It is well-known that there are four Ashramas or stages of life in Hinduism: Brahmacharis or celibates, Grihastis or householder, Vanaprasthis or forest-dwellers, and Sanyasis or ascetics. What is not as well-known, however, is that in ancient times, some people didn't believe in this system; here is what this chapter of the Baudhayana Dharma Sutras says:

(Ascetics shall) say, 'Renouncing the works taught in the Veda, cut off from both (worlds), we attach okurselves to the central sphere (Brahman).' But the venerable teacher (declares) that there is one order only, because the others do not beget offspring. With reference to this matter they quote also (the following passage): 'There was, forsooth, an Âsura, Kapila by name, the son of Prahlâda. Striving with the gods, he made these divisions. A wise man should not take heed of them.' Because no (other meaning is) perceptible, (the text) 'Four paths,' &c., refers to sacrificial rites, (viz.) to Ishtis, animal sacrifices, Soma sacrifices, Darvîhomas.

I'm interested in the part in bold. The argument is that the Ashrama system was invented by an Asura, Kapila son of Prahlada, so it's not valid. But my question is, what is the story of Kapila son of Prahlada? Because the only son of Prahlada is Virochana, whom I discuss in my question and answer here.

Now the name Kapila is famous; there are at least three figures named Kapila, some of whom may be the same person:

  1. Vishnu's incarnation Kapila, who is the son of Brahma's son Kardama and Swayambhuva Manu's daughter Devahuti, who burned the sons of Sagara to ashes.
  2. Kapila the founder of the atheistic Samkhya school.
  3. Kapila descendant of Angiras, who is described in this chapter of the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata

Some people believe that the first and second Kapilas are the same. Others, like Adi Shankaracharya, believe that the first and second Kapilas are different, and some like Baladeva Vidyabhushana believe that the first and second Kapilas are different but the second and third Kapilas are the same. (See my question here for more details.) In any case, does Kapila son of Prahlada have any relation to any of these three figures, or is the name just a coincidence?

Are there any scriptures that shed light on the story of Kapila son of Prahlada and what role if any did he have in creating the Ashrama system.


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