Varnashrama Dharma is one of the key concepts in Hinduism. It is the division of one’s lifetime based on duties. There are four Varnashrama Dharma namely, Brahmacharya Ashrama, Grihastha Ashrama, Vanaprashta Ashrama, and Sanyasa Ashrama. Commonly considered time scale for each Ashrama 25 years. It is in such a way that for Brahmacharya Ashrama the age group is 0-25 years, for Grihastha 26-50 years, for Vanaprashta 51-75 years, and for Sanyasa 76-100 year. However, one can decide the time scale on their own but the duties of each ashrama should be followed strictly.
Here are the key highlights from the Article.
- Varnashrama Dharma is based on the duties of individuals based on the division of the lifetime, you can scroll down to see the duties.
- Four Purusharthas, Four Ashramas, and Four Varnas are indirectly correlated with each other.
- There is a major difference between Varna and the Jati.
- Duties in each Ashrama corresponds to the development of the Spirituality.
In this article, we are going to see all the four Varnashrama Dharma in detail. However, before going through the Varnashrama Dharma let’s understand the concept of Varna and its origins. If you want to skip to the duties part, you can scroll down towards the end of this article.
Varna, the Origin and Emergence.
In the Indian civilization, the reference to the Varna can be found in the Purusha Shukta of Rig Veda. The exact date is not traced but, it should have existed from the pre-Vedic period. Some of the scholars argue that it should have started around the 5th Century BCE. There are also traces in the books like Asrama Upanishad, the Vaikhanasa Dharmasutra.
Society was divided into four classes based on the profession of an individual. Brahmins were the Priests, Teachers, Scientists, etc. who were responsible for all teaching-related activities. Kshatriyas, the warrior class were responsible for the protection of the territory from the invaders. Vaishyas looked after the business, they were majorly responsible for generating the revenue for the State. Shudras were the class based on labor. However, after the post-Vedic period, the Varna system changed into Jati based division of society. The Varna based on intelligence was interpreted as the Jati based on the birth of an individual.
In other parts of the world also there was the division of society based on a similar concept. For example, in European society, the clergy, the nobility, the burghers, and the serf and proletariat were the classes. In Iran the division was done in this way; Atharva, the priest, Rathestha, the warrior, Vastrya Fsuvant, the head in the family who takes major decisions, and Huiti, the worker class. In Indic civilization, the division of the class was considered divine and one of the major aspects of the Brahman which is Natural.
The varna is an epithet of the Brahman or the cosmic intelligence as per Hinduism. It is natural, inferentially as per the principle stated in the Purusha Shukta, Brahmins are the face because they show the identity to the people. Identity is knowledge. Kshatriyas are the hands, Vaishyas are the thighs and Shudras are the legs. One class is connected to the other, however, one can rise from lower class to higher and higher class to lower based on the Karma and the Guna one acquires. These duties are given in the Varnashrama Dharma which balances Spirituality and Personal life. However, as per the disregarded Aryan invasion theories, the narrative is different.
As per the western interpretation of the Varna, the inhabitants of India were the Dasyus. The Aryans came and made them inferior by converting them into Shudras. However, this interpretation can be completely disregarded because the Scientific Research published in Nature has suggested the same traces of the R1a1 group in all the classes. This research also gave strong evidence towards the founder group in this class system. The founding class is the Brahmins.
There was a system mentioned in Manu Smriti and various other religious texts, if one doesn’t follow the duties assigned, they will be shifted to the lower class. This has happened to the maximum number of people in society. Also, one who does better work, he/she may be shifted to the upper level too. For example, Sage Valmiki was a Shudra who later on turned into Brahmin. Vishwamitra, the warrior was also turned into Brahmin. The evidence can be directly traced in the Shreemad Bhagawat Gita. It is mentioned that, Chaturvarnayam mayasrushtam gunakarma vibhagasaka. The division of the society is completely based on the Gunas and the Karma. You can click here to read about the Gunas.
In modern times, the Varna-based division has been turned into a rigid caste-based society. It is a fact, however, there have been reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda who have interpreted the context with great details. The reformers have been succeeded in their attempts because Article 25 of the Indian constitution of India has given them the right to do so.
There are also various Marxist interpretations of the Varna, however, these interpretations cannot be fitted into the major meaning of the Varnashrama Dharma. Let’s move into our core discussion on the Varnashrama Dharma.
The Balance between Spirituality and Personal Life is given by Varnashrama Dharma.
As per the various scriptures, the main aim of human beings is called Purushartha. Purush means consciousness and Artha is ‘means’, or the means of achieving harmony in the consciousness. It is also divided into four categories namely Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Dharma means duties, Artha is means of livelihood, the Kama means sensory satisfaction and Moksha means freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
There is no parallel relation between the Purushartha and the Varnashrama Dharma, however, each Dharma of Varnashrama holds Artha, Kama, and Moksha in fraction.
Let’s explore more in detail.
Brahmacharya Ashrama Dharma and the duties.
The Brahmacharya literally means celibacy and education. Brahmacharya Ashrama in the Varnashrama Dharma is the first phase of life where a person is exposed to education. Education is considered to the highest form of the Brahman. The creator god Brahma is paired with the goddess of Education and Art, Saraswati. Various Dharmashastras provide the list of the duties to be performed in Student life. These duties strictly correspond to the balance between spirituality and discipline in the Varnashrama dharma.
In ancient India, education-related stuff was recorded in the Vedas. They were the medium of knowledge. However, to maintain its importance the major duty of the Students was to uphold the Vedas. It would make a base for the other Varnashrama Dharma for accomplishing the four Purusharthas.
Let’s have a look at the duties to be followed in Bramhacharya Stage of the Varnashrama Dharma.
- Study of the Vedas and Scriptures.
- Respecting the elders, maintaining perfect discipline and humility.
- Service of the Guru and the Supreme.
- Following the strict diet, mainly vegetarian.
Grihastha Ashrama Dharma and the duties.
The second stage in the Varnashrama Dharma is Grihastha Ashrama. In this stage, one is exposed to household life. This Ashrama exists to create a balance between Nature and Spirituality. One marries according to the choice; however, it is advised by many scriptures that only the best should be married. In this stage of life, two of the Purusharthas should be accomplished on highest namely Artha and Kama. Artha is the means to livelihood and Kama is sexual satisfaction. One should do best to maintain a livelihood and sexual life by following the duties.
Duties in the Grihastha Ashrama
- To collect the means of livelihood on any cost.
- Sexual satisfaction of the Partner.
- Protection of the Children and the Family members.
- Developing the high values of Spirituality in the children
Vanaprastha Ashrama and its duties.
Forests are considered to be one of the major parts of Mother nature. After the Grihastha Ashrama, one should leave the house with the wife and go to the forest. It is to explore the methods of the union between self and nature. If we consider the concept of the duality between nature and civilization, there is a better interpretation. In Hinduism, nature is always regarded as the feminine force and civilization is the male force. It is the divine Nature-Culture dualism. They are named Purusha and Prakriti respectively.
Union of the Purusha and Prakriti can be understood well when experienced. It can be experienced in the best way in the pristine forest. In this ashrama, the base for the final Purushartha, Moksha is built.
The duties of one on the in the Vanaprashta stage of Varnashrama Dharma is as follows.
- Developing the means of the union between Purusha and Prakriti within the self.
- To teach the other students regarding the importance of Spirituality.
- Visiting holy places followed by Austerities and Penance.
Sanyasa Ashrama and the duties.
The final purpose of the human is to achieve union between self and the supreme self or Purusha and the Prakriti. There can be various methods to achieve the union. One should have understood the temperament and should have identified the method to be followed for the union. There are various methods, are Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, etc. The complete renunciation should be taken up. You can read more from Scientific Monk to explore various methods.
The duties in the Sanyasa Ashrama of the Varnashrama Dharma are as follows.
- Complete renunciation and follow the means towards Moksha.
- To teach the importance of spirituality to the Students.
- Complete detachment from the worldly affairs.