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Measurements of Ancient Time Periods
A kalpa is a traditional Indian eon or unit of time, an eon. Sources differ as to its exact
length, but a common measure is that a kalpa is made up of 1,000 MAHAYUGAS, or
4,320,000,000 years. This is considered to be a day in the life of the god BRAHMA.
A manvantara is one of the divisions of time in Hindu tradition, made up of 71 YUGAS.
Fourteen manvantaras make up one KALPA, which constitutes one day in the life of the
god Brahma or 4,320,000,000 years. Each manvantara has its associated MANU, or
human progenitor. Each manvantara also has seven RISHIS (saints/seers), certain deities,
and its own INDRA (king of the gods).
In Hindu cosmology a Yuga, or “Age,” is the smallest unit of cosmological time. Four
Yugas make up one MAHAYUGA, or Great Age: the Golden Age (KRITA, or Satya,
YUGA), the Silver Age (TRETA YUGA), the Bronze Age (DVAPARA YUGA), and the
Iron Age (KALI YUGA, no connection with the goddess Kali). The Yugas are named
after an ancient dice game, in which a 1, or kale, was the worst throw and a 4, or krita
(literally, the one that makes it!), is the best.
The Yugas decrease in duration: Satya Yuga lasts 1,728,000 years, Treta 1,296,000 years,
Dvapara 864,000 years, and Kali 432,000 years. The figures are sometimes given in
“god-years,” each divine year equal to 360 human years. Then the Satya Yuga is 4,800
divine years; the Treta Yuga 3,600 divine years; the Dvapara Yuga 2,400 divine years;
and the Kali Yuga 1,200 divine years. Each Mahayuga totals 12,000 divine years.
As the Yugas follow one another, every aspect of human life suffers a decline, including
human height, longevity, and morality. We are currently in the Kali Yuga, the most
corrupt of the ages. At its end, a new Satya Yuga will begin. Mahayugas follow one
another cyclically; after a long series, the universe undergoes a dissolution, or pralaya.
After this interlude, the progression of the Yugas resumes. The process goes on to
infinity. Jain tradition has a similar progression of ages with different names.
Krita Yuga
All of the YUGAS, or ages, in the Indian tradition, refer to throws in an ancient game of
dice. Krita (“the one that made it!”) is the best throw—a 4. The Krita Yuga, which like
all ages has appeared an infinite number of times and will return an infinite number of
times, is also called Satya Yuga, or the age of truth. It is 1,728,000 years long. In Krita
Yuga the highest virtue is said to be MEDITATION.
In this age, BRAHMA is god. Eternal DHARMA is said to have all its four feet in this
age, while in the others it progressively has three, two, and one. In the Krita age there is
no distinction between the best and worst of creatures. Their life, happiness, and
attractiveness are all equal. They are also free of sorrow, completely good, and enjoy
solitude, rather than crowds. They are devoted to MEDITATION, active in spiritual
restraints and austerities, and act always without self-interest. They are always joyful
and have no permanent homes, but live in the mountains or by the oceans.
Treta Yuga
All of the Yugas, or Ages in the Indian tradition, refer to throws in an ancient dice game.
Treta Yuga is named after the 3, the second best throw. It always follows the KRITA, or
SATYA, YUGA (the Golden Age of Truth). It is 1,296,000 years in duration. The Sun
God is its presiding divinity. Where in Krita Yuga pleasure was spontaneous, this ends in
Treta Yuga. Where there were no permanent homes in the Krita Yuga, in the Treta Yuga
trees become the homes for people. A beautiful honey (not made by bees) could be found
in holes in the trees and was all the food people needed. People were all happy, well fed,
and healthy. However, passion and greed began to increase in this age. People remained
truthful, but they focused on worldly success. As people cycled between greed and virtue,
the trees would disappear and reappear. In their absence, people suffered from cold and
heat and had to build shelters. Toward the end of the Yuga, people grew more angry and
more greedy, and men tried to possess each other’s wives and wealth. In response, Lord
BRAHMA emitted the warrior class, the KSHATRIYAS, to set limits in the world.
Equality vanished as classes were formed.
Dvapara Yuga
In the Indian tradition the YUGAS, or ages, refer to throws in an ancient dice game.
Dvapara is named after the throw “two” (dvi), which is the third best throw or the second
worst throw. Dvapara Yuga is 864,000 years in duration. In Dvapara the deterioration in
human and worldly life continues. Passion, strife, greed, and war develop, and truth is no
longer adhered to in the same way. In Dvapara Yuga, the once-unified VEDA was
divided into four parts by VYASA. Because differences of opinion had arisen, the
different Vedas (RIG, SAMA, YAJUR, ATHARVA) developed distinctions. Death arose
among humankind, as well as disgust with existence, calamity, suffering, and disease. In
Dvapara a notion of “wisdom” became necessary as a result of the perception of the
faults that now existed. Whereas in the Treta Yuga SATTVA, the pure aspect of nature
(PRAKRITI) tended to prevail, in Dvapara Yuga, rajas (impure) and tamas
(contaminated) aspects of nature emerged. Ritual sacrifice became a predominant
feature of Dvapara; it had not been important before. VISHNU is said to preside over
Dvapara, because of the need for order.
Kali Yuga
All of the YUGAS or ages in the Indian tradition refer to throws in an ancient game of
dice. Kali (spelled differently in Sanskrit from the goddess of that name) is the “four,” the
worst throw of the dice, comparable to “craps” in the Western dice game. Our age is
understood to be the Kali Yuga, in which TAMAS, the worst aspect of nature,
predominates. Trickery, envy, and even the murder of holy persons are the norm in this
era, as are fatal disease, fatal hunger, fear, and instability.
Kings in the Kali Yuga are angry and debauched. People are short-lived and short in
stature. Money, power, pleasure, and falsehood reign. BRAHMA, VISHNU, RUDRA,
and the Sun are all worshipped in the Kali Yuga.
Manu is the name of the first man in each of the designated ages or MANVANTARAS in
Indian tradition, a progenitor somewhat akin to the Western biblical Adam. There have
been an infinite number of ages in the past, as there will be in the future. Therefore the
Manus are infinite in number. According to TIME calculations in Hindu traditions, there
are 14 MANVANTARAS in each eon or KALPA, which constitutes a day in the life of
BRAHMA or 4,320,000,000 years. The first Manu of our kalpa was Svayambhuva
Manu, who Indian tradition says composed the LAWS OF MANU, the famous text on
social law. In all there have already been seven Manus in the current kalpa, each one
leading off his designated age, including the Manu who began the age we live in today,
who is known as Vaivasvata. There will be seven more Manus in the remaining ages until
our kalpa is ended.
A rishi in its most ancient Vedic sense was a seer and an inspired poet. The original rishis
were those who saw or called forth the eternal verses of the Vedas. The Vedas were not
seen as written by anyone; the rishis were conduits for them. Most of the Vedic
MANTRAS include the name of the rishi who recorded them. Seven of these ancient
rishis are seen as the starting points for the orthodox BRAHMIN lineages: Kashyapa,
Atri, Vasishtha, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni, and Bharadvaja.
In the later epics and Puranas, or mythical lore, Rishis inhabited Ashrams or retreat places
in the wilderness, where they performed their austerities. These rishis were sages, not
necessarily connected with the transmission of the Vedas. Some of them were composers
or compilers of the epics, such as the Rishi Valmiki who compiled the Ramayana, and the
Rishi Vyasa who gave us the Mahabharata. The Rishis encountered in this later literature
often are known for the frightening curses they imposed upon those who had not treated
them with due deference and respect. Rishi today is an honorific term, for instance, in the
case of Maharishi (great Rishi) Mahesh Yogi, who founded the Transcendental
Meditation movement. Few such people today are considered comparable to the great
Rishis of the past.