The Path – July 1890

THE KALI YUGA IN HINDU CHRONOLOGY — G. E. W.

Several weeks ago a communication was read at a regular meeting of this Branch, in which some references to the Kali Yuga were quoted from the Secret Doctrine, and some questions asked concerning them. In order to understand what the difficulties were which this writer found in his studies of the subject, I will take the liberty of repeating part of his letter.

"Allow me to ask a few questions about Kali Yuga; but it is necessary to preface a few references, so that the question may be understood. The references are to Vol. II. Secret Doctrine.

Page 434, 'There are seven rounds; this is the fourth; we are in the fifth root-race. Each root-race has seven sub-races.' Page 435, 'The fifth root-race has been in existence about 1,000,000 years; hence each of the four preceding sub-races has lived approximately 210,000 years; thus each family race has an average existence of about 30,000 years.' Page 395, 'The Aryans were 200,000 years old when the first great Atlantean island was submerged, about 850,000 years ago.' Page 147, 'All races have their own cycles. The Fourth sub-race of the Atlanteans was in its Kali Yuga when destroyed, whereas the Fifth was in its Satya Yuga. The Aryan Race is now in its Kali Yuga, and will continue to be in it for 427,000 years longer, while various family races are in their own special cycles.' So far preliminary. The questions are: 1. If the Aryan race has gone through its Krita, Treta and Dvapara ages in about 1,000,000 years, can its Kali Yuga be literally 432,000 years? 2. If the entire earth is in the Kali Yuga of some great cycle, may not we of this country still be in the Krita age of some smaller cycle?"

The writer of the foregoing, a respected member of the Theosophical Society, is not alone in his perplexity regarding the divisions of time, as established by the Hindus. There are very many exoteric Oriental students, as well as members of the society, who have been unable to reconcile the various statements made concerning the Yugas by different authorities. I think, however, that upon a careful examination of the subject, most of these difficulties will vanish, and the truth will be made plain in a manner to reflect credit instead of discredit upon the Hindu cosmogony and upon the subtle Aryan mind that conceived this wonderful chronological theory.

Before proceeding to this branch of the subject it will be necessary to examine the earliest references to the yugas in the Hindu Books, in order not only to understand the difference between the various divisions of time as there employed, but to discover, if possible, when they were first brought into common use. There is a wide divergence of opinion among Oriental scholars as to the date of the Manu Smiriti, or Laws of Manu. Max Muller and his followers, who apparently bend all their energies to the task of proving that everything in Hinduism is of comparatively recent origin, claim that the Laws of Manu were compiled in the fifth century of our era. Their arguments are based solely upon certain passages which allude to customs and religious rites known to be modern. But it can easily be shown that all such passages may have been later interpolations of the Brahmins, while, on the other hand, the bulk or greater part of the work is undoubtedly archaic in character. Prof. Monier Williams, of Oxford, says: "Sir William Jones held that Manu's book was drawn up in about the year 1280 B. C. Mr. Elphinstone placed it 900 years B. C. Possibly some parts of it may represent laws and precepts which were current among the Manayas at the later date, but no one would now assign so early a date to the actual compilation of the Code. Nor can it, I think, reasonably be placed later than the fifth century B.C." (1)

There is here a trifling difference of a thousand years in the estimates of two such good authorities, even, as Max Muller and Monier Williams, to say nothing of the earlier writers quoted, who affirm a still higher antiquity for Manu.

But let us see what the Hindus themselves claim. Manu, according to Brahminical authority, was literally the first man in the present manvantara or man-period. He taught the code of laws to his son Bhrigu, who promulgated them to the Rishis. Concerning the divisions of time he used the following language:

68. — But hear now the brief description of the duration of a night and a day of Brahman, and of the several ages of the world according to their order.

69. — They declare that the Krita age consists of four thousand years of the gods; the twilight preceding it consists of as many hundreds, and the twilight following it of the same number.

70. — In the other three ages with their twilights preceding and following, the thousands and hundreds are diminished by one in each.

71. — These twelve thousand years which thus have just been mentioned as the total of four human ages are called one age of the gods.

72. — But know that the sum of one thousand ages of the Gods makes one day of Brahman, and that his night has the same length.

73. — Those only who know that the holy day of Brahman, indeed, ends after the completion of one thousand ages of the gods, and that his night lasts as long, are really men acquainted with the length of days and nights.

79. — The before mentioned age of the gods or twelve thousand of their years, being multiplied by seventy-one, constitutes what is here named the period of a Manu, or a Manvantara.

80. — The Manvantaras, the creations and destructions of the world, are numberless; sporting, as it were, Brahman repeats this again and again.

81. — In the Krita age justice is four-footed and entire, and so is truth; nor does any gain accrue to men by unrighteousness

82. — In the other three ages, by reason of unjust gains justice is deprived successively of one foot, and through the prevalence of theft, falsehood, and fraud, the merit gained by men is diminished by one-fourth in each.

83. — Men are free from disease, accomplish all their aims, and live four hundred years in the Krita age, but in the Treta and in each of the succeeding ages their life is lessened by one-quarter.

84. — The life of mortals mentioned in the Veda, the desired results of sacrificial rites, and the supernatural power of embodied spirits are fruits proportioned among men according to the character of the Age.

85. — One set of duties is prescribed for men in the Krita age, different ones in the Treta and in the Dvapara, and again another set in the Kali, in proportion as those ages decrease in length.

86. — In the Krita age the chief virtue is declared to be the performance of austerities, in the Treta divine knowledge, in the Dvapara the performance of sacrifices, and in the Kali liberality alone. (2)

In the Vishnu Purana we find the same scheme of cosmogony. After stating the duration of the yugas, this ancient book adds:

Seven Rishis, certain secondary divinities, Indra, Manu, and the Kings his sons, are created and perish at one period, and the interval, called a Manvantara, is equal to seventy-one times the number of years contained in the four yugas with some additional years; this is the duration of the Manu, the attendant divinities and the rest, which is equal to 852, 000 divine years or to 306,720,000 years of mortals, independent of the additional period. Fourteen times this period constitutes a Brahma day. At the end of this day a dissolution of the Universe occurs, when all the three worlds, earth, and the regions of space are consumed with fire. (3)

We see from the foregoing extracts that the Hindu theory of the four yugas is of immense antiquity. It is not something that has been evolved out of modern thought and speculation. Back even of Manu and the Puranas the same idea may be traced, as frequent references to the Kalpas are found in the Upanishads and Mahabharata. In fact, the latter devotes an entire chapter to an explanation of this subject. (4)

Let us now see how the figures are obtained upon which the calculations of the yugas are based. Following the directions as given in Manu, we have the following table:

Krita Yuga                  4,000
     Sandhya (twilight)      400
     Sandhyamsa (dusk)   400
                                   4,800

Treta Yuga                  3,000
     Sandhva                    300
     Sandhvamsa              300
                                  3, 600

Dvapara Yuga             2,000
     Sandhva                    200
     Sandhvamsa              200
                                   2,400

Kali Yuga                    1,000
     Sandhva                    100
     Sandhvamsa              100
                                   1,200

          Total               12,000 divine years.

According to Brahminical computation a year of men is equal to a day of the gods; hence, to convert the preceding figures into mortal years we multiply by 360. Thus:

4,800 x 360 = 1,728,000 years of the Krita age.
3,600 x 360 = 1,296.000 years of the Treta age.
2,400 x 360 = 864,000 years of the Dvapara age.
1,200 x 360 = 432,000 years of the Kali age.
         Total 4,320,000 years.

The sum of the four ages constitutes a Mahayuga or divine age, and 1,000 of these ages make a day or night of Brahma. Now it is distinctly stated that it takes seventy-one of these maha yugas, with some additional years, to make one Manvantara, and there are fourteen Manvantaras in the day of Brahma.

In order to locate ourselves, or rather our present time, in this comprehensive scheme, we may first divide the Kalpa mentally into fourteen parts, one for each Manvantara. That is certainly a simple proposition. We find that each one of the fourteen Manvantaras has its own leader or Manu, and we find furthermore that Avayambhara Manu, the leader of the present wave of humanity, was the seventh Manu, thus fixing our location at about the middle of the Kalpa. But my present object is to still further define our location; hence we will endeavor to analyze the present or seventh Manvantara.

We learn from the above that it takes seventy-one maha yugas, or sum totals of our four ages, together with some additional years, to make one manvantara. The "additional years" spoken of are in the nature of a grand sandyha or twilight which is added to the maha yugas, just as the smaller twilights are intercalated in the minor yugas to make up a maha yuga. Of these seventy-one maha yugas, which is the one in which our race is located? This question the exoteric teachings of Brahmanism and Buddhism alike fail to answer. It was and has always been behind the veil. Neither the Puranas nor the Sutras utter a word upon the subject. But of late years a large part of the secret doctrine of the Hindu and Buddhist priests has been given to the Western public through the Theosophical Society. The revelations of Sinnett and of Madame Blavatsky recently have given us an insight into these hitherto sacredly guarded traditions. We are told in Esoteric Buddhism that there are seven rounds in every Manvantara and that this one is the fourth. As there are about seventy-one maha yugas and just seven rounds, each round must include about ten maha yugas, and as this is the fourth round, it follows that we are in the vicinity of the fortieth maha yuga, 172,800,000 mortal years after the beginning of the Manvantara. It will be observed that we are near the middle of the Manvantara — somewhat past the middle, to be more exact — the total number of years in the manvantara being about 306,000,000. There are seven root-races in each manvantara, and seven sub-races to each root-race. But the limits of existence of the various races are not identical with the divisions of time; hence we find ourselves, or at least we are told that we find ourselves, in the fifth root-race and the fifth sub-race, the latter having already been in existence about a million years.

The question is asked: "If the Aryan race has gone through its Krita, Treta, and Dvapara ages in about 1,000,000, can its Kali yuga be literally 427,000 years?" I will answer this briefly by saying that the four ages, as applied to particular races, are only used metaphorically. Strictly speaking, they are grand general limitations of time. To speak of the Krita age of the Aryan race is a metaphorical way of alluding to the origin of that race, which, however, as a matter of fact really developed on earth in the latter portion of the Treta yuga. The second question is: "If the entire earth is in the Kali yuga of some great cycle, may not we of this country still be in the Krita age of some smaller cycle?" Practically the same answer can be given to this as to the preceding. I think the use of the names of the yugas in this sense is misleading. We might just as well speak of this morning, for instance, as the Krita age, or this evening as the Kali age, of this particular Saturday.

Now, while all this sounds perplexing to one who has not studied the subject, and no doubt seems foolish to those who are accustomed to the ordinary Biblical chronology, there is really a great truth conveyed in these gigantic estimates of time. It does not appear that the Hindus or Buddhists accept the figures given as intended to be literally exact. In a general way they indicate vast periods of time, and allow ample scope for the development of the physical earth, as well as of the human race according to the now everywhere accepted law of evolution. And it must be said that the latest discoveries in science tend to confirm very many of the Hindu theories. Geology especially is unfolding daily new and startling developments in corroboration of what may be termed Ions chronology. It is true that many men of science still make a bid for popular approval by condemning or ridiculing the chronological systems of India and Chaldaea, but such time-servers are happily growing fewer each year, and it now seems as though it cannot be long before there will be no profit in advocating the exploded time-scale of the Hebrews. When there is no longer any money in it, perhaps the 4000 B.C. scheme will be abandoned. Already a few scientists are lifting their voices in behalf of the truth. The most notable contribution to recent literature in this direction is a book entitled The Origin of the Aryans, by Isaac Taylor, published in the Scribners' "Contemporary Science Series", 1890. The author admits that within the last ten years conclusions that had prevailed for fifty years in philology have had to be abandoned. He says:

"First among the causes which have led to this change of opinion must be placed the evidence as to the antiquity and early history of man, supplied by the new sciences of geology, anthropology, craniology, and prehistoric archaeology. The assumption that man was a comparatively recent denizen of the earth. . . . and the identification of the Aryans with the descendents of Japhet had to be reconsidered when it was recognized that man had been an inhabitant of Western Europe at a time anterior to the oldest traditions, probably before the close of the last glacial epoch. . . . to which Dr. Crall and Prof. Geikie assign on astronomical grounds an antiquity of some 80,000 years."

But, to return to the yugas, the question is often asked how the four ages happened to acquire their names. Literally they are the Ace-age, the Deuce age, the Trois or Third age, and the Quad or Fourth age, being named after the first four sides of the dice used in gambling. The natural arrangement, however, is reversed, and the Krita or Fourth age represents the first or golden age. The Treta or Third age stands second, the Dvapara or Second age comes third, and the Kali age, that in which we live, and which is equivalent to the Ace age or lowest throw possible at dice, is fourth, These appellations, however, are subject to grave misapprehension. It is true that in the archaic ages in India gambling with dice was extremely common, and there is no doubt of the yugas having been named after the four first numbers on the ivory cubes; but, as in many other instances, this nomenclature was only an exoteric blind. Not to have veiled their meaning would have been to expose one of the seven keys to the Brahminical mysteries. We know that Pythagoras found a great part of his philosophy in India, and we are also aware that the basis of his philosophy was mathematical.

"Pythagoras considered a point to correspond in proportion to unity; a line to two; a superficies to three; a solid to four; and he defined a point as a monad having position and the beginning of all things; a line was thought to correspond with duality because it was produced by the first motion from indivisible nature and formed the junction of two points. A superficies was compared to the number three because it is the first of all causes that are found in figures; for a circle, which is the principal of all round figures, comprises a triad in centre, space, and circumference. But a triangle, which is the first of all rectilineal figures, is included in a ternary, and receives its form according to that number; and was considered by the Pythagoreans to be the creator of all sublunary things. The four points at the base of the Pythagorean triangle correspond with a solid or cube, winch combines the principles of length, breadth, and thickness, for no solid can have less than four extreme boundary points." (5)

Here, then, we have the origin of the nomenclature of the yugas. It was not astronomical, as might, as a hasty glance, be expected in such circumstances. Perhaps it antedated astronomy, as the science of numbers must have antedated the science of the stars.

There can be no accurate astronomy without mathematics; astronomy presupposes exact methods of calculation. Hence the naming of the ages from the science of numbers instead of from the science of the stars is a proof of the extreme antiquity of the Hindu theory of cosmogony.

As, according to Brahminical calculation, the present Kali yuga began in the year 3102 B. C. and as the yuga is expected to last 432,000 years, we have still over 427,000 years to look forward to before the end of the maha yuga. Some people, even members of the Theosophical Society, appear to think that the end of the maha yuga will be the end of the world. All such will please take notice that, according to the Hindu scheme, there are yet thirty more maha yugas to come, or about 129,600,000 years before the close of the present manvantara, and there are then seven more full manvantaras, or 2,160,000,000 years, to elapse before the day of Brahma is completed. In other words, the gradual process of evolution upon the solar system is only about half-way upon its course, and we can thus see how mankind in its cycle is now very nearly at the lowest point, and will in some thousands or millions of years begin to show traces of spiritual improvement.

Let no one smile contemptuously at the simplicity of the Puranic prophecy any more than at the complexity of the Hindu system of cosmogony. We must bear in mind that these Brahmins are a picked race. For almost endless thousands of years they have devoted themselves to metaphysical studies, religious contemplation, and intellectual and physical improvement. From generation to generation they have carefully observed the Brahminical rules of health as well as of morality, and the result, according to the Darwinian law of selection, can not fail to have been the development of a class of men far superior to the mixed races. Among the ignorant in America there is an impression that the Hindus are enervated, weak in mind and body, cowardly and abject, and fit subjects only for the missionary. It is true that India has been during the past century ground down beneath the heel of British despotism, but the Empress of India rules only by the sheerest brute force. The pretended superiority of the British to the Hindus is a superiority of physical muscle. As well set up the claim that Sullivan, the prize-fighter, is superior to Whittier, the poet. Among the low-caste natives of India there is doubtless much abjectness, but they are no less obsequious to their own Brahmins than to the English conquerors of the soil. The Brahmins themselves are highly cultivated and possess great powers of thought. Their belief in the archaic system of the yugas is not one of blind faith, but has stood the test of investigation by thousands of the most subtle minds produced among a race that is and has always been intensely metaphysical. Here is what Max Muller says in his introductory lecture to the civil service students at the University of Cambridge:

"If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow — in some parts a very Paradise on earth — I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life — again I should point to India." (6)

FOOTNOTES:

1. Indian Wisdom, page 215. (return to text)

2. Laws of Manu, Book I, 68. (return to text)

3. Vishnu Puruna, Book I. Chap. III. (return to text)

4. Mahabharata XII. 232. (return to text)

5. Secret Doctrine, I, page 616. (return to text)

6. India, What can it Teach us? p. 24. (return to text)


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE