Four stages of life
Hinduism not only tells you the aims of life but it also shows the practical way to how to achieve those aims. To do this, Hinduism divides a person’s life in four stages or Asramas:
In the old times, people used to live for about 100 years or more. Therefore, a person’s life span is assumed to be about hundred years and each stage is expected to last for about 20 to 25 years. The second asrama is expected to last longer compared to others. Remember, this is a guideline and not a compulsion to anybody, even for the Brahmins (priests) but it was an ideal way to live a well-planned life.
Brahmacharya means celibacy. This is the student phase of life. In this Asrama, one is supposed to acquire knowledge from his teacher and to remain celibate. The stage generally starts from 8 years of age. The student is introduced to his Guru through a ceremony called “Upanayana.”
Notably, this stage is only for boys and not for girls and the student needs to stay with his teacher until he finishes his studies. This stage ends at the age 20 to 25 or less depending upon the situation.
Grihasthashrama means the stage of life when the person is married and has to fulfill all his duties towards his wife, children, father, and mother. This stage starts when Brahmacharya Asrama ends. So, this is the second stage of life. During this stage, he has to earn his livelihood by using his skills he learnt from his teacher during Brahmacharya Asrama. This is the most important stage of life and tends to last longer than other stages. During this stage, he is authorized to enjoy “Kama” as well as he has to work hard to secure “Artha.” This stage is expected to end at 50 years of age.
Vanaprastha means “going to the forest.” This is the third stage of life. This is the stage when the person is to retire, give up sexual life, give up all the possessions to children, and enter the forest. He could leave his wife to the care of his sons or allow her to accompany him. He will live as a hermit, surviving on alms.
Notably, a person cannot enter Vanaprasthashrama unless and until his daughters are married and his sons are able to earn their own livelihood. This ensures that the person completes all his duties towards his families.
Sannyasa means complete renunciation. This is the last stage of life and may start at 75 years of age but there is no such restriction of age. He is to dedicate himself entirely to spirituality. He is to live on fruits and roots found in the jungle. He is not allowed to eat cooked food or beg for alms. He needs to avoid unnecessary contacts with anybody. He does not need to care about his body. He is to practise austerities and thus be prepared for salvation. If he follow this stage properly, he would be released from the cycle of birth and rebirth and would attain Moksha (salvation).
source : http://hinduismfacts.org/