Time in Hindu cosmology

 The Four Yugas are the Satya Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the Dvapara Yuga and the Kali Yuga. Each yuga is supposed to last several thousands or millions of years. For example, the present age that is known as Kali yuga is supposed to last 432,000 years. These numbers are however not significant as calculations, their importance is actually numerological.

For example, one day in the life of the Creator is said to constitute a kalpa. Each kalpa has its own name and associations linked with it. The present kalpa is called the Sveta Varaha Kalpa or the White Boar kalpa. In human terms, each kalpa lasts billions of years. Each kalpa is further divided into fourteen manavantaras and each manavantara is ruled by a different Manu or progenitor. It is said by the wise that we are now in the Vaivasvata Manavantara which is the seventh manavantara of the present kalpa.
Each manavantara consists of seventy cycles of the four yugas. We are said to be living in the twenty-eighth Kali yuga of the present manavantara. At the end of each Kali yuga there is a pralaya or a period of destruction that is typically characterised by natural calamities. The destruction becomes progressively worse in the wake of each successive kalpa until the entire cosmos is destroyed at the end of the kalpa.

The destruction is so complete and thorough that even the Creator is absorbed into the Absolute. In a manner of speaking to Creator goes to “sleep” and when he “awakens”, the universe is once again recreated by his thought. The cycle of creation and destruction has neither a beginning nor an end.

Sri Ramana Maharishi was once asked when the Kali yuga would come to an end. The Maharishi said: “I do not consider time real. So I take no interest in such matters. We know nothing about the past or the yugas which were in the past. Nor do we know about the future. But we know the present exists. Let us know about it first. Then all doubts will cease.”

A little later the Maharishi responded to the devotee’s query as to why the puranas give the exact duration of each yuga by saying: “The immensity of the periods of time assigned to each yuga may be a mere device to draw man’s attention to the fact that even if he lived up to one hundred years, his life is such a trifling insignificant fraction of a yuga. Therefore, he should take a proper view of his humble place in the entire scheme.”

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