Most of us are accustomed to living life according to linear beliefs and patterns of existence. We believe everything has a beginning, middle and an end. But Hinduism has little to do with the linear nature of history, the linear concept of time or the linear pattern of life.
Cyclical Time : The passage of ‘linear’ time has brought us where we are today – at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium. But Hinduism views the concept of time in a much different manner, and there is a cosmic perspective to it. Hindus believe the process of creation moves in cycles and that each cycle has four great epochs of time, namely Satya Yug, Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug and Kali Yug. And because the process of creation is cyclical and never ending, it “begins to end and ends to begin”.
Time is God : According to the Hindu theory of creation, time (Sanskrit ‘kal’) is a manifestation of God. Creation begins when God makes his energies active and ends when he withdraws all his energies into a state of inactivity. God is timeless, for time is relative and ceases to exist in the Absolute. The past, the present and the future coexist in him simultaneously.
Kalchakra : God creates the cycle of time, called Kalchakra, in order to create divisions and movements of life and sustain the worlds in periodic timeframes. God also uses time to create the ‘illusions’ of life and death. It is time, which is accountable for old age, death and dying of his creations. When we overcome time, we become immortal. Death is not the end of the line, but a gateway to the next cycle, to birth. This is also true of the universe itself and akin to the cyclic patterns in the rhythms of nature. According to Hindu scriptures, all mortal beings are destined to pass through four great epochs in every cycle of creation and destruction. This divine cycle turns full-circle at the end of what is known as kalpa. A kalpa is a period of 10,000 divine years or 10 million years, and is divided into four ages or yugs (Sanskrit yuga = age/epoch). The four great epochs in Hinduism are: Satya Yug, Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug and Kali Yug. Satya Yug or the Age of Truth is said to last for four thousand divine years, Treta Yug for three thousand, Dwapara Yug for two thousand and Kali Yug will last for one thousand divine years. It is also believed that three of these great ages have already passed away, and we are now living in the fourth one. What these ages exactly mean, and why this division, it’s hard to explain, because they appear too unrealistic to be true for the rational mind.
Songs of Innocence & Experience! : The four ages symbolize the four phases of involution during which man gradually lost the awareness of his inner selves and subtle bodies. Hinduism believes that human beings have five kinds of bodies, called annamayakosa, pranamayakosa, manomayakosa vignanamayakosa and anandamayakosa, which represent the ‘gross body’, the ‘breath body’, the ‘psychic body’, the ‘intelligence body’ and the ‘bliss body’ respectively. Another theory explains these epochs of time on the basis of the degree of loss of righteousness in the world. It says, during Satya Yug only truth prevailed (Sanskrit Satya = truth), Treta lost ¼ truth, Dwapar lost ½ truth and Kali is left with only ¼ truth. Evil and dishonesty has replaced truth in the last three ages or yugs.
Dashaavatar : Throughout these four yugs, Lord Vishnu is said to incarnate ten times in ten different avatars. This is known as ‘Dashaavatar’ (Sanskrit dasha = ten). During the Age of Truth, human beings were spiritually most advanced and had great psychic powers. In the Treta Yug people still remained righteous and adhered to moral ways of life. Lord Rama of the fabled Ramayana lived in Treta Yug. In the Dwapara Yug, men had lost all knowledge of the intelligence and bliss bodies. Lord Krishna was born in this age. The present Kali Yug is the most degenerated of the Hindu epochs.