Yuga is an original Indic concept and refers to an interval of time. The concept of Chaturyuga provided an anchor to understand numerous aspects of human history, e.g., from cosmological, biological, and human evolution to one’s evolution through the stages of one’s lifetime. Interestingly, the application of Chaturyuga were extended to describe and comprehend emotional and psychological states, complex mathematical formulations, states of society, ruling performance of a king and keeping track of time and to separate key events of history.
This multifaceted application of Yuga was indeed impressive however, it appears that over time, the Yuga concept was misunderstood where cosmological evolutionary scales were confused for chronological tracking of historical events and metaphorical descriptions of physiological or psychological states were interpreted literally. One of the biggest culprits of this confusion was the determination of the duration of Chaturyugas when applied to chronological markers of Indian civilization. The blatant illustration of this confusion is the perpetual debate about the Kaliyuga, its duration and especially the beginning of Kaliyuga.
We wondered if It is necessary to resolve this issue and is it even possible to resolve this issue, especially when the descriptions and durations of Yugas from Puranas appear to be at odds with those of Itihasa which in turn are at odds with those of Astronomy texts or Ayurveda Samhitas.
This paper presents simple and elegant framework for the classification of Yugas followed by summary of variations from Puranas. The paper explains why the traditions might have differed and provides the roadmap for their usage to track and separate historical events of Indian civilization.
1) What is a Yuga?
Yuga, it is one of the distinct indigenous feature of the Indian civilization finding it’s application in various fields ranging from Astronomical calculations to explaining psychological state of the mind.
Before we start our quest on finding the advent of Kali, we find it necessary for the readers to be aware of the confusion surrounding the usage of word “Yuga” in ancient Indian narratives and how choosing one definition out of tens of definitions ,without knowing the actual context for a definition actually hinders the progress of Indic Renaissance.
In our ancient Indian narratives, we have multiple definitions of Yuga, but it should be understood that those definitions were developed to explain different aspects of reality.
For example, we have a statement within Mahabharata that ,the events of the epic took place in the interval between Dwapara and Kali. Ramayana has references that states the events in it took place in Treta age, now, we also have this well known definition of 4.32 million years Yuga, according to which the Age of Ramayana, irrespective of the Dating of Mahabharata need to be at least 8,00,000 year ago !!
But, the internal geographic descriptions of Ramayana puts the upper bound for the dating of the Epic at 15,000 years ago. Add to this, the confusions of 24th Manvantara for Ramayana and 28th Manvantara for Mahabharata, we have created the perfect mess.
Then there are some definitions of Yuga as in a state of mind / body, which are- evidently- absolutely useless in Chronological studies of Indian civilization.
So, how to efficiently and effectively recognize the various application of the word Yuga ?
The authors have proposed a four quadrant framework “VASP-PPTC Matrix” that can be employed to effectively sort the various type and/or definition of “Yuga”. “Yuga-enchilada” that has been created due to misappropriation of Yuga interpretation, can be solved when any definition of Yuga is analysed in the background of it’s Application and sense of Time, as shown below.
The components (definitions for Yuga) in each of the four Quadrants from the above Framework are demonstrated with simple examples below :
These are some complex concepts, concepts which are theoretical in nature (which still has a sense of time) and we have to find a way (like a metaphor) to communicate those concepts.
1) We have this definition of Yugas in term of millions of years in ancient Indian Astronomy treatises like Surya Siddhanta and Aryabhata, and in many Puranas as well, that is as follows ;
Kali Yuga – 432K years (X)
Dwapara Yuga – 864K years (2X)
Treta Yuga – 1296K years (3X)
Krita Yuga – 1728K years (4X)
But, these definition of Yuga when used in the analysis of dating Vedic Scriptures like Rig Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc, will lead to a mess and conflicts the scientific methodology causing utter confusion among the mass.
Hence, in order to avoid such mess, the purpose and context in which those definitions were employed need to be understood.
4.32 million years is mentioned in Surya Siddhanta purely in order to explain the precise and accurate orbital periods of Planets, as summarized below.
This purely astronomical definition was most probably confused by the folks during the composition of Puranas and was employed in the Chronology discussions.
These Yuga are experiential i.e related to thoughts and are usually Spiritual in nature. It has to be understood that these are not in sense of Chronology markers.
1) The Aitareya Brahmana employs the words Krta and other three in metaphorical sense as representing progressively more desirable states of human activity.
“One lying down becomes Kali, when about to leave the bed he becomes Dwapara, when rising he becomes Treta, and when he moves about he becomes Krta; keep moving, keep moving“. (7.33.3)
These Yugas are Behavioral in nature that is to say, they are related to the actions of a Person, Society etc, these Metaphysical definitions too cannot aid us in Chronological studies.
Shanti Parva (69.79)
(Bhisma to Yudhisthira)
Whether it is the king that makes the age, or, it is the age that makes the king, is a question about which thou shouldst not entertain any doubt. The truth is that the king makes the age (Raaja Kaalasya Karanam).
When, the king rules with a complete and strict reliance on the science of chastisement, the foremost of ages called Krita is then said to set in.
When the king relies upon only three of the four parts of the science of chastisement leaving out a fourth, the age called Treta sets in.
When the king observes the great science by only a half, leaving out the other half, then the age that sets in is called Dwapara.
When the king, abandoning the great science totally, oppresses his subjects by evil means of diverse kinds, the age that sets in is called Kali.
Chronological definitions of Yuga can be regarded as a device to track, separate and communicate occurrence of historical events.
This fourth quadrant i.e. the Chronological Yuga is the focus point of this paper and in particular, this paper focuses on the research of Chronological marker “Kali Yuga” present within the ancient Indian narratives. We started our study from the Puranic accounts on Kaliyuga Beginning.
Class of documents called ‘Purana’ are part of ‘Smriti’ literature of ancient India.
‘Smritis’ are the words and interpretation of seers. ‘Smriti’ literature expounds either ‘shastra’ (knowledge/science) and/or expounds code of conduct. Purana expounds Shastra and also outlines code of conduct. By definition, both change with change in time and also with the growth of our knowledge (and also at times reversal of growth in our knowledge and/or in our conduct). In short, they were (are) living documents that are modified and updated. New additions are also made.
For above reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find out precise timing of when a Purana was composed, was modified or last updated, unless of course seers of these ‘Smritis’ leave us with the clues when these documents were composed, modified or updated. In short, we are at their mercy.
Fortunately, many of these ‘Smritis’ do contain clues that can be explored to determine their timing. Do keep in mind the timing thus ascertained simply tells us that a particular smriti was either composed at that time, for the first time, or it could be simply the time when it was updated or modified.
Our comparative study is divided into three parts :
- Puranic account for the first day of Kali Yuga
- Puranic account for the Tithi on first day of Kaliyuga
- Puranic account on the time interval between Pariksith and Mahâpadma Nanda.
With that preamble, let’s look at
2.1 Puranic Traditions for the First Day of Kali Yuga
The popular tradition for the beginning of Kaliyuga is attributed to the Bhagavat Purana, arguably the best known Purana among the Maha Puranas. Bhagavat Purana is also popularly believed to be in cannon with the Mahabharata.
Bhagavat Purana at the very first chapter mentions the advent of Kaliyuga which has become a primary resource for the widely prevalent Kali Yuga tradition.
When Mukunda [the Lord of Liberation], the Fortunate One so worthwhile to hear about, left this earth, from that day on Kali[-yuga] manifested itself in full, the age so inauspicious to all who in ignorance are not in control of their minds [who have not awakened].
Practically, the same traditional belief has been preserved by many other Puranas, such as Vishnu Purana (1), Brahma Purana (2), Devi Bhagavata Purana (3), Brihaddharma Purana (4) , Brahmanda Purana (5) and Matsya Purana (6).
As it turns out, there are some Puranas with Kali tradition which are different from the tradition of the Bhagavat Purana.
1) Skanda Purana – the largest Purana in terms of its volume that is extant today- alone has multiple traditions for the beginning of Kaliyuga documented in it.
Different Kaliyuga traditions from Skanda Purana can be summarized as :
- Kaliyuga began after Krishna’s return to his abode. (7)
- Krishna and Balarama were born after the advent of Kali Yuga. (8)
- Kaliyuga began after the Kurukshetra War. (9)
- Kaliyuga began on Krishnapaksha 13th day of Bhadrapada month. (10)
- Kaliyuga is called as Pushya yuga. (11)
2) Garuda Purana has it that Buddha (son of Jina) was born at the junction of Kaliyuga (12)
3) Harivamsa Purana too have documented two Kaliyuga traditions i.e.
1) Kaliyuga began on the last day of the war. (13)
2) Kaliyuga had set in by the time of Kaalayavana. (14)
2.2 Puranic traditions for the Tithi of Yuga Beginning.
Bhagavat Purana has it that, Krita Yuga begins at the moment The moment the sun and the moon together with Jupiter [Bhrihaspatî] in the same constellation [of Karkatha or Cancer] enter the lunar mansion of Tishyâ (15). Bhagavata does not specify any tithi for the first day of Kaliyuga.
Skanda Purana on the other hand has two tradition for Tithi of Kaliyuga:
- Kaliyuga began on Krishnapaksha 13th day of Bhadrapada month. (10)
- Kaliyuga is called as Pushya yuga (11)
In addition to Skanda Purana; Brahmanda Purana (16), Matsya Purana (17), Padma Purana (18) also use the term “Pushya” instead of Kali while naming the fourth Yuga.
We wondered why majority of the Puranas are calling Kali Yuga by the name Tishya (Pushya) ? The Puranas didn’t provide us the reason for that practice. We shall find the answer as we proceed further.
2.3 Puranic account on the time interval between Pariksith and Mahâpadma Nanda.
1) Bhagavat Purana gives 1500 years (19) and 1150 years (20) between Pariksith and the reign of Mahâpadma Nanda.
2) Vishnu Purana gives 1050 years (21) as the interval between Pariksith and Mahâpadma Nanda.
3) Skanda Purana assigns 3310 years (22) for the time interval between Pariksith and Nanda.
The authors observed that the Puranas are not in agreement with each other be it the first day of Kali Yuga, Tithi on the first day of Kaliyuga or the time interval between Pariksith and Mahâpadma Nanda. This led us to formulate our conjecture that “Puranas basically collate various traditions that were prevalent during the time of their updation or creation”.
The Puranic authors have done a commendable job in preserving the various traditions that has given us enough material to study upon ,but as we saw it did not result in arriving at THE Chronology marker we were searching for- The Kaliyuga.
We wondered if the Mahabharata text could help us in locating the beginning of Kaliyuga, and as it turned out, Mahabharata text have preserved for us, it’s own unique tradition of Kaliyuga which is not contradicted anywhere within the text itself !!
3 Mahabharata :
Surprisingly, the Mahabharata text does not employ 4.32 million year Yuga theory anywhere. It only speaks of Yuga in thousand years and in 4:3:2:1 ratio. The authors have extracted 90+ references from the Mahabharata text specific to Kaliyuga and Yuganta. These internal references can be categorized into 2 parts.
3.1 Yuganta evidence :
“Yuganta” or “Yugaksaya” is most of the time translated as “universal destruction”. While that is true for some extant/case, the obvious meaning of these words lying in plain sight cannot be missed out too.
1) Yuganta = Yuga+anta –> End of a Yuga
2) Yugaksaya = Yuga+ksaya –> Wane of a Yuga
Rao (2020,a) with the help of 70+ Yuganta/Yugaksaya references, has shown that According to Mahabharata, Yuganta happened sometime during the Kurukshetra War.
3.2 Chronology evidence :
Rao (2020,b) demonstrated that 15+ references from the Mahabharata text points towards the 18th day of the War, on Pushya nakshatra as the first day of the Kali yuga.
The Mahabharata evidence infact answered our questions raised due to the Puranic traditions of naming Kali yuga as Pushya Yuga.
The inference we arrived at i.e. “Last day of the war was on Pushya Nakshatra “ actually proved to be a beautiful and independent corroboration for the year of Mahabharata War as 5561 BCE put forth by Oak ( 2011) and gave us 2nd November 5561 BCE as the first day of Kaliyuga (as per the Mahabharata tradition).
This brings us to the question as to how and why 3102 BCE came to be the accepted tradition for Kaliyuga beginning as mentioned in Aihole inscription or Aryabhatia, when the Mahabharata tradition is actually in contrary to such belief. The Subject is very interesting with far reaching consequences however it is beyond the purview of this paper.
The Yuga definition can be broadly classified into 4 categories : Theoretical, Philosophical, Practical and Chronological. We also saw a simple demonstration for each category.
This paper is mainly focused on the Chronological quadrant of Yuga definition and in particular, Yuga definitions present within the Puranic texts.
We then saw that Puranic text actually contains multiple traditions for the Kali Yuga and hence we found it necessary to rely upon the Mahabharata text to locate the Chronology marker i.e. the beginning of Kaliyuga.
Interestingly, the Mahabharata text is completely silent regarding the 4.32 million year Yuga cycle, which are actually very prevalent in the Puranic literature.
According to the evidence of the Mahabharata text- Kali Yuga began on the last day of the war and the nakshatra of the last day was Pushya.
The study provided an independent corroboration for 2nd November 5561 BCE as the last day of the Mahabharata War and was also the first day of Kaliyuga.
1) Vishnu Purana (4.24.113)
2) Brahma Purana (103.6.8)
3) Devi Bhagavata Purana (12.9.91-100)
4) Brihaddharma Purana (61)
5) Brahmanda Purana (3.74.241)
6) Matsya Purana (273.49)
7) Skanda Purana (18.104.22.168-56)
8) Skanda Purana (22.214.171.124)
9) Skanda Purana (126.96.36.199)
10) Skanda Purana (188.8.131.52)
11) Skanda Purana (184.108.40.206)
12) Garuda Purana (1.32)
13) Harivamsa Purana (1.53.59)
14) Harivamsa Purana (2.58.62)
15) Bhagavat Purana (12.2.24)
16) Brahmanda Purana (2.16.68)
17) Matsya Purana (144.29)
18) Padma Purana (3.7.3-8)
19) Bhagavat Purana (9.22.47 + 12.1.1)
20) Bhagavat Purana (12.2.26)
21) Vishnu Purana (4.24.104)
22) Skanda Purana (220.127.116.11)
Oak, Nilesh N., “When did the Mahabharata War happen?: The Mystery of Arundhati”, Danphe Inc. (2011)
Oak, Nilesh N., “Bishma Nirvana – An Astronomy poison pill”, Bhima LLC (2017)
Rao, Jeevan., “Trail of Kali” ,(in works)
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Image Credit: balancedachievement
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