Secondary Hinduism Page 4

Hindu Practices

Four stages of life & Religious Ceremonies

Consult Primary Schools Page 4 for Worship in the home and temple, and Hindu Festivals



The word Ashrama can mean hermitage. It also means the division of life into different stages. According to Hinduism, the aim of life is to find God. In order to achieve this, life is subdivided into four stages called Ashramas. Though this practice has been abandoned since the middle ages, most of the values it promoted are still applicable today.


Student Stage of life ~ Brahmacharya ashrama

v      Brahmacharya is the first stage of life. It begins at around the age of five when the child begins his studies. The youngster is expected to lead a celibate life until he finishes his studies; to stay with his teacher and learn the scriptures, as well as other skills that will help him earn his living. Respect for the teachers and elders is considered to be an important requirement promoted at this stage of life. Need for discipline and self-restraint are values still considered relevant for modern times.


Householder stage of life ~ Grihastha ashrama

A Householder’s life

v      Grihasta, the second stage of life, begins with marriage. The individual enters the householder’s stage and starts a family. Earning money is called artha. He earns a righteous living, and looks after all family members including the elderly, guests and children. The individual must work after the needs of society. He leads a religious life called dharma. It is also a stage of life when the individual can fulfill legitimate desires, called kama. The Grihasta Ashrama provides the financial support for the other three stages of life. Its relevance today is in teaching the importance of righteous living, performing one’s duties, and in looking after the needs of the elderly and society.


 Retirement Stage of life ~ Vanaprastha ashrama

v      Vanaprastha is the third stage in life. The scriptures say that one begins this stage ‘when the skin becomes wrinkled’. The word ‘Vanaprastha’ literally means ‘the forest dweller’; in ancient times, the householder would retire and live in the forest to contemplate and meditate. Today it can be taken to simply mean the withdrawal of the individual from family duties. The person becomes the advisor to the family and passes on the household duties to younger family members.


Life of a Monk ~ Sanyasa ashrama

Vivekananda A modern sanyasi

v      Sanyasa is the sometimes seen as the final stage in life. According to the scriptures, the individual can enter this stage whenever he feels a strong urge to find God. The word Sanyasa literally means renunciation. It is often misunderstood to mean ‘giving up everything’, however what it really means is ‘giving up the minor things in order to achieve the major’ i.e. God. The Sanyasi makes the whole world his family. The aim of this stage is to find God, and also to work for the good of mankind. He spends his time in meditation, worship, pilgrimage, and whatever he sees fit to find God. The value to be learnt from this stage is renunciation. At some stage in our lifetimes we need to develop dispassion for worldliness in order to make spiritual progress.


Religious Ceremonies


Rites of passage ~ Samskaras:

v      Samskaras are rites of passage within Hinduism. Sixteen such ceremonies are prescribed in the scriptures. They can be classed as religious ceremonies marking entry into the different stages of life. The first samskara takes place before conception has taken place and the last takes place after death. Some of the earlier samskaras include: naming ceremony, the first feeding of cooked food and the first hair cut. We deal with four main ceremonies: The naming ceremony, the sacred thread ceremony, the marriage ceremony and the final cremation ceremony.


v      Naming ceremony ~  Namakarana literally means the ‘naming ceremony’ and is usually performed around the eleventh day after birth. Sometimes the paternal aunt is given the privilege of choosing the name, sometimes a horoscope is consulted to decide on the first letter of the name. It is believed that the planetary configuration helps the child to achieve his or her full potential. Sometimes the name is chosen to inspire the child, and may be the name of God, or a virtue to aspire towards. The name serves a religious purpose as it acts to remind the family of higher values.


v      Sacred thread ceremony ~ Upanayana is the sacred thread ceremony. The word ‘Upanayana’ literally means ‘getting closer to God’, and marks the beginning of life as a student. In ancient times, this used to be around the age of eight. The child would undergo the ritual, in which a ‘havan’ or sacred fire is lit, and a priest recites hymns from the Vedas. The father or the priest whispers the Gayatri mantra into the child’s ear, which marks initiation into a religious lifestyle. The child is then invested with a sacred thread draped over the left shoulder. It consists of three strands, representing his debts to God, his forefathers and his spiritual teacher. The child is then deemed fit to enter the Brahmacharya Ashrama.


v      Marriage ceremony ~ Vivah

Marriage ceremony

Vivah is the marriage ceremony, which marks the individual’s transition from a student to a householder. A suitable partner is found after the individual has completed their studies. The vivah varies considerably depending on local customs, but there are a few basic guidelines that are observed at many ceremonies. The bride’s father offers the hand of the bride to the groom, a gesture called ‘panigrahana’. A havan or sacred fire is lit, and a priest recites hymns from Holy Scriptures. The bride and groom offer grains and clarified butter, ‘ghee’ to the fire in order to obtain the blessings of higher beings. Fire is considered the witness to the ritual. The bride and groom walk around the fire four times, and after every turn, the bride places her right foot on a piece of rock to symbolize her steadfastness in her wifely duties. As a symbolic gesture, the couple takes seven steps together, each representing health, wealth, strength, children, happiness, life-long friendship, and God. The wife marks her forehead (and hair parting) with red powder called ‘kum kum’. The couple is showered with rice grains and petals to wish them well. The wife is now addressed as the ‘sahadharmini’ or the companion in spiritual progress.


v      Final rites ~ Antima-Kriya


Antima Kriya is the final death rite, and involves the cremation of the body. Hindu philosophy states that the body is just the outer garment of the individual, and that the real self never dies, but is reborn in a different body in due course. The body is not considered important hence it is cremated rather than buried. The body is bathed, clothed and placed in a coffin to be taken to the crematorium. The eldest son or male relative will set fire to the pyre. Verses from the Bhagavad Gita which explain the immortality of the soul, are recited to comfort relatives. The ashes are collected and taken to be immersed in the river Ganges.






















Back to Hinduism for Schools Home Page


© Hindu Academy London ~ Copyright law applies to each page