By Swami Harshananda
Anāśramin literally means ‘One who has not adopted any āśrama’.
According to the dharmaśāstras, the life of an individual is divided into four āśramas or stages of life as follows :
- Brahmacarya - It signifies the states of a student.
- Gārhasthya - It signifies the state of a house - holder.
- Vānaprastha - It signifies the state of forest-recluse.
- Saiṅnyāsa - It signifies the state of monk.
It was obligatory for a householder belonging to the first three varṇas (castes) to maintain sacrificial fire and to offer oblations regularly. The wife also had a place in this ritual and could act as a substitute for her husband in the times of need. No greater calamity could befall a householder than the untimely death of his wife. Her body would be cremated with the same fire in which she used to offer oblations. The widower had only two alternatives left :
- To enter into the next stage of the vānaprastha
- To marry once again and set up the fire afresh
Anyone who did neither was branded as an ‘anāśramin,’ one who was outside the pale of the āśrama scheme. This was incompatible with the Vedic scheme of life.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore