In the 17th chapter, Uddhava enquires of the Lord how human beings observing the rules of conduct laid down for the various varnas and ashramas may perform devotional service to Sri Hari by performing duties allotted to them.
In reply, the Lord informs Uddhava that in the very first Satya Yuga, all the people were classified into a single varna, Hamsa by name, and people had their life’s object accomplished by virtue of their very birth. Hence it was called Krita Yuga. At the beginning of the next yuga (Treta), the three fold Veda (rig, sama and yajur) was revealed from the Lord’s heart through His respiration.
From Brahma, born of the Cosmic Person appeared the four grades of people viz; brahman, ksyatriya, vaisya and sudra, evolved respectively from His mouth, arms thighs and feet and distinguished by their own respective conducts. The four stages of life viz householder (from Lord’s hips and loins), celebates (from Lord’s heart), anchorites (from Lord’s chest) and recluses (from crown of Lord’s head), also appeared. The nature of men belonging to the different varnas and ashramas developed according to the character of their place of origin ie; the limb of the cosmic body from which they sprang up; low in the case of those of low origin and lofty in the case of those sprung of high origin. The traits characteristic of each of the four varnas as well as their common traits are described. The duties, normal occupations as well as occupations in adversity of each of the four ashramas are also described.
Householders are cautioned not to get attached to the members of the family, unmindful of their goal viz to realize the Lord. Association with ones relations is no better than the coming together of travellers in a rest house. With every change of the body they vanish like a dream seen during sleep. Thus ends the seventeenth chapter.