How Ancient Indian concept of Time still baffles us


The Hindus, according to Sir Monier-Williams, were Spinozists more than 2,000 years before the advent of Spinoza, and Darwinians many centuries before Darwin and Evolutionists many centuries before the doctrine of Evolution was accepted by scientists of the present age.

Hindu Online

In the modern world, we consider time linearly. Time flows from the past through the present into the future. But, in Indian context, time has a cyclical nature. Such cycles can be observed in the passage of day to night and back into the day. It can also be observed in the passage of seasons from Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and back to Spring. Extrapolating on this idea, we can see that time is cyclic on a much larger scale, encompassing thousands of years.

Concept of Cyclic Yugas

Time presents itself in the form of four yugas. A yuga is a specific period of time with certain characteristics. The yugas are as follows:

  1. Satya Yuga (Golden Age) – 1,728,000 years
  2. Treta Yuga (Silver Age) – 1,296,000 years
  3. Dwapara Yuga (Copper Age) – 864,000 years
  4. Kali Yuga (Iron Age) – 432,000 years

A closer look shows that the Dwapara Yuga is 2 times Kali Yuga, Treta Yuga is 3 times the Kali Yuga and Satya Yuga is 4 times the Iron Age. As most Indians are already aware, we are currently in the Kali Yuga.

One cycle of the four yugas is called a Kalpa.

1 Kalpa = 1 Satya Yuga + 1 Treta Yuga + 1 Dwapara Yuga + 1 Kali Yuga = 4.32 Billion Years.

So, after one Kalpa, another one starts and so on. Consider the sheer size of time that has been considered here. Interestingly, 1 Kalpa equals 1 day in Brahma’s life. You may look up further details on divisions of time  at some good places online.

Time and Death

In Sanskrit, time and death has the same word (Kala). In fact nothing in this world is so certain as death. Also, time keeps on moving as well. All cultures and schools of belief do uphold the fact that time waits for no one and proceeds very accurately.

Bhagavad Gita has a beautiful representation of time and death in Chapter 11. The Sloka 32 says “I am the mighty all – devouring Time, manifested here for the purpose of annihilation”. When Arjuna was faced with great warriors such as Bhishma, Drona, Jayadratha and Karna who had supreme weapons, knowledge and history of no previous failures at the enemy camp, Krishna assures Arjuna that no one can stand the test of time. Even someone like Bhishma who could embrace death only by his own will (Ichha Mrityu) was shown to fall before Krishna who called himself “Time”.

Let us take a look at Great Warriors in History. An Alexander who sought out to conquer all of Earth was defeated by death. The Mongol Warriors in the form of Genghis Khan who conquered a huge part of Asia and Europe is at present only pages of text in History textbooks. Even the powerful Aurangzeb of Mughal dynasty who left behind a huge kingdom was overtaken by the British completely in 150 years. The Mighty British Empire is now facing the Brexit consequences.

Indian Wisdom points to the wisdom that brings in enlightenment by meditating on Death and Time. Katha Upanishad is in fact a conversation between Death and a curious learner. Death is seen as a Guru rather than a fearful entity that is capable of finishing everything that is known to us.

Freedom from Time Cycles

The highest form of freedom as per Indian Philosophy is “Moksha”. Moksha is the release from the cyclical nature of birth and death brought about by time. In fact we could say that most of the Scriptures in India is geared towards this goal. Knowledge about the details of this release is considered much higher than all other material knowledge. Interestingly, this knowledge would make the material life much easier as well. A higher form of wisdom dawns on a person who is aware of the power that such knowledge brings to her/ him. There is no longer any attachment to the ephemeral successes and failures that comes by. A constant fixed state of mind that is not moved by sadness or happiness comes about to such a person.

We can see how India associates time with universe, life, rebirth, cycles, religion and so many other concepts. Time is such a powerful concept in the East – the details of which are still to be explored completely by modern beings like us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *