Ahmedabad, 2010) p. 113. ISBN 978-81-7526-434-2
  11. Brian Smith (1986), Ritual, Knowledge, and Being: Initiation and Veda Study in Ancient India, Numen, Vol. 33, Fasc. 1, pages 65–89
  12. R Pandey (1969), Hindu Saṁskāras: Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments (2nd Ed.), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0434-1
  13. Sahebrao Genu Nigal (1986). Axiological approach to the Vedas. Northern Book Centre. pp. 110–114. ISBN 81-85119-18-X.
  14. Manilal Bose (1998). "5. Grihastha Ashrama, Vanprastha and Sanyasa". Social and cultural history of ancient India. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 68–79. ISBN 81-7022-598-1.
  15. Mazumdar and Mazumdar (2005), Home in the Context of Religion, in Home and Identity in Late Life: International Perspectives (Editor: Graham D. Rowles et al.), Springer, ISBN 978-0826127150, pages 81–103
  16. 16.0 16.1 Albertina Nugteren (2005), Belief, Bounty, And Beauty: Rituals Around Sacred Trees in India, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004146013, pages 13–21
  17. Ralph Tench and William Sun (2014), Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility: Perspectives and Practice, ISBN 978-1783507955, page 346
  18. Saraswathi et al (2010), Reconceptualizing Lifespan Development through a Hindu Perspective, in Bridging Cultural and Developmental Approaches to Psychology (Editor: Lene Arnett Jensen), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195383430, page 280-286
  19. S. Radhakrishnan (1922), The Hindu Dharma, International Journal of Ethics, 33(1): 1–22
  20. DP Bhawuk (2011), The Paths of Bondage and Liberation, in Spirituality and Indian Psychology, Springer, ISBN 978-1-4419-8109-7, pages 93–110
  21. Alban Widgery (1930), The Principles of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, 40(2): 239–240
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 Patrick Olivelle (1993), The Āśram System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution, Oxford University Press, OCLC 466428084, pages 216–219


  • Chakkarath, Pradeep (2005). What can Western psychology Learn from Indigenous Psychologies? Lessons from Hindu psychology. In W. Friedlmeier, P. Chakkarath, & B. Schwarz (Eds.), Culture and Human Development: The Importance of Cross-cultural Research to the Social Sciences (pp. 31–51). New York: Psychology Press.
  • Chakkarath, Pradeep (2013). Indian Thoughts on Psychological Human Development. In G. Misra (Ed.), Psychology and Psychoanalysis in India (pp. 167–190). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
  • Kriyananda, Swami (1998), The Hindu Way of Awakening, Crystal Clarity Publishers, ISBN 1-56589-745-5
  • Rama, Swami (1985), Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Himalayan Institute Press, ISBN 0-89389-090-1

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]