The Markandeya Purana (Study)

by Chandamita Bhattacharya | 2021 | 67,501 words

This page relates ‘Divisions of Ashrama (Introduction)’ of the study on the Markandeya Purana, one of the oldest of the eigtheen Mahapuranas preserving the history, civilisation, culture and traditions of ancient India. The Markandeyapurana commences with the questions raised by Rishi Jaimini (a pupil of Vyasa), who approaches the sage Markandeya with doubts related to the Mahabharata. This study examines various social topics such as the status of women, modes of worship, yoga, etc.

Divisions of Āśrama (Introduction)

Āśrama is an important feature of the Indian society. The word āśrama is derived from the root śram, i.e. to expert oneself. Thus the word āśrama means a place where austerities are performed, a hermitage.[1]

Human life is divided into four stages called āśramas, viz.

  1. Brahmacarya,
  2. Gārhasthya,
  3. Vānaprastha and
  4. Sanyāsa.

Each āśrama has some specific duties like duties of a student, of a householder, of a recluse and of an ascetic to be performed. These are like four steps of ladder leading to spiritual progress of a person.

In the early Vedic period we get the description about the first two āśramas, relating to Brahmacārī[2] and Gṛhapati[3]. Sage Vaikhānasa, in the Tāṇḍyamahābrāhmaṇa[4], suggests the existence of the third stage i.e. Vānaprastha. In the Upaniṣads, we get the mention of four āśramas.[5] The duties and values of the āśramas are refered by the Chāndogyopaniṣad very clearly.[6] In the Purāṇic period we find vivid descriptions of the four āśramas.[7] In the Smṛti literature, specially in the Manusmṛti, also we find the description of the duties ascribed to the people in different āśramas in life.[8]

In general there are four divisions of āśrama stage—

  1. Brahmacarya (student life),
  2. Gārhasthya (life of house-holder i.e. life of a married man),
  3. Vānaprastha (spending life in the forest, a life away from the locality, in a selected grove in the forest),
  4. Sannyāsa (life of a recluse, of wandering mendicant, having discarded everything).

The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa contains some verses relating to varṇāśamadharma. Here it is stated that after the creation of the world, Brahmā had separated off the varṇas and the four periods of life i.e. āśramas.[9] Then he establishes bounds for them and establishes laws of the castes and the four āśramas according to justice and qualities[10] and their specific world (loka) after death.[11] The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, again mentions different spheres for different creations after their death. Accordingly the spheres, viz. prājāpatya, aindra,[12] māruta and gāndharva are assigned to the Brāhmaṇas, the Kṣatriyas, the Vaiśyas and the Śūdras respectively.[13] The sphere of eighty eight thousand ṛṣis, are declared to be that of the inhabitants of Jupiter. Next the sphere of the seven Ṛṣis is declared to be that of hermits or vanaukasas, the prājāpatya is the sphere of householders and the abode of Brahmā is assigned to the ascetics or sanyāsins.[14]

As stated in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, the varṇāśramadharma is followed in the five dvīpas, viz.

  1. plakṣa,
  2. śāhnali,
  3. kuśa,
  4. krauñca and
  5. śāka.[15]

In this book we find other denominations also to denote the people in four different stages of life.

These are as follows—

  1. Brahmacārin[16] or Guruvāsin[17] for Brahmacārin,
  2. Gṛhastha[18] or Gṛhī[19] for Gṛhastha,
  3. Vānaprastha[20] or Vanaukasa[21] for Vānaprastha,
  4. Nyāsin[22], Bhikṣu[23], Parivrāt[24] for Sanyāsin.

Footnotes and references:


Ghana Kanta Bhagavati, The Bhāgawat Purāṇa, A Socio-Cultural Study, p.52


brahmacarī carativeviṣadviṣaḥ sadevānaṃ bhavatiyekaṃangan /
tena jāyāmanvavindadbṛhaspatiḥ so’mena nītaṃ juhvam na devaḥ // Ṛgveda, 10.109.5


tavāgne hotraṃ tava potramṛtviyaṃ tava neṣṭraṃ tvamagnidritayataḥ /
tava praśāstraṃ tvamadhvarīyasi brahmā cāsi gṛhapatiśva no dame // Ibid., 2.1.2


Tāṇḍyamahābrāhmaṇa, 14.4.7


Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, 4.5.2; Muṇḍakopaniṣad, 1.2.11; 3.2.6; Śvetāśvataropaniṣad,


trayo dharmaskandhaḥ yajno’dhyayanaṃ dānamiti prathamaḥ tapa eva dvitīyo, brahmacaryācāryākulavāsi tṛtīyo atyantamātṃanamācārya kule avāsadayam śarva ete pūṇyolokā bhavanti, brahmasamstho’mrtatvameti / Chāndogyopaniṣad, 2.23.1


Kūrmapurāṇa, 1.2.74-83; Matsyapurāṇa, 144.23-24; Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 11.17-18


Manusmṛti, 4.1; 5.169; 6.1-2; 6.33


Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 101.1


Ibid., 46.76


Ibid., 46.77


Ibid., 46.77


Ibid, 46.78


Ibid., 46.78-80; Vāyupurāṇa, 8.185-189; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 1.6.36.-39


Ibid., 50.31.39


Ibid, 46.79


Ibid, 25.11; 26.36


Ibid., 92.4


Ibid., 25.21; 48.80


Ibid., 46.80


Ibid., 25.23


Ibid., 46.80


Ibid., 25.27


Ibid., 26.36

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