According to the dharmaśāstras, the life of an individual is divided into four āśramas or stages of life viz., brahmacarya, gārhasthya, vānaprastha and saṁnyāsa signifying the states of a student, house-holder, forest-recluse and monk. It was obligatory for a householder belonging to the first three varṇas (castes) to maintain sacrificial fire and to offer oblations regularly. The wife also had a place in this ritual and could act as a substitute for her husband in times of need. No greater calamity could befall a householder than the untimely death of his wife. Her body would be cremated with the same fire in which she used to offer oblations. The widower had only two alternatives left: to enter into the next stage of the vānaprastha or to marry once again and set up the fire afresh. Anyone who did neither was branded as an ‘anāśramin,’ one who was outside the pale of the āśrama scheme. This was incompa-tible with the Vedic scheme of life.