By Swami Harshananda
Vrātyas as per Manusmṛti
The Manusmṛti declares that a brāhmaṇa, kṣattriya and vaiśya should undergo the upanayāna sacrament before the ages of 16, 22 and 24 respectively. If they do not, they become vrātyas, unfit to receive the Sāvitrīmantra.
Origin of Vrātyas
According to this definition, the vrātyas were dvijas by birth but had neglected or ignored the upanayāna sacrament. They could however be re-absorbed into the society by the performance of Vrātyastoma sacrifice as expiation. They probably led a nomadic life not practicing either agriculture or commerce. They might have lived to the west of the Sarasvatī river.
Vrātyas as per Pañcavimśa Brāhmana
The Pañcavimśa Brāhmana gives some interesting details about their dress and way of life. Their leader known as gṛhapati wore a turban, carried a whip and a kind of bow. He moved in a wagon covered with planks. He dressed himself well. His subordinates wore red-bordered garments.
After they were readmitted into the main Aryan fold, they had to surrender all these things and adopt the way of life prescribed for the dvijas. The Atharvaveda uses the word vrātya for God sounds interesting.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore