It is the duty of a Hindu to pass through four different ashram (stages) in their life.
The first Ashram is called brahmacharya ashram (the educational stage) from which the fourth Varna, Sudra and women of the first three varna are barred. This is the stage of youth or learning, which requires a certain discipline, guidance and purity for its full flowering. In the Brahmacharya ashram, the adolescent is a celibate, religious student, called a Brahmachari. In this ashram a young boy should live with and be devoted to his guru, and study the Vedas. He should live simply and humbly, follow the requisite customs, fast and worship the gods. A student should study, practice penance, and tend the sacrificial fire. This stage lasts for 12 years after the Upanayanam. However, if a student wishes to attain higher knowledge, he can continue in this stage until he is 31 years old. After completing his studies, the student gives guru dakshina and enters the next stage: the Grihastha ashram.
The second stage of life is called the grihasthashram. This stage begins with marriage. The duties of a man in this phase of life include raising children, caring for the family, performing the five daily sacrifices and being a responsible member of society. He remains a Grhastha until his son’s son is born, his hair has turned grey, or when he is about 50 years of age. Thereafter he enters the Vanaprastha. This is the main time for having children and raising a family, as well as for working and fulfilling our duties to society.
After this a man gradually enters the third stage of life called the vanaprashthashram. During this stage the householder relinquishes his duties in the household, and devotes his time to religious pursuits. His links with his family are weakened. During this ashram a man retires into the forest with or without his wife leaving behind the householder’s cares and duties.
The final phase of Hindu’s life begins with the stage known as the sanyasashram. In this stage one attempt to totally withdraw oneself from the world and its cares by going to the forest and spending the rest of life in pursuit of moksha. Like the Varna system, the varnashram is a model that is not compulsory but recommended.