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Vanvas (Sanskrit: वनवास, Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋənˈʋaːs]) is a Sanskrit term meaning residence (vās) in a forest (van). While it can be undertaken voluntarily, it usually carries a connotation of forced exile as a punishment. It commonly figures as a harsh penalty in ancient Hindu epics (such as the Ramayan and Mahabharat) set in a time, thousands of years ago, when much of the Indian subcontinent was a wilderness.[1]

When vanvas is self-imposed, it can imply seclusion from worldly affairs to focus on spiritual matters, as in the case of ashrams (hermitages) established by ancient rishis. When imposed as a punishment, it carries an implication of enforced isolation from society and exposure to life-threatening situations (the elements and wildlife).


  1. ^ Gilbert Pollet, "Indian Epic Values: Ramayana and Its Impact: Proceedings of the 8th International Ramayana Conference, Leuven, 6-8 July 1991"; Peeters Publishers, 1995, ISBN 90-6831-701-6, ISBN 978-90-6831-701-5.