The four yugas refer to cosmic ages that are used in the Vedic / Hindu system for measuring universal time. These four ages are known as Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. Unlike the Western concept of linear time, Vedic time is cyclical. Like the four seasons of the year, the four ages of a chaturyuga, or Yuga cycle, rotate without end.
In this article we give an overview of each of the four yugas, Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga, and we discuss concepts of Vedic time, including definitions of the most commonly used time units. We also reveal amazing coincidences between Vedic history and the modern fields of cosmology and archeology. And of course you will also learn about our present age in Vedic time: Kali yuga.
A Detailed Look at the Four Yugas
Just as there are four seasons to the calendar year, there are four yugas or universal seasons that make up an epoch of the cosmos. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
In Satya Yuga, human beings were adept in meditation and possessed unbelievable strength and longevity. The Vedic texts state that humans during Satya Yuga, or the Golden Age, lived for up to 100,000 years. There was no disparity among cultures. Everyone enjoyed worldly comforts and lived in perfect harmony with the natural environment. There was no war, famine, or conflict among the human race. It was a time of complete peace on Earth.
However, as time progressed, people became less inclined toward spiritual practices and wished to augment their material comforts beyond their needs. A spirit of competition arose among men and as a result the system of varnasrama, or class-based society, was introduced. This ushered in the Dvapara Yuga, or Silver Age.
In Treta Yuga, the Silver Age, human beings engage in nonviolent religious sacrifice as a means of propitiating the gods and ultimately pleasing the Supreme Person, Vishnu. As Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita:
saha-yajñāḥ prajāḥ sṛṣṭvā purovāca prajāpatiḥ
anena prasaviṣyadhvam eṣa vo ’stv iṣṭa-kāma-dhuk
“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Viṣṇu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajña [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you everything desirable for living happily and achieving liberation.’”
devān bhāvayatānena te devā bhāvayantu vaḥ
parasparaṁ bhāvayantaḥ śreyaḥ param avāpsyatha
“The demigods, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you, and thus, by cooperation between men and demigods, prosperity will reign for all.” (Bhagavad-gita, 3.10-11)
In order to facilitate collective sacrifice, human society was divided into four classes of men: brahmanas (intellectuals), kshatriyas (administrators), vaishyas (merchants), and sudras (workers). The brahmanas studied the Vedas and guided society with spiritual wisdom, the kshatriyas served as rulers, politicians, and army generals, the vaishyas worked in commerce and industry, and the sudras served the other three classes. However, there was not a spirit of envy or condescension among the four classes. Rather, each member of society sacrificed for the good of the whole and for the satisfaction of Sri Vishnu.
In Treta yuga, human beings were extremely dutiful, moral, and compassionate toward their fellow living beings. They lived life spans up to 10,000 years. Although there was some division among society, it was nevertheless a time of overarching peace and prosperity.
Even before the beginning of Dvapara Yuga, by the end of Treta Yuga, human beings began to stray from the path of dharma, or the religious way of life. Members of society exploited their positions to increase their own stature and standard of happiness at the expense of those around them. This was occurring at all levels of society, from brahmanas to sudras. Wars began to break out as ruling kings vied for power, wealth, and influence. No longer able to effectively perform collective sacrifice, human beings instead took up the worship of Vishnu in His deity form. Thousands of temples were constructed throughout the world for the worship of the Supreme Person, Vishnu, as well as His demigod expansions, such as Indra, Agni, Shiva, etc.
Dvapara Yuga, or the Bronze Age, saw the first instances of selfishness and irreligion overcoming mankind’s natural godly nature. The scales began to tip in favor of godlessness, and people became fearful and mistrusting of their leaders and fellow citizens. However, there were still many holy kings on earth who upheld justice and defended virtue. Human beings in Dvapara Yuga live up to 1,000 years.
Toward the end of the most recent Dvapara Yuga, Mother Earth became overburdened by corrupt leaders who had all but completely abandoned the path of religiosity in favor of wanton selfishness and blind violence. Mother Earth assumed the form of a helpless cow and approached Brahma, the universal creator, pleading to him to intervene on her behalf and for the welfare of the human race. Brahma then made an appeal to Vishnu, who informed him that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, would appear on Earth to destroy the evil kings and restore virtue to the world. It was at this time that Krishna made His descent and spoke the famous Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna.
While Sri Krishna remained on the planet, Kali Yuga could not begin. The reason is that the presence of the Supreme Person keeps ignorance and irreligion at bay. As the Vaisnava poet Krishnadasa has written:
kṛṣṇa — sūrya-sama; māyā haya andhakāra
yāhāṅ kṛṣṇa, tāhāṅ nāhi māyāra adhikāra
“Krishna is compared to sunshine, and māyā [illusion] is compared to darkness. Wherever there is sunshine, there cannot be darkness. As soon as one takes to Krishna consciousness, the darkness of illusion will immediately vanish.” (Caitanya-caritamrta, 2.22.31)
However, shortly after the departure of Sri Krishna to His own realm in the spiritual sky, Kali Yuga broke out in full force. The social order was turned on its head. Religious and political leaders, instead of educating and protecting the populace, abandoned virtue and became the chief criminals in society.
In Kali Yuga, or the Iron Age, spirituality and morality are diminished to shadows of their former selves. Deception and hypocrisy in the name of religion is the status quo. The only process of dharma that is still practiced and effective is nama-sankirtana, or chanting the names of God, especially the maha-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Kali Yuga is the polar opposite of Satya Yuga — the world is virtually devoid of peace. All living beings suffer material hardships as they struggle simply to survive, being deeply afflicted by fear.
In Kali Yuga, people live up to only 100 years. The Bhagavata Purana describes human beings of Kali Yuga as follows:
“In this iron Age of Kali men almost always have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed.” (Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10)
The Four Yugas and Vedic Time
In contrast to the Western concept of linear time, the Vedas describe our universe as being created, destroyed, and recreated again in an unending cycle. A key unit in universal time is the yuga, which is the basic time unit of our cosmos according to Vedic cosmology. However, there are many other important units as well.
Major Vedic Time Units
A yuga, also known as an age, is an era in universal history. The first yuga is known as satya yuga, or the Golden Age. Next is Treta yuga, the Silver Age, Dvapara yuga, the Bronze Age, and finally Kali yuga, the Iron Age. Satya yuga is the longest, measuring 3,456,000 of our solar years, and Kali yuga is the shortest, measuring just 864,000 years.
|0.864 million years
|1.728 million years
|2.592 million years
|3.456 million years
A chaturyuga is a full cycle of the four yugas, Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. One chaturyuga is ten times the duration of Kali yuga, or 8,640,000 solar years. Certain major Puranic events occur once every chaturyuga, just like we see patterns recurring throughout a year on Earth. There are prescribed times for planting and harvest, the migration of birds, the movement of the sun between the tropics, and so on. Similarly, in each age, or yuga, there are specific incarnations of the Supreme Being, Krishna, as well as other recurring events.
A manvantara lasts for 71 chaturyugas, or 613,440,000 solar years. For each manvantara there is an appointed universal administrator known as a manu. The post of manu is similar to that of a supervising engineer. The manu orchestrates the affairs of Earth under the direction of Brahma, the original created being, who is the Chief Engineer of the universe.
Before and after each manvantara is a transitional period known as a sandhya. The sandhya lasts for the same period of time as one Satya yuga.
A kalpa is often referred to as a day of Brahma, the original inhabitant of the universe. Each kalpa lasts for fourteen manvantaras, each one preceded and followed by a sandhya. This makes the total duration of a kalpa 8,640,000,000 years.
Unlike His incarnations, which generally appear once in every chaturyuga, Krishna Himself, the Supreme Being, appears on Earth once per kalpa.
An often overlooked Vedic time unit is known as the pratisandhi. This is a transitional period that goes between each kalpa, or day of Brahma. It’s total duration is 616.893 million solar years.
A prarardha is 50 kalpas. Brahma’s life span is 100 years measured according to his time scale. His day is a single kalpa, as are his nights. This means Brahma’s total lifespan is approximately 666.5 trillion years.
According to the Puranas, the universe undergoes a total annihilation and reconstruction at the end of each prarardha. Based on this information, our team at Popular Vedic Science was able to show that the Puranas accurately dated the Big Bang within 0.1% of the modern scientific value.
Additional Time Units
There are no larger time units than a prarardha, except the total lifespan of the universe itself, which would be 2 prarardhas.
However, there are many smaller time units, all the way down to an atomic second. For more information on small-scale Vedic time units, check out our in-depth article on Vedic Time.
|8.64 million years
|Combination of 4 Yugas
|613.44 million years
|3.456 million years
|Duration of Satya Yuga
|8.64 billion years
|14 Manvantaras + 15 Sandhyas
|616.896 million years
|1 Manvantara + 1 Sandhya
|9.256 million years
|Kalpa + Pratisamdhi
|Brahma’s 1 Month
|555 billion years
|30 Brahma’s days and nights
|Brahma’s 1 Year
|6665 billion years
|12 of Brahma’s months
|333 trillion years
|50 of Brahma’s years
The Cyclical Nature of Time
If we step back and take some time to observe the natural world, it is obvious that nature operates in cyclical patterns. Seeds germinate, sprout, grow into plants and trees, and these in turn produce more seeds which then undergo the same process again. All forms of life, from viruses to human beings, follow a similar cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. As the sun sets only to rise again for a new day, every aspect of nature similarly undergoes its own circular pattern. Only recently did scientists start to realize that our universe follows the same pattern. Physicists such as Paul Davies have introduced a hypothetical scenario called “the Big Crunch,” wherein all the matter in the universe collapses back into itself, like a Big Bang in rewind. However, the Vedic Puranas have contained this information for many thousands of years. In fact the Puranas even provide a date for when the present universe will again collapse into a point of singularity, known in Sanskrit as pradhana. According to the Puranas, the “death” of our current universe will take place in roughly 333 trillion years.
The Origin of a Linear Concept of Time
Some scholars argue that the concept of linear time, or viewing history as a line progressing from creation to fulfillment, first appeared in Judeo-Christian religious culture. In his book The Gifts of the Jews, author Thomas Cahill argues that the Western notion of linear time that is prevalent today finds its origin in Judaism. Although modern science has mostly discarded theistic views, many scientists today still view history as an “arc of progress,” rather than as a circle in which universal events unfold in repeating cycles. Interestingly enough this seems to come more from Jewish and Christian thought, and not from any relevant scientific research. However, as we learn more about the universe, it is likely we will find that the Puranic view of a cyclical universe holds more credibility than that of a universe which somehow appeared out of nowhere, and which will one day disappear into nothing, forever.
Vedic Time and Modern Science
Our research team at Popular Vedic Science has found a number of correlations between the Puranas and the contemporary scientific community regarding historical dates for major events on our planet Earth and within the larger universe.
The Age of the Universe
Author and researcher Sidhartha Chhabra has published his findings in a book called The Big Bang and the Sages. One of the most significant data points is the Puranic age of the universe. For the past several thousand years or more, the Puranas have contained elaborate descriptions of the history of our universe as well as its date of origin. When the Vedic time units are translated into Western time, the Puranic date for the beginning of the universe is 13.82 billion years.
For the past one hundred years, scientific research has gradually approached the Puranic date. Most recently, cosmologists estimate that the universe is 13.801 billion years.
The Origin of our Solar System
In addition to describing the creation of the universe, the Puranas also contain information regarding the formation of our solar system. The Puranas state that the sun came into being 4.563 billion years ago.
Physicists first came upon a reasonably reliable date for the origin of the sun in the 1950s, but it took another 50 years before they refined their data to the most recent estimate. Astro-physicists say that our sun was first created 4.567 billion years ago.
The Permian Mass Extinction
Life was flourishing on the Earth about 250 million years ago. Then, during a brief window of geologic time, nearly all of it was wiped out. The Earth’s greatest mass extinction, known as the Permian Mass Extinction, looked like a scene from the apocalypse. According to the latest paleontological analysis, the Permian extinction occurred 251.9 million years ago.
Although the Puranic scholars did not have access to modern tools of excavation or paleontological analysis, they were well aware of this mass extinction event. The Puranas state that the biggest pralaya or the mass extinction happened 251.2 million years ago, at the end of reign of King Satyavrata.