time in Hindu tradition
- Time in Hinduism is a cyclical concept. The uni-verse arises and disappears in an infinite series of cycles.In this time scheme, every “Great Age” (MAHA-YUGA) encompasses four successive Ages (YUGAS), beginning with an Age of Truth (KRITA, or Satya, YUGA) and progressively declining until an Age of Corruption (Kali Yuga, which has no relation to the goddess Kali, spelled differently in SANSKRIT). A long series of such oscillating Great Ages even-tually plays out, until the universe dissolves and remains absent for a time equal to its previous presence. Then, it once again emerges into a new round of Great Ages. The Jain tradition shares this notion of cycles, defined somewhat differently. Buddhism has its own version of endless time, stretching in both directions, past and future.Different traditions or puranas describe the story of time in varying ways. In one version, after the long night of BRAHMA, equal to 4,320,000,000 years, when the universe is in dissolution, the Supreme Being, VISHNU, stimulates the ever-present nature, or PRAKRITI (who exists in potential form while the universe is gone), to reemerge as the universe. The universe then begins a new Krita, or Satya, Yuga, now seen as a Golden Age, fol-lowed by a Treta (Silver) Age, a Dvapara (Bronze) Age, and finally a Kali (Iron) Age, the final Age of Corruption. We are currently in one such final age. Each Mahayuga, or Great Age, equals 12,000 god-years, each of which lasts 360 human years, for a total of 4,320,000,000 human years.The Yugas decrease in duration: a Satya Yuga is 1,728,000 years, Treta is 1,296,000 years, Dvapara is 864,000 years, and Kali is 432,000 years. Dur-ing this decline human stature, longevity, and morality also progressively decline.One thousand Mahayugas, or cycles of four Yugas, make up a kalpa (eon), a day in the life of Lord BRAHMA, 4,320,000,000 years. Each kalpa is followed by a time of calamity and disaster, on the Earth and in all the worlds. All beings perish. Fire overtakes all of the worlds, followed by a massive flood. Finally all the elements return to the seed of primordial nature, or prakriti, and time itself ends, only to reemerge when the cosmic night has ended.Within these cycles is another classification of time called the MANVANTARA, each of which is ruled by a MANU, or “first man,” the progenitor of the human race in that period. Because the universe dissolves and reappears again and again, there are an infinite number of such figures. Each kalpa sees 14 Manus reign in succession. This means that a manvantara takes up approximately 71 Yugas. One manvantara thus lasts 367,020,000 years. Each manvantara has seven RISHIS (VEDIC seers), certain deities, an INDRA, and a Manu. The Manu of our era is known as Vaivasvata. He is the seventh Manu of our kalpa, or eon.We are currently in the Kali Yuga, but there is no agreement among the sources as to precisely where we are in this 432,000-year cycle and when this age will end.Further reading: Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); F. B. J. Kuiper, “Cosmogony and Concep-tion: A Query,” History of Religions 10 (1970): 91–138; W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 2d ed. (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
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