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Grhasthashrama (Samskrit: गृहस्थाश्रमः) refers to the second of the four stages (ashramas) of life as per the Varnashrama Vyavastha. It is the stage of a householder or Grhastha. This householder stage is entered at marriage, when a student completes his studentship and is ready to take up the duties and responsibilities of householder life. Of all the Ashramas, this is considered the most important, because it supports all the other ashramas. It is said that, just like all creatures live supported by the air, the other ashramas exist supported by the grhastha; like all streams and rivers flow to rest in the ocean, all the Ashramas flow to rest in the grhastha. The Grhastha is the very heart of the society as everything depends on him.
Refer Uma Shankara Samvada
- 1 Eligibility to Grhasthashrama
- 2 गृहस्थधर्मः ॥ Grhastha Dharma
- 3 कर्तव्यनिवृत्तिः ॥ Retirement from Duties
- 4 मोक्षमार्गः ॥ Way to Attain Moksha
- 5 References
Eligibility to Grhasthashrama
According to Manusmrti,
वेदानधीत्य वेदौ वा वेदं वापि यथाक्रमम् । अविप्लुतब्रह्मचर्यो गृहस्थाश्रमं आवसेत् । । ३.२ । ।
vedānadhītya vedau vā vedaṁ vāpi yathākramam । aviplutabrahmacaryo gr̥hasthāśramaṁ āvaset । । 3.2 । ।
Meaning: (A student) who has studied in due order all the Vedas, or two, or even one only, without breaking the (rules of) studentship, shall enter the order of householders.
गृहस्थधर्मः ॥ Grhastha Dharma
Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva, Danadharma upaparva contains the details about how a grhastha in different varnas should conduct themselves and the qualities that should be cultured by every grhastha in the Uma Maheshvara Samvada.
गृहस्थलक्षणानि ॥ Qualities of a Grhastha
अहिंसा सत्यवचनं सर्वभूतानुकम्पनम्। शमो दानं यथाशक्ति गार्हस्थ्यो धर्म उत्तमः॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 141.25)
Maheshvara explains - Ahimsa (refraining from harming any being), speaking satya (truth), compassion towards all creatures, practicing shama (control of mind and indriyas or sense organs) and giving unto others as per one's capacity (dana) are the greatest dharmas to be followed by a grhastha. The Bhagavata Purana says,
सुशीलो मितभुग्दक्षः श्रद्दधानो जितेन्द्रियः । यावदर्थं व्यवहरेत्स्त्रीषु स्त्रीनिर्जितेषु च ॥ ६॥
suśīlo mitabhugdakṣaḥ śraddadhāno jitendriyaḥ । yāvadarthaṁ vyavaharetstrīṣu strīnirjiteṣu ca ॥ 6॥
Meaning: He should be of a good character, moderate in eating, alert and prompt (in work), of reverential faith in shastras and self-controlled. It is only when absolutely necessary and to that much extent only that he should deal with women (eg. for getting alms) or with those who are influenced by women.
Conduct of a Grhastha
It is said that, a householder should earn money by honest means and distribute it in the proper manner. He should spend one-tenth of his income in charity. He should enjoy sensual pleasures within the limits of the moral law. The Mahabharata says,
परदारेष्वसंसर्गो न्यासस्त्रीपरिरक्षणम्। अदत्तादानविरमो मधुमांसस्य वर्जनम् ॥
एष पञ्चविधो धर्मो बहुशाखः सुखोदयः। देहिभिर्धर्मपरमैश्र्वर्तव्यो धर्मसम्भवः॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 141.26-27)
Refraining from seeking other person's wife, protecting ladies and those under his care, not taking any thing from other's (in the form of charity) without first giving, not consuming meat and liquor - these are five kinds of dharmas that lead one to happiness. Each of these five dharmas further lead into many branches. Those who hold dharma in high position always follow such dharma for the sake of earning punya (merits).
A householder uses five things frequently in his daily life viz. the hearth (floor of fire place), the grinding-stone, the broom, the pestle and mortar and the water-vessel. And while doing so he incurs papa (पापम्) since each of these five are potentially harmful for small living organisms that are invisible to the naked eyes. Hence, they are called slaughter-houses. In order to successively expiate the offences committed by means of all these five tools, the great sages have prescribed for householders the daily performance of the five great sacrifices. (Manu. 3.68 and 69) It is said,
स्वाध्यायेनार्चयेत र्षीन्होमैर्देवान्यथाविधि । पितॄञ् श्राद्धैश्च नॄनन्नैर्भूतानि बलिकर्मणा । । ३.८१ । ।
svādhyāyenārcayeta rṣīnhomairdevānyathāvidhi । pitr̥̄ñ śrāddhaiśca nr̥̄nannairbhūtāni balikarmaṇā । । 3.81 । ।
Meaning: Let him (the Grhastha) worship, according to the rule, the sages by the self study/recitation of the Veda, the gods by burnt oblations, the manes by funeral offerings (Shraddha), men by (gifts of) food, and the Bhutas by the Bali offering.
Also called as Rshi yajna or Ahuta, it refers to an offering to the brahman or rshi in the form of teaching and studying of the vedas - अध्यापनं ब्रह्मयज्ञः | adhyāpanaṁ brahmayajñaḥ. Here, the offering is not given into the fire, rather it is in the form of chanting of vedic texts - जपोऽहुतो | japo'huto | (Manu 3.70 and 3.74)
The term Prashita literally means 'eaten'. It is said that, प्राशितं पितृतर्पणम् । prāśitaṁ pitr̥tarpaṇam । It is a daily oblation to Pitrus.
Prashita refers to
- Tarpana (ablutions to the departed) - they are offerings to pitrus done with water and food. पितृयज्ञस्तु तर्पणम् । pitr̥yajñastu tarpaṇam, (Manu 3.70 and 3.74)
- Shraddha or annual religious rites performed for departed.
In general, Bhuta Yajna refers to distribution of food to cows, crows and animals. Also called as Prahuta - प्रहुतो भौतिको बलिः । prahuto bhautiko baliḥ ।, it refers to the Bali offering given to the Bhutas - बलिर्भौतो | balirbhauto | (Manu 3.70 and 3.74)
Also called Brahmya-huta or the respectful reception of guests, - ब्राह्म्यं हुतं द्विजाग्र्यार्चा | brāhmyaṁ hutaṁ dvijāgryārcāis |, the Nruyajna refers to the hospitality offered to guests - नृयज्ञोऽतिथिपूजनम् | nr̥yajño'tithipūjanam । (Manu 3.70 and 3.74)
As it involves giving food to guests and honouring them, it is also known as Atithi yajna.
According to Manusmrti, an oblation duly offered into the fire, reaches the sun; from the sun comes rain, from rain food, there from the living creatures derive their subsistence (3.76) Hence, it says,
स्वाध्याये नित्ययुक्तः स्याद्दैवे चैवेह कर्मणि । दैवकर्मणि युक्तो हि बिभर्तीदं चराचरम् । । ३.७५ । ।
पञ्चैतान्यो महाअयज्ञान्न हापयति शक्तितः । स गृहेऽपि वसन्नित्यं सूनादोषैर्न लिप्यते । । ३.७१ । ।
देवतातिथिभृत्यानां पितॄणां आत्मनश्च यः । न निर्वपति पञ्चानां उच्छ्वसन्न स जीवति । । ३.७२ । ।
svādhyāye nityayuktaḥ syāddaive caiveha karmaṇi । daivakarmaṇi yukto hi bibhartīdaṁ carācaram । । 3.75 । ।
pañcaitānyo mahāayajñānna hāpayati śaktitaḥ । sa gr̥he'pi vasannityaṁ sūnādoṣairna lipyate । । 3.71 । ।
devatātithibhr̥tyānāṁ pitr̥̄ṇāṁ ātmanaśca yaḥ । na nirvapati pañcānāṁ ucchvasanna sa jīvati । । 3.72 । ।
Meaning: Let (every man) in this (second order, at least) daily apply himself to the private recitation of the Veda, and also to the performance of the offering to the gods; for he who is diligent in the performance of sacrifices, supports both the movable and the immovable creation. He who neglects not these five great sacrifices, while he is able (to perform them), is not tainted by the papas (committed) in the five places of slaughter, though he constantly lives in the (order of) house holders. But he who does not feed these five, the gods, his guests, those whom he is bound to maintain, the pitrus, and himself, lives not, though he breathes. 
कर्तव्यनिवृत्तिः ॥ Retirement from Duties
When the householder sees that his sons are able to bear the burden of his duties, when his grandchildren are around him, he should know that the time has come for him and his wife to retire from the world and spend their time in study and meditation.
According to Manusmrti, when one has paid, according to the law, one's debts to the great sages, to the forefathers, and to the gods, one should make over everything to one's son and dwell (in the house), not caring for any worldly concerns. [v.4.257.]
महर्षिपितृदेवानां गत्वानृण्यं यथाविधि । पुत्रे सर्वं समासज्य वसेन्माध्यस्थ्यं आश्रितः । । ४.२५७ । ।
maharṣipitr̥devānāṁ gatvānr̥ṇyaṁ yathāvidhi । putre sarvaṁ samāsajya vasenmādhyasthyaṁ āśritaḥ । । 4.257 । ।
At this stage, one is advised to constantly meditate in solitude on that which is salutary for one's soul; for one who meditates in solitude attains supreme bliss. [v.4.258.]
एकाकी चिन्तयेन्नित्यं विविक्ते हितं आत्मनः । एकाकी चिन्तयानो हि परं श्रेयोऽधिगच्छति । । ४.२५८ । ।
ekākī cintayennityaṁ vivikte hitaṁ ātmanaḥ । ekākī cintayāno hi paraṁ śreyo'dhigacchati । । 4.258 । ।
मोक्षमार्गः ॥ Way to Attain Moksha
In the 14th Adhyaya of the 7th Skandha of the Bhagavata Purana, as Yudhisthira asks, Maharshi Narada explains to him the course of conduct by which a householder will attain moksha without difficulty. He says,
Staying in the household and performing duties such as sandhya, worship and five mahayajnas laid down for a householder as direct offering to Bhagavan Vasudeva without expecting anything in return for it, one should wait upon great sages in order to learn the truth. (2)
Devoutly listening to the nectar-like sweet stories of the avataras of Vishnu during the leisure time after performance of duties, he should constantly be surrounded by people who are tranquil by nature. (3)
Through companionship with good people, he should gradually release himself from attachment to himself, his wife, his sons etc. which are in the process of being separated from him, and should rise above them like a person awakened from a dream (does in the case of objects seen in the dream). (4)
A wise man should be disinterested in and dispassionate to his body and house, but should attend to it to the extent to which it is indispensible. Simulating attachment to them, a man should transcend his status as an ordinary human being and be a recluse. Or (carry out his duties in life). (5)
Being free from attachment to himself and his property, he should accept in what his kinsmen, parents, sons, brothers and other well-wishers propose and desire. (6)
A wise man should carry out his duties while enjoying what he gets from the heaven (eg. crops due to rain fall), from mines (eg. gold, precious stones etc.) and what he gets accidentally by wind fall, as all wealth is created by Bhagavan Vishnu (and is obtained through his grace). (7)
Embodied beings can lay claim to that much wealth as is just necessary for filling his belly. He who lays claims on the surplus is a thief and deserves punishment. (8)
One should look upon beasts, camels, donkeys, monkeys, rats, serpents, birds and flies like one's own sons, for there is very little difference between them and his sons. (9)
Even though a man be a householder, he should not put in extraordinary trouble for getting the three purusharthas. He should enjoy what is afforded to him by providence according to its place and time. (10)
He should duly share his objects of enjoyment with all down to dogs, papis and people belonging to the lowest strata of the society. One's wife with whom one is most intimately attached should be allowed to fulfil the dharma of atithi satkara. (11)
One is so seriously attached to one's wife that he sometimes kills himself or other including his parents or guru for her. Therefore, if one can give up his attachment to such a wife, he conquers Bhagavan Vishnu who is never conquered by anyone. (12-PP)
Through proper deliberation, one should give up physical attraction towards his wife for, body ultimately transforms into worms when buried, faeces when eaten up by carnivorous animals or ashes when created. What is the value of this insignificant body ? And how much greater is the Supreme being who is all-pervading like the sky ? (13-PP)
A wise person should maintain his livelihood by food after offering oblations to the deities in the Panchamahayajnas and should relinquish the notion of his claim of what remains as surplus. Thus, he would attain to the position of paramahamsas. (14)
A man should worship the antaryamin daily by sharing what he has obtained in his own vocation with deities, sages, human beings, other living beings, pitrs and his own self. (15)
If he possesses all the required materials as well as the requisite qualifications for performing yajnas, he should worship the Supreme being according to the procedure laid down in the Shrauta and Kalpa sutras. (16)
But verily, Bhagavan, the enjoyer of yajnas is not propitiated to that extent by oblation offered through the fire as through morsels of food offered to Him through the mouths of the brahmanas. (17)
One should, therefore, worship this Inner controller through the brahmanas, deities presiding over the Panchamahayajnas as also through human beings and other creatures, by offering them objects of enjoyment, in the respective order, after feeding the brahmanas. (18)
If sufficiently rich, a dvija (brahmana, kshatriya and vaishya) should perform according to his means, the shraddha ie. Mahalaya in honour of his departed parents as well as their kinsmen and others, in the dark half of bhadrapada. (19)
The text further enumerates a few other occassions when one should perform shraddha. Since they are particularly considered as very auspicious times conducive to the attainment of prosperity to men. It is said that the performance of ablutions, muttering prayer or mantra (Japa), oblations to fire, observance of a sacred vow, worship of deities and brahmanas and gifts donated in the names of pitrs, deities, men and creatures on these specific days, bear everlasting fruit. (25)
The text also enlists Punya Kshetras and mentions that one who is desirous of blessings, should constantly sojourn at these sacred-most spots where the murti or vigrahas of Hari are installed. For, righteous duties performed here yield fruits thousand times more than what accrues at other places. (33)
- Swami Sivananda (1999), All About Hinduism, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society.
- Manusmrti, Adhyaya 3
- The Laws of Manu, Translated by G.Buhler, Chapter 3
- Pt. Ramnarayanadutta Shastri Pandey. Mahabharata, Volume 6 (With Hindi Translation) Gorakhpur : Gita Press (Page 5918)
- Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 7, Adhyaya 12.
- Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, P.no.968-969.
- Pt. Sri Rama Ramanuja Acharya, The Laws of Manu for the 21st Century, srimatham.com
- Manusmrti, Adhyaya 4.
- Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, P.no.979-984.
- A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam (Seventh Canto), Part 3-Chapters 10-15, 1976: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.