The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 750,347 words

This page describes Duties of Forest-Hermits (Vanaprastha) and Recluses (Samnyasa) which is chapter 23 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the twenty-third chapter of the Vasudeva-mahatmya of the Vaishnava-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 23 - Duties of Forest-Hermits (Vānaprastha) and Recluses (Saṃnyāsa)

Śrī Nārāyaṇa said:

1. O sage, I shall now narrate to you the religious restraints to be observed by forest-hermits (Vānaprastha). The third part of life is known as the third Āśrama.

2 One should enter a forest (forest-hermit’s life) with one’s wife,

if she is agreeable in serving one’s self, is averse to objects of enjoyment, and likes to perform penance.

3. Otherwise, after ordering his sons and others for her maintenance and protection,[1] he, being free from worldly attachment, should enter the forest alone.

4. Interested in performing penance and remaining vigilant, he should stay there fearlessly. He should construct a cottage for (sacrificial) fire, but should stay outside.

5. Having subdued his anger and sense-organs, he should perform the Pañcāgni-Sādhana (with four fires on four sides around him and the fifth fire, the sun, above) in Summer, stay in water during winter, and remain in showers in rainy season.[2]

6. He should wear garments made of grass or leaves or bark-garment or hide of a deer. He should eat corn prescribed for sages (i.e. which grows up naturally without tilling the soil) or bulbous roots or fruits grown in the forest.

7. He should eat food which is boiled on fire or heated in the sun, or not boiled at all. If that is not available, (he should eat it) powered in mortar of his teeth.[3]

8. One should personally bring food everyday at the proper time. At (emergent) times, he may accept food brought by others, but never at any other time.

9. When there is no emergency (i.e. normally), he should not accept corn from tilled soil. He should perform the religious worship of (sacrificial) fire with wild corn (grown naturally in a forest).

10. He should retain his waterpot of gourd, the (religious) staff and the articles required for maintenance of sacrificial fire. He should bear (grow) without cutting or trimming hair on the head and the body, mustaches, beard and nails and unscrubbed teeth.[4]

11. He should bathe without massaging his limbs (for cleansing), and should sleep on bare ground. He should perform penance according to the exigencies of place, time, his power and state of health.

12. Forest-hermits are spoken of as belonging to four classes, viz. Phenapa, Auduṃbara, Vālakhilya and Vaikhānasa.[5]

13. One should according to one’s (physical) capacity stay in the forest (i.e. continue to be a forest-hermit) for twelve, eight, four, two or one year, and then take to the stage of Saṃnyāsa (recluse).

14. If one has intense Vairāgya (aversion against objects of worldly pleasures), the (adoption of) Saṃnyāsa is beneficial. Otherwise a Brāhmaṇa should stay in the forest (i.e. continue the stage of forest-hermit) throughout (the rest of) his life.

15. After renunciation as per injunctions, one who has (entered and) established oneself in the fourth Āśrama (stage of life), he should wear a small piece (strip) of cloṃ to cover the privities, and a patched garment.

16. He should possess a (religious) staff, a waterpot of gourd and a piece of cloth for straining water.[6]

17. A recluse should not beg alms in the house of the same person everyday. He should never be longing for flavourous food. He should take food once (per day) and that too limited (in quantity).

18. A mendicant should generally accept alms from a person who is a forest-hermit. His (mendicant’s) mind gets purified by the extremely pure food of the forest-hermit.

19. Even if he has smelt meat and wine, he should perform the expiatory observance called pārāka. He should get purified by observing purificatory rites. He should not even touch Śūdras and oṃer (defiled) persons.

20. He should always perform the worship of Viṣṇu and eat what has been offered to Viṣṇu (i.e. offer that food first to Viṣṇu before eating it). He should mutter the twelve-syllabled (oṃ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya) or eight-syllabled (oṃ nārāyaṇāya namaḥ) Mantra of Viṣṇu.

21. He should not utter falsehood. He should not be a story-teller

for his livelihood. He should not be addicted to false (heretic) Śāstras or scriptures, nor should he follow a vocation for maintaining himself.

22. He should study true (non-heretic) scriptures which expound bondage and liberation. He should build a hut or a convent. He should give up the sense of ‘I’ and ‘my’ (personal pride and craving for possession).

23. Except for the period of four months of rainy season (Cāturmāsya), he should not stay at one place except under duress or in emergency. He should realize by knowledge, the real form of his soul and that of Han.

24. A recluse (Yati) should never entertain desire, anger, fear, enmity and avoid storage of wealth, grains of com etc. He should practise moral restraints and observances.

25. A recluse though endowed with deep knowledge and intense aversion to objects of worldly enjoyment becomes fallen by contacts with a woman, wealth, ornaments, garments.

26. A renunciator (Saṃnyāsin) should give up (enjoyment of) flowers, sandal, oil and other fragrant materials; otherwise he will entertain the (mis-)conception of the identity of the body with the soul.

27. The extent to which one takes food to that extent lust for women will take possession of him. Hence limited, tasteless meal is beneficial to a renunciator.

28. Vulgar speech should not be heard by one who is desirous of attaining liberation. By hearing it liking for listening to the stories of Viṣṇu instantaneously disappears.

29. A renunciator should not see or touch the painting of a woman. Many ascetics have fallen by merely the sight of a woman’s form.

30. According to difference in detachment Sannyāsins are classified as Kuṭīcaka[7], Bahūda[8], Haṃsa[9] and Paramahaṃsa[10].

31. Those who wear ochre-coloured garments and those who are future sages should perform work for me, including cooking etc., though they may be in the fourth stage (i.e. Sannyāsa).

32. The religious duty of the devotees of Śrī Vāsudeva endowed with intense aversion to objects of worldly pleasure is proclaimed as his (i.e. Vāsudeva’s) service, day and night.

33. Not a single moment of those endowed with profound knowledge, both spiritual and secular, is vain (wasted) without being engaged in some form of devotion consisiting of nine types.

34. The devotees of Viṣṇu should straightaway abandon a person who, though endowed with all good qualities, is averse to the Lord, even if that person happens to be a relative.

35. People who are the followers of Kṛṣṇa should eat everyday the food which is offered to Hari, is sprinkled with the water with which his feet are washed, and mixed with leaves of Tulasī plant.

36. Contact with women or those who are addicted to women, should be totally avoided by persons meditating on Viṣṇu. Otherwise they will be meditating on them (i.e. women).

37. There is definitely no other man, except the venerable Lord Vāsudeva, who is not infatuated in looking at a woman.

38. A renunciator (i.e. a recluse) should never stay at a place by occupying which one frequently hears the speech and gets the sight of women. If he stays there, he falls from his religious duty.

39. Desire, greed, taste for flavours, affection, pride, anger—ṃese six defects should be avoided with special efforts; as they lead to Saṃsāra.

40. If there be failure in observing any of the religious duties proclaimed here, it should be expiated to the best of one’s capacity as per religious injunctions.

41. Thus the religious duties of four Varṇas and Āśramas as well as those of Vaiṣṇavas have been briefly proclaimed by me, O Nārada.

42. A religious student (Brahmacārin) and a Sannyāsin who are established in their (particular) religious duties go to Brahmaloka. Forest-hermits go to the world of Sages and householders to Svarga (heaven).

43. All those persons who with devotion follow the duties pertaining to Viṣṇu, attain to the region of Viṣṇu after death.

Footnotes and references:


See Manu VI.3; Yājñavalkya III.45.


Cf. Manu VI.23-34; Yājñavalkya III.52.


Manu VI. 16-17.


Manu VI.6.


See Vaikhānasa VIII.7 and Bṛhatparāśara Ch XI, p. 290. The Purāṇic author seems to have borrowed from both.


Cf Manu VI.43-44; also Mitākṣarā on Yājñavalkya III.58.


Kuṭīcakas live in their own house or in a hut built by their sons, and beg alms at the house of their sons or relatives.


Bahūdas have three staffs, a water-jar, ochre-coloured garments and beg alms at seven houses.


Haṃsas stay not more than one night in a village, five nights in a town for alms or subsist on cow’s urine or dung or perform Cāndrāyaṇa penance.


Paramahaṃsas stay under a tree or in a burning-ground. They either wear a garment or are naked. They bear (with equanimity) pairs like pleasure-pain. They treat all alike. Theirs is the highest stage of Sannyāsa. (Vide Vaikhānasa Sūtra VIII.9)

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