The Ages

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The Ages
Written by Sir John Woodroffe, Book: Introduction to Tantra Sastra 


THE passage of time within a mah ā-yuga influences for the worse man and the world in which he lives. This passage is marked by the four ages (yuga), called Satya, Treta, Dvāpara, and Kali-yuga, the last being that in which it is generally supposed the world now is. The yuga1 is a fraction of a kalpa, or day of Brahmā of 4,320,000,000 years. The kalpa, is divided into fourteen
manvantaras, which are again subdivided into seventyone mahā yuga; the length of each of which is 4,320,000 human years. The mahā-yuga (great age) is itself composed of four yuga (ages)—(a) Satya, (b) Treta, (c) Dvapara, (d) Kali. Official science teaches that man appeared on the earth in an imperfect state, from which he has since been gradually, though continually, raising
himself. Such teaching is, however, in conflict with the traditions of all peoples—Jew, Babylonian, Egyptian, Hindu, Greek, Roman, and Christian—which speak of an age when man was both innocent and happy. From this state of primal perfection he fell, continuing his descent until such time as the great Avatāras, Christ and others, descended to save his race and enable it to
regain the righteous path. The Garden of Eden is the emblem of the paradisiacal body of man. There man was one with Nature. He was himself paradise, a privileged enclosure in a garden of delight2—gan be Eden. Et eruditus est Moyse omni sapientia Ægyptiorum.

1 See Bentley, “Hindu Astronomy” (1823), p. 10.
2 Genesis ii. 8. Paradise is commonly confused with Eden, but the two are
different. Paradise is in Eden.


The Satya Yuga is, according to Hindu belief, the Golden Age of righteousness, free of sin, marked by longevity, physical strength, beauty, and stature. “There were giants in those days” whose moral, mental, and physical strength enabled them to undergo long brahmacārya
(continence) and tapas (austerities). Longevity permitted lengthy spiritual exercises. Life then depended on the marrow, and lasted a lakh of years,1 men dying when they willed. Their stature was 21 cubits. To this age belong the Avatāras or incarnations of Viṣṇu, Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Nṛ -siṃ ha, and Vāmana. Its duration is computed to be 4,800 Divine years, which,
when multiplied by 360 (a year of the Devas being equal to 360 human years) are the equivalent of 1,728,000 of the years of man.

The second age, or Treta (three-fourth) Yuga, is that in which righteousness (dharma) decreased by onefourth. The duration was 3,600 Divine years, or 1,296,000 human years. Longevity, strength, and stature decreased. Life was in the bone, and lasted 10,000 years. Man's stature was 14 cubits. Of sin there appeared onequarter, and of virtue there remained three-quarters.
Men were still attached to pious and charitable acts, penances, sacrifice and pilgrimage, of which the chief was that to Naimiśāraṇ ya. In this period appeared the avatāras of Viṣ ṇ u as Paraśurāma and Rāma.

The third, or Dvāpara (one-half) yuga, is that in which righteousness decreased by one-half, and the

1 Cf. the Biblical account of the long-lived patriarchs, Methuselah and others: and for more favourable modern estimate of the “Primitives,” see M. A. Leblond, “L’Ideal du dixneuvième siècle,” and Elie Reclus’ celebrated work on the Primitives (1888).

duration was 2,400 Divine, or 864,000 human years. A further decrease in longevity and strength, and increase of weakness and disease mark this age. Life which lasted 1,000 years was centred in the blood. Stature was 7 cubits. Sin and virtue were of equal force. Men became restless, and though eager to acquire knowledge, were deceitful, and followed both good and evil pursuits. The principal place of pilgrimage was Kuruks etra. To this age belongs (according to Vyāsa, Anuṣ tubhācaryā and Jaya-deva) the avatāra of Viṣṇu as Bala-rāma, the elder brother of Kṛ ṣ ṇ a, who, according to other accounts, takes his place. In the samdhya, or intervening period of 1,000 years between this and the next yuga the Tantra was revealed, as it will be revealed at the dawn of every Kali-yuga.

Kali-yuga is the alleged present age, in which righteousness exists to the extent of one-fourth only, the duration of which is 1,200 Divine, or 432,000 human years. According to some, this age commenced in 3120 B. C. on the date of Viṣṇu’s return to heaven after the eighth incarnation. This is the period which, according to the Purāṇ as and Tantras, is characterized by the prevalence
of viciousness, weakness, disease, and the general decline of all that is good. Human life, which lasts at most 120, or, as some say, 100, years, is dependent on food. Stature is 3½ cubits. The chief pilgrimage is now to the Ganges. In this age has appeared the Buddha Avatāra.

The last, or Kalki Avatāra, the Destroyer of sin, has yet to come. It is He who will destroy iniquity and restore the age of righteousness. The Kalki-Purāṇ a speaks of Him as one whose body is blue like that of the rain-charged cloud, who with sword in hand rides, as does the rider of the Apocalypse, a white horse swift as the wind, the Cherisher of the people, Destroyer of the
race of the Kali-yuga, the source of true religion. And Jayadeva, in his Ode to the Incarnations, addresses Him thus: For the destruction of all the impure thou drawest thy scimitar like a blazing comet. O how tremendous! Oh, Keśava, assuming the body of Kalki; Be victorious, O Hari, Lord of the Universe!” With the satya-yuga a new maha-yuga will commence and the
ages will continue to revolve with their rising and descending races until the close of the kalpa or day of Brahma. Then a night of dissolution (pralaya) of equal duration follows, the Lord reposing in yoganidrā (yoga sleep in pralaya) on the Serpent Śeṣ a, the Endless One, till day-break, when the universe is created and the next kalpa follows.














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