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Yugas – The Eternal Wheel of Time

by Anubhav Bakshi
The Cycle of Yugas

An eternal period of time that describes the cycle of creation, preservation and destruction is called a Yuga. The concept is so important in Hindu tradition that it finds its mention in Rig Veda and Bhagwat Gita.

In Gita Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna:

सहस्रयुगपर्यन्तमहर्यद्ब्रह्मणो विदु: |
रात्रिं युगसहस्रान्तां तेऽहोरात्रविदो जना: || 17||

It means “One day of Brahma (kalp) lasts a thousand cycles of the four ages (mahā yug) and his night also extends for the same span of time. The wise who know this understand the reality about day and night.”

Concept of Time

Time is the essence of existence for all things in this universe. In the absence of time, it is impossible to study or understand anything. Our entire existence is based on the concept of time. The earth’s distance from Sun and Moon, its rotation and revolution, our heartbeats, the number of breaths we take in a minute. 

Therefore, we can say that time is the essence of our life on Earth.
Everyone knows what time is, but very few can exactly define it. The simplest definition of Time would be, “measure of existence of everything from Past to Present to Future.”
The next important question related to Time is whether it is Linear or Cyclical? You will find an interesting article on whether Time should be considered Linear or Cyclical, here: ThePerspective
Modern science believes that time is linear. And it has its reasons for doing so. According to science, the time is irreversible, and we haven’t been able to find a way to go back in time. These reasons point towards time being linear.
However, in Hindu tradition, we believe that the time is Cyclical. And by that we don’t mean that we can go back in time, or we can reverse it to fix something that is broken.
But, just like the Earth and Moon move in a cyclical motion, causing the cyclic shift in seasons, day and night, Hindus believe that time also follows the same pattern.
And the best example of this belief is the concept of Yugas. Hindus texts state that a cycle of time is divided into four parts, each with its own distinct identity. And this cycle of Yugas keeps repeating, as humanity transitions from one phase to another.
The word Yuga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to join’ or ‘Yoke’. In the Hindu belief system, a Yuga is a period that is defined by the importance given to Dharma by the people of that era. The end of one Yuga is always succeeded by the start of another. And the cycle continues in a never-ending loop.

The Four Yugas

Four Yugas are defined as:

1. Sat Yuga – The Golden Age
2. Treta Yuga – The Silver Age
3. Dwapar Yuga – The Bronze Age
4. Kali Yuga – The Iron Age

Hindus believe that the motion of the time starts with the Sat Yuga and ends with Kali Yuga. That means the cycle of human civilization starts with Sat Yuga. The human race is at its Spiritual peak in this era.

However, as the mind deviates towards materialistic pleasures, spirit wanes. And this deterioration keeps happening through the cycle of Yugas until it reaches the end of Kali Yuga. By this time the mind, body and soul are corrupted to the core. And the only way to salvation is to start afresh.

Therefore, at the end of Kali Yuga, an inevitable apocalypse (Mahapralaya) annihilates the entire human civilization. This is usually caused by drastic weather changes and even Tsunamis.

What happens after the Apocolypse?

What occurs after Mahapralaya, is however is subject to debate. There are two centres of thought on this issue, each with fair reasons to believe in their theories. They are as follows:

The Rebuilding Theory

According to this theory after the destruction of human civilization, human race will progress upward in ascending order through Dwapar to Treta to Sat Yuga. This theory is based on the rebuilding of the human civilization through a long and tedious process. 

The Reboot Theory

According to this theory, after the Mahapralay, Lord Brahma would again start the process of creation and the cycle would again start with Sat Yuga. This theory is based on the prediction that the Mahapralay will destroy all the evil in this world and Dharma would rule the new world. This would usher in the Sat Yuga. 

After looking at both theories, the important thing to note is that whatever cycle of Yugas we choose to accept, one thing is constant.

The process is infinite, the cycle never stops.
Whether the Kali Yuga is followed by Dwapar Yuga or Sat Yuga, is a matter of belief. However, what’s important is to understand the foundation over which this structure of Yugas stands. 
And that foundation is ‘Dharma‘.
Although, Hinduism is a scientific religion/way of life. However, the whole purpose of its existence is the spiritual development of human beings. According to Hinduism the ultimate aim of a spirit is to attain Moksha or Salvation. And the easiest route to Salvation is to follow the Dharma.
The word Dharma is often confused with the literal Hindi translation of the word Religion. But that is incorrect. Dharma means ‘what is right.”

According to Hindu traditions, every person has a certain place in society or the social hierarchy. And the Dharma of a person is decided according to his/her place in society. (I have a full Blog planned on the concept of the Varna System, which will be published in the future.) And only by doing what is right or by following his/her Dharma, can a human being liberate his soul and achieve salvation.

What sets the Yugas apart?

According to the Hindu texts, the importance given to Dharma is what sets one Yuga apart from another. Hindus believe that Lord Dharma took the form of a Cow and came to earth to establish Dharma amongst mankind. 

In the Sat Yuga, all the people follow their Dharma. There is no corruption in the minds or deeds of the people. There is no concept of money. Therefore, greed is unheard of. Man and Nature are in perfect balance. No evil existed and people were free from sorrow, sadness, and diseases. And because of this
In Treta Yuga, people are introduced to the concept of money. And money brings with it all kinds of vices. Humans start to deviate a little from the path of Dharma. They became less spiritual and more focused on materialistic possessions.

Lord Vishnu came to earth in the form of Avatars like Shri Ramchandra, Lord Parashuram, and Vamana. These avatars, especially Rama, exhibited incredible personalities and dedicated their lives to the protection of Dharma. But due to a steady decline of dharma in the lives of the average human being, Lord Dharma incarnated as the Cow stands on its all three legs.
The importance of Dharma is further eroded in the Treta Yuga. Families started to break over the pieces of land. Money and power gained importance in the lives of men. A great war took place between brothers, that almost killed off the entire Kshatriya race from the face of the Earth. 
However, in this Yuga, great men like Krishna protect the Dharma. He ensures that Dharma always wins over Adharma. But for all his efforts the Dharma Cow now stands on only two legs.
And finally, the age of Kali Yuga arrives. The world is plunged into darkness. Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Pride and many more vices raise their head and engulf the entire mankind. In this age, people simply look away from Dharma and work only towards satisfying their ambitions. 
The world is plunged into chaos and that ultimately leads to destruction, when Dharma loses its last leg. The age of Kali ends with the destruction of the universe and leads to a new creation.

Kaal Chakra, the Wheel of Time

Kaal Chakra is the term used to define this cycle of yugas. This Kaal Chakra or the Wheel of Time continues to move and never stops for anyone. The end of one Yuga gives birth to the next one. The cycle of creation, preservation and destruction keeps running.

Our texts even define the specific time frame for each Yuga to last.

Though some texts define the duration of each Yuga as follows:

Sat Yuga: 1,728,000 years
Treta Yuga: 1,296,000 years
Dwapar Yuga: 864,000 years
Kali Yuga: 432,000 years

However, a more accurate calculation has been given in the following video, which also sheds some more light on understanding the Yugas in a scientific way:

Understanding the True Concept of Yugas

It is important to note here that the whole concept of Yugas needs to be seen in a subjective light. If we try to delve too much into the dates, events and occurrences of these four Yugas, our minds will get conflicting ideas.
Therefore, in order to truly understand the concept of Yugas, we need to understand the message or sentiment behind it. Yuga as it was earlier stated is derived from Sanskrit word “Yuj”. And it means ‘to join’ ‘yoke.’ So what does it join?
Yugas join and collate the stories of the physical, mental and spiritual evolution of Human civilization since its inception. If we really try and analyse this whole hypothesis, we will notice a pattern depicting the erosion of spirituality which is synonymous with the increase in wealth and modernisation of lifestyle. 
And this process is inevitable. The simplest way to destroy any ancient civilization is to introduce it to the concepts of wealth and property. Within a short span of time, people will forget all the values, and leave the path of Dharma, to merge with destructive modernisation.


Two lessons can be learned by understanding the Yugas:

1. The Kaal Chakra, or the Wheel of Time is inevitable. No matter what we do, we cannot stop it. The only thing we can do is to keep doing our Karma and go with the flow of the time.

2. The entire concept of Yuga lays prime importance on Dharma. Dharma is the only thing that separates one Yuga from another. If we understand this and follow the path of Dharma then it is even possible to move from Kali Yuga to Sat Yuga.

Although the world would still come to an end after its time is over. But it would not be destructive. The only destruction that would happen will be inside us. The Greed, Lust, Pride and other vices inside humans will be destroyed. And love, compassion and duty will replace them. And this is the kind of destruction we all should hope and strive for.

And that is the lesson Yugas teach us. Destruction is imminent, but it is up to us to choose the kind of destruction to this age of Kali.

What are your thoughts and takeaways from the concept of Yugas? Is there anything else you want me to talk about in my blog?

Don’t forget to send your comments and suggestions. Learn about the concepts of Hinduism in Unfolding Beliefs and read interesting Mythological stories and their hidden lessons in Stories. All in Decoding Hinduism.

Till next time.

Anubhav Bakshi

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