Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (study)

by A. Yamuna Devi | 2012 | 77,297 words | ISBN-13: 9788193658048

This page relates ‘four Ashramas’ of the study on the Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (in English) which represents a commentary on the Amarakosha of Amarasimha. These ancient texts belong the Kosha or “lexicography” category of Sanskrit literature which deals with the analysis and meaning of technical words from a variety of subjects, such as cosmology, anatomy, medicine, hygiene. The Amarakosa itself is one of the earliest of such text, dating from the 6th century A.D., while the Amarakoshodghatana is the earliest known commentary on that work.

The four Āśramas

[Cf. II.7.4; p. 163]

The terms brahmacārī (RV. X. 109. 5) and gṛhapati (RV. II. 1. 2; X. 85. 36) occur as early as the Vedic period. The earliest reference to the four āśramas is found in the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa (33. 11)[1]. Also, there exist different views regarding their practice. Some[2] hold that a person can resort to all the four āśramas one after another without omitting any stage resort to the house holder's life; but he cannot after becoming a sannyāsin. The second view[3] is that there is an option after brahmacarya that a man can take to parivrājaka or immediately after householder's way of life. The third view of Gautama Dharmasūtra (III. 1, 35) and Baudhāyana Dharmasūtra (II. 6. 29) is that there is only one āśrama viz., that of the house holder.

Amarakośa mentions the four āśramas[4] as–

  1. brahmacārī,
  2. gṛhī,
  3. vānaprastha and
  4. bhikṣu.

The etymological explanation of the term āśrama according to Kṣīrasvāmin is–

“In each of the four stages, one exerts oneself or practices austerities”:–

āsmin catuṣke āśramyanti tapasyantyasminnāśramaṃ pratyekaṃ vartate| |

(a) Brahmacārin (or) Studenthood:

The man in the first phase of life brahmacarya is called a brahmacārī.

The duties of the brahmacārī are to learn the Vedas, practice austerity and acquire the immortal knowledge, explains Kṣīrasvāmin in his commentary–

brahma vedā brahma tapo brahma jñānaṃ ca śāśvatam |
taccaratyarjayatyavaśyaṃ brahmacārī
varṇī ||

(b) Gṛhī (or) The householder:

Kṣīrasvāmin adds that in the second āśrama viz., the gṛhastha, he takes to family life and is termed gṛhī; he is also denoted by the terms gṛhamedhī, gṛhāśramī or jyeṣṭhāśramī.

(c) Vānaprastha:

Kṣīrasvāmin explains the term vānaprastha as the third stage of life in which a man takes to forest life and that he was also called vaikhānasa

pratiṣṭhante'sminprasthaḥ vanaprasthe bhavo vānaprastho vaikhānasākhyaḥ |

(d) Bhikṣu / yati:

Explaining the fourth stage of life sannyāsāśrama, Kṣīrasvāmin mentions that one who lives by procuring alms is termed a bhikṣu or yati

bhikṣate tacchīlo bhikṣuryatiḥ ||

In this connection it is interesting to note that while the fourth āśramī is well known as sannyāsī, Amarakośa uses the terms bhikṣu and yati. While listing the synonyms of the same (II. 7. 41; p. 171) he gives the terms parivrāṭ, karmandi, pārāśarya and maskarī as the various stages of the person in the fourth āśrama and the term sannyāsī does not find mention even in this context.

But it is fortunately found in the explanation of the term parivrāṭ in the Nānārtha varga by Kṣīrasvāmin as:

parivrajya sarvaṃ sa?[Û]yasya vrajati parivrāṭ |”,

Using the term sannyāsya to indicate renouncement of everything.

Thus it is seen that a person in the fourth āśrama is variously called parivrāṭ or parivrājaka–one who does not stay in one place but wanders from place to place, bhikṣu–one who sustains on alms, muni–one who ponders over the mysteries of life and death, yati–one who controls his senses, maskarin[5]–one who has a bamboo staff (maskara) in his hand. All these terms suggest the various charecteristics of the man in the fourth āśrama.

Agra [Agram]: (III. 3. 183; p. 314)

Amarakośa’s mention of the term agra in the III section denoting the alms, attracts the attention of Kṣīrasvāmin who quotes the smṛti text to explain the term rather as a measure of alms.

According to smṛti the alms were also measured and were named as follows:

A measure of grāsa is called Bhiksā; A measure of 4 grāsās is Agram; A measure of 4 agras is Hasta

bhikṣābhede'pi āgraṃ yatsmṛtiḥ—
grāsapramāṇaṃ bhikṣā syādagraṃ grāsacatuṣṭayam |āgraṃ caturguṇaṃ prāhuḥ
... ||

Footnotes and references:


kiṃ nu malaṃ kimajinaṃ kimu śmaśrūṇi kiṃ tapaḥ |
putraṃ brahmāṇa icchadhvaṃ sa vai loko
vadāvadaḥ |


Dakṣa (I. 8-9); Vedāntasūtra (III. 4. 40); Manu (IV. 1. 33 -7, 87-8)


Vasiṣṭha (VII. 3); yājñavalkya (III. 56)


In the Dharmasūtras there are slight differences in nomenclature and in their sequence:
catvāra āśramā gārhasthyamācāryakulaṃ maunaṃ vānaprasthyamiti |
Āpasthambha dharma sūtra
(II. 9. 21. 1)
Gautama III.2–brahmacārī, gṛhastha,bhikṣu and vaikhānasa;
Vasiṣṭha dharma sūtra VII.2–brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and parivrājaka.


Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣya(Vol. IV, p. 483)–

na vai maskaro'syāstīti maskarī parivrājakaḥ | ki tarhi | mā kṛta karmāṇi mā kṛta karmāṇi śāntirvaḥ śreyasītyahāto maskarī parivrājakaḥ ||

Patañjali opines that the maskarins were followers of the teaching–'do not perform actions, but seek peace as the highest end'–of Maskari Gośāla the founder of Ājīvaka order. He denies the interpretation of the word maskarin as one who holds the bamboo staff.

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