The Ashramas or stages of life are four, viz., Brahmacharya, the stage of student life; Grihastha, the stage of householder life; Vanaprastha, the stage of seclusion (forest-living); and Sannyasa, the stage of total renunciation. Each order of life has its own duties. At the present moment, it is difficult to maintain or observe the exact details of the ancient rules, as the conditions have changed very much. But, if we can have a clear idea of the fundamental duties of each, we shall still be able to shape the life through a regulated course of development and steady growth.
In addition to the normal activities associated with one's profession (varna dharma) and stage in life (ashrama dharma), the daily routine of a devout Hindu is to perform Pancha maha yagyas (five daily duties) or pancha nitya karmas (five constant duties). These are the minimal practices which guide a person in everyday life and ensure peace, material and spiritual prosperity.
1. Deva yagna(Debt to Gods): Worship God (Deva Yagna) in the form of a family deity (Ishta Devata) in the home shrine through prayers and meditations. This practice helps one to become God-conscious in all daily activities. Additionally, this practice arouses a sense of togetherness in the family, since the family members worship together and participate in the rituals, chants, singing, and study of scriptures. Tradition says that "a family that prays together stays together." Thus propitiating Devas through homa and yajna. The Panch Deva worshipped are Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Shakti and Surya.
2. Rishi yagna(debt to the rishis): Study Vedas and other scriptures (Brahma Yagna). This practice refreshes one's mind with sacred knowledge and also helps to preserve and enrich such knowledge. It includes shanting and teaching the Vedas.
3. Pitru yagna(debt to his ancestors): Contemplate on the teachings of the holy men and women, and one's forefathers (Pitri Yagna). This practice is intended to serve as a reminder to preserve, enrich and continue one's cultural heritage and family values. It includes providing food and water to dead ancestors. While living householder should serve them with great respect.
4. Bhuta yagnam(debt to nature): Provide food for those who are in need (Bhuta Yagna). This practice is intended to create the spirit of sharing with others. Providing food to dogs, cats, crows and food to other animals. It includes domestic animals and wild animal protection. This develops cosmic love and an Advaitic feeling of oneness.
5. Nri yagna(debt to society): Serve guests with love, respect, and reverence (Nara Yagna). This practice is the basis for the traditional hospitality of Hindu households. Providing food to human beings (guests, poor etc). Needs to take care of one’s wife and children. If a wife is chaste, then her husband should support her. He should also bring up their children until they are of age.
Those householders not performing these five yagna is equal to dead and will not attain moksha. Several Hindu scriptures indicate that a householder who performs the Pancha Maha Yagna is more pious than a Sanyasi. It is also believed that proper rains fall on earth due to the Pancha Maha Yagna performed by Grihasthas.
Observing it also helps in removing sins incurred while using domestic instruments like hammer, oven, water pot, cleaner etc. Using these instruments kills a lot of insects which causes sin for family. Pancha Maha Yagna will destroy these daily sins.