An Analysis of Cosmic Time (Yuga) Theory in Hindu & Sikh Traditions
The concept of time in Hindu religious scripture is not linear, but cyclical. The Hindu cosmology primarily relying upon an idea that the process of evolution begins with manifestation of godly attributes and the creation after passing through cyclical phases enters in its devolution when creation deviates from the God-directed path. God pulls out all the godly features from creation, and forces it to live in a state of duality, confusion and conflict. This process goes on and passes through cyclical sequence.
In Hindu cosmology a Yuga, or “Age”, is the smallest unit of cosmological time. Four Yugas make up one Mahayuga, or Great Age: the Golden Age (Krita or Satya Yuga), the Silver Age (Treta Yuga), the Bronze Age (Dvapara Yuga), and Iron Age (Kali Yuga). The Yugas are named after an ancient dice game, in which a 1 or kale, was the worst throw and 4, or krita, is the best.1 In Hindu mythological cosmic time division, Yuga is a name given to an ‘era’ within a cycle of four ages. These Yugas portray gradual socio-ethical, spiritual and political degeneration and triumph of evil over righteousness in the history of mankind.
Satya Yuga is also called Sat Yuga, Krta Yuga or Krita Yuga. This is an age or era of truth when mankind is governed by gods, and every manifestation or work is close to the purest ideal and mankind allows the inherent goodness to rule supreme. This age can be compared with ‘Golden Age’ as portrayed in classical Greek mythology, when deity Astraea, who was identified with Justice, presides in this age. There was rustic innocence and simplicity, untainted by the corruptions of civilization. When man is most free, he is least bound. A perfect Rishi, a regenerate saint, is a Buddha or a Christ in himself; he is as free as the heavens, outside and above all law and the prophets. When society was composed of such paragons of innocence and virtue, liberty was perfect and order was the spontaneous outcome of such a state of things. Such was Satyuga.2
In the Treta Yuga, sacrifice commenced, righteousness decreased by one-fourth; men adhered to truth, and were devoted to righteousness dependent on ceremonies. Sacrifices prevailed with holy acts and a variety of rites. Men acted with an object in view, seeking after reward for their rites and their gifts, and were no longer disposed to austerities and to liberality from a simple feeling of duty.3
In Dvapara Yuga, all people in the Dvapara Yuga are zealous, valiant, courageous and competitive by nature and are engaged only in penance and charity. They are kingly and pleasure-seeking. In this era, the divine intellect ceases to exist, and it is therefore seldom that anyone is wholly truthful.
Kali Yuga is generally known as an age of vice. The Kali Yuga is marked by mutual strife, discord, quarrel, or contention. In this age rulers became unreasonable and unjust. In social context, there exists animosity among members of society. The virtue loses its glow and ceases to flourish. With the appearance of this new age, Kali Yuga, came the disappearance of these enlightened minds and the vanishing of their knowledge. The result was a turning toward a dualistic and pluralistic interpretation of Nature, losing sight of the monastic aspect of the Ultimate Reality.4
According to Indian tradition each age has its appropriate scripture (astra), designed to meet the requirements and needs of men of each age in their effort to attain liberation. The Hindu Sastras (scriptures) are classified into Sruti, Smrti, Purana, and Tantra; the last three assume the first as their base, in fact, they are merely special presentments of it for the respective ages: Sruti for the Satya Yuga; Simrti for the Treta Yuga; Purana for the Dvapara Yuga; and Tantra for the Kali Yuga.5
In Satya Yuga or the golden age there was a different set of Dharmas or laws; in Treta, they changed into another form; in Dvapara, the Dharmas were different from the Dharmas of other Yugas; and in Kali-Yuga, they assumed still another form. The Dharma changes according to the changes of the cycles. Man is undergoing change. His nature gets transformed through experiences. Hence, his external form of Dharmas also should change. That which is achieved through contemplation in Satya Yuga, through sacrifices in Treta Yuga, and through the worship of Lord Hari in Dvapara Yuga, may be attained through Kirtana or loud chanting of Lord Vishnu’s Name in Kali Yuga or Iron age.6
Hinduism believes that there are three Gunas or qualities, viz., Sattva (purity), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (inertia). Sattva is white, Rajas is red and Tamas is black. These three qualities are found in man in varying proportions. Sattva preponderates in some persons. They are Brahmans. They are wise persons or thinkers. They are the priests, ministers or philosophers who guide kings or rulers. In some, Rajas is predominant. They are Kashatriyas. They are warriors or men of action. They fight with the enemies or invaders and defend the country. In some, Tamas is predominant. They are Vaisyas or traders. They do business and agriculture and amass wealth.7
In Satya Yuga, there was high proportion of Sattva guna. In Treta, Sattva occupies first place followed by Rajas and Tamas guna respectively. In Dwapara Yuga, Rajas guna got prominence and followed by Tamas and Sattva guna respectively. In the Kali Yuga, Tamas guna occupies paramount place followed by Rajas and Sattva gunas respectively. Sattva is light, truth, evolution, wisdom, intellect, the kind of quality which allows one to progress spiritually and to pursue what is right. Its opposite is Tamas, which is dullness, inertia, the quality which tends to hold one back and which is averse to progress. Rajas is the active quality, the one which makes one to go out and do the things.8
Sattva is the occasion of good conduct, which consists in kindness, control, and restraint of the organs, freedom from hatred, reflection, displaying of supernatural powers. Rajas leads to indifferent conduct, which consists of passion, anger, greed, fault-finding, violence, discontent, and rudeness, shown by change of countenance. Tamas occasions bad conduct, which consists in madness, intoxication, lassitude, nihilism, devotion to women, drowsiness, sloth, worthlessness, impurity.9 During Sattvic state of mind free will of an individual merges with the Supreme Will while a mind with Rajo Guna will make him restless and always seeks sensual pleasures. Tamasic mind guides to downward tendency which leads toward states below the human.
In the Krita age the chief virtue is austerity; in the Treta, knowledge; in the Dvapara, sacrifice; the only duty of Kali is liberality.10 The same view of the gradual deterioration from Yuga to Yuga and different characteristics and dharma of the Yugas is held by the Puranas and the Epics also. According to Vayu Purana even the different gods are worshiped in the different Yugas-Brahma in the Krta, Yajna in the Treta, Visnu in the Dwapara and Mahadeva in Kali. Even the mode of worship differs from Yuga to Yuga- in the Krta dhyana (meditation), in the Treta worshiping by means of Yajnas, in the Dwapara Puja and in the Kali the chanting and repetition of God’s name bear similar fruits.11 The god Indra correlates human actions in relation to Yugas. To him, when a man sleeps there sets in Kali Yuga; when he sits the Dwapara sets in; when he moves the Treta begins; and the Satya-Yuga commences when he works.”12
Yuga Theory and Sikhism:
Bhai Gurdas, a great Sikh theologian, depicts Yuga theory in his Varan and said “The four ages (Yugs) were established and the first three were given names Satyug, Treata, Dvapar. Fourth one was Kaliyug and four castes came to be known as the kings of four ages. Brahmin, Kashatriya, Vaishya and Shudra became predominant in each age”. He correlated the Varanashram Dharmas and Hindu time division in a novel way. To him, the personality traits of four Varnas became predominant characteristic features of four ages.13 The light of truth decreased through the Treta and Dwapara Yugas. Kalyug is the period of dominance of evil over good.
Gurmat denies both these concepts, the division of time in Yugas and the decrease of morality in time. It says that Time is continuous, its beginning and end is not known to any religious leader or prophet. The system of grouping time in Yugas is arbitrary.14
Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, said “Nanak, the prime human body has one chariot and one charioteer. They change after every age and the divines understand this. In the Gold-age, contentment is the carriage and piety the driver in front. In the Sliver-age, continence is the carriage and powers the driver, in front. In the Brass-age penance is the carriage and truth the driver in front. In the Iron-age, fire is the chariot and falsehood, the charioteer, in front.”15 Guru Nanak did not agree to the idea of transformation of individual’s personality in accordance with the mythical cyclical succession of Yugas. To Him, socio-spiritual development of an individual primarily depends upon the centre of human thought and actions. If the centre of human perception and deed is God then there prevails a golden age. As man tends to moves away from Godly pathway, the process of his degeneration is set to begin.
Guru Amar Das, third Nanak, mentioned the Hindu Yuga theory in his Divine hymns in the light of teachings of Guru Nanak. He said, “In the Gold age, everyone spoke the truth. In every house the Lord’s devotional service was performed by the Guru’s grace. In the True age, religion had four legs or feet. By Guru’s grace, a few understand this through the Name. In all the four ages’ glory is obtained through the Name. He who clings to the Name is emancipated but, without the Guru, no one obtains the Name. Pause. In the sliver age one leg was removed. Hypocrisy became prevalent and man deemed the Lord far. Obtaining Divine comprehension, by Guru’s grace, one did know the Lord and enshrining the Name in his mind acquired peace. In the Brass-age, duality and double-mindedness arose. Straying in doubt, men thought the Creator and creation separate. In Dwapara age, religion was left with only two feet. If he turns Guru -wards, then the Name is firmly implanted in his mind. In the Iron Age, religion was left with one power alone. It walks on one foot and the love of mammon has increased. Love of wealth produces excessive darkness. If man meets the True Guru, he emancipates him through the Name.16
Guru Ram Das, fourth Nanak, said “In the Satya Yuga (Truth age), everyone was contented and meditated and religion had four feet. Then came Treta Yuga (Silver-age) and power began to rule men’s mind and they practiced deeds of celibacy and self-discipline. The fourth foot of religion dropped off, the three feet remained and men’s minds and hearts were inflamed with rage. In men’s minds and heart was the greatly poisoned with wrath, the kings made onslaughts in wars and gathered pain. The mortal’s mind was attached with the ailment of egoism and their self-conceit and arrogance increased. If Lord God, my Master, shows mercy, the poison departs by Guru’s instruction and God’s Name. Then came the Silver-age and power began to rule men’s minds. They practiced deeds of chastity and self-restraint. The Dwapara Yuga (Brass-age) came, and men wandered in doubt, God created the milk-maids and Krishan. The penitents practiced penances; men initiated sacred feasts and charities and preformed many religious rites and rituals. The two legs of religion dropped off and two legs remained. Many heroes waged great wars and in pride they got ruined and ruined others. The Lord, compassionate to the poor, caused the mortals to meet the saint Guru. By meeting the True Guru filth is washed away. The Dwapara Yuga (Brass age) came and people began to wander in doubt. The Lord created the milk-maids and Krishana. God ushered Kalyug (the iron age) wherein the religion lost three legs and the fourth leg only remained. Acting according to the Guru’s instruction, men gain medicine of God’s Name, and by singing God’s praise they attain Divine peace. The season of God’s praise glorification of God’s Name and developing it in the body system has arrived. In the Dark Age, if man sows any other seed than the Name, he loses all his profit and capital. Serf Nanak has found the Perfect Guru, who has shown him the Name in his heart and soul. God created the dark-age, religion lost three legs and the fourth leg only remained intact”.17
Guru Nanak said, “There is a famine of truth, falsehood prevails and the blackness of the Dark Age has made men demons”.18 To Him, “The Dark Age is the vessel filled with the wine of lust and mundane love and pride the server. Through excessive drinking in the company of falsehood and avarice the mortal is ruined”.19 He also said, “If anyone practices truth, he is frustrated and prosperity visits not the home of a penitent. If anyone utters the Lord’s Name, he is disreputed. These are the characteristics of the Dark Age”.20 He visualizes, “The dark-age as the scalpel, the kings are the butchers and righteousness has taken wings and flown. In this no-moon night of false-hood, the moon of truth is not seen to rise anywhere”. Guru Angad Dev said, “A pauper is styled a king and the blockhead is termed a scholar. The blind man is styled as a seer. So do people talk? The mischievous one is termed a leader and the liar sits as the perfect man”.22 Guru Amar Das said, “In the Dark Age there is pitch darkness and the egocentric finds no way out”.23
Bhagat Kabir also described the Dark Age and said “The wife gives birth to her husband. The son makes his father play. The woman without breasts suckles milk. See, O people the influence of the Dark Age. The son takes his mother in marriage. Pause. A man without feet takes a leap. A man without mouth bursts into laughter. Without sleep one lies down and sleeps. Without a vessel one churns milk. A cow without teats gives milk. A long journey is accomplished without travelling”.24
Bhai Gurdas said, “Kaliyug became prevalent as the fourth age in which the low instincts gripped the whole world. People became reluctant in performing duties enjoined in the Rig, Yajur, Samaveda. The entire earth got enticed by mammon and the antics of the Kaliyug put everyone into delusion hatred and degeneracy engrossed the people and ego burnt one and all. Nobody now worships anybody and sense of respect for the younger and the elder has vanished into thin air. In this cutter age the emperors are tyrants and their satraps butcher. The justice in the three ages has become extinct and now whosoever gives something (as bribe) gets (justice?). The mankind has become wanting in dexterity of action”.25
He also said, “Since time immemorial on account of the bondage of unfulfilled desire, the Jiv has been suffering transmigration. Time and again the body is changed, but the mystery of this change can be understood by becoming knowledgeable. Engrossed in duality in Satyug, the Jiv entered into body in Treta. Getting caught in karma bondage in Treta he was born in Dvapar and remained writhing and wriggling. Even the performance of the duties of the three ages does not dispel the fear of birth and death. The Jiv reincarnates in Kaliyug and gets entangled in the karmas. Lost opportunity comes not again.”26
Guru Nanak said, “In the Dark Age, the Lord’s Name is the most sublime”.27 He also said, “Shed thou thy desire to remain alive. He who plays the tyrant is approved. Deem this to be the surest sign of the Dark Age.”28 Guru Amar Das said, “Says Nanak, they, who forsake truth and cling to falsehood, lose their life in gamble”.29 Bhagat Ravidas said, “In the Gold-age was truth, in the Silver age sacrificial feast and in the Brass age the performance of good Worship. In the three ages men held fast to these three. In the Iron-age the Name is the only prop.30
Guru Arjan Dev said, “In the iron-age there is pitch darkness. The Guru given lamp of Divine Knowledge enlightens it”.31 To Him, “God’s Name is the only Nectar in the Dark Age”.32 Guru Arjan Dev also said, “Nanak, he who under Guru’s instruction utters the Name of God, who abides in all the hearts, is saved in the Dark-age”.33 Guru Tegh Bahadur also endorsed the views of Guru Arjan and said, “In the Dark Age, there is only the Name of the Treasure of mercy, by uttering which, the man obtains salvation”.34 To Him, “In the Dark Age, salvation is obtained through the Lord’s Name. The Guru discloses this secret”.35 He also said, “In the Dark Age, the Guru has established the benign rule of Raja Janak and the True age has dawned”.36
Sikhism also does not accord any significance to three gunas or qualities viz., Sato, Rajo and Tamo. Bhagat Kabir said “the quality of impulse, the quality of ignorance and the quality of goodness; all these are called the creation of Thy power. The man, who realizes the fourth state alone obtains the supreme status”.37 Guru Amar Das said, “In three dispositions equipoise is not obtained. The three modes lead astray the mortal in doubt. What do reading, studying, and talking avail a man he misses the very Origin? In the fourth state there is a Spiritual Bliss and the God oriented obtained it in their (balance) sheet”.38 Guru Ram Das said, “Men of three qualities are engrossed in the love of mammon. It is through the Guru that man attains to the supreme status”.39 Guru Nanak said, “The man who deeply enters into the fourth state overcomes time and is bestowed with the three qualities of optimism, egotism and pessimism”.40
In the light of teachings of Adi Granth, it can be concluded that Sikhism disapproves the mythical Hindu time division. In Sikhism, remoteness from the Supreme Reality constitutes Dark Age for mankind on this earth. One should recall the Divine message of Guru Arjan Dev, he said, “If I meet Thee not even for a moment then, the Dark Age is dawned for me”. If person moves on virtuous path as shown by Sri Guru Granth Sahib he can establish heaven (Golden Age) for entire humankind. In a way, it is the proximity with God which leads a man to live in peace and harmony and any detachment from God produce strife, tension and dissonance. Sikh Gurus opened the doors of socio-spiritual development for all in all times to come. It requires only Will to conquer Mind, shed vices and meditate on God.
1. Constance Jones and James D. Ryan. Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. p. 517.
2. Maganlal A. Buch . The Spirit of Ancient Hindu Culture. Baroda. p. 132.
3. John Dowson. A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History and Literature . London : Kegan Paul Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., 1928. p. 382.
4. Theos Bernard. Hindu Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947. pp. 129-130.
5. Ibid., pp. 13-14.
6. Sivananda. All About Hinduism. Tehri-Garhwal: The Divine Life Society, 1997. p. 37.
7. Ibid., p. 31.
8. Jeaneane D. Fowler. Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 1997. p. 22.
9. John McKenzie. The Religious Quest of India Hindu Ethics. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1922, p. 149.
10. John Murdoch (ed.). The Laws of Manu. Madras: The Christian Literature Society for India, 1898, pp. 3-4.
11.Parmeshwaranand.Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas. Vol. 5. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2001, pp. 1426-1427.
12. Maganlal A. Buch. The Principles of Hindu Ethics. Baroda: M. A. Buch, 1921. p. 84.
13. Jodh Singh. Varan Bhai Gurdas. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Vision And Venture, 1998. p. 35.
14. Gurbakhsh Singh. “From Ritual to Counter Ritual: A Critical Analysis” in Recent Researches in Sikhism, Jasbir Singh Mann and Kharak Singh (ed.). Patiala: Punjabi University, 1992. p. 274.
15. SGGS, M: 1, p. 470.
16. Ibid., M: 3, p. 880 .
17. Ibid., M: 4 , p. 445.
18. Ibid., M: 1 , p. 468 .
19. Ibid., M: 1 , p. 553 .
20. Ibid., M: 1, p. 902.
21. Ibid., M: 1 , p. 145.
22. Ibid.M: 2, p.1288 .
23. Ibid. M: 3 , p. 1285 .
24. Ibid. Bhagat Kabir, p. 1194 .
25. Jodh Singh. Op. cit., p. 37.
26. Ibid., p. 45.
27. SGGS,. M: 1, p. 662 .
28. Ibid. M: 1, p.902 .
29. Ibid. M: 3 , p. 919.
30. Ibid., Bhagat Ravidas, p. 346.
31. Ibid., M: 5, p. 210.
32. Ibid., M: 5, p. 888.
33. Ibid., M: 5, p. 748 .
34. Ibid., M: 9, p. 632 .
35. Ibid., M: 9 , p. 831 .
36. Ibid., M: 9, p. 1407 .
37. Ibid., Bhagat Kabir, p. 1123.
38. Ibid., M: 3, p.68.
39. Ibid., M: 4, p.833.
40. Ibid., M: 1, p.840.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All