The Concept Of Time and Four Yugas In Hindu Dharma

Four Yuga - Vedic Time

Computation of time in modern times is quite a sophisticated process, and it involves a lot of ordeals. A mere second, the primary standard of time, is computed by the count of electronic transition between the two hyperfine ground states of Caesium-133 atoms. So much for the mere second!

With the high-end technology defining the basics of the modern age, we are left with no option to speculate on the computation of time in the Vedic times. The Vedas sure had a take on the erstwhile topic, dragged into discussions and debate from time immemorial, yet ever-evolving and exhilarant.

Some theories, rather speculations put out by the Vedic Rishis (sages), will leave you bewildered, one of them being cyclic vs. the linear proposition, and even the theory of time dilation, does that sound already intriguing?

One of the prominent figures whose proposition stands till date and has remarkably contributed to this arena is Sage Maitreya (Son of Kusarava, and a disciple of sage Parasara). Mentioned in Discourse XI of Bhagavata Mahapurana, he argues,

“The measure of time which flits across the smallest particle of matter is called a Paramanu; while that which extends over the whole life-span of the universe is the longest measure of time.”

Not only did he define the basic parameter of time but also the smallest unit of existence! The atom! Anu, as of Sanskrit, translates vaguely to the atom, and the Paramanu as a Sub-atomic particle.

Sub atomic particles

The Bhagavata Purana goes on from the level of Paramanu, or the span of time flitting across sub-atomic particles, as follows,

Two Paramanus make one Anu, or an atom, Three Anu makes one Trasarenu, three Trasarenus make a Truti or the unit of time equal to 30 microseconds. Hundred of those ’30 microseconds’ or Trutis make a Vedha. Three Vedhas make a Lava, and three Lavas make a Nimesha or the twinkling of an eye.

Three Nimeshas make a Ksana, or a moment, five Ksanas make a Kastha, fifteen Kasthas make a Laghu, fifteen Laghus make a Nadika, a couple of Nadika make a Muhurta, a Murhata approximately corresponding to 48 minutes (1/30 of 24 Hours). Six or seven Nadikas, depending on the length of day or night, make a Prahara or one quarter of a day or night.

Already quite elaborate, ain’t it? But wait! We are not done here; more to come!

A day comprises four Yamas, one Yama being a six hours period, fifteen days constitute a fortnight, bright and dark alternately, two months make a Ritu, six months constitute an Ayana, known southerly and northerly by turn, following the course of the sun, and two Ayanas, or one earth year, constitute a day and night of the gods. Time dilation is already in effect!

4 Yugas – Chatur Yuga

On the macro-level are the well-known four yugas; comprising the Chatur Yuga or Mahayuga are namely,

  1. Satya Yuga or Krita Yuga
  2. Treta Yuga
  3. Dwapara Yuga
  4. Kali Yuga

In the modern-day conventional translation for the four Yugas being the Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron age, respectively, the epithets to these four Yugas or Chatur Yuga in itself speaks for the eminence of each of them.

According to Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, the four yugas combined or the Mahayuga rotate in cyclical order, their time span being in the ratio of 4:3:2:1. To be precise, the length of Satya, Treta, Dwapara, and Kali yugas is in years 4800, 3600, 2400, and 1200. – Total 12000 Years all combined.

Four Yuga - Vedic Time
By Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri

One thousand Mahayuga period is called Kalpa, and another one thousand Mahayugas constitutes Brahma’s one night. Thus a cosmic day and night of Brahma comprise two thousand Mahayugas or two Kalpas. Or a full day of Brahma, the supreme creator of the universe. Another fascinating reference to the theory of time dilation! But the repeated occurrence of the Mahayugas is evidence of the proposition of time being circular rather than linear.

At the end of the four yugas, the inevitable Pralaya or apocalypse wipes out the entire human civilization; it is often marked by drastic weather changes and even massive floods. Also, As the Mahayuga moves on cyclically in ascending order, from kali, we progress upward in ascending order through Dvapara and Treta to Satya Yuga.

When in ascending order, a man goes on excelling in all respects till he reaches the pinnacle of development in Satya Yuga. This cyclical process goes on ad infinitum, the Latin phrase for fore-ever. A gentle reminder that time indeed is cyclic and events after a certain span of time indeed repeat!

In the scriptures of Hindu dharma, it is said that Brahma has been assigned hundred years of his age, or in respect of the earth age 2000 Mahayugas.

Brahma’s lifespan is known as Mahakalpa; in the end, all universes will be destroyed. In the next cycle, another Brahma, yes, you read that right, not even the Supreme Lord is eternal comes into being, and thus the cycle goes on at all levels, both micro and macro.