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An Ashrama (āśrama) in Hinduism is one of four age-based life stages discussed in ancient and medieval era Indian texts. The four asramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciation).
The Ashramas system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism. It is also a component of the ethical theories in Indian philosophy, where it is combined with four proper goals of human life (Purusartha), for fulfilment, happiness and spiritual liberation.
The Ashram system
Under the Ashram system, the human life was divided into four periods. The goal of each period was the fulfilment and development of the individual. While some Indian texts present these as sequential stages of human life and recommend age when one enters each stage, many texts state the Ashramas as four alternative ways of life and options available, but not as sequential stage that any individual must follow, nor do they place any age limits.
|Ashram or stage||Age (years)||Description||Rituals of transition|
|Till 24||Brahmacharya represented the bachelor student stage of life. This stage focused on education and included the practice of celibacy. The student went to a Gurukul (house of the guru) and typically would live with a Guru (teacher), acquiring knowledge of science, philosophy, scriptures and logic, practicing self-discipline, working to earn dakshina to be paid for the guru, learning to live a life of Dharma (righteousness, morals, duties).||Upanayana at entry. Samavartana at exit.|
|24–48||This stage referred to the individual's married life, with the duties of maintaining a household, raising a family, educating one's children, and leading a family-centred and a dharmic social life. Grihastha stage was considered as the most important of all stages in sociological context, as human beings in this stage not only pursued a virtuous life, they produced food and wealth that sustained people in other stages of life, as well as the offsprings that continued mankind. The stage also represented one where the most intense physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments exist in a human being's life.||Hindu wedding at entry.|
|48–72||The retirement stage, where a person handed over household responsibilities to the next generation, took an advisory role, and gradually withdrew from the world. Vanaprastha stage was a transition phase from a householder's life with its greater emphasis on Artha and Kama (wealth, security, pleasure and sexual pursuits) to one with greater emphasis on Moksha (spiritual liberation).|
|The stage was marked by renunciation of material desires and prejudices, represented by a state of disinterest and detachment from material life, generally without any meaningful property or home (Ascetic), and focussed on Moksha, peace and simple spiritual life. Anyone could enter this stage after completing the Brahmacharya stage of life.|
Asrama and Purushartha
The Ashramas system is one facet of the complex Dharma concept in Hinduism. It is integrated with the concept of Purushartha, or four proper aims of life in Hindu philosophy, namely, Dharma (piety, morality, duties), Artha (wealth, health, means of life), Kama (love, relationships, emotions) and Moksha (liberation, freedom, self-realization). Each of the four Ashramas of life are a form of personal and social environment, each stage with ethical guidelines, duties and responsibilities, for the individual and for the society. Each Ashrama stage places different levels of emphasis on the four proper goals of life, with different stages viewed as steps to the attainment of the ideal in Hindu philosophy, namely Moksha.
Neither ancient nor medieval texts of India state that any of the first three Ashramas must devote itself solely to a specific goal of life (Purushartha). The fourth stage of Sannyasa is different, and the overwhelming consensus in ancient and medieval texts is that Sannyasa stage of life must entirely be devoted to Moksha aided by Dharma.
Dharma is held primary for all stages. Moksha is the ultimate noble goal, recommended for everyone, to be sought at any stage of life. On the other two, the texts are unclear. With the exception of Kamasutra, most texts make no recommendation on the relative preference on Artha or Kama, that an individual must emphasise in what stage of life. The Kamasutra states,
The life span of a man is one hundred years. Dividing that time, he should attend to three aims of life in such a way that they support, rather than hinder each other. In his youth he should attend to profitable aims (artha) such as learning, in his prime to pleasure (kama), and in his old age to dharma and moksha.— Kamasutra 1.2.1 – 1.2.4, Translated by Patrick Olivelle 
Alternate classification system of life stages
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stages of life
(aims of life)
|Saisava||0–2 years||No moral codes during this period|
|Balya||3–12 years||Brahmacharya||Dharma||Vidyarambha, Learning of alphabet, arithmetic, basic education|
|Kaishora||13–15 years||Brahmacharya||Dharma and Moksha|
|Tarunya||16–19 years||Brahmacharya||Dharma and Moksha|
|20–29 years||Brahmacharya or Grihastha||Dharma, Artha and Moksha|
|30–59 years||Grihastha||Dharma, Artha and Kama and Moksha|
|60–79 years||Vanaprastha||Dharma and Moksha|
|80+ years||Sanyasa||Dharma and Moksha|
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