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A Vanaprastha (Sanskrit: वानप्रस्थ) is a person who is living in the forest as a hermit after partially giving up material desires. Vanaprastha ashram is the third stage of life in the Vedic ashram system, when a person gradually withdraws from the world. This stage comes after the completion of household duties in the second ashram phase Grihastha (household life), but one can enter into it straight from the first stage Brahmacharya (student life) ashram.
This word is generally used to denote a particular phase of life in the Vedic ashram system when a person is between the ages of 50 and 74. In this phase of life, the person is in a retreat from worldly life. He lives away from the city, in a forest as a hermit, with as little material possessions as possible. This stage denotes a transition phase from material to spiritual life. It is the third of four phases of a man in the system, as prescribed by the Manusmriti for the Dvija castes, in the Hindu religion.There is some controversy over which varnas (castes) were supposed to follow the Vedic ashram system. According to some texts, the system was only for the Brahmins.
The term comes from the Sanskrit roots vana, meaning forest, and prastha, meaning gone to; because one who is entering this stage of life is expected to learn to lose his worldly desires and retire to the forest.
When a householder is considered to be older, perceiving his skin to have become wrinkled, his hair turned gray, and has grandchildren, the time is said to have come for him to enter the third stage of life, or vanaprastha. It is said that he should now disengage himself from all family ties, except that his wife may accompany him, if she chooses - although maintaining total celibacy, and retire to a lonely forest, taking with him only his sacred fires and the implements required for the daily and periodical worship. Clad in deerskin, a single piece of cloth, or in a bark garment, with his hair and nails uncut, the hermit is to subsist exclusively on food growing wild in the forest, such as roots, green herbs, wild rice, and grain. He must not accept gifts from any one, except of what may be absolutely necessary to maintain him; but with his own few possessions he should honor, to the best of his ability, those who visit his hermitage. His time must be spent in reading the metaphysical treatises of the Veda, in performing acts of bhakti (worship), and in undergoing various kinds of austerities, with a view to mortifying his passions and producing in his mind an entire indifference to worldly objects. Having by these means succeeded in overcoming all sensual affections and desires, and in acquiring perfect equanimity towards everything around him, the hermit has fitted himself for the final and most exalted order, that of devotee or religious mendicant of the fourth stage the (sannyasin) ashram.
- B.K. Chaturvedi (2004). Markandeya Purana. Diamond Pocket Books. p. 55. ISBN 81-288-0577-0.
- Swami Shankarananda. "5. Entering Vanprastha Ashrama". How To Live In Old Age. Chinmaya Mission. p. 96. ISBN 81-7597-290-4.
- Sahebrao Genu Nigal (1986). Axiological approach to the Vedas. Northern Book Centre. p. 112. ISBN 81-85119-18-X.
- Manilal Bose (1998). "5. Grihastha Ashrama, Vanprastha and Sanyasa". Social and cultural history of ancient India. Concept Publishing Company. p. 68. ISBN 81-7022-598-1.