The Four Yugas or Epochs: The Hindu Concept of 4 Yugas

14 12 2010

By Subhamoy Das

According to Hindu scriptures, all mortal beings are destined to pass through four great epochs in every cycle of creation and destruction. This divine cycle turns full-circle at the end of what is known as kalpa. A kalpa is a yuga cycle, which is a period of 10,000 divine years, and is divided into four ages or yugas (Sanskrit yuga = age/epoch). According to one calculation, one yuga cycle is estimated to be 4,320,000 years, and one kalpa 4,320,000,000 years.

About the 4 Yugas  [4 Ages]

The four great epochs in Hinduism are: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga and Kali Yuga. Satya Yug or the Age of Truth is said to last for four thousand divine years, Treta Yuga for three thousand, Dwapara Yug for two thousand and Kali Yuga will last for one thousand divine Years that equals to 432,000 earthly years.

It is also believed that three of these great ages have already passed away, and we are now living in the fourth one. What these ages exactly mean, and why this division, it’s hard to explain, because they appear too unrealistic to be true for the rational mind.

The Hindu View of Time

Most of us are accustomed to living life according to linear beliefs and patterns of existence. We believe everything has a beginning, middle and an end. But Hinduism has little to do with the linear nature of history, the linear concept of time or the linear pattern of life.

Cyclical Time

The passage of ‘linear’ time has brought us where we are today. But Hinduism views the concept of time in a different way, and there is a cosmic perspective to it. Hindus believe the process of creation moves in cycles and that each cycle has four great epochs of time, namely Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga and Kali Yuga. And because the process of creation is cyclical and never ending, it “begins to end and ends to begin”.

The four ages symbolize the four phases of involution during which man gradually lost the awareness of his inner selves and subtle bodies. Hinduism believes that human beings have five kinds of bodies, called annamayakosa, pranamayakosa, manomayakosa vignanamayakosa and anandamayakosa, which represent the ‘gross body’, the ‘breath body’, the ‘psychic body’, the ‘intelligence body’ and the ‘bliss body’ respectively.

Another theory explains these epochs of time on the basis of the degree of loss of righteousness in the world. It says, during Satya Yuga only truth prevailed (Sanskrit Satya = truth), Treta lost ¼ truth, Dwapar lost ½ truth and Kali is left with only ¼ truth. Evil and dishonesty has replaced truth in the last three ages or yugs.

Time is God

According to the Hindu theory of creation, time (Sanskrit ‘kal’) is a manifestation of God. Creation begins when God makes his energies active and ends when he withdraws all his energies into a state of inactivity. God is timeless, for time is relative and ceases to exist in the Absolute. The past, the present and the future coexist in him simultaneously.

Kalachakra: The Cycle of Time

God creates the cycle of time, called Kalachakra, in order to create divisions and movements of life and sustain the worlds in periodic time frames. God also uses time to create the ‘illusions’ of life and death. It is time, which is accountable for old age, death and dying of his creations. When we overcome time, we become immortal. Death is not the end of the line, but a gateway to the next cycle, to birth. This is also true of the universe itself and akin to the cyclic patterns in the rhythms of nature.

Dasavatara: The 10 Avatars

Throughout these four yugas, Lord Vishnu is said to incarnate ten times in ten different avatars. This is known as ‘Dasavatara‘ (Sanskrit dasa = ten). During the Age of Truth, human beings were spiritually most advanced and had great psychic powers. In the Treta Yuga people still remained righteous and adhered to moral ways of life. Lord Rama of the fabled Ramayana lived in Treta Yuga. In the Dwapara Yuga, men had lost all knowledge of the intelligence and bliss bodies. Lord Krishna was born in this age. The present Kali Yuga is the most degenerated of the Hindu epochs.

The scriptures speak of the 10 Avatars of Vishnu – different incarnations that take the form of divine intervention provided by Vishnu during the various stages of human evolution. The “dasavatara” (ten avatars) is meant to re-establish dharma or righteousness and destroy tyranny and injustice on earth.

The ten Avatars are:

      1. Matsya (the fish)
      2. Koorma (the tortoise)
      3. Varaha (the boar)
      4. Narasimha (the human-lion)
      5. Vamana (the dwarf)
      6. Parasurama (the angry man, Rama with an axe)
      7. Lord Rama (the perfect man, king of Ayodha)
      8. Lord Krishna (the divine statesman)
      9. Balarama (elder brother of Krishna)
    10. Kalki (the mighty worrior)

The last Avatar is yet to appear, and in many versions of the mythology, the ninth incarnation is mentioned as Lord Buddha.

A Cosmological Necessity
The legend of the Avatar, like all myths, is prophetic, says Cosmologist and Astrologer Robert E Wilkinson. According to him: “It is not a mere allegory but an archetypal story describing the incarnations or emanations of living and conscious evolutionary forces. The appearance of the Avatars is also not a random event but a cosmological necessity. The periodic manifestation of the Avatars is determined by their inherent association with the ‘Time-Spirit.’ They take birth at particular points in the cosmic cycle which correspond to the earth’s passage through the zodiacal ages as described in the Rig Veda.”

Establishing Order on Earth
In his “Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology,” Dr Devdutt Pattanaik, one of India’s most popular mythologists, writes about the Avatars of Vishnu: “Every time dharma is threatened Vishnu mounts his eagle, the mighty Garuda, and comes to earth ready to do battle. The descents of Vishnu from Vaikuntha to earth are his avatars or incarnations. The form in each descent is different because the demands of the world each time are different. The different avatars thus reinforce the idea that rules and regulations that maintain order are not static by nature. They are forged when the demands of desire clash with the quest for order. As man’s understanding of the world changes, desires change and so do concepts of order. Rules have to therefore constantly adapt themselves. Social stability must not be compromised, yet new ideas must be respected. Vishnu’s descents are not just about reestablishing order. It is also about redefining them.”

Role of the Goddess
Dr Pattnaik adds: “Each avatar of Vishnu involves a crisis involving the Goddess. Vishnu takes the form of a turtle to help the Devas churn Lakshmi out, the form of a boar to rescue the earth that have been dragged under the sea, the form of Rama when Sita is abducted and the form of Krishna to help Draupadi. Thus the Goddess is the embodiment of nature and culture. She is the kingdom and Vishnu is the king. She is Bhoodevi and he is Shripati. Both validate each other, she by giving him powers of kingship and he by defending her.”

Living in the Kali Yuga!

We live in the Kali Yuga — in a world infested with impurities and vices. People possessing genial virtues are diminishing day by day. Floods and famine, war and crime, deceit and duplicity characterize this age. But, say the scriptures, final emancipation is possible only in this age.

The Signs of Kali Yuga!

Kali Yuga has two phases: In the first, humanshaving lost the knowledge of the two higher selveshad knowledge of the ‘breath body’ apart from the physical self. During the second phase even this knowledge has deserted mankind, leaving us only with the awareness of the gross physical body. This explains why we are now more preoccupied with our physical self than anything else.

Due to our preoccupation with our physical bodies and our lower selves, and because of our emphasis on the pursuit of gross materialism, this age has been termed the ‘Age of Darkness’an age when we have lost touch with our inner selves, an age of profound ignorance!

What the Scriptures Say

Both the two great epics – The Ramayana & Mahabharata – have spoken about the Kali Yuga. In the Tulasi Ramayana, we find Kakbhushundi foretelling: “In the Kali Yuga, the hot-bed of sin, men and women are all steeped in unrighteousness and act contrary to the Vedas… every virtue had been engulfed by the sins of Kali Yuga; all good books had disappeared; impostors had promulgated a number of creeds, which they had invented out of their own wit. The people had all fallen prey to delusion and all pious acts had been swallowed by greed.”

In the Mahabharata (Santi Parva) Yudhishthir says: “… The ordinances of the Vedas disappear gradually in every successive age… the duties in the Kali age are entirely of another kind. It seems, therefore, that duties have been laid down for the respective age according to the powers of human beings in the respective ages.” The sage Vyasa later on clarifies: “In the Kali Yuga, the duties of the respective order disappear and men become afflicted by inequity.”

What Happens Next?

It is predicted that at the end of the Kali Yuga, Lord Shivashall destroy the universe and all the physical body would undergo a great transformation. After such dissolution, Lord Brahma would recreate the universe and mankind will become the ‘Beings of Truth’ once again.

The Golden Age of 2012

In the “Brahma-Vaivarta Purana”, Lord Krishna tells Ganga Devi that a Golden Age will come in the Kali Yuga – one of the four stages of development that the world goes through as part of the cycle of eras, as described in Hindu scriptures. Lord Krishna predicted that this Golden Age will start 5,000 years after the beginning of the Kali Yuga, and will last for 10,000 years.

Mayan Calendar Matches Hindu Calendar
It is interesting that this prediction of the emergence of a new world is prophesied to appear about the same time that the Mayans predicted it to come! The Mayan calendar began with the Fifth Great Cycle in 3114 BC and will end on 21 December 2012 AD. The Hindu Kali Yuga calendar began on 18 February 3102 B.C. There is only a difference of 12 years between the Hindu’s beginning of the Kali Yuga and the Mayan’s beginning of the Fifth Great Cycle.

Golden Age Could Begin in 2012
The ancient Hindus mainly used lunar calendars but also used solar calendars. If an average lunar year equals 354.36 days, then this would be about 5270 lunar years from the time when the Kali Yuga started until 21 Dec 2012. This is the same year that the Mayans predict rebirth of our planet. It is also about 5113 solar years of 365.24 days per year, and is day number 1,867,817 into the Kali Yuga. By either solar or lunar years, we are over 5,000 years into the Kali Yuga and it is time for Lord Krishna’s prophecy to happen according to the ancient Hindu scriptures. Lord Krishna’s Golden Age could easily begin in 2012!

Mayan Prophecy Matches Hindu Prophecy
It is amazing that both calendars began at about the same time over 5,000 years ago and both calendars predict a totally new world and/or golden age after about 5,000 years into their calendars! We are definitely on to something with these Mayan and Hindu 2012 predictions. Historically, this is an amazing fact since these two ancient cultures did not have any contact.

 

Related Posts:

Ancient Knowledge of the Vedas and Bhagvatam (Documentary)








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