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Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, by W.J. Wilkins, [1900], at

p. 353



The three main divisions of time employed in the Hindu Scriptures are Yugas, Manvantaras, and Kalpas* These will now be described.

There are four Yugas, which together extend to 12,000 divine years. Their respective duration is as follows:—

The Krita Yuga

= 4,800

divine years.

The Tretā Yuga

= 3,600

„ „

The Dvāpara Yuga

= 2,400

„ „

The Kāli Yuga

= 1,200

„ „

"One year of mortals is equal to one day of the gods." As 360 is taken as the number of days in the year—

The Krita Yuga

= 4,800 x 360



years of mortals.

The Tretā, Yuga

= 3,600 x 360



„ „

The Dvāpara Yuga

= 2,400 x 360



„ „

The Kāli Yuga

= 1,200 x 360



„ „

One Mahāyuga, or Great Age, including the four lesser Yugas, therefore, being 12,000 divine years = 4,320,000 years of mortals. "A thousand such Mahāyugas are a

p. 354

day of Brahmā," and his nights are of equal duration; a Kalpa, therefore, or Day, of Brahmā extends over 4,320,000,000 ordinary years. "Within each Kalpa 14 Manus reign; a Manvantara, or period of a Manu, therefore, is consequently one-fourteenth part of a Kalpa, or day of Brahmā.

"In the present Kalpa, six Manus, of whom Swyambhuva was the first, have already passed away; the present being Vaivasata. In each Manvantara (period of a Manu), seven Rishis, certain deities, an Indra and a Manu, and the kings, his sons, are created and perish. A thousand systems of the four Yugas occur coincidentally with these fourteen Manvantaras, and consequently about 71 systems of four Yugas elapse during each Manvantara, and measure the lives of the Manus and the deities of the period. At the close of this day of Brahmā, a collapse of the universe takes place, which lasts through a night of Brahmā, equal in duration to his day, during which period the worlds are converted into one great ocean, when the lotus-born god (Brahmā), expanded by his deglutition of the universe, and contemplated by the Yogis and gods in Janaloka, sleeps on the serpent Sesha. At the end of that night he awakes and creates anew.

"A year of Brahmā is composed of the proper number of such days and nights, and a hundred of such years constitute his whole life. The period of his life is called Para, and the half of it Parārddha, or the half of a Para. One Parārddha, or half of Brahmā's existence, has now expired, terminating with the great Kalpa called the Padma Kalpa. The now existing Kalpa, or day of Brahmā, called Varāha (or that of the boar), is the first of the second Parārddha of Brahmā's existence. The dissolution which occurs at the end of each Kalpa,

p. 355

or day of Brahmā, is called naimittika, incidental, occasional, or contingent." *

The dissolution of existing beings is of three kinds: "incidental, elemental, and absolute."  The first is naimittika, occasional, incidental, or Brāhmya, as occasioned by the intervals of Brahmā's days; the destruction of creatures, though not of the substance of the world, occurring during the night. The second is the general resolution of the elements into their primitive source, or Prakriti, the Prākritika destruction, and occurs at the end of Brahmā's life. The third, the absolute, or final, Ālyantika, is individual annihilation, Moksha, exemption for ever from future existence.

The process of destruction is described as follows:—

"At the end of a thousand periods of four ages the earth is for the most part exhausted. A total death then ensues, which lasts a hundred years, and in consequence of the failure of food all beings become languid and exanimate, and at last entirely perish. The eternal Vishnu then assumes the character of Rudra, the destroyer, and descends to reunite all his creatures with himself. He enters into the seven rays of the sun, drinks up all the waters of the globe, and causes all moisture whatever, in living bodies or in the soil, to evaporate, thus drying up the whole earth. The seas, the rivers, the mountain-torrents, and springs are all exhaled, and so are all the waters of Pātāla, the regions .below the earth.

"Thus fed, through his intervention, with abundant moisture, the seven solar rays dilate to seven suns, whose radiance glows above, below, and on every side, and sets the three worlds and Pātāla on fire. The three worlds, consumed by these suns, become rugged and deformed

p. 356

throughout the whole extent of their mountains, rivers, and seas; and the earth, bare of verdure and destitute of moisture, alone remains, resembling in appearance the back of a tortoise. The destroyer of all things, Hari, in the form of Rudra, who is the flame of time, becomes the scorching breath of the serpent Sesha, and thereby reduces Pātāla to ashes. The great fire, when it has burnt all the divisions of Pātāla, proceeds to the earth and consumes it also. A vast whirlpool of eddying flame then spreads to the region of the atmosphere and the sphere of the gods, and wraps them in ruin. The three spheres show like a frying-pan amidst the surrounding flames, that prey upon all movable or stationary things. The inhabitants of the two upper spheres, having discharged their functions, and being annoyed by the heat, remove to the sphere above, or Maharloka. When that becomes heated, its tenants, who after the full period of their stay, are desirous of ascending to higher regions, depart for the Janaloka." *

The "Vāyu Purāna"  gives more explicit teaching on this subject.

"Those sainted mortals who have diligently worshipped Vishnu and are distinguished for piety, abide at the time of dissolution in Maharloka, with the Pitris, the Manus, the seven Rishis, the various orders of celestial spirits and the gods. These, when the heat of the flames that destroy the world reaches to Maharloka, repair to Janaloka in their subtle forms, destined to become re-embodied in similar capacities as their former, when the world is renewed, at the beginning of the succeeding Kalpa. This continues throughout the life of Brahmā; at the expiration of his life all are destroyed; but those who have then attained a residence in the Brahmaloka,

p. 357

by having identified themselves in spirit with the Supreme, are finally resolved into the sole existing Brahma."

The "Vishnu Purāna" * continues as follows: "Janārddana, in the person of Rudra, having consumed the whole world, breathes forth heavy clouds. Mighty in size, and loud in thunder, they fill all space. Showering down torrents of water, these clouds quench the dreadful fires which involve the three worlds, and then they rain uninterruptedly for a hundred years and deluge the whole world. Pouring down in drops as large as dice, these rains overspread the earth, and fill the middle region and inundate heaven. The world is now enveloped in darkness, and all things, animate and inanimate, having perished, the clouds continue to pour down their waters for more than a hundred years."

The four Yugas mentioned above—viz. the Krita, Tretā, Dvāpara, and Kāli—have characteristic qualities. The Krita is the golden, and Kāli the iron age. The Mahābhārata  gives these characteristics very distinctly. Hanumān, the monkey-god, is the speaker, describing the four ages to Bhīmasena, one of the Pandus.

"The Krita is that age in which righteousness is eternal. In the time of that most excellent of Yugas (everything) had been done (Krita), and nothing (remained) to be done. Duties did not then languish, nor did the people decline. Afterwards through (the influence of) time, this Yuga fell into a state of inferiority. In that age there were neither gods, Dānavas, Gandharvas, Yākshasas, Rākshasas, nor Pannagas; no buying and selling went on, no efforts were made by men; the fruit (of the earth was obtained) by their mere wish; righteousness and abandonment of the world (prevailed).

p. 358

[paragraph continues] No disease or decline of the organs of sense arose through the influence of age; there was no malice, weeping, pride, or deceit; no contention, no hatred, cruelty, fear, affliction, jealousy, or envy. Hence the Supreme Brahma was the transcendent resort of these Yogins. Then Nārāyana, the soul of all beings, was white. In that age were born creatures devoted to their duties. They were alike in the object of their trust, in observance, and in their knowledge. At that period the castes, alike in their functions, fulfilled their duties, were unceasingly devoted to one deity, and used one formula (mantra), one rule, and one rite. They had but one Veda.

"Understand now the Tretā, in which sacrifice commenced, righteousness decreased by a fourth, Vishnu became red; and men adhered to truth, and were devoted to a righteousness dependent on ceremonies. Then sacrifices prevailed, with holy arts and a variety of rites. In the Tretā men acted with an object in view, seeking after reward for their rites and their gifts, and no longer disposed to austerities, and to liberality from (a simple feeling of) duty. In this age, however, they were devoted to their own duties and to religious ceremonies.

"In the Dvāpara age righteousness was diminished by two quarters, Vishnu became yellow, and the Veda fourfold. Some studied four Vedas, some three, others two, and some none at all. The scriptures being thus divided, ceremonies were celebrated in a great variety of ways; and the people, being: occupied with austerity and the bestowal of gifts, became full of passion (rājasī). Owing to ignorance of the one Veda, Vedas were multiplied. And now from the decline of goodness (Sattva), few only adhered to truth. When men had fallen away from goodness, many diseases, desires, and calamities, caused by destiny, assailed them, by which they were

p. 359

severely afflicted, and driven to, practise austerities. Others, desiring enjoyments and heavenly bliss, offered sacrifices. Thus, when they had reached the Dvāpara, men declined through unrighteousness.

"In the Kāli, righteousness remained to the extent of one-fourth only. Arrived in that age of darkness, Vishnu became black; practices enjoined by the Vedas, works of righteousness, and rites of sacrifices ceased. Calamities, diseases, fatigue, faults, such as anger, etc., distresses, anxiety, hunger, fear, prevailed. As the ages revolve, righteousness again declines; when this takes place, the people also decline. When they decay, the impulses which actuate them also decay. The practices generated by this declension of the Yugas frustrate men's aims. Such is the Kāli Yuga, which has existed for a short time. Those who are long-lived act in conformity with the character of the age." In the "Bhishmaparvan" there is a paragraph in which it is said that "Four thousand years are specified as the duration of life in the Krita Yuga, three thousand in the Tretā, and two thousand form the period at present established on earth in the Dvāpara. There is no fixed measure in the Tishya (Kali)." *

It should be noticed that the immense duration of the ages as quoted above from the "Vishnu Purāna" is peculiar to the Purānas. In the text of the Mahābhārata "no mention is made of the years comprising the different Yugas being divine years,"  though the earlier books certainly favour far more extravagant notions of chronology than those which Western nations accept.

It is interesting to notice that in the account of the Krita Yuga, or Age of Righteousness, it is said that the castes were alike in their functions. This must evidently

p. 360

mean that the modern caste distinctions did not then exist, and that all were devoted to the worship of one deity with one rule and one rite, evidently pointing to the time when their forefathers were monotheists. And in the judgment of the writer this happy condition was in the age of which the prevailing characteristic was righteousness.


353:* See "Vishnu Purāna," book i. chap. iii., and book vi. chap. i.

355:* Muir, O. S. T., i. 45.

355:† "Vishnu Purāna," p. 630, note.

356:* "Vishnu Purāna," p. 631.

356:† Ibid., p. 632, note.

357:* Page 633.

357:† Muir, O. S. T., i. 144.

359:* Muir, O. S. T., i. 148.

359:† Ibid., i. 148.

Next: Chapter I. The Divine Rishis