AskDefine | Define Yuga

Extensive Definition

A Yuga (Devanāgari: युग) in Hindu philosophy is the name of an 'epoch' or 'era' within a cycle of four ages. These are the Satya Yuga (or Krita Yuga), the Treta Yuga, the Dvapara Yuga and finally the Kali Yuga, which are equated with the Roman Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages respectively by E. Burgess . According to Indian astronomy and Hindu Mythology, the world is created, destroyed and recreated every 4,320,000 years (Maha Yuga) . The cycles are said to repeat like the seasons, waxing and waning within a greater time-cycle of the creation and destruction of the universe. Like Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn, each yuga involves stages or gradual changes which the earth and the consciousness of mankind goes through as a whole. A complete yuga cycle from a high Golden Age of enlightenment to a Dark Age and back again is said to be caused by the solar system's motion around a central sun.

The spiritual states of civilization in each yuga

In Puranic Hindu tradition, the world goes through a continuous cycle of epochs. Each ascending phase of the cycle from the Kali Yuga to Satya Yuga is followed by a descending phase of equal length back to the Kali Yuga, then another ascending phase which begins it again.. Alternatively, it is sometimes supposed that at the end of the descending Kali Yuga, the world will return to the Satya Yuga and begin a new decline.
The descent from Satya to Kali is associated with a progressive deterioration of Dharma (righteousness) manifested as a decrease in both the length of human life and the quality of human moral standards. In the Vishnu Purana, for example, the Kali yuga is described thus:
"In the Kali Yuga, there will be numerous rulers vying with each other. They will have no character. Violence, falsehood and wickedness will be the order of the day. Piety and good nature will dwindle slowly... Passion and lust will be the only attraction between the sexes. Women will be the objects of sensual pleasure. Dishonest will be the bottom line of subsistence. Learned people will be ridiculed and put to shame; the word of the wealthy person will be the only law." The traditional virtues accorded the highest value in the four epochs are:
  1. Satya Yuga or Krita Yuga: dhyana (meditation). In the highest yuga, the great majority of people can experience spirituality by direct intuitive realization of truth. The veil between the material and the transcendent realms becomes almost transparent. According to Natya Shastra, there are no Natya performances in the Krita Yuga because it is a period free from any kind of unhappiness or misery. Satya Yuga is also called the Golden Age.
  2. Treta Yuga: yajna (sacrifice). The Treta Yuga is the mental age. Mental power is harnessed and men are in power. There are inventions that dissolve the illusion of time (inventions are characteristic of both Dvapara and Treta yugas). Clairvoyance and telepathy are common skills.
  3. Dvapara Yuga: archana (worship). In the Dvapara Yuga, science flourishes, people experience the spiritual in terms of subtle energies and rational choices, inventions are abundant, particularly those that dissolve the illusion of distance (between people and between things), and power is mostly in the hands of women. The end of this age (in the descending phase) is associated with the death of Krishna, and the events described in the Mahabharata.
  4. Kali Yuga: daana (alms). In the lowest epoch, Kali Yuga, most people are aware only of the physical aspects of existence. The predominant emphasis of living is material survival, and power is mostly in the hands of men.
Temples, wars, and writing are hallmarks of Dvapara and Kali yugas. In the higher ages (Treta and Satya), writing is unnecessary because people communicate directly by thought. Temples are unnecessary because people feel the omnipresence of God. Wars are rare but they do occur - one such war is described in the Ramayana.
The Hindu texts say the four yugas equal 4,320,000 years, or a mahayuga. 1,000 mahayugas or 4.32 billion years equal one kalpa. The traditional timescale of the yugas is as follows:
  1. Satya Yuga or Krita Yuga - 1,728,000 years
  2. Treta Yuga - 1,296,000 years
  3. Dvapara Yuga - 864,000 years
  4. Kali Yuga - 432,000 years
Hence, Hindu scripture says the length of the yugas maintain a 4,3,2,1 ratio to each other, with the Krita or Satya lasting 4000 years (plus a 400 year transition in and out) for a total of 4800 years, the Treta equals 3000 years (plus a 300 year transition in and out) for a total of 3600 years, the Dwapara last 2000 years (plus a 200 year transition in and out) for a total of 2400 years and the Kali 1000 years (plus a 100 year transition in and out) for a total of 1200 years. All the epochs together equal 12,000 years (or divine years) in the ascending phase and 12,000 years in the descending phase. One complete cycle is said to be equal to and celestially observed as one precession of the equinox, according to Sri Yukteswar (see below). This four yugas consists of 10 parts of 432,000 years i.e 4,320,000 years . The Krita Yuga lasts for 4 parts; the name has the same consonants T and R of the word Chatur (four). The Treta Yuga consists of Tri (three) parts as it is apparent in the name 'Treta'. The Dvapara Yuga lasts for Dva (two) parts as it is apparent in the name 'Dvapara'. The Kali Yuga lasts for Eka (one) part; the consonant K appears in the name Kali.
Upon conclusion of seventy-one circuits of this cycle, there is a period equally long during which the world is inundated; then the cycle begins again.

Sri Yukteswar's teachings on the yugas

An alternative view of the yuga cycle and time scale was taught by the 19th/20th-century Indian yogi Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, guru of Paramahansa Yogananda.
In his book, The Holy Science, Sri Yukteswar explained that the descending phase of Satya Yuga lasts 4800 years, the Treta Yuga 3600 years, Dwapara Yuga 2400 years, and the Kali Yuga 1200 years. The ascending phase of the Kali Yuga then begins, also lasting 1200 years. The ascending phase of the Kali Yuga began in September of 499 AD. Since September 1699, we have been in the ascending phase of the Dwapara Yuga, according to Sri Yukteswar.
In The Holy Science, Sri Yukteswar wrote that the traditional or long count view is based on a misunderstanding. He says that at the end of the last descending Dvapara Yuga (about 700 BC), "Maharaja Yudhisthira, noticing the appearance of the dark Kali Yuga, made over his throne to his grandson [and]...together with all of his wise men...retired to the Himalaya Mountains... Thus there was none in the court...who could understand the principle of correctly accounting the ages of the several Yugas."
According to Sri Yukteswar, nobody wanted to announce the bad news of the beginning of the ascending Kali Yuga, so they kept adding years to the Dvapara date (at that time 2400 Dvapara) only retitling the epoch to Kali. As the Kali began to ascend again, scholars of the time recognized that there was a mistake in the date (then being called 3600+ Kali, even their texts said Kali had only 1200 years). "By way of reconciliation, they fancied that 1200 years, the real age of Kali, were not the ordinary years of our earth, but were so many daiva (or deva) years ("years of the gods"), consisting of 12 daiva months of 30 daiva days each, with each daiva day being equal to one ordinary solar year of our earth. Hence according to these men 1200 years of Kali Yuga must be equal to 432,000 years of our earth."
Sri Yukteswar explained that just as the cycle of day and night is caused by a celestial motion (the earth spinning on its axis in relation to the sun), and just as the cycle of the seasons are caused by a celestial motion (the earth with tilted axis orbiting the sun) so too is the yuga cycle (seen as the precession of the equinox), caused by a celestial motion. He explained this celestial motion as the movement of the whole solar system around another star. As our sun moves through this orbit, it takes the solar system (and earth) closer to and then further from a point in space known as the "grand centre" also called 'Vishnunabhi', which is the seat of the creative power, 'Brahma', [which]...regulates...the mental virtue of the internal world." He implied that it is the proximity of the earth and sun to this grand centre that determines which season of man or yuga it is.


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